This essay is from Eric Koch
Published on November 22, 2002
Star Wars as a Modern Myth
The main hero of Star Wars is Luke Skywalker. Luke assumes the role of hero in the fourth installment of the 6 part trilogy A New Hope. Typically, the hero is either an orphaned son, or of royal birth, and in the case of Star Wars Luke is orphaned living with his aunt and uncle. Luke is first called to adventure by a herald who will call for "the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand12". This calling will bring the seemingly innocent boy into adult hood by overcoming Uncle Owen and aunt Beru who stand in his way as what Campbell describes as "threshold guardians." When A New Hope begins we find Luke a restless teenager, tired of the wasteland of Tatooine yearning to leave.
His calls for adventure are soon answered by the least likely of candidates.
Upon the purchase of two droids Luke finds himself hot on the trail of Artoo after the droid leaves to fulfill his mission. The dialogue harkens back to medieval times Threepio reefers to Luke as "Sir Luke" as if he were a knight of the round table. Luke soon finds himself in a precarious situation only to be saved by the encounter of the mentor, which is the next step in the myth. Campbell says that "some wizard, hermit, Shepard, or smith, who appears to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require?The call in fact, was the first announcement of the approach of this initiatory priest. 1" Obi-Wan fits the description of the Campbell mythical mentor, as he is Jedi and a follower of the ways of the force, who teaches Luke in the ways of the Jedi. Kenobi serves as a father figure, and even discusses Luke's father with him, a topic which was kept from Luke. Much like Merlin to Arthur, Kenobi begins to tutor Luke in the ways of the Force; instead of Excalibur Luke has a Blue Lightsaber which was his fathers.
Luke is reluctant to go with Kenobi on a quest to help the Princess. Luke is grounded by what his uncle has taught him, Kenobi like the mentor he is declares "that is your uncle talking." However, when Luke returns to his home he realizes that Darth Vader's stormtroopers have killed his aunt and uncle while looking for the droids. Luke returns to Obi-Wan to join him.
Naturally here in mythic stories nothing adheres to reality rather this is all the "will of the force" or revolving around Luke's destiny. The Force represents providence and maintains a will of its own. Obi-Wan had been waiting 20 years for the will of the force to bring Luke to him, and it was eventually his destiny to leave. Fate has manipulated everything in this course of events.
Once the character has left the confines of his home he must use the "threshold guardian" 14 to protect him. This is seen in the Mos-Eisly space port where Kenobi uses his lightsaber to save Luke from a belligerent alien, and another alien who feel the need for a scuffle with our hero. Yet, every time Kenobi is there to save Luke.
The next phase according to Campbell revolves around journeying into the "belly of the whale15" an obvious reference to Jonah. In A New Hope this represents when our hero's are enveloped by the Death Star, our Whale. According to Campbell the hero must then encounter his own "spiritual labyrinth16", which are the endless corridors which Luke must traverse in the Death Star.
It is at this point in the Movie at which we meet the "Godess" which is represented as Princess Leia. During the rescue of Leia is when we see Kenobi's teaching wearing off on Luke as he initiates and succeeded in reducing Leia. Yet they fall into a garbage cell, in which the walls begin to collapse in on them. Campbell maps out the sequence when he describes how "the dreamer is absolutely abandoned in the deep hole of a cellar. The walls of his room keep getting narrower and narrower, so that he can not stir. In this image are combined the mother's womb imprisonment in the cell, and the grave17". Along with the imprisonment Kenobi has gone off to turn off the tractor beam to the mentor has left Luke with the words "the force will be with you, always. 18" This harkens back to the crusades when Crusaders left to the pope saying "the glory of god be with you."
In the final Duel between mater and apprentice, the second meeting between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Kenobi sacrifices himself once his use is up and the hero needs mentoring no more. Once Luke, Han Solo and the rest are safely in the ship Kenobi realizes that his job is finished. He raises his lightsaber and Vader strikes him down. In a brilliant manner Kenobi becomes one with the Force. In a moment of shock Luke yells "NO" but the spirit of Kenobi speaks to Luke saying "Run Luke, Run19." In times of need over the trilogy Kenobi will appear to Luke for advice and consoling.
Having escaped the belly of the whale Campbell states that the hero must make a "Magic flight" 20, in which Luke and Han fight off the fighters of the Death Star to escape to the Rebel Base.
All the classic mythological terms come together at the end of A New Hope when Luke confronts the Death Star as a fighter pilot. Campbell says it is the work of the hero to "slay the tenacious aspect21" meaning the death star in this case which Luke does.
Yet, this is not the end of the line for Luke.
