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The Mythology used in Star Wars

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by Darth_Dagsy, Feb 10, 2003.

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  1. First_Stage_Lensman

    First_Stage_Lensman Jedi Youngling star 2

    Feb 23, 2003
    DDD I've read Propp. I was hailing him on these boards many years ago. Basically Campbell ripped him off.

    + Before I get started here: R2D2 means 'reel two, dialogue two' and came about while Lucas was matching sound to film during the editorial process on American Graffiti. It's shorthand.

    *But* my point is this: just because you draw a chart it doesn't make your conclusions true. Propp may have had something if he stayed within certain bounderies, say: only Russian tales transmitted orally. His data would then have been useful as a reference tool. But he surmised that his Table was universal. Sorry, that just isn't possible.

    For instance:
    Culture A: young man is sent on quest and given a magical item at the start
    Culture B: young man is sent on quest and given a magical item at the start

    They *appear* similar but rafts of important data is missing. At the very least I would venture that the *reason* the young man goes on his quest is different in each case and so culturally specific as to be nontransferable. This begs the question: what individual purposes did the two stories serve in their respective cultures?

    That's the manner of Mythography I would like to see eclipse and ultimately destroy the Jung/Propp/Campbellian model, which is ultimately useless and nothing more than a game of 'match the similarities'. Unless one believes the idea that All stories are One story then the 'findings' of these sorts of mythologists are not really helpful.

    Propp presents his own difficulties. To him 'classification' was synonymous with 'meaning' but this simply is not true. Just because you've classified a thing does not mean that you have described its objective meaning, or its subjective meaning within its particular environment. He did not preset any standard to the quality of data he used or fix a quantity; he's working from very little material and attempting to create an absolute standard. This is just plain wrong! He also didn't feel that an understanding of a native language was important to the study of their lore. This is simply lazy!

    I really want to see all of this 'monomyth' nonsense put to rest. It's softening the study of cultural research to a regrettable degree.

    PS: I'm speaking here of 'Morphology of the Folktale'. Propp later softened his approach and produced the marginally more useful 'Historical Roots of the Fairytale'.
  2. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    First_Stage_Lensman, interesting post. I agree with you.

    The biggest problem with Campbell is that he never does a complete analysis of entire myths. Instead he picks episodes from a vast number of different stories that suits his theory. The hero with a thousand faces is interesting as a philosophical ponderinng on myths but has very little value as science. (IMO of course)

    I suppose there will be similiarties between different myths from different cultures. After all, we all belong to the same species. But focusing only on the similarities won't take us anywhere.
  3. First_Stage_Lensman

    First_Stage_Lensman Jedi Youngling star 2

    Feb 23, 2003
    Yes, this is 'ouroboros' the serpent swallowing its own tail. Not that Campbell and other cultural theorists don't have a place. I find Campbell's philosophy about each individual having a 'destiny' very empowering. And using his or anyone else's texts as a means of puttting the unaware in touch with these vast storehouses of tales is a good thing.

    What is so disturbing is the herd mentality presently at work. The key word is 'science' meaning 'knowledge' which is eradicated if you accept someone else's conclusions out of hand.

  4. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    What do you think of theories around myths that focus on binary opposites (heat-cold, light-darkness etc)? I have studied some of Levi-Strauss' works and I find them more useful than Campbell. I definitely think that would work on SW as well.
  5. First_Stage_Lensman

    First_Stage_Lensman Jedi Youngling star 2

    Feb 23, 2003
    His theories [from what I recall] are better researched than the others + his vocabulary is less 'soft'* and loaded i.e. smacks less of a cult-of-opinion in the making and aims more for usefulness.

    But again we have the concept that 'myth [story] is static' and 'a closed system' which I cannot see as being true. Star Wars actually disproves that theory! SW does not emerge from a 'closed' social system, it is the result of technology producing a massive influx of 'foriegn' information e.g. Lucas, who to the best of my knowledge does not understand Greek, using pieces of Homeric epic in his 'myth' etc... yet SW has had the same broad effect as the ancient tales it uses as a template.

