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.