The Mythos of Star Wars: a reader’s perspective and research

This started out as a comment on the use of technology in Star Wars on my SF reading group:

“Now when does any Star Wars movie appreciate laws of physics?” asked one gentleman.

It then took on a life of its own as shown below. I have added to the comments I made for further study and clarification.

In answer to the above question, I found the SW databank, which outlines all the tech, starships, vehicles, weapons, etc. Sort of like Orion’s Arm? But nowhere does it say anything about the science – merely expounding on the fantasy world he created. And it’s a Lucasfilm site, so it’s officially sanctioned:
http://www.starwars.com/databank/. I found the real answer in that Star Wars is not a “hard” SciFi story as the group defines Hard SciFi (technically plausible science as based on our understanding today), but rather it was a fantasy, a myth.

The Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian had an exhibition called Star Wars: the Magic of Myth, which closed back in 1999 (toured until 2003), but some info remains. See: http://www.nasm.si.edu/exhibitions/StarWars/sw-unit1.htm

From the opening page:
“Star Wars: The Magic of Myth was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s story of the “hero’s journey” presented in Hero With a Thousand Faces, and by comments on the Star Wars films in the book and video series The Power of Myth.”

It’s interesting how some view it as fantasy, others as a mythos. One thing is clear to me – it’s a part of our culture and will be for generations to come. We have invested too much of ourselves into the movies and their world for it not to be.

A long reply ensued, which I can’t quote here verbatim for privacy reasons, legal etc., but she had said that we (meaning the average moviegoer) are “uncomfortable with SW and such being ‘myths'”. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythology

Her reply included that the “connotation of ‘myth’ is much more epic than ‘legend, and far more so than ‘story’, even though that’s what it literally means.” And it sounds so much better “than ‘fantasy’ or ‘world’, which is why you hear countless references to the Harry Potter or Buffy or Star Wars ‘mythologies’. It kind of has an implication of something that goes so far beyond the original that it can almost be considered functionally separate.”

She mentioned Henry Jenkins and his book “Texual Poachers” that talked about this and fan fiction. The blurb on the book says in part:

“‘Get a life,’ William Shatner told Star Trek fans. Yet, as ‘Textual Poachers’ argues, fans already have a ‘life,’ a complex subculture which draws its resources from commercial culture while also reworking them to serve alternative interests. Rejecting stereotypes of fans as cultural dupes, social misfits, and mindless consumers, Jenkins represents media fans as active producers and skilled manipulators of program meanings, as nomadic poachers constructing their own culture from borrowed materials, as an alternative social community defined through its cultural preferences and consumption practices.

Written from an insider’s perspective and providing vivd examples from fan artifacts, ‘Textual Poachers’ offers an ethnographic account of the media fan community, its interpretive strategies, its social institutions and cultural practices, and its troubled relationship to the mass media and consumer capitalism.”

She said that most people would view Star Wars and such being myths. I replied that I wouldn’t bet my last supper on that. I would think that most people would NOT view it as a myth – I replied that I used mythos as a way of primitizing the word. To pull it back to it’s origins.

Jospeh Campbell’s “The Power of Myth,” which I fondly recall watching all umpteen episodes of (and I have the book), was a huge influence on Lucas:

“George Lucas was the first Hollywood filmmaker to openly credit Campbell’s influence. Lucas stated following the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977 that its story was shaped, in part, by ideas described in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces’ and other works of Campbell’s.”

“I [Lucas] came to the conclusion after American Graffiti that what’s valuable for me is to set standards, not to show people the world the way it is…around the period of this realization…it came to me that there really was no modern use of mythology…The Western was possibly the last generically American fairy tale, telling us about our values. And once the Western disappeared, nothing has ever taken its place. In literature we were going off into science fiction…so that’s when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, and I started reading Joe’s books. Before that I hadn’t read any of Joe’s books…It was very eerie because in reading ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classic motifs…so I modified my next draft [of Star Wars] according to what I’d been learning about classical motifs and made it a little bit more consistent…I went on to read ‘The Masks of God’ and many other books.”

see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

see also: http://virtual.clemson.edu/groups/dial/sffilm/camplink.html which also has an essay on the Hero…, and Star Wars and also The Matrix.
see also: http://www.online.pacifica.edu/cgl/lucas
which details Campbell’s very favorable impressions of Star Wars.

Indeed, according to Wiki, the “Power of Myth” documentary for PBS was filmed at Skywalker Ranch. There is also a companion DVD available at the PBS store (no, I don’t have a financial stake in PBs, just an interest in seeing it survive… )

Wiki goes on to talk about later connections including the Smithsonian exhbit I mentioned earlier.

See also:

An American Mythology: Why Star Wars Still Matters http://www.decentfilms.com/sections/articles/starwars.html

Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time by Andrew Gordon: http://web.clas.ufl.edu/users/agordon/starwars.htm

And at the The Center for Storty and Symbol, see also “Move over Odysseus, here comes Luke Skywalker, by Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times Film Critic, at: http://www.folkstory.com/articles/petersburg.html

and last, but not least, “Episode One – The Phantom Menace: Star Wars as Personal Mythology,” by Jonathon Young at: http://www.folkstory.com/articles/starwars.html

Jonathon Young was interviewed in the History Channel’s documentary entitled “Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed.”

So my use of mythos was purposeful. To bring the concepts back to their origins. Myth connotates something less to some, something “not true,” since it has dual meaning, and many use the latter meaning. Mythos has only one meaning – mythology with it’s archetypes.

In “Myth and Ideology in Contemporary Brazilian Fiction,” the author, Daphne Patai, writes that the word mythos derives from the Greek word mu, which came to signify “word”:

“Over time, mythos came to be distinquished from other Greek terms for word – “eops” and “logos”: ‘Mythos became the word as the most ancient, the original account of the origins of the world, in divine relevation of sacred tradition, of gods and demi-gods, and the genesis of the cosmos, cosmogony: and it came to be sharply contrasted with epos, the word as human narration, and – from the
Sophists on – with logos, the word as rational construction.

Today the term myth seems to be used in all three senses, and in additional ones as well. The range of uses in which the word is used is matched only by the vagueness of the claims put forth in the name of myth, on the one hand, and by the contradictory defintions of it and it’s functions, on the other.” pg.27

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=IR194Q_AS-sC&dq=myth+and+ideology+in+contemporary+brazilian+fiction&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=uNN1N0c8Ra&sig=OehOeKSFyNqPE_NVZk3AlitnBa8

For more on myth and it’s origins, should anyone even care (I find it fascinating, but then Campbell was integral to my earlier life): http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/foamycustard/fc042.htm

So, does mythos explain the power of Star Wars – that it grabs at our most inner belief structure? Or is it just entertaintment?

Currently reading :
Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1)
By Scott Westerfeld
Release date: 08 February, 2005
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