Myths and history references in a modern legend
The Force Awakens
Storytelling is our business at The Copy Collective. Stories have fascinated humans since the days around the campfire. Compelling stories that shine a light on human behaviour have, over time, become myths and then legends. The Star Wars franchise is a modern classic in the myth and legend mould, with references that have become part of our everyday life. Part of its success is the fact that the famous space opera references many older works of myth and legend.
From the Roman Empire’s chariot races to Lord of the Rings, and Japan’s Samurai to World War II, director George Lucas’ most recognisable work draws inspiration and parallels throughout centuries of history and myths. Some of the series most iconic features have had outside influences from latter-day campfire stories–movies – to historical epochs. Take the crawl of text that starts each film in the series; it͛s likely that it was inspired by the 1940 TV serial Flash Gordon. The planet of Coruscant bears remarkable similarities to Blade Runner‘s depiction of 2019 Los Angeles. The fall of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire can be seen as a mirror for the Galactic Republic to the Galactic Empire.
Twins Luke and Leia can be seen as science fiction versions of Zeus’ twins Apollo and Artemis/Diana. Apollo was the god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and light, plague, and poetry. Artemis/Dianna was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, virginity, childbirth and the moon. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Luke and Leia reference the sun and moon; Luke being from a desert planet with two suns and Leia always wearing white–which is the garb of both the moon and virgins.
Arthurian Myth or Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ, King Arthur or Luke Skywalker? A young protagonist with uncertain parentage; an old mentor with supernatural powers (John the Baptist, Merlin or Obi-Wan Kenobi), and a legendary father. Arthur and Luke respectively gain fabled weapons;the magical sword Excalibur and a lightsaber.
While Jesus Christ wields no weapon, he meets his death by crucifixion. The cross becomes one of the most powerful symbols in modern history. These messianic figures are tested and undergo transformational change as they travel from zeroes to heroes.
Star Wars, through its spiritual themes, bears similarities to many religions around the world. Think of the chosen one echoing Messiahs (Judeo-Christian) and their ability to bring peace. Prana is the life force; in Hindu philosophy. And the Chinese Chi connects the universe much like the Force does in the Star Wars universe. Meditation, a practice in many world religions, also plays a large role in the lives of the Jedi.
A period of political instability leads to the fall of both the Roman Republic and the Galactic Republic. Slave rebellions, internal and external war and military changes all create an uncertain political landscape. The Roman Republic and the Galactic Republic both ended with one man becoming all-powerful; Octavian–later known as Augustus, and Palpatine–later known as Lord Sidious.
With princesses and knights, Star Wars harks back to the feudal system of the Middle Ages; complete with both slaves and the practice of chivalry.
Perhaps the most familiar inspiration in Star Wars is drawn from the Second World War. The term storm trooper comes straight from the German words for the group the SS grew from Stoßtruppen (shock/assault trooper) and Sturmmann (literally ‘storm man’). The uniforms of Imperial Officers have a striking similarity to that of the Nazi͛s. The snowy tundra that is the planet Hoth gains its name from Hermann Hoth, a German general who served on the snowy eastern front. The Force Awakens’ First Order is derived from a group of Nazis who fled after the war and continued their activities in the hope of establishing the Fourth Reich. The Force Awakens also contains a scene that could almost be out of a history book in its similarities to a Nazi rally.
Lord of the Rings
Though not a myth itself, like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings has reached mythic proportions. Written during World War II, the novel series does not directly reference the war or the Nazis. However, several themes emerge that relate to people facing dark and uncertain times. Both have a young protagonist who wants to leave their home and go on adventures, as did a fabled older relative. Both young protagonists establish an unlikely group of friends, and this group of unlikely heroes assists them in their quest. A scene with a strong parallel between the fabled series is where the protagonist is trapped (Mines of Moria/Death Star), attacked by a creature with tentacle-like appendages, and the old wizard sacrifices himself (Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi) to save the young hero.
Star Wars teaches us, through the rich art of storytelling, that foes can be overcome, dark times are certain, but there are still good people who are prepared to make great sacrifices for the good of all. And don’t we all need these assurances from time to time? May the Force be with you.