Skipping ahead to the middle of the Empire Strikes Back we again find Luke in a paternal situation, this time with Yoda, the Jedi Master. With Kenobi gone Yoda is given the task to train Luke in the ways of the Force. Yet, Luke leaves his training early due to horrific images of his friends suffering. This is the classic dilemma of the hero, to finish what he has started or to save his friends. Yoda warns of the dangers to Luke to leaving saying he must complete his training22.
Luke rushes to Bespin where Han Solo and Leia and the rest are being held hostage by the Darth Vader. Han Solo, rouge is frozen by the Imperials to give to the bounty hunter searching for him while Leia and Chewbacca are to be imprisoned only to escape with Lando Calrisian, who is at first an imperial only to end up helping our hero's in the end23.
It is a trap set by Vader to get to Luke.
In a darkened arena "the belly of the whale" again Luke meets Vader in a clash of lightsabers. The Dark Lord is clearly more powerful but Luke shows his potential, however, Vader soon overpowers Luke, pushing him to the edge, and cutting off his right hand. It is here where Vader releases his infamous line to Luke, changing the face of the Saga.
Vader tells Luke that Obi-Wan never told him about his father, Luke responds by saying that "You [Vader]" killed him. Vader responds by saying "No Luke, I am your father24." With those words the saga has changed on a dime and the dynamic of the Skywalker saga comes full circle. The paternal mentor Obi-Wan is destroyed by the sword of his true father, the villain of the saga. Again the Oedipal aspect of the saga come through as Luke was attempting to kill his father the entire time, without realizing that Vader was his father. Rather then succumb to Vader's advances Luke sacrifices himself by throwing himself over the edge only to be rescued by the Millennium Falcon and our remaining hero's.
This sets the final stage for Luke and this Oedipal journey in The Return of the Jedi. In the final confrontation between good and Evil the Hero, now matured by time is told by Yoda he must again face Darth Vader, saying it is his destiny. Soon however, Yoda soon dies and disappears into the force. In his moment of need the mentor returns in spiritual form as Obi-Wan appears to Luke. Luke is upset that Kenobi never told Luke that Vader was his father. Kenobi explains how he told Luke the truth 'from a certain point of view." This is the last instance of the mentor teaching the hero, the protection against the truth until the hero was ready. Kenobi further states that Luke must confront Vader25.
The hero's destiny in place Luke again travels to the "Belly of the Whale" in this case a second Death Star. It is here where Luke not only confronts Darth Vader again, but also the evil Emperor. In this showdown with evil the emperor is tempting Luke. Much like Lucifer was to tempt man, the Emperor continuously tries to get Luke to strike down his father. Luke is forced into a fight, and on the brink of killing his father who has been beaten after Luke gave into hate26.
In the climatic moment when Luke stares down to his father who is now missing the same hand as Luke, Luke decides to throw away his lightsaber and declare "you've failed your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me." In doing so he embraces his father identity, and fulfills his destiny though inadvertently.
Much like Hamlet who viewed himself as the "avenger of the murdered father27" Luke stares down the emperor in a standoff between good and evil.
The emperor unleashed lightning into Luke's helpless body. As Luke lays on the floor cringing in pain hollering out to his father, it is clear there is an inner torment going on in Vader's mind. Finally, when it seems all hope has faded Vader picks up the emperor and throws him over into a deep shaft, Killing him and fulfilling Vader, now Anakin's own destiny to bring balance to the force, while Luke has now fulfilled his by saving his father28.
In the celebration which occurs afterwards the spirits of Kenobi, Yoda, and now Anakin Skywalker appear to Luke, as evil has finally been defeated and providence, which is the will of the Force, and take its course.
12 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. P. 51
13 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 72-73
14 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 90
15 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 90
16 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 101
17 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 102-103
18 Episode IV: A New Hope. Dir George Lucas. Mark Hamill. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Alec Guinness. Peter Cushing
19 Episode IV: A New Hope. Dir George Lucas. Mark Hamill. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Alec Guinness. Peter Cushing
20 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 196
21 Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: World 1956. 350
22 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Dir. Irvin Kershner 1980. Mark Hamill. James Earl Jones. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Billy Dee Williams.
23 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Dir. Irvin Kershner 1980. Mark Hamill. James Earl Jones. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Billy Dee Williams.
24 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Dir. Irvin Kershner 1980. Mark Hamill. James Earl Jones. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Billy Dee Williams.
25/SUP> Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. 1983. Dir George Lucas. Mark Hamill, Ian McDiarmid. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Billy Dee Williams.
26 Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. 1983. Dir George Lucas. Mark Hamill, Ian McDiarmid. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Billy Dee Williams.
27 Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet."
28 Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. 1983. Dir George Lucas. Mark Hamill, Ian McDiarmid. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Billy Dee Williams.