    You're extremely well versed Em, are you a student or teacher of a related subject? Just curious. I'm no more than an 'amateur' = an enthusiast.

    *I've heard this word ['soft'] used as a term denoting the application of a one [unrelated] discipline to another; for instance, pyschoanalysing Hamlet as if he were a real person, which would be using pyschoanalysis in literary criticism. Has anyone else read/heard it used in this context?
  6. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    Once again you raise good points. And you are correct that Levi-Strauss based his research on decades of studying cultures. I need to go back and study your point about him considering cultures as closed system. I once again agree with you that most cultures are not closed. Traders and other similar people helped spreading ideas from culture to culture, which might explain the similarities in myths.

    And yes, I have a degree (a B.A in comparative studies in religions) and I am going to work as a teacher in social science (history, religion, political science and geography. :)

    You impress me. For an enthusiast you have mastered this subject very well :).
  7. First_Stage_Lensman

    First_Stage_Lensman Jedi Youngling star 2

    Feb 23, 2003
    Thank you Em, and best of luck with your teaching career! What I like best in friends are people who love something and are open minded about it and can have fun with it so that's pretty much what I aim for with any information I digest.

    I started in all this as a kid and it all strated with Star Wars! And I see it in my nieces and nephews - they're going from the new films, on their own, to reading about King Arthur and the Middle Ages and other cultures. My 8 year old niece saw an open book about Kurosawa on my table and remarked of Toshiro Mifune 'He looks like Qui-Gon Jinn!' We spent a very pleasant half hour looking over books about Samurai. GL has done a noble thing!

    PS: I myself have not encountered a plausible theory accounting for cross-cultural story elements. For now I'm content to let it exist as 'one of life's mysteries' but if someone ever formulated a strong theory it would certainly change the face of social anthropology!
  8. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    That sort of theory would have to be based on history rather than psychology. It would demand a lifetime of work and lots of empirical data. Also, today it's not political correct to pursue such a project because of the relation between Frazier, Tyler etc and the Western imperialism of 19th and 20th Century.

    Anyway, I think it would be fun to do a Levi-Strauss analysis of Star Wars. I mean, it's filled with binary opposites. For those not familiar with binary opposites it refers to phenomena that defines themselves by their opposite. Like you cannot know heat if you do not know cold.

    Right now I see the obvious ones:
    light - dark
    sith - jedi
    republic - empire

    But there's always a third element that bridges the opposites. What do you think it could be? (I have my own idea, but I want an answer first :))
  9. alhana_antilles

    alhana_antilles Jedi Youngling star 3

    Aug 16, 2002
    Wow this is an awesome thread. I love SW mythology. Here are some essays about the mythology of Star Wars if any one is interested. They're great.

    [link=]Essay 1[/link]

    [link=]Essay 2[/link]

    The articles at give great insight to a wide range of possible myth connections in SW. There are many of them and I encourage you guys to check them out.

    [link=] article[/link]


  10. -_-_-_-_-_-

    -_-_-_-_-_- Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Apr 28, 2002
    Unlocking and upping for new discussion.
  11. Angel-Blue01

    Angel-Blue01 Jedi Youngling

    Mar 5, 2005
    Thank you, we need it for the prequels.
  12. Darth-Seldon

    Darth-Seldon Jedi Grand Master star 6

    May 17, 2003
    Sounds good, I'll be getting back to this.

  13. Serendipity

    Serendipity Guest

    The New Mythology of the
    Space Age
  14. Ana_Labris

    Ana_Labris Jedi Padawan star 4

    Oct 31, 2000
    Quote from the above posted link -
    [The prequel films, at least the two we've seen so far, are sadly lacking the in the mythic quality of the original trilogy, which accounts for the disappointment they have aroused despite impressive special effects and action sequences.]

