Let me begin by confessing that I have been a Star Wars fan for a significant portion of my life. It is not my intent to berate the latest film. I do hope to be compassionate in this note for my adolescence and early adulthood were deeply impacted by the first three movies. Like any other fan in 1990s, I would dream of being a Jedi warrior, thirsting to meet my shadow of Darth Vader, on the lookout for my mentor, and seek new adventures. It of course propelled me to seek to understand how this series has been so popular worldwide.
The Star Wars series has been stated as the 21st century modern “mono-myth”, a term coined by Joseph Campbell, who was George Lucas’s mentor. Campbell himself picked up the term – mono-myth, from James Joyce’s writings, and defined it as ‘the hero’s journey’ or a mythological archetype or a mytheme, that re-occurs across world cultures and mythologies.
Lucas was influenced by Campbell and designed and constructed the Star Wars series around what Campbell refers to as the three critical segments of the Hero’s journey across 17 stages, namely – Departure (Separation), Initiation, and Return. Lucas has frequently endorsed the impact of Campbell’s work on constructing the Star Wars mythology – for example he speaks the number of times he has read “The Hero with Thousand Faces” – a brilliantly written book that I encountered in 1999 as a part of my internship in Process Work.
However the recent viewing of the latest release – Star Wars – The Force Awakens, has left me seriously wondering about how a Myth’s structure can be mechanically treated as a commercial formula – to scale up, to splice, to spice up, and to dish out a feel-good narrative that would appeal and seduce, albeit unconsciously, audiences all over the world.
Let me state that the movie is not bad!
It is a must see, but beware of a mechanistic meta-structure lying underneath the narrative – a structure of the mono-myth that remains the same, its quintessence follows Campbell’s insights to the T – the film is built almost on a template!
- Without revealing the plot, we have the hero – a woman following the masculinized model of Luke Skywalker, living in a junked obscure planet. She meets a droid (supernatural aid as per Campbell) and gets initiated into ‘Departure/Separation’ from her world. She goes through the classic stages of Call of the Adventure, experiences the tentativeness and terror in the ‘Refusal to the Call’, and then crosses the threshold. She meets her mentor in the end of this film having resolved to enter the ‘Belly of the Whale’ – a stage where the hero is willing to undergo transformation.
- With reference to the initiation stage, the film presents Han Solo as the father who has to be confronted and perhaps later atoned with by his son. Patricide becomes the recurring theme of the series as a part of apotheosis referred to by Campbell. This is very much in line with the Greek mythologies. Darth Vader’s shadow is reincarnated and introjected by his grandson; he even holds on to Vader’s mask as a symbol of this introjection, and this ritual of course requires him to confront the father and even patricide.
- Each character struggles with his or her Shadow – reinforcing Campbell’s regard for Jungian work on the unconscious. The light and the dark forces flow across the collective unconscious, binding all of us.
- Of course, we have the death star and its impending destruction that becomes the wider canvass for the narrative – with its various sub-plots and side stories. The battles are overtly masculine – agility, dexterity, macho courage and chutzpah being the defining traits of the Hero.
- The robots symbolize the roles of the jester and the trickster, part from being the symbols of new journeys – their quips are well-timed and generate a few laughs here and there.
- The older cast is ushered in with ease and time – making old fans such as me – quite nostalgic and relishing the construction of the new story.
- The latest film uses a young woman and a dark skinned man as the new heroes – this choice of the characters seems too manipulated – with a clear intent to appeal to modern viewer, and be politically correct too.
Yet the structure of the mono-myth remains the same.
The film actually becomes quite predictable and boring. It is this meta-structure of the mono-myth that leaves me as a viewer with fundamental questions:
- Is the mythology of the Hero only restricted to the meta-structure of the past narratives as offered by Campbell? Are there no new designs and journeys possible?
- By repeating the same myth in newer forms, have myths too become a safety blanket – the promise of a templatized journey that an onlooker can consume and engage as a voyeur and then feel good about it?
- Do modern myths trigger new action choices at all in the modern world?
- I do hope to initiate a dialogue on this and there would be more blogs and posts on this theme of the mono-myth or the Hero’s Journey.
