Wars: Beyond the Force
Apart from one of the
biggest theatre successes of all time, the six Star Wars movie also
are one of the biggest on-screen renditions of archetypal mythology,
set against a deep space background and a war between good and evil.
films have become the subject of such intense interest as Star Wars
has. When the first instalment was released in 1977, no-one would have
imagined that it would take until 2005 – almost thirty years –
until “the saga” was concluded. That it concluded with episode
three out of a total of six merely underlined the strange appeal and
success of the movie.
Wars is the brainchild of George Lucas. It is the story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth
Vader – even though the original three episodes (4-6), produced
between 1977 and 1983, are mainly about the adventures of Luke Skywalker
– his son. Here, we find that “Lucas” has transformed
himself into “Luke”, for Star Wars would become a path of
discovery for the director himself – from a personal commitment
to a hundred of millions of dollars production.
Wars blends mythology and technology, in a precursor to The Matrix trilogy,
where light sabres were replaced with bullet-dodging people that had
been “plugged in”. In both cases, it is about the manipulation
of a Force – a matrix – in which Rebels are dead set to
win against an oppressive regime.
of the key ingredients of the movie’s success is “the Force”,
with its “White” and “Dark Side”. In a British
census of 2001, many entered “Jedi” as the form of their
religion, showing how persuasive – and mythical – the components
of the movie are. The family name of Skywalker is highly religious –
shamanic: a walker of the sky. It links perfectly with the Jedi –
an order of warrior knights, apparently based on the Knights Templar,
in which both father Anakin and son Luke are being trained.
The Jedi Order follows the “White Side” of the Force. Like
the Knights Templar, they are largely independent of worldly powers,
yet always close to the rulers. Like the Knights Templar, the Jedi eventually
fall foul of the Emperor (whereas the Templars were destroyed by the
French king). They are also like the Grail Brotherhood, whereby their
final goal is inspired by the highest principles – if not divine
kingship. Their mastery of the Force is to nurture it for good –
for a higher purpose, not just for material – worldly –
gains. Their techniques are the use of the Force for knowledge and defence,
their final goal is the ascent of the soul, to “the Otherworld”.
Another parallel with
the Grail Brotherhood and Luke’s identification with Perceval
is that like Perceval, Luke is unaware of his origins… as well
as the royal lineage in which he grew up. Like Perceval, he is unable
to harness the special powers and abilities, which are subsequently
brought out by a series of teachers.
Like Perceval, he reluctantly leaves the homeland (the planet Tatooine)
on a quest that takes him over a supernatural threshold into a strange
the opposite side is the “Dark Side”, whose followers are
known as Sith. This is an ancient order of Force-practitioners devoted
to the dark side and determined to destroy the Jedi. Lucas gives their
history like this: the Sith were a menace long thought extinct. The
current incarnation of the Sith is the result of a rogue Jedi dissident
from the order. 2000 ago, this Jedi had come to the understanding that
the true power of the Force lay not through contemplation and passivity.
Only by tapping its dark side could its true potential be gained. The
Jedi Council rejected this interpretation, with the knight becoming
an outcast. He was, of course, able to gain followers to his new order.
But – as could be expected – the order self-destructed,
with only one Sith able to survive. Darth Bane then restructured the
cult, so that there could only be two – no more, no less: a master
and an apprentice.
Star Wars begins, the master Darth Sidious and his apprentice is Darth
Maul. By that time, the galaxy believed that the Sith were extinct,
but Qui-Gon Jinn’s report of a Sith attack on Tatooine changes
that opinion. The unwillingness to trust of the Jedi Council is here
already revealed, as Qui-Gon’s report is met with hesitation and
skepticism. Surely if the Sith had returned, the Jedi would have detected
it, they reason.
With the death of Darth Maul at Naboo, the Jedi Council realise that
the Sith menace is indeed true. But what they do not know is whether
Maul was the master, or the apprentice. When they finally learn how
the pieces fit in the puzzle – and who the new apprentice to Darth
Sidious/Emperor Palpatine is, the power of the Dark Force has been able
to control the entire galaxy.
In Episode three,
Palpatine gives key insights into what he has been taught from his master.
It is mastery of the material world, for largely material and personal
gains. Physical longevity, if not immortality, is a key ingredient,
as well as superhuman strength. Its emphasis is on the here and now,
rather than the Hereafter.
the completion of all six episodes, it is clear that the journey marks
the birth, growth, fall, realisation and ascension of Darth Vader/Anakin
Skywalker. The shift away from Luke to Anakin as the master of the series
occurred in the late 80s/early 90s, the so-called “hiatus period”,
between episode 4-6 and 1-3.