    I find that untrue, Anakin is a classic Tragic Hero, and many of the above-mentioned myths have a lot in common with his character arc. But the rest of that site is very interesting.
  15. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    I too disagree with that statement. I also finds his understanding of structuralist theory flawed. Basically the whole idea behind structuralist analysis is that binary oppositions define one another. You cannot know what evil is if you do not know what good is. There's also a third element that tries to overcome the binary opposition(he's right though that the structure may not be the most important aspect of every myth).

    PT is just as mythological as OT but in a different way. OT set up several dichotomies (good/dark, republic/empire, Jedi/Sith etc) and PT develops them further. Take Anakin as the Chosen one bringing balance to the Force. That makes a lot of sense and fits with structuralist theory. In my opinion in this case that particular perspective helps to understand the idea of the Chosen one.
  16. Master_Mojo

    Master_Mojo Jedi Youngling

    Mar 10, 2005
    Joseph Campbell is the person who can best help you learn about mythologies.
    If you want to learn about mythology, a great way to start is by watching "The Power of Myth". It is an interview with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers at Skywalker Ranch. It runs on PBS every now and then and it is great. They even talk about a little of the mythology of Star Wars.
    For further mythology study, read any of Joseph Campbell's books.
  17. Stymi

    Stymi Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jan 10, 2002
    In response to First-Stage_Lensman, it?s not the concept of myth that is misleading, but the way myth has been usurped and applied to many different stories, thus leading people to call those stories myths. They aren?t myths, but they do, as Star Wars does, have mythic elements in them. To say the hero?s journey is wrong is wrong. Campbell outlined a common story structure that most myths follow. He outlined his structure and presented detailed evidence that supported his claim, and he did so very meticulously and thoroughly. Is this science, not exactly, but in some ways, Darwin did similar things: he didn?t conduct a ?scientific experiment,? but he had an idea, based on his observations, and then presented detailed and meticulous evidence to support his idea (I?m not saying they are the same or as valid as each other, but a parallel is there).

    To say that Campbell ripped off Propp is also misleading. He didn?t. He built on Propp?s critique of fairytales and elaborated on them, applying them in news ways to myth, just as Propp elaborated on ideas from others. That?s how knowledge is constructed. Darwin did the same, so did Einstein, etc.

    Your definition of myth is just as arbitrary, First-Stage_Lensman, in fact much more so. Myth is not, per se, litertature, but it can be studied in literature; it is grounded in anthropology mostly. Campbell studied myth as myth, the role myths played in influencing and being influenced by cultures, and he studied myth as literature (pointing out the mythic structure found in many other stories). This is a common practice in academia (by the way, I?m a master?s student in English, and in the fall I begin work on a PhD in counseling psychology).

    As far as, as you put it, ?using cultures to explore stories when it should be the other way round?--who?s to say which is the more valid? Both methods are frequently used and both have their strengths and weaknesses. To say it must be one way is pretty narrow.

    I think comparativist studies like Campbell?s are more important than ever in our post-modern, pluralistic world. The differences between cultures are very important too, but studying the similarities is also important (maybe more so, when you consider how people of different nations and religions kill each other because of petty differences).

    Finally, knowledge and science are NOT the same thing. Science is a form of rhetoric that produces and constructs knowledge as much as anything else. I?m a fan of science, don?t get me wrong, but science has its limits too.

    As far as myths being static, closed systems, that?s just plain wrong or misrepresented. There are no pure myths. All are fluid, have assimilated myths from other culture, and are constantly changing to fit the needs of particular cultures across time.

    Finally, and this isn?t just addressing First-Stage_Lensman?s comments, but I have never seen Strauss and Campbell as mutually exclusive. Yes, they studied myths in different ways, but what Strauss did was apply linguistic terminology to them, for instances his term ?mytheme? (from the linguistic morpheme and phoneme), which is where his binary opposites came from. In my view, the opposites are constantly encountered in the journey and aren?t too different from Jung?s use of the Shadow: they need to be transcended, by the hero, and incorporated.
  18. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    While I'm not Firststage Lensman, I must respectfully disagree with some points. Campbell presents his model before presenting his empirical data. The theory is presented at the start in its full version, Campbell doesn't set out to prove a hypothesis. He also uses examples from several different stories ranging from folktales to myths. But he uses only parts that supports his theory. Had Campbell done it the other way around, first presented a thesis, analysed many myths and then developed a theory I'd find his views more plausible (ironically this is exactly what Campbell does in Occidental mythology where he presents a theory of the functions of myths). Also, he never explains why a Jungian interpretation is better than others, he just dismisses them.

