The Return of a Millenium Space Saga: Star Wars, Volume 1

Two decades ago George Lucas brought to the big screen a trilogy of films that has excited and thrilled millions of movie viewers from at least two generations. Now he has returned with the first of three "prequels" to provide the background story to the central drama of the earlier movies involving the adventures of young Luke Skywalker. Is the Force still with Lucas? I believe so.

The Return of a Millennium Space Saga

by Steven Galipeau

Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace. A film by George Lucas.

Two decades ago George Lucas brought to the big screen a trilogy of films that has excited and thrilled millions of movie viewers from at least two generations. Now he has returned with the first of three "prequels" to provide the background story to the central drama of the earlier movies involving the adventures of young Luke Skywalker. Is the Force still with Lucas? I believe so.

When the drama of Star Wars: Episode IV--A New Hope first unfolded, we became aware of the close of a spiritual age involving the Jedi knights and their religion, which taught an awareness of and interconnection with the Force, an energy field that permeates all living things. Only two practitioners remained, an old hermit and a dark warrior/sorcerer. The dark warrior was battling on behalf of a ruthless Empire to wrest control of the galaxy from the old Republic. The Jedi knights who had previously protected the Republic for hundreds of years had all been hunted down and killed by the dark warrior, Darth Vader, whom we meet very early in the story. The old hermit Obi-Wan Kenobi told young Luke Skywalker that Vader had been seduced by the dark side of the Force.

After offering only brief instruction to young Skywalker in the ways of the Force, Obi-Wan then sacrificed himself in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader so that Luke and his companions could escape from the Death Star, a giant Imperial battle station, and take with them the captured princess they had rescued from her cell in the battle station's detention block. Kenobi's spirit remained with Luke to continue to guide him, and together with the brave and often arrogant assistance from a new friend (Han Solo), Luke was able to help the rebel forces win a pivotal victory against the galactic Empire.

In Star Wars Episode V, Luke, after struggling with a primitive beast, experienced a vision of his former mentor, Obi-Wan, who then instructed Luke to seek out Yoda, the Jedi master who had taught Obi-Wan. Luke eventually learned more about the Force from this aged, sprightly, mysterious creature who lived alone in the swamps of the planet Dagobah. But though he learned well, Luke clearly had his shortcomings--impatience, for one--and he had his own ways of doing things. (Episode I shows us that Luke is not the first Jedi so inclined.)

The thematic legacy of the first Star Wars trilogy is a melding of the old teachings with a new spirit, thereby revitalizing the old and breaking the strangle hold of the dark and powerful forces that were proliferating so violently and destructively. It has always seemed to me that Lucas's story is like a fairy tale that while capturing the ethos of specific psychological dilemmas of a given time, remains, first and foremost, "just" a story. (In our time a space tale is needed, since many people no longer believe in fairies anymore; instead we are struck by the vastness and mystery of outer space.)

A great portion of Jung's work addressed the central spiritual problem of our age of technology and science: the fact that many people have no connection to the living psyche. This vibrant source of human existence had previously been mediated by religion and art in all cultures of the world. Instead of dismissing religious beliefs and myths as meaningless artifacts of bygone times, Jung proposed that they revealed the all-important avenues along which psychic energy flowed. At the conclusion of Star Wars: Episode VI--Return of the Jedi there are a number of culminating transformations, two of which are critical psychologically. The first, involving the forest Ewoks, is collective in nature. These tribal creatures encounter a new and highly numinous god-image (and a new myth) in the form of the golden, human-shaped protocol droid, C3PO. They are moved to adopt C3PO, Luke, and his cohorts as tribal members after their new "deity"--the ever punctilious C3PO--has given the Ewoks a thorough narrative of their mythic adventures.

The second important transformation comes through Luke's realization that defeating and killing his chief adversary, Darth Vader, as he has wanted to do, would only make him become like Vader. (By now Luke has also learned that Vader is his father.) Somehow he must let go of the impulse to act out of his anger and hold on to his humanity--which includes the all-too-real threat of his own demise. Meanwhile, in the space created by Luke's quiescence, Darth Vader is able to undergo an inner transformation and return to his true identity, that of Anakin Skywalker.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

As the fanfare of music announces the start of Lucas's feature and we read once again, "Long ago, in a galaxy far, far way . . . " the excitement of the audience for more of this saga is palpable. We re-enter this unique story time and place--a galactic "dreamland." The opening script sets the stage for us. A greedy Trade Federation has set up a blockade over the peaceful planet of Naboo. With the Republic Congress caught in endless debate on this and related matters, the Supreme Chancellor sends two Jedi knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to try to settle the dispute.