5 thoughts on “Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Beware the relentless and mechanistic deployment of the Mono-myth template”
Let me confess I have seen none from the ‘Star Wars’ series of films. But your piece brings it alive with layers that I am almost certain to have missed had I seen the film. You obviously see films through lens that look into and beyond a simple, singular narrative. I wonder where this leaves you in terms of the pleasures of undiluted sensory experience.
The mono-myth and your reflections and questions around it are refreshing. I take it that you question the universality and timelessness of the ‘hero’s journey’ and whether other hero-pathways and narratives are even conceivable. Is there a possibility that you unwittingly have chosen to look at film through the Campbell lens and reinforced its hold in the process, rather than seek to discover a different lens and an alternative analysis?
Thank you. Keep your posts coming.
Well responded Naren. It is difficult to perceive gourmet creativity in a Mcdonald burger – bringing in a different and personal lens was difficult for me!
HI I have seen the movie and I did find it boring (as you said it) and a bit immaturely treated. While I have seen the other star war movies and have been a big fan, this one did not hold my interest for long. I also found the relationship a bit forced between the female protagonists and the coloured hero. the film left me dissatisfied with only the last scene for hope. I would like to see the what happens next.
As for your analysis, I found them to be very good, however, for people who are not familiar with Campbell’s work, may not be able to relate to.
As for your last question, I wonder whether any real adventure is left in the current moder world? Perhaps all adventures are taking place in the virtual world, in our minds or in the regio-political spaces where the protagonist is reduced to being one of the many soldiers who must die for a cause. I wonder whether the current world space has any more need to find oneself any more? Or has that need been replaced by something else? I wonder!
Very nicely written and I just finished reading the other one on Disneyland visit too, and there is a link between the two that I find.
first let’s talk about the movie. while i enjoyed parts of it, it actually bored me, i found it to be predictable (the moment the girl showed up on the screen and started talking to the droid, one knew this was the one, and so on and so forth). However, I was blaming the boredom to my age. 🙂 But then at the end when I got up to leave, I found a teenager fast asleep in his nice comfy seat and his family members had to try hard to wake him up. I told myself, “oh, he is too young to have known about star wars series”…. 🙂
You stated and I quote: ” I wonder whether the current world space has any more need to find oneself any more? Or has that need been replaced by something else? I wonder!”
I am more and more of the belief (and may sound very depressing too) that today’s world the need for adventure is largely in virtual reality! hence finding oneself through adventure can be done through joining online gaming community and actually playing with people from various lands without ever having to meet them.
It is also possible to be adventurous and “slay many dragons” through one’s tweets and FB posts, at times, without any responsibility as it is everyone’s space and yet no one’s space. To that extent all the things that you have written on your next post about FB seem
Even the comment that I am writing here without having a face to face conversation is a proof in point.
I think the simulacra of today’s world, among many things, is to belief that one is presenting many faces to the world (largely through virtual reality) and remaining just the same without taking any journey or actual adventure.
Another friend wrote on FB that he witnessed something disturbing the other day. He saw that passengers who got onto the Volvo buses from airport to their destination, dumped their luggage on the floor of the bus while taking seats, and the conductor had to organise the luggage (as though it was his job) without any help from any of the passengers. The simulacra here is that the “world is my oyster” and hence “i am entitled to be served” – this is one face being presented to a world where one holds no responsibility and no accountability, while the same faces at work would probably be just the opposite.
The faces of the heroes are thus get pasted onto the symbol of others often on the virtual spaces, like the outpouring of messages for the recently martyred Lt Col Niranjan (no disrespect to him) and mostly leaving out the others who also were martyred at the same time, also represent our fascination with creating heroes and myths to cover up our inability to find the heroes in ourselves or inability to go onto actual adventure.
I liked both your blog posts and I hope there will be some more responses.
Power Trip Lyrics
from Louder Than Love
I want to be
A cowboy star upon the screen
Oh hey and I want to drive
My cowboy car across the scene
Oh hey and I want to write
The magazines the housewives read
And I want to be
In control of everything
I want to be king
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