    Basically, my argument against Campbell comes from him never analysing complete myths from different cultures. Campbell set out to show a universal structure but by not doing a complete analysis of myths I don't think he achieves his goal.

    To be fair, the flaws in Campbell's theory comes a lot from the anthropological paradigm of his days, a paradigm where empirical data was not collected through fieldwork and actual observation as it is today. It just shows that it's true that science constructs knowledge in certain ways that differs from time to time. It also means in my opinion that Campbell has some good ideas for example his view of myth and religion as both good and bad. What it was/is depends upon the context. That's why I find empirical data very important.

    I also don't think the hero's journey contradicts or is impossible to combine with a Leví-Straussian perspective. I happen to prefer Leví-Strauss because he proved his theory by extensive empirical data. But Leví-Strauss also has a major flaw by not discussing if different order of events has a major influence on the meaning and use of myths.
  19. Stymi

    Stymi Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jan 10, 2002
    I appreciate your insights and rebuttals, emilsson. Nothing I say is meant to be offensive or as the final word (there is no such thing anyway, just continual argument?in the good sense of the word).

    Anyway, I think your first mistake is trying to impose the scientific method on Campbell, being that he wasn?t a scientist. He training was in comparative literature, and he WAS well versed in several languages (I think someone had said he was lazy for not knowing other languages?or something like that). Campbell?s view on myth is from a literary, textual analysis point of view. However, he also incorporated findings from many scientists of his day, not, by any means, just Jung or Freud (he was a comparativist on a more global level, other than just within the study of literature). My point being, if you?re critiquing the monomyth for not being scientific, well, it was never intended to be.

    There are some valid points to your critique, but that he did not apply his Monomyth to any one single myth is a pretty week one. He applied different parts of the cycle to many different myths to show how they are truly universal. Applying them to just one would be, well, a little overly simplified and would not show the universality of his model. That being said, I am not sure he didn?t apply all the stages of the Monomyth to just one story (just not in a linear fashion). Many, many others since him have done it though. It?s not so hard (in fact, he has been critiqued precisely becasue it fits so well into many myths--same say this means the model is too general). The issue really isn?t that he hasn?t applied them to one myth (or that they wouldn?t fit in to any one single myth); the biggest critique of Campbell is, arguably, the entire concept of universality. Many claim that there is no such thing and that everything is context.

    As for how he presented his thesis: first off, again being he wasn?t a scientist, he did not present it as a ?hypothesis,? which is, by the way, a very specialized type of thesis. But he did do exactly what you said he didn?t do. He presented an overview of his idea, his thesis, first (as any good argument must?including scientific ones), then he elaborated on and provided evidence to support his claim throughout the rest of the work. Again, it is not scientific because he did not use the scientific method, but his argument is very thorough.

    I also take issue with your views concerning the paradigm of anthropology in his day. Plenty based their findings on empirical evidence then. In fact, that time period was WAAYYY more positivistic and scientifically deterministic than the social sciences are today. Many contemporary social scientists are taking a more progressive, postmodern point of view in conjunction with scientific rigor because of the flaws of the scientific method?you can?t generalize normative findings to everybody; context (social, cultural, etc.) plays a large role.

    Finally, (and I am trying to say this as inoffensive as possible) your understanding of what science is seems minimal or limited. Levi-Strauss?s work is by no means an example of good empirical evidence. His binary opposites don?t represent objective data. They are totally arbitrary constructs. There is no way to determine the opposites objectively. Each person interpreting a myth in this way would have a different view on what the opposites are.
  20. emilsson

    emilsson Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Oct 5, 1998
    First of all, I take no offense at all of what you've written :).