What causes Anakin’s fall is a problem of trust, coupled with
his particular weakness: the love for a woman, Padme. Anakin sees that
his obedience to the Jedi order is not met by their display of trust;
the Jedi Council feels Anakin’s unrestfullness, his “Dark
Side”, but rather than guide him through his weakness –
by giving recognition and trust – they withhold parental ratification,
which brings him ever further from his Jedi destiny. As an orphan, Anakin
feels quite naturally attracted to a father figure like Senator Palpatine,
the future Emperor, and master of the Dark Side. In episode 3, it is
quite clear that Anakin’s “Fall” is less to do with
any shenanigans by Senator Palpatine, then with the Jedi Order’s
continued blindness towards Anakin’s needs; Palpatine, in fact,
is just the safety net, which is there to catch him once Anakin has
fallen of the Jedi tightrope.
last three episodes are about the ascent of Darth Vader. In episode
4, there is the confrontation between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi,
the “rematch” of a similar fight between Anakin and the
Jedi knight; In the first fight (episode 3), Anakin is left half-dead,
the direct result of which will be his transformation in what is close
to a robot: a mechanical body, operated by a Jedi knight’s mind
– turned to the Dark Side of the Force. In the rematch, Darth
Vader is able to win the fight – though Obi-Wan performs a self-sacrifice,
which guarantees his ascent. Obi-Wan tells Vader that “if you
strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
At first, Darth Vader does not seem to understand, but it seems that
this sacrifice and the slow realisation that his two children are alive
and actively fighting the cause for the Rebellion are key ingredients
in which Vader slowly begins the path of redemption, with the notion
that at his death, he may ascend – provided sacrifice can be shown
before his death. Though the latter is not made clear in the movie,
it is a key mythological component, which Lucas has written into the
plot of episode 6 – the finale.
is taught by the same mentors of his father: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda,
who are tried and tested not to make the same mistake with the son as
they have made with the father.
In episode 4, the role of faith – trust – is once again
underlined. Luke has not yet developed the ability to see “the
ascended masters”, move objects, or know the future, and so what
he sees of the Force’s power is more limited. He observes Obi-Wan’s
Jedi “mind-trick” when confronted by a storm trooper, and
begins his warrior training when he learns to fight a combat training
droid without seeing it.
His mastery of the Force becomes visible when he blows up the Death
Star, without computer assistance. It underlined a theme that in the
early 1980s was only in its infancy: mankind’s reliance on more
and more technology, in which the “old ways” are slowly
being forgotten. It is visualised in a confrontation between an Imperial
officer and Darth Vader, in which the latter’s ancient religion
is ridiculed by one of the Imperial officers as inadequate next to the
technological power of the Death Star – the ultimate technology,
which nevertheless is only able to destroy.
Throughout episode 4, Vader appears to be an anachronism in the Empire,
as no one else seems to believe in the mystical dimension he does; his
faith is a peculiarity in the otherwise secularized and technology-driven
Empire. As Governor Tarkin puts it: “The Jedi are extinct; their
fire has gone out in the universe. You, my friend, are all that is left
of their religion.” It is indeed an anachronism that virtually
the sole incorporation of the Force – and evidence of its power
– are originally Darth Vader –with Emperor Palpatine gaining
a primary role only later in the saga. By episode 5, we see that not
Luke’s power has grown, but that Darth Vader’s prominence
in the Emperical line of Command has equally increased. From a private
project by the Emperor, he has now been given “line management”
of some of the Imperial Troops, on his ascent to becoming the successor
of Darth Sidious – and the future Emperor.
a long time, Luke, like his father, lacks the total belief required
to be a Jedi; when he says it is impossible to lift his ship out of
the Dagobah swamp and Yoda does it for him, he can only say “I
don’t believe it!” to which master Yoda replies: “That
is why you fail.”
The possibility that they may feel in Luke’s education and that
history will repeat itself is always there – and everyone is aware
of it. Like Anakin has lost his hand in episode 2, so does Luke lose
his in episode 5 – whereby Vader loses his mechanical hand once
again in episode 6. At this moment, the Emperor exhorts Luke to kill
Vader and “take your father’s place at my side.” It
is now that Luke throws down his weapon. “I am a Jedi, like my
father before me,” he says. He is able to come to this decision,
as he sees himself about to suffer the same fate
as his father; in particular, he looks at the stump of Vader’s
electronic hand and then at his own machine hand which he was given.
It is the recognition that “Time” has pencilled out the
same course, and both father and son are at a junction. Whereas the
Force has made sure that the path of father and son can be repeated,
Luke, like Neo in the Matrix, realises that he needs to act differently
– think outside of the box, so that history will not repeat itself.
Luke shows his mastery of the Force by throwing away his sword. Rather
than a fighting hero, typified by the Archangel Michael slaying the
dragon, Luke triumphs by letting the Force work through him. It is exactly
the same component that is present in the final Neo-Smith fight in the
Matrix, whereby both forces realise that their battle can continue indefinitely
– unless some changes tactics and realises that letting the Dark
Side take control so that it can be destroyed passively, may be the
only way to succeed.
The Dark Force masters tend to speak of “destiny” in a way
that suggests free will is non-existent; but the “White Side”
always allows participants to choose their own destinies, granting that
free choice can and does contribute to the direction of events. When
Luke asks Yoda (in episode 5) if Han and Leia will die, the small green
man replies, “Difficult to say. Always in motion is the future.”
What will happen depends on the choices that individuals make, and this
cannot be foretold with complete certainty.
the Skywalker family’s final battle with Emperor Palpatine, the
“White Side” of the Force wins – though it takes the
life of Anakin. Like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him, his ascent is guaranteed
– and is confirmed in a final apparition to Luke. Luke’s
transformation from a self-centred person into a crusader with a grand
purpose is now successful; Obi-Wan and specifically Yoda have “evened
out” their own karma....
But Luke has not been alone on his journey to self-realisation –
and ego-negation. There is his twin sister, Leila, which reminds us
of the many myths in which twin heroes form the centre of the story,
specifically in efforts to balance out the Forces of the Universe. Though
less visible, the same path to enlightenment is also taken by Han Solo,
an unwilling “comrade in arms”, who ends up as Luke’s
co-traveller. When he is turned to stone in a carbonite block, many
have observed that the “reborn Solo” has become a new person,
willing to meet the higher challenges that he is encountering on his
Solo at first negates the power of the Force: “Kid, I’ve
flown from one end of this galaxy to the other; I’ve seen a lot
of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe
there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s
no mystical energy field controlling my destiny. It’s all a lot
of simple tricks and nonsense.” He attributes to luck what Luke
and Ben attribute to the Force, and he trusts in his own abilities rather
than any transcendent power. Nevertheless, his unwillingness to use
the Force – or even believe in it – is, as it is in life,
no prerogative to walk the path towards ascension.
has been described as the first mass media mythologist. His inspiration
for these mythical themes originated from a personal friendship
with the late Joseph Campbell, perhaps the best-known expert in
the field. Campbell is best known for two books: Masks of God
and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. These books inspired Lucas
tremendously and Campbell himself was grateful that the director
had presented the elements of Luke’s initiations so clearly.
Campbell was equally impressed that Lucas had so diligently presented
this large mystery in a way that was so accessible to large numbers
Campbell defined the Hero Cycle, a course of events that occurs
as a rite of initiation in every myth, pinpointing the need for
mentors, villains, elixirs and jesters along the way. This Hero
Cycle can be found in the story from ancient Egypt or Greece,
via the medieval Grail legends… to Star Wars… and
Each ingredient is present in the life of Luke. Like Anakin, Luke
is on the path to enlightenment – a Jedi, a shaman –
but like his father, he has to fight his demons, symbolised in
a battle scene in the forest, where he fights Darth Vader and
when successful, is staring at his own face… it is a clear
message that what needs to be conquered is the self – the
ego – the fear – if one wants to be successful. Liberation
comes from self-realisation. Anakin before him was never able
to let go of his ego – which resulted in his weaknesses
of trust and love.
If anything, Star Wars is different from ancient myths in the
sense that it has two heroes, whereby both father and son are
successful in their mission. Whereas the theme of the Evil Father
searching the galaxy to destroy his own son is a known and tried
theme in Greek mythology, Lucas successfully re-engineered the
individual building blocks, which guaranteed a slightly different
outcome than was the norm. If Star Wars will ever become a true
legacy of 20th century mythology, it may be such details that
will have enabled that recognition.