Star Wars is one of the most successful and beloved movie series of all time. It seems as if the story of this great saga has had the power to transcend the big screen and become part of our popular culture by keeping audiences hooked for almost forty years. But why? Why has a simple story about “goodies versus baddies” become such a huge cultural phenomenon? What is the secret of Star Wars’ success?
Picture by Stux. Public Domain License.
When George Lucas set out to write the story of Star Wars, he soon became interested in analysing the narrative structure of mythologies and fairy tales as a form of psychological archaeology. And while he was doing some academic research on this complex issue, he came across a book that ultimately had a great impact on his own creative process. This book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, was written by American mythologist Joseph Campbell, who developed a theory called “The monomyth theory” after coming to the conclusion that all mythologies in the world shared one simple common story: a hero’s journey. Campbell described this journey as a universal motif of adventure and transformation that ran through all the world’s myths and legends. The main characteristics of this journey could be summarized in the following way:
* The hero leaves his comfortable and ordinary world to set out on a difficult and dangerous journey.
* The hero is usually accompanied by a mentor or a master.
* The hero has to fight against monsters, villains or enemies of any kind.
* The journey represents a life-changing experience for the hero .
* The hero comes back home and shares his adventures with his people.
Picture by Evantulacmaster. Creative Commons Public License.
So basically what George Lucas did with Star Wars was to recreate old myths and traditional stories and present them in a fantasy context which was appealing to modern audiences. In other words, Lucas’ deep understanding of classic storytelling frameworks and techniques allowed him to include in the saga all the necessary elements to create a timeless story. Therefore, we can say that the success of Star Wars lies in the fact that it is just a great story, a beautifully simple yet powerful story.
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Picture by Clovis Cheminot. Public Domain License.
“I did a lot of research in history and mythology, and set out to do this modern mythological work. I like mythology – I studied it in school. To me it was a form of archaeological psychology, in that you can see the way people were thinking 2,000 years ago, what they were afraid of, what their emotional connections were – so you get a clear sense of the psychology and the wants and needs of people. What I found appropriate I put in my film, on the theory that it would still work today. I think one of the big successes of Star Wars is that it does still work today. People look at Star Wars and say it’s a special effects movie, but it’s really not – it’s really just an updated mythological psychology piece”. George Lucas. Quotation Source: Jedi Council Forums.
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