    I'd like to ask one thing: When you write that the monomyth was never intended to be scientific, what do you mean? Because I'm getting the impression that we may be using science in different ways. I'm thinking of a general approach to academic work, as you phrased it, presenting a good argument (this word usage could be a fault on my part because in my native tounge we use the same word for a physician and a person studying literature in everyday conversation). There are important differences between doing an analysis of myths and doing tests for "hard" sciences. The former have to rely on interpretation and that's why I think it's important to support your interpretation.

    Concerning my critic of Campbell's analysis you wrote:"Applying them to just one would be, well, a little overly simplified and would not show the universality of his model."

    I didn't imply that he should have analysed just one. I think he should have analysed several myths. My impression after reading The hero with a thousand faces and Masks of God is that he in my mind comes across as a tourist guide showing only what fits with his theory. From what I can remember I didn't find complete myths, just parts that fitted with his scheme. An analysis doesn't have to be linear though, but I still think Campbell could have benefited from using complete myths. In Masks of God Campbell analyses two complete myths, the Holy Grail and Tristan and Isolde.

    I'd like here to ask another question, have you seen somewhere in Campbell's works a discussion of the differences in the stories he uses for his argument? Let's say the difference between a folktale and a myth.

    I suppose my critical view of Campbell goes back to the universalism vs context debate. I think if Campbell had discussed cultural differences as well his hero's journey would seem stronger in my eyes. As for the debate itself I tend to take a middle stance. I do think there are notable cultural differences between people from different parts of the world. At the same time we're also part of the same species so I think it would be logical if some universal themes existed. Going back to your first post I agree with you on the value of comparative studies today. They are really needed.

    Now, on to the paradigm of Campbell's days. I agree that their view was more positivistic than today. What I find flawed is how the anthropologists back then relied on reports from missionaries and administrations in the colonies. If I recall correctly, Campbell stood right at shift when fieldwork started to become the accepted method of anthropological studies.

    As for my own view of science and constructing good arguments I'd say that there's no such thing as objective empirical data when studying myths. All analysis relies on interpretation. I too would say that two people trying to find binary oppositions in a myth would come up with two different schemes. That's why I think one needs to support one's claims with empirical data. In other words, one person's analysis of a myth can more reasonable than another person's, but they both can have valid points.
  21. Lord_Of_Sith

    Lord_Of_Sith Jedi Youngling star 1

    Feb 28, 2005
    Darth-Stymi, you misread some of my comments (I used to be FSL) it was not I who said that myths were static - I found that in Levi-Strauss.

    I abide by my preference for a study of folklore being culuturally, linguistically and historically based. This isn't the first poly-cultural world environment to have existed, you know. There have been other times when the major populaces were in the fastest possible contact due to far reaching empires & trade routes. It doesn't suddenly make a uni-culture...
  22. durty_mynock

    durty_mynock Jedi Youngling star 3

    Feb 17, 2005
    something I have noticed..(but maybe someone already posted it before??)
    in the Old Testament, Abraham have to sacrifice his son, Isaac to show his attachment to his God.
    In SW, Vader have to "sacrifice" his son to the Dark Side, personifyed by the Emperor.
    But perhaps I am wrong and didn't understand at all what happened in the Old Testament... :D
  23. Angel-Blue01

    Angel-Blue01 Jedi Youngling

    Mar 5, 2005
    I've used this thread in a paper!

    Removed at author's request

    The teacher wants it cut down. Its just a first draft.

    I'd love to hear what you guys think.

    This is facinating.
  24. Angel-Blue01

    Angel-Blue01 Jedi Youngling

    Mar 5, 2005
    It contains Episode III material.

    I can't post it yet.

    PM if you want a copy.
  25. Durwood

    Durwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 18, 2002
    And the entire story of the OT is from Greek mythology.


    Dude, it's history, not mythology.
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