Other essays articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Paradise Lost by Milton : Is Satan as an Epic Hero? • The Epic Hero in Pulp Fiction • Comparison of Actors : DeNiro and Pacino in “Heat” (1995) •
The hero myth and the legendary epic hero are not simply story-telling relics of ancient past. Instead, these archetypes persist in modern literature and film and hold just as much (if not more, in some cases) cultural and societal importance as they did in antiquity. One of the best examples of modern depictions of the epic hero in film can be found in the first series of films by George Lucas, Star Wars. In this set of films by George Lucas, the same great battles and situations that were faced by heroes of antiquity reemerge in a setting that is, of course, far different than the ancient battlefields and homes of Greece, Rome, or early Europe. Still, despite the difference in setting and the changes the future has brought about, it should be recognized that the exact same values that were at stake for heroes such asAchilles of The Iliad, Hector, Beowulf, and even biblical heroes are the same that drive the quests in Star Wars. Because of this, it seems that one of the most important aspects of heroes from all ages is that they are engaged in more or less universal pursuits. In short, it is the universality and timelessness of the issues at stake in the film “Star Wars” that throughout all heroic epics, modern or otherwise, make the form and archetype so persistent throughout cultural history, literature, and memory.
The film by George Lucas, Star Wars is the perfect example of classical ancient and time-worn heroic epics for several reasons. Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, instead of having just one epic hero, there are several, most notably Luke Skywalker, Princess Lea, and Han Solo. What all of these modernepic heroes in these late 1970s films share in common is a quest. While the quest may not be the same for all three characters, all three of them are motivated and pushed along by forces higher than themselves and must make a journey based on these principles. While Han Solo in “Star Wars” might be an exception to the traditional ideal of the epic hero (since he merely “comes along for the ride” before becoming enamored with the quest) the brothers Luke and Lea and the perfect modern icons for these traditional ideals of epic heroes. It is worth noting that when we think of the term “epic hero” we generally consider a male figure who must perform well in battle (and often face temptation in the form of a female). Lea in ,”Star Wars” however, breaks this stereotype and the two; man and woman, stand as perfect images of epic heroes—not just for modernity as we know it, but as symbols of the ideals they represent as being powerful earth (and beyond)-changing influences in a “galaxy far, far away” and in the distant future.
Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” embodies the major qualities of some of history and literature’s most compelling and time-worn mythic epic heroes. For example, like Achilles, in “Star Wars” Luke must understand the significance or divine guidance (or the favor of the “gods”—in this case the spirits of dead Jedi and the mythic power of the force) and must be able to temper his capacity for pride with his realization of his greater purpose. Like Achilles and his weak spot, Luke’s “heel” is the mixed feeling he has for his father. While he ultimately overcomes his own dark side and wish to join his father, the fact remains that his greatest flaw is internal and hidden until the moment of truth. Lea too has this same issue as she is very headstrong and for the most part, not always willing to listen to guidance, instead thinking she knows what needs to be done. Throughout “Star Wars” she must battle with her weaknesses (one of which, no matter how “critically feminist” we want to be about this subject) which is her femininity. She wants to overcome this “Achilles heel” and not be emotional or non-political and this is one of the most underrated “quests” she faces before finally earning her “masculine” place in her society after great battles and hardship. In short, Achilles is a brilliant example in terms of mythical or epic heroes in this film by George Lucas, the original “Star Wars”.
When watching the original films in the first Lucas series of Star Wars, other more immediately recognizable associations between ancient and modern myth become apparent. One of the most prominent is the connection between the myths of Christianity in both ancient and modern forms. The epic battles between the forces of good and evil are at the center of Luke and Lea’s struggles, which is the same in Christianity. Interestingly, the similarities in the nature of the journey of Christ are not the only parallels. The villain in Star Wars, Darth Vader is exactly like the depiction of Satan present in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Like Luke and Lea, he is on his quest for evil, which came about because he abandoned his quest to be at God’s side, being like Achilles in terms of pride and not allowing himself to be second best. Like many origin myths where there is the juxtaposition of darkness and light/good and evil, the good characters, Luke and Lea, must brave the darkness to complete their quests. Both do so by the process of learning who they are and what their true purposes are.
While the biblical and ancient Greek connections are strong, one cannot help but see the warrior epic hero archetype represented by Beowulf and Gilgamesh as well. Like Christ and Achilles, Luke and Lea must discover where their strengths are (physical, mental…the “force) before they can complete their epic quests. The only way the brother and sister pair are different from these epic heroes is that they are living in a distant future where some of the societal standards are different. For instance, they live in multiple worlds with different races and vastly different cultures. They must learn to navigate their process of discovery and identity through such a complex maze of ideas, which is something that the epic heroes discussed here didn’t have to do since they existed in very concrete cultures with set notions of how things should be. Still, however, part of what makes this difference remarkable is that nonetheless, despite this added cultural complexity, these heroes still are so recognizable in terms of being heroes that overcoming the more complex society is simply an added quest rather than something that renders these heroic archetypes unrecognizable.
When considered in the larger context, heroes such as Luke and Lea from “Star Wars” and their ancient literary and mythical counterparts persist because no matter where we seem to be in the process of human evolution, we all need larger than life figures to spur us forward and to remind us to fight for what we believe, to listen to our hearts or guides, and to serve as models for what a strong or courageous person should be like. Heroes like those found in Homer or the films of George Lucas such as “Star Wars” survive and continue to manifest themselves in modernity because as a civilization, we have not reached a pinnacle or any state of perfection. We still require models of behavior and more importantly, models that can be understood in all cultures. In fact, another reason why the hero persists today is because he or she is often fighting for causes that are, in many ways, universal. For example, nearly all world cultures have heroes like Luke or Lea from “Star Wars” who fight for values that are pertinent to everyone; love, loyalty, patriotism or nationalism, family, etc.
Looking back at the struggles of heroes such as Beowulf, Achilles, Hector, and others, it is clear that the reason why these stories still hold so much value is because all of the ways these people were heroes are still ways of achieving heroic status. Fighting for one’s country, values, family, traditions, beliefs—all of these are universals and thus the epic hero, in a broad definition, should include the fact that all epic heroes have an overarching quest that can be understood (if not respected) by all people—no matter where they hail from or believe in. When Luke Skywalker is finally able to bring his father to some remembrance of his humanity, after battling the darkness within himself or when Lea fights gallantly for the Republic without fear for her own life only—these are all things that appear time and time again throughout heroic epics and will continue to do so. While the story might be different, the fact that these universal values are being fought for and quested after is the important hinge connecting all heroes and explaining the persistence of the archetype.
Epic heroes such as those in Star Wars remind us that we will always, even in a distant future or a “land far, far away” require these models of behavior as moral or ethical guides. Considering that the films took place somewhere that is not in any way recognizable (foreign planets with several different races of beings, all of whom have different cultures and even languages) it is also important to recognize how this is deeply significant for understanding the value of heroes. Because of the distant setting, it becomes clear that humans will always be the same on some fundamental level. Just as a few thousand years ago, the ancient people found certain concepts such as love, loyalty, bravery, and honesty important, so too will people in the far future when there are so many new ideas to absorb. In fact, in many ways, Star Wars is a very hopeful set of films. It shows how there are always going to be heroes to battle dark forces and thereby will offer humanity hope for a brighter future where there are always models to look to for strength and guidance.