In my master’s thesis, I have worked with the original Star Wars trilogy in order to uncover the mythical structure that George Lucas has applied in the movies. I discuss the theories of Joseph Campbell and Vladimir Propp, who both work with the construction of myth. They both work with the structure within traditional mythical tales where they share some similarities in their ideas about how myth is constructed. Looking at myth from the perspective of the hero’s journey, then Campbell takes a more subjective approach to the mythical structure, as he focuses on the transformation of the hero and the meaning of the different stages of the hero’s journey. Propp focuses on the structure and the functions of the different stages, which causes him to function over meaning. Therefore my analysis is based on Campbell’s theories, because I want to analyse Luke Skywalker as Campbell’s mythical hero on a journey towards transformation.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) contains a complete hero’s journey, as Luke goes through all the stages of Campbell’s myth. However, my analysis reveals that Lucas deviates from Campbell in the way that Lucas employs an ensemble of heroes in order to complete the hero’s journey. In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes back (1980) the hero’s journey is restarted and it is not completed before the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983). In these movies, the goal of the hero’s journey is the atonement with the father, which is only achieved through the united effort of the main characters. The efforts of Han Solo and Princess Leia are crucial to the completion of the hero’s journey, as it is through the combined roles of all the heroes that the transformation is achieved. George Lucas has managed to recreate a myth in the original trilogy that maintains its popularity in modern society, as the Star Wars universe continues to expand through remediation.
The myth of Star Wars has relevance in popular culture, which is why I bring in Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard with their theories on myth in modern society. Barthes focuses on how myth is displayed through advertising, which can be related to film in the way that it also portrays a meaning. Meaning can be applied to the life of the audience through the use of a sign, which can be consumed on the same level as a commodity. Therefore it is relevant to view Star Wars as a sign in Jean Baudrillard’s theories on simulacra and simulation, because the sign is remediated across any different types of media.
The consumer will use the sign connected to Star Wars in order to apply that meaning to their own life by referencing the myth through the sign. The remediation of Star Wars is evident in the many different new plots scattered across different mediums that seek to expand and improve on the old plot. This process helps build up the sign that symbolises the myth of Star Wars, as it becomes remediated in popular culture to a point where Star Wars becomes a commodity. Star Wars has become a new type of myth that is applied throughout society through the consumption of the sign that represents the mythical meaning embedded in the hero’s journey presented in Star Wars.
When the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, there would be no way of knowing that the movie would be so well received. It went on to create a franchise that would fan out into many other narratives spread across many different mediums. This resulted in an expanding universe that would constantly elaborate on the original storyline by creating new narratives to improve on the old narrative. The original trilogy would consist of three coherent movies, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983), but later there would also be video games, TV-series, books, action figures and even a prequel trilogy. The success of these expansions of the Star Wars universe suggests that the original trilogy was appealing to its audience, which is interesting to look at in relation to mythology.
George Lucas was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s theory on mythology and the structure of a mythical narrative in his book Hero of a Thousand Faces (first published in 1949). I will compare his theory to that of Vladimir Propp, author of Morphology of the Folktale (first published in in 1958). Both theoreticians work with how myth is structured, which is relevant to how the narrative of Star Wars develops. Looking at how mythology works in movies, I intend to uncover the mythical structure in the original trilogy and relate that to how myth works in modern society. Modern society makes use of symbols in their creation of mythology that applies to a society filled with consumers who wish to establish an identity through the use of signs. Ronald Barthes, author of Mythologies (first published in 1957) has developed a theory around the way that myth is linked with different commodities through advertising, which I will use to argue that films have the same effect by developing signs that demonstrate their moral message. From the perspective of the consumer, signs are used as a way of conveying to the world that they share the same ideology as presented in a mythical narrative. I will bring in Jean Baudrillard’s theories on signs and consumerism, as discussed in Simulacra and Simulation (first published in 1981) and The Consumer Society (first published in 1970), in order to discuss the role of the sign in modern society. In relation to Star Wars, I will discuss how the mythical aspects of the original trilogy may have created a sign that consumers are applying to themselves in order to exhibit their own ideology as connected to that of Star Wars.
I will analyse the journey of Luke Skywalker, as he ventures out into the world and overcomes trials, before he can atone with his long lost father, Darth Vader. I will try to divide his journey into the mythical pattern put forward by Campbell with perspectives to that of Propp. Furthermore, I will investigate the roles of Han Solo and Princess Leia, as they deviate from the roles of the helpers, as presented in Campbell and Propp’s theories. The role of Princess Leia will be compared to Campbell’s theory on the role of the woman in myth, which she seems to differ from as one of the strong characters in the franchise.
The Star Wars franchise has expanded over several different mediums, creating new narratives that elaborate on the story-world of Star Wars. I will discuss the popularity of the franchise with an eye to the impact of the myth and the moral message in Star Wars, which may have been transformed into a sign that is recognised throughout modern society. By creating a mythical ideology that is scattered across many different mediums, it is possible to reach beyond the medium of film and affect more people. The Star Wars Franchise has been able to communicate the myth across many generations in a way that makes it easily recognised in modern society. The mythical message of Star Wars is boiled down to a symbol that is recognised throughout society as a message that good will always triumph over evil.