Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers Break Down Star Wars as an Epic, Universal Myth

Some of Star Wars’ detractors call the series schlocky, blunt, predictable, and implausible even by fantasy’s standards. A defender might respond that they’re looking at it all wrong: to appreciate Star Wars, you need to watch it as an epic myth. George Lucas himself, who has more or less mounted this argument in response to charges of unsubtlety, rarely seems far from dropping the phrase “the power of myth.” That, surely not coincidentally, is also the title of a 1988 Bill Moyers television series on mythologist Joseph Campbell and his ideas about myth through time and across human cultures. Moyers and Campbell actually conducted their first five episodes’ worth of conversations at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. Just as Lucas did his reading of Campbell, Campbell did his reading of Star Wars: in the brief clip from The Power of Myth above, the scholar expresses his enthusiasm for the films’ use of mythological elements drawn from across the world. (Find the complete Power of Myth series on DVD here.)

If you want to know about myth, Campbell remains the go-to guy. You can hear more from him on the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s YouTube channel, which features clips of Campbell on the mythology of the trickster, on myth as mirror for the ego, and, of course, on circumcision. Though obviously not as extensive as the aforementioned in-depth six-hour sit-down between Campbell and Moyers, they’ll still give you a sense of why Campbell’s observations about the eternal relevance of the strongest myths have themselves stayed so relevant a quarter-century after his passing. Applicable essay question: to what extent can we put the relative lack of enthusiasm for the newer Star Wars prequels down to George Lucas not having cracked his copy of The Hero With a Thousand Faces in a while?

Related content:

Star Wars as Silent Film

The Existential Star Wars: Sartre Meets Darth Vader

Star Wars is a Remix

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.



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  • Peter Hanley

    Universal? Isn’t archetypal a less vulnerable word to use?

    :-).

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