Joseph Campbell, George Lucas and the Power of Myth

"The Hero with a Thousand Faces" was first released in 1949. This book cover re-release shows Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” was first released in 1949. This book cover re-release shows Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.

January 29, 2014 – Following the successful release of the first Star Wars film in 1977, George Lucas publicly acknowledged that his space opera and its mythology were influenced, in part, by the works of Joseph Campbell.

Wikipedia has a long and detailed history on the life, works and influences of Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), who devoted his life to writing about and lecturing on comparative mythology and comparative religion. He was a student of the world (born in White Plains, New York; studied at Dartmouth, then Columbia University; traveled throughout Europe, India and Japan, before retiring and passing away in Honolulu, Hawaii).

In the authorized biography of Joseph Campbell, A Fire in the Mind, George Lucas points to Campbell’s influence on him and the Star Wars saga:

“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.”

Hero's Journey-Joseph CampbellBill Moyers of the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) interviewed Joseph Campbell (see video trailer below). Campbell analyzes how George Lucas employed The Hero’s Journey in the Star Wars films, Episodes IV, V and VI (1977-1983), thus re-introducing the mythology to a new generation. Twelve years later (1999), Moyers and Lucas filmed an interview called The Mythology of Star Wars, further discussing the influence of Campbell’s body of work on Lucas’s original trilogy.

Thanks to Google Books, you can preview some 200 pages of The Hero’s Journey online. (Click on the cover photo above or click here.) Or preview the Bill Moyers/PBS interview below:

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