George Lucas, the writer and director behind the Star Wars franchise, was influenced by the work of Joseph Campbell and Campbell’s work on myth. Campbell’s scholarship was controversial (he was accused of anti-Semitism and racism) but he was certainly influenced by classical theories of myth which stressed the various psychological and sociological functions of myth. For example, it was claimed that myths express the basic human archetypes stored in the collective unconscious which remains, for the most part, beyond ordinary conscious awareness. Myth’s ability to give us access to it poses the possibility for psychological integration and well-being. On the other hand, myths were also regarded as having sociological functions namely, myths function ideologically to provide society with a kind of ‘social charter’ to authorize and legitimise social arrangements.
Can these ideas help us understand the Star Wars phenomena? Does a science fiction story about a bunch of renegades dabbling in faster-than-light space ships, light sabres and animism (the Force) while trying to overthrow a corrupt and despotic Empire, have any resonance for audiences today? The psychological certainty that good will prevail over evil is a vital ingredient in the success of the Star Wars franchise. Equally important is the sociological significance of cinema and popular culture more generally as a means of story-telling for audiences enmeshed in the great, fragmenting centrifuge of post-modernity.
This article is part of our Star Wars collection. The articles in this special dedicated to Star Wars pay homeage 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.
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