We join Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi aboard their starship as they approach the Trade Federation blockade. We quickly learn that there is much more involved here than a trade dispute; the trade federation leaders are taking orders from Darth Sidious, a black-cloaked figure we see in holographic communications, who has ominous political designs on taking control of the planet.

When Darth Sidious learns that the ambassadors sent by the Supreme Chancellor are Jedi, he orders the Trade Federation viceroy to have them destroyed and the invasion of the planet to commence immediately. However, the Jedi prove elusive and resourceful. Their ship destroyed, they find a way down to the planet, quickly secure the help of the Gungan, sentient creatures who live beneath the water, and make an underwater journey to the palace where the queen is imprisoned and being coerced to sign a treaty unfavorable to her people.

The clever Jedi are able to rescue the queen and help her escape. They successfully clear the Trade Federation blockade with the aid of an unusually resourceful astromech droid called R2D2. However, their hyperdrive is damaged and they must land at the remote planet of Tatooine in order to repair the ship.

New characters and locales are introduced and woven together with ones familiar from the earlier films. On Tatooine, where the initial Star Wars movie began, Qui-Gon Jinn discovers a young nine-year-old slave boy, Anakin Skywalker, whom he senses is strongly empowered with the Force, the mystical energy field with which the Jedi are deeply connected. Qui-Gon wonders if this young boy might be the answer to a Jedi prophecy of one who will bring balance to the Force.

Anakin offers Qui-Gon's little group shelter from a sand storm in the small home he shares with his mother. Here it is determined that the only way to raise the necessary money for the replacement parts they need is through the local propensity for gambling which centers around dangerous, high-speed pod racing at which young Anakin excels.

With the aid of his innate Jedi reflexes and mechanical abilities, young Anakin succeeds in winning a pod race against an assortment of alien pilots who are more at home at such intense high speeds than most humans. His victory wins the parts needed to fix his new friends' space ship, and due to a clever bet by Qui-Gon, young Anakin's freedom as well.

Once the ship is repaired, they travel to Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, to plead the case of the Naboo people--but encounter only failure and the ineffectiveness of the government. The courageous young queen returns to Naboo with the two Jedi to be with her own people and see if she can resolve the situation herself. She proves to be quite clever, ingenious, and determined--another mysterious representative of the feminine symbolism that permeates all the Star Wars movies.

After forming an alliance with the Gungan, the queen hatches a plan that creates a diversion allowing her to develop a three-pronged attack. Meanwhile the two Jedi become engaged in an intense duel with Darth Maul, the intimidating apprentice of Darth Sidious sent to thwart their efforts, and young Anakin is inadvertently swept into the battle in space where he proves more lucky than skilled.

Archetypal Evolution

The basic story line contains plenty of action and intrigue for all ages, but as with Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, archetypal themes are also introduced that make the movie intriguing psychologically. While on Tatooine, we learn that Anakin Skywalker has no father. His mother tells Qui-Gon Jinn, when he asks about the boy's father, "I carried him, I gave birth I can't explain what happened." Later we learn that Anakin's blood contains an unusually high midi-chlorian count, and that midi-chlorians are "a microscopic life form that resides within all living cells and communicates with the Force. . . . Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force."

Lucas has boldly introduced a slightly altered version of the myth of the virgin birth and also an image of a living organism that is the seat of consciousness and links organic life with psychic life. Such images are associated mythologically with the mystery of incarnation and psychologically with the ongoing integration of archetypal energies through the engagement with human consciousness--themes of great importance to Jung. In Greek myth, for example, many new gods and heroes were of half-divine and half-human conception. For instance, Asklepios, the god of healing, was the son of a mortal woman, Coronis, and the god Apollo. Such unions, while often creating difficulties, especially for the humans involved, generally led to situations in which humans could become more beneficially related to the gods--that is, to the archetypal levels of the psyche.

Jung saw the Judeo-Christian myth as reflective of the ongoing evolution of the divine/human drama: