I haven't been updating recently, just because I've been working ready hard to finish up the research portion of my project; the last time I posted, I explained how I was going to be looking more into Lucas' earlier influences, and the work has actually proved to be the golden nugget of truth I was looking for, to turn my research into something really unique. No one has ever really looked into the monomythic themes in Kurosawa's works, specifically The Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo-mainly because those works weren't supposed to be illustrating mythological journeys-- and yet the archetypes and motifs are there. Every night, for the past four or five weeks, I have been writing reflections to keep up with my research, and quite recently I spent time physically writing through all of these parallels I found. And now that my research is seemingly finished up, I've begun stringing all of my (useful) reflections together into my first draft of my paper.
And, since you're reading a blog about Star Wars, I'm assuming that many of you will get this geeky little joke, when I say that my first draft, as of today, is 42 pages long.
42. I'll not say more.
With the help of James Murray, I'm also going to start on a little video project, which isn't part of the big, culminating presentation, but more of a interesting visual representation that sort of illuminates what the monomyth trajectory is, as a kind of literature review of one of my primary resources.
Well, I was waiting for it to happen, and it finally has. I've hit a a wall (running) with my research. I'm surprised it took this long. I was well aware that much of what my background explorations would be (namely, comparing Star Wars against the monomyth) had already been done various times, and after a few discussions with Dr. McCaffrey, I realized that much of what I've done so far, in the long run, has not been original work. I've derived my own opinions and ideas from the books I've read, but nothing thus far has been definitive research that has lead me in a new direction than what others have already done. Quite ironically, my original intentions were found already discovered in a novel called Star Wars: The New Myth. Needless to say I was relatively discouraged after finding that so much had already been done with Star Wars and mythology, and I was already aware of what people had said about Campbell and Lucas--but still, the impact hit me quite hard. But not to worry!
The last two days I've spent mulling over the first few drafts of The Star Wars, which was originally planned to simply be one entire movie--not a trilogy. The most poignant discovery I made here was that Lucas did not begin to consciously reference Campbell in editing his drafts until the third draft- which means that the drafts preceding it had unconscious parallels between it and the monomyth. This is extremely important, because, not only does this allow me to drive away from redundancy in creating parallels already found over and over again, but suggests that not only did Lucas unconsciously write the heroic cycle into his story, but that his true original influences (namely, Kurosawa and Westerns) perhaps had the monomyth embedded in them as well.
And so, my former desire to discover whether or not Star Wars can serve as a mythology is nil, because Campbell's theory of myth is not the single theory out there. However, the fact that Lucas used Campbell before actually knowingly referencing him suggests more strongly that it is Campbell's theory of myth that is most important in American film- and perhaps of other societies, as well. This argument will hopefully be bolstered by my upcoming exploration into the monomyth in Kurosawa's samurai films, and the Westerns influenced by them. I may also take a look at Lucas's previous films, such as American Graffitti and THX 1138 to see whether or not the heroic cycle is present in these films. If this is the case, then these explorations serve as a stronger backing for discovering that Campbell's heroic cycle isn't simply a vague structure, but a trajectory that not Lucas unconsciously used throughout his career even before he actually read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but other American filmmakers and possibly Kurosawa, as well.
Hopefully this turn of events will lead me down a narrower field of research--and hopefully, one that hasn't been done BEFORE, which was my problem originally.
Advice for those wanting to do a SURF in the future: do your research BEFORE your research. Extensively. You know what? Just go ahead and do your own SURF project before you actually apply for one. ;)
Last week flew by, and I already can't believe it's the Tuesday of the second week of SURF. Man. I feel like I'm just struggling to get thing's done-even though I've racked up a generalized total of about seventy hours so far of work, from staying in the library from 10-7, and then spending a few hours every night writing reflections of what I've been reading. Because that's essentially what I've been doing thus far-- soaking all of this wonderful information in, reading, reading...reading. And taking a notebookfull of notes. I literally have a notebookfull. I know that's not a word, but I'm beginning to feel like it should be.
I spent the first two days re-watching the original trilogy, along with re-reading Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and applying the monomythic themes to Star Wars. I then went back and did the same for the Odyssey, and wrote an almost 30 page reflection on the parallels. A good word for what this is called is "comparative mythology": tracing the similarities of mythology from two different cultures. The next day I went about tackling an interview between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers that was scribed in a book titled The Power of Myth, which traces Campbell's theories in the idea behind myth, as a whole. The most resonating definition he gives, in my opinion, is that myth expresses the "life potentialities" of an individual, of a culture.
Here's a generic outline of what I've done this week and last: weaving the parallels through the ancient myth and the proposed modern one, but writing loads more reflections on The Power of Myth series, taking notes on basis Jungian psychology for the "archetypes" present in Star Wars, reading another one of Campbells books, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, M. Kieth Booker's Alternate Americas (which is about the place of science fiction in American society), and then today, looking at film's reception of classical stories in various classical journals on the subject, which reflected the various pedagogical functions Star Wars has teaching the classics, like the Odyssey.
I'll leave you today with a snippet of one of the reflections I've wrote thus far:
Chapter I: Myth and the Modern World
of Myth is doing an excellent job in putting Campbell’s
theory of all myths into perspective for me, outside of the context of the
heroic journey; it’s one thing to understand how Star Wars, or how the Odyssey,
embodies the symbols and archetypes that all different culture’s myths possess,
but another, deeper thing entirely to go about exploring why myth is of such
importance, and why it is imperative that we have one for our current society.
A lack of mythology is not America’s own loss—though it is undoubtedly a bigger
problem for all industrialized cultures than some indigenous ones, perhaps—but
to an extent, the world’s loss, for
around it, education has changed, and with it, the importance and general
knowledge of the Occidental mythological information has been washed away. Myths are no longer in the minds of people as they once were, and so through my
findings, I will possibly understand whether or not Star Wars can serve as the symbolical reflection of the myth that
will once again renew it in the minds of the current society, and for younger
generations to come.
Campbell’s first description of myth is
one of the most resonant things he says in this chapter: “Myths are clues to
the spiritual potentialities of human life.” What he means by this is that we attach the archetypes found in myths to our
subconscious selves, and through the fantasy and evolvement of the heroes and
archetypes found in the stories, we are inspired to believe that we can also
evolve in such a way; that we can look inward and find within ourselves the
transcendent, like the heroes of the myths do. This sort of relates to the fact
that our two main heroes of Star Wars
are rooted initially in the mundane lives. Because so are we. Through them, we
realize the potential within ourselves—perhaps not consciously, but that is why
they stick with us, and why they resonate so profoundly with so many people.
One of the most basic ways we see this ascension to the “transcendental” is
through the maturity of our heroes; all humans have the same growth the same
stages of beginning, initiation into maturity, and then death.
Campbell and Moyer’s discussion leads on
to the seeming replacement of myth by television and movies, for through these
main outlets, younger generations are looking for life models. I found it
interesting that Campbell claims that television cannot completely reflect for
us the sanctity of the life models myths create, because we receive these
stories through our homes. Movies, however, can be watched through a “special temple”—the
movie theater— that allows us to engross ourselves in the story being told, and
emphasizes the god-like personalities of the actors as characters that we
seemingly worship in our modern society.I
am reminded of all of the documentaries that interview people on their first
viewings of Star Wars: how people
jumped out of their seats and cheers for the heroes they witnessed. I myself
have never been in a movie theatre, and felt such a way, but itjust goes to show that there is a
certain spiritual connection some people have with the original trilogy that
relates to the spiritual connection Campbell is discussing on our original
Of course, one of the simplest
differences to make between the trilogy and original myth is the science
fiction element—but as Campbell simply puts it, lightsabers, starships and
droids are simply “different instruments [that] take over the roles that
earlier instruments no longer serve.” I
can’t help but wonder if there isn’t any more of a significant to the role of
technology in Star Wars that
transcends the mere connotation of a more modern “instrument.” The Death Star,
Luke and Anakin’s mechanical hands, droids that appear more human than the
humans that created them; all of these seem to allude to a main concern of
modern society—obviously not one that any classical culture would have had to
worry about. But does this have any importance as far as justifying Star Wars as a modern mythology?
“Certainly Star Wars has a valid
mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, ‘Is the
machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?’” Then, according to Campbell, it does. Even though it is a different type of
“instrument,” it still has its ethical roots in mythological concerns.
One of the biggest questions I’ve drawn
thus far, and one that keeps resonating within all of the notes I’ve taken and
books I’ve read is the extreme emphasis on a divisive Western and Eastern
influence in the films. Campbell also seems quite inherent on picking up the
differences, especially within the religions, and how mythology relates to
each. For him, the West has this “imperialistic thrust of a certain in-group
culture" that separates it from the rest. However, he does seem to stress that it needs
to amalgamate itself with the cultures of others. He sort of generalizes into
the West being dominated by Christian beliefs, but he is more or less just
speaking specifically of Western religion and Eastern religions—not the people
within those vicinities. Western ideals, therefore, lean towards nature being
something that serves the people (as with biblical ideas that nature is wild
and barbarous), whereas Eastern reflects the combination of the industrial and
the natural, the natural being within (i.e, although the current Eastern
societies, like Tokyo, for instance, seem lorded over by industrialization,
they are still rooted to very spiritual existences).This simple discussion is interesting to me,
because there seems to be a divide such as this within Star Wars: the Jedi, and more importantly, the Force, embody the
“looking inward” of the Eastern philosophies, and the oneness with nature,
whereas the Western ideals seem more strong with characters like Han Solo, and
Lando, and of course, the world itself seems to be at odds with the Jedi’s
purpose, steeped in industrialization. Campbell says that “the only mythology
that is valid today is the mythology of the planet—and we don’t have such a
mythology.” Campbell goes further to say that the closest religion to grasping at this
ideal is Buddhism—one of the most popular Eastern religions, and one that
obviously influenced Lucas. I find it interesting that Campbell believes that,
in order for there to be a modern mythology, they must essentially learn to
draw from both the Western ideals that are more sociological, and the Eastern
ones, that are more mystical. It is almost as if Star Wars itself is not only a representation of a modern
mythology, but a society’s own narrative in discovering such a modern
I’m not sure if any of this reflection will be
of any import to justifying it as a mythology in itself, but Campbell also
brings up validity in the fact that modern society has lost an essential
element to the myth that may be unable to resurface: the sociological function.
This is the proposed modern myth’s ability to “support and validate a certain
social order” within the society that begot it. Campbell says that this function is “out of date” .
However, three other functions seem to still stand and serve the modern world:
the mystical function, the cosmological function, and the pedagogical function.
Star Wars most certainly functions
fully with the first two; as far as the mystical function goes, Star Wars “addresses the transcendent
mystery” that we are constantly seeking out by giving it a seemingly ambiguous
form—the Force. Countless times in the interview, Campbell speaks of myth’s ability to show a
society that it is not trying to find the “truth” behind the mystery, but to
accept the awesomeness of it. This is the way of the cosmological function, and
by making the Force as ambiguous as it is, Star
Wars projects this function as well. Lastly, there is the pedagogical
function, which brings me back to the idea that perhaps Star Wars not only serves as a mythology in itself, but as the
story of a society discovering mythology once more: “We have today to learn to
get back into accord within the wisdom of nature and realize again our brotherhood
with animals and with the water and the sea.” This is what Eastern philosophies still believe, and it is interesting that
Lucas would put such an emphasis on this. To open the eyes of the Western
audience? But is Star Wars able to do
this? Is Lucas’s derivation from Eastern ideals good enough to do such a thing, or is it simply good enough to
symbolically emphasize, through the teachings of the Jedi and the force, that
it’s better to contemplate something that we know inherently to be a part of
us, such as the earth, that we should adhere to. And, according to Campbell,
this isn’t only a Eastern ideal, but seems to be a key element in creating a
Hello, and welcome to my SURF blog! My name is Cassie Morgan, and I'm a rising junior, English major, and Education and Drama double minor.
I guess this is the part where I tell you about my research. Well. Let me just start off by saying that when I told my mom I was doing a research project funded by the school, she was completely stoked, and went off and told everyone. And then I told her my research was on Star Wars, and she promptly said, "I....don't think I'm going to let anyone actually know what your project is about."
Lovely. What a confidence boost.
I assume that will be many of my reader's reactions when I explain what I'm doing; for most, it might seem like I'm simply watching a lot of cool movies. And I am. But just because my research is actually entertaining doesn't mean it isn't insightful and academic! Because believe you me, it is.
I will be exploring the ancient mythological influences on the original Star Wars trilogy, to discover whether or not the films can serve as a "mythology" for an American society that is not only demythologized--but has no mythology of its own to base its ideals and values upon. And, as Joseph Campbell describes, that is the essence of a myth: to serve as a "life model" for the society that has created it. It is evident that in our current state, we are striving to find the sort of "cultural consciousness" that cultures with their own myths have claim to. Is it possible that, since Star Wars essentially "rips off" the idea of Campbell's monomyth, and conforms almost directly to the trajectory that every other mythology from any other culture has, that Lucas was looking to bring about a away for America to regain its own cultural consciousness?
I guess we shall see. I will
then spend time listening to Campbell’s “Power of Myth” lectures to further
understand his philosophy of how these archetypes—specifically, the ones
present in Star Wars and the Odyssey—are a part of the human
experience, as preliminary research into exploring just how these archetypes
may appeal particularly to the American experience. In looking at the archetypes that Lucas chose, I can compile
a list of what remains as important components of an American mythology. Next,
I will study the influence of the Western on Star Wars, as it is the most prominent representation of an early
“American Myth,” and because Lucas was inspired by these films during the
creation of the trilogy. I will view and take notes on Stagecoach, A Fistful of
Dollars and The Magnificent Seven—and
also watch the films that inspired the latter two movies, Akira Kurasawa’s Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, to understand which elements of the eastern films
remained prevalent to the American audience, and to emphasize the universality
in the monomythic ideas present in both Kurosawa’s films and George Lucas’. I
will then compile my results, and exploring various journals and books to
discover why these gathered elements of mythology and Western film appeal to
the American audience, and what they and Star
Wars reveal about our culture.
This is all subject to change, of course, and after spending seven hours in the library consulting Dr. McCaffrey's own copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I've begun to realize that not all the parallels between the monomyth and Star Wars, and the monomyth and The Odyssey are black and white. And of course, they shouldn't be, since they reflect things that attract two very different societies from very different eras.
That's all for now, though! I'm off to create a legitimate schedule for every week, so I know what I'm doing every day. Now that sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?