The American Mythos

Cody Sheridan, Staff Writer

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Star Wars. Why do we take it so seriously? Because Star Wars isn’t just a movie, it is American mythology.

George Lucas set out to make a heroic tale of human morality that channels classic oral traditions, and he was successful in doing so. That’s why it has been, and will continue to be passed down through the generations. Some would say that talking about this movie is a waste of time, but it isn’t. Star Wars was almost immediately a cultural phenomenon. People were lined up at every theater showing it when it premiered. They loved it because it is different than most other science fiction at the time. It isn’t in the far future of earth,but quite the opposite, it’s “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away”, which the opening  credits state almost immediately. It is loved for it being different, but it is also the same, it is the classic hero’s journey, a seemingly simple yet gripping story.

Star Wars is less comparable to Star Trek than it is to King Arthur, Tolkien, and various other legends. It is a weird mix of various genres and source materials. It is a heroic fantasy dressed up as a space opera, and a swashbuckling, saloon shootout filled epic. There are western aspects of it, which seems obvious in Han Solo’s character and Mos Eisley. Some of George Lucas’ influences for the film include The Adventures of Robin hood, The Searchers, Lawrence of Arabia, Seven Samurai, and the Wizard of Oz.

A large part of why Star Wars became so popular was its relations to the timing. Some things that happened around the release of the film were the death of Elvis Presley, the release of the Apple II, the end of the Vietnam War, US Apollo and Soviet Soyuz 9 spacecraft link up in space to name a few. Most of these play a role in the success of Star Wars. The release of the Apple II, and the continuation of space travel, both being huge in the world of technology.

One of the underlying plots of Star Wars is man vs. machine. Obi-Wan even says it “He’s more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil” to show that Darth Vader is evil, they flat out state its because of technology. Take the climax of the movie as a second example. Luke is able to take down the empire Death Star with only the powers of the force when no computer could do it. This film was released as home computers took off, and space travel continued to surge, and people were afraid. They were afraid of technology surpassing the human mind. There was also the ending of the Vietnam war, and the death of Elvis Presley. These events could be used as markers of an end of an era, the 50s and 60s were gone and done for good, and the Vietnam War had ended, giving a sense of peace. These marked the end, and Star Wars marked the beginning.

Also there is the question as to whether it is a children’s film. Well, it depends how you look at it. George Lucas has been noted saying it was made for 12 year olds, but that is out of context. He says it in the context that “it was a film made to be like mythology its saying ‘hey this is what we stand for, you are about to enter the real world…here’s some of the things you should pay attention to- friendships, honesty, trust, and doing the right thing’” this was said after the fact, at the 40 year anniversary. It doesn’t mean it is for children only, and that doesn’t mean it’s a kids film with some “adult jokes.”

Dan Walker, a sophomore at WVHS says “I don’t think there was an intended age focus, but they made it so anyone can enjoy the movie regardless of age” An example of this could be that some Parents seeing it in 1977 recognized the storm troopers as Nazis. The fact that they are called Stormtroopers, and the shape of their helmets are no coincidence. This small detail made it that much more enthralling to adults at the time.

Whether or not you enjoy these films is not the matter. They are reflections of modern society and struggles within it, such as technology. When someone says they haven’t seen Star Wars, the almost universal response is shock and one word- “HOW?”  similarly, in Ancient Greece everyone was expected to read and interpret the Odyssey, and it is the same with us. The films mean so much to us, just as Beowulf meant to the anglo-Saxons, the Odyssey to the Greek, or as King Arthur meant to the British. So if you haven’t seen Star Wars yet, why not? If you look at it as more than just “An overrated cheesy sci-fi from the 70s” you might enjoy it.

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The American Mythos