The Jedi’s Journey: Star Wars and Mythology

All stories are technically mythology. We have an innate need as humans to tell tales about ourselves, the world, and the mysteries within and without. Even some movies touch a very deep part of our psyche, such as the Star Wars saga, in which the classic elements of Star Wars and mythology go hand in hand.

From the very first entry, it was clear that this franchise was more like a fairy tale than a sci-fi thriller. There were quests, supernatural energies, magic characters, and a struggle between light and dark told with religious yet non-proselytizing imagery. In other words, a story formula found all across mythology.

The basic plot of Star Wars: A New Hope demonstrates how the hero takes a risk, gets assistance, and achieves a feat that impacts the world — or the whole galaxy. The prequels and sequels, while different in many ways, continued to follow this basic outline.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

We can thank one of George Lucas’s major influences for these mythic themes. A scholar and professor named Joseph Campbell was the leading voice in mythological studies in the 1940s. He posited that mythology was a metaphorical connection to everyday human experience. He also painstakingly demonstrated the similarities between many different stories.

George Lucas has repeatedly expressed gratitude for Campbell’s writings. Without the author’s seminal work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the Star Wars films might never have existed at all. But because of Campbell’s interpretation of ancient stories, we now have an exhaustive fictional universe that often rings true with our own life challenges as well as our deepest desires.

Read on to find out how the Star Wars story is actually our story.

The Hero’s Cycle in Star Wars

One of Campbell’s major contributions to the subject of mythology is his idea of the Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth. While there are innumerable variations, most of the important mythic narratives follow the same basic pattern. One or more heroes is called to adventure, to a life greater than they ever imagined. Then, they are given a task which could be personal or universal.

The hero typically leaves the security of home and undertakes a process of transformation. Luke Skywalker™ is a perfect example, as he leaves his safe and mundane life on a vapor farm to take part in galactic events, find new friends, confront his father, and uncover his deepest self along the way.

In most mythologies, the hero partakes in trials to prove their worth, crossing difficult boundaries in the process. These borders were often written to be metaphorical for the bridges we cross in our own lives: marriage, parenthood, career, and the ultimate boundary, death.

If successful, the hero receives a boon to be brought back to their own community. This could be something like the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend or the rescue of someone important. But to achieve this goal, the hero usually needs a little help.

Supernatural Aid

In Campbell’s view, every epic story sees the hero receive assistance from a supernatural character outside the norm of their reality. This could be a fairy, a wizard, a deity, or any number of beings. For example, Athena often helps mortals in the Iliad and the Odyssey, Greek works attributed to Homer.

In the first Star Wars trilogy, Obi-Wan Kenobi™ and Yoda™ serve as Luke Skywalker’s guides. These characters open Skywalker up to possibilities he never dreamed of, endowing him with powers from the Force and the lightsaber.

The hero’s aid doesn’t always have to be magical, but it is usually at least outside their regular life path. Jar Jar Binks™ and the Gungans™ serve as guides for Qui-Gon Jinn™ and Kenobi in The Phantom Menace™. Maz Kanata™ and Han Solo™ serve this purpose for Rey™ in The Force Awakens™, with Maz even gifting her a lightsaber and a closer connection to the Force. This is in line with the ancient stories, where the helpers provide the hero with weapons, talismans, or spells.

The Belly of the Whale

In world mythology, there is often a specific period of darkness where the hero must escape from some sort of trap or tomb. This ordeal can be called “The Belly of the Whale” after the Biblical story of a disobedient Jonah being swallowed by a “great fish.”

In the Campbellian school of thought, this event represents the World Navel, or the return of being to the mysterious source from which it sprung. This is clearly a womb metaphor. As with all mythology, the pattern rings true in our very souls, for the trap/water/grave can represent the unconscious mind.

This motif is used several times in the Star Wars saga. In A New Hope, Luke and company fall inside a garbage compactor as the walls close in around them. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo’s ship is trapped in the throat of a snake-like asteroid beast. Likewise, The Phantom Menace features heroes being briefly confined to the subterranean waters of Naboo™.

And more recently, in The Book of Boba Fett, the titular hero survives being swallowed by the sarlacc™, burning his way out and thus avoiding the thousand year digestion cycle. Like most other myths, these Star Wars stories see their heroes push through a death-like experience and emerge with renewed strength and determination.

Sacrifice/Rebirth in Star Wars and Mythology

Throughout the pantheons of gods and goddesses, a number of deities are sacrificed or give up their lives willingly before being resurrected. This death affects the universe in many of these stories, perhaps creating the world as in the Mesopotamian tale of Tiamat. The resurrection usually has an even greater effect, providing life to a dying community or remaking the entire cosmos.

It is thought by most anthropologists that these stories are an expression of life’s universal mode of being: death makes room for new life, and the burying of a seed leads to reproduction. Powerful examples include the Norse god, Odin; Egypt’s Osiris and Anubis; Dionysus of the Greeks; and Christianity’s Jesus Christ.

The clearest instance of this motif in Star Wars is in The Empire Strikes Back. Right after an intense battle with Darth Vader™, Luke Skywalker falls to what should have been his death. He hangs from scaffolding thousands of feet in the air. Vader has just revealed his fatherhood, so Luke’s soul is crushed. The young Jedi’s™ body is broken and battered from the duel, and his hand has been severed.

In a way, he has just experienced death. The scaffolding from which he hangs is quite similar to Christ’s cross. His father, by turning to evil and trying to destroy him, has forsaken him. It isn’t exactly the same as the Christian story, but the parallels are definitely there. And sure enough, after a miraculous rescue, Luke resurrects himself as one of the most powerful Jedi in history.

A similar event happens in The Rise of Skywalker™ when Rey is essentially defeated by her grandfather, Darth Sidious™. At the very brink of death, the power of all past Jedi, and even former enemy Kylo Ren™, flows into her and gives her new life. With this newfound strength, Rey defeats evil and saves the universe.

The most obvious meaning of such stories is that our lives are balanced by forces we don’t understand. We can take hope knowing that for every death we suffer through, every failure or heartache that challenges us, a resurrection is just around the corner. The hero must simply gather their courage, accept help from friends, and find wisdom from the past to make the task more bearable.

Notice any other connections between Star Wars and mythology? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!