The Star Wars phenomenon may be partly explained by religious or political readings: the story of a rapacious Empire vs a scattered, brave and under-funded rebellion resonates across time and (geographical) space. Jediism, and its concept of ‘the force’ in particular, has religious qualities recognisable by many observers. The extent of the cultural pull of Star Wars requires reference to other conceptual structures as well, however: those of fairy tale, classical myth quests and the ‘family romance’ in a post-Freudian world.
The pleasures and satisfactions of tropes and themes familiar from childhood go some way to account for the die-hard quality of fans’ devotion. Fairy tales are about conflicts with parents; about growing up. Male protagonists often undertake a quest, while female protagonists are abused at home, or driven out by hostile older women (in the main). Some tales employ both male and female lead characters. In Hansel and Gretel, say, a brother and sister are exiled and unable to find their way home after suffering the effects of a weak father. Sound familiar? Star Wars injects a further twist by separating them.
This separation adds a quintessentially Freudian frisson to the Star Wars story. The siblings’ natural affection for each other - a deep mutual recognition - is misunderstood by Luke when they are reunited. He thinks it’s sexual desire, and is unwittingly reliant on his wiser sister to repel his erotic drive. The suggestion of incest has Freudian companions in the symbolic castration of Luke by his father when he cuts off his hand and in the battle that culminates in Darth Vader’s death.
The quest for the absent father is perhaps the strongest component of a mythic reading of Star Wars. ‘You knew my father?’, asks Luke. What he hears in response determines all that follows. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who answers him, is my favourite character: a fairy godfather if ever I saw one. ‘These are not the droids you’re looking for’, he says, altering reality in a later scene. The experience of redemptive love, to which his counsel eventually leads Luke, is a yet more impressive aspect of his gift.
This article is part of our Star Wars collection. The articles in this special dedicated to Star Wars pay homage to the films and franchise while looking at out of this world themes. You can help Yoda sort out his syntax, decipher a moon from a fully operational deathstar, find out whether jediism is a religion and much more. Look now, you must.
You may also like to view our pages on Astronomy - just in case you fancy heading to a galaxy far far away any time soon!