Today we continue with the second of a special brief trilogy on the Star Wars mystique from a spiritual standpoint presented by ZENIT International News Agency. This second deals with the guru who influenced George Lucas, producer and creator of the Star Wars phenomenon as ZENIT examines if it was from Christian roots or new age mumbo jumbo.
COSMIC CHRIST OR CAMPBELL'S SOUP?
Joseph Campbell, the Man behind the myth
NEW YORK, MAY 21 (ZENIT).- To those "non-initiated" fans of the Star Wars
saga, who are more mesmerized by Queen Amidala's couture and hairstyles or
the size of the rocket engines on 9 year-old Anakin's podracer than the
content of the dialogues, read no further. This article is not for you.
But if you've ever asked yourself what goes on inside the mind of the man
who made the movie, where does he get his inspiration and, as Alice in
Wonderland asked the Cheshire cat: "what does it all really mean?" then
read on. You might be surprised at what you find.
The Myth Behind the Movie
While George Lucas is respected and revered in Hollywood for his
record-breaking, oscar-winning special effects of computer generated images
and cutting edge digital sound systems, it would be a serious oversight to
dismiss his own intellectual prowess and ability to tell stories and create
During his recent interview with Bill Moyers published in Time's April 26
edition, Lucas admits: "With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create
myths and the classic mythological motifs." And adds, "I'm telling an old
myth in a new way. ... I guess I'm localizing it for the end of the
millennium more than I am for any particular place."
In a 1997 L.A. Times Magazine article, Patrick Goldstein remarked that
"Lucas is as well read as any filmmaker of his generation -- one of his
impromptu monologues on the psychological imprint of mythology in primitive
cultures could easily pass muster at any graduate seminar lecture."
Andrew Gordon, an English professor at the University of Florida, commented
that Lucas, "with the more overt treatment of archetypes," is also "playing
to the academics who have touted his saga from the beginning as serious
modern-day mythology. "
But what about the actual content of the Star Wars trilogy, and now, the
new Phantom Menace release: is it "just a movie" as Lucas retorted in a New
York press conference last week, or is there an intentional effort to
propose "something else?"
Michael Medved, author of the bestseller "Hollywood Versus America" and the
follow-up video "Hollywood Versus Religion," points out that it's na´ve to
accept movie director's assertions that hidden religious messages are often
"unintentional" and that viewers are just "reading more into the script"
than what's really there.
How can you possibly admit that these things have been "overlooked" in
major studio productions, he affirms, when directors and producers spend
thousands of dollars investigating the most minute aspects of every scene,
from the period costumes to background lighting to the best camera angles
for the greatest impact on viewers? Religious objects, images and
especially dialogue, he maintains, are carefully combed and reworked until
the effect is "just right."
In Lucas' case, much of the mythological content of his own work has come
under the direct influence of the late American mythologist and philosopher
of religion, Joseph Campbell.
According to Donal Leonard, professor of philosophy of religion at the
Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, who did his doctoral thesis
on Joseph Campbell, "in Lucas Campbell maintained that he saw the man who
understands what metaphor is and managed to translate aspects of his work
into modern problems, such as the relation between man and the machine."
"George Lucas," he adds, "has on many occasions explicitly referred to this
influence. Lucas changed the script after readings of Campbell's 'The Hero
with a Thousand Faces' and 'The Masks of God.' Up until 1994, Lucas was a
member of the Board of Advisors of the Joseph Campbell Foundation."
In fact, in a tribute to Campbell in 1985, film-maker Lucas affectionately
referred to him as "my Yoda" and explained that he was indebted to Campbell
for many of the main ideas present in the cosmology of the original
trilogy. Campbell, in turn, said he was "proud that something I did helped
[George] define his own truth."
The Man Behind the Myth
Joseph Campbell was born in New York in 1904. Son of Charles Campbell and
Josephine Lynch, both of his grandfathers had been immigrant workers from
He was raised a Catholic in New Rochelle, N.Y. and devoured children's
books on American Indian folklore, as well as amassing a large personal
collection of Indian artifacts. He began having serious doubts of faith in
his undergraduate years at Dartmouth College and, after receiving his M.A.
in literature from Columbia, he spent two years studying in Europe, first
at the University of Paris, then in Munich, where he discovered the works
of Freud and Carl Jung.
Belden Lane, professor of theology and American studies at Saint Louis
University, writes that Campbell was "continually drawn to the image world
of medieval Christianity as symbolized in the cathedral of Chartres" and
that he "recognized the force of Christian myth."
Nevertheless, Lane continues, "he also harshly criticized Western theology
and carefully distanced himself from the church. Christian theology, in his
view, needs the intensive and universalizing influences of mythology.
Campbell frequently would contrast the priest, who serves as a custodian of
facts, with the shaman, who functions as a sharer of experience. He cited
Jung's warning that religion can easily become a defense against the
experience of God."
While an academic in his own right and an accomplished writer, Joseph
Campbell broke into mainstream America during a six-part television
interview with Bill Moyers, which quickly became the highest rated
broadcast in the history of PBS.
The 1988 interview was filmed "on location" at the sprawling 2,500-acre
Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, owned by none other than
George Lucas. During the encounter, which later was adapted into the
best-selling book, "The Power of Myth," Campbell expounds his vision of
myth, religion, belief, symbols and everything having to do with the
Some claim that it was this interview, together with the original Lucas
Star Wars trilogy which unleashed the landslide of interest in all things
religious which overtook the U.S. in the past two decades.
"Channeling cosmic forces," "searching for your 'inner-self,' " "seeking to
balance the light side with the dark side," among others, all began to
trickle down into the ordinary lives of soccer moms and yuppie executive
dads and emerged into what was eventually vaguely labeled as "New Age"
philosophy, complete with its own music, artwork, retreat centers and gurus.
Several sociologists hold that the popularizing "force" for this mystical
movement initially came from the underlying spiritual motif of the Star War
series which allowed viewers to forget their post-Vietnam fears and escape
from reality into the reassuring mythology of a distant land "a long time
ago, in a galaxy far, far away."
So it's not surprising that reporters have described some of the "warrers"
camped out for nights in front of theaters for tickets to the first release
of the new trilogy as "pilgrims" at the end of the millennium looking for a
new religious experience of the force.
As the promotional material of the 'Phantom Menace' proclaims: "Every saga
has a beginning" but some, whether tired of so much modern mythology or
just overwhelmed by the phenomenon of the social event and Toys-R-Us tie
ins, are already beginning to ask "when will it ever end?"
Tomorrow: Reactions to the Theology of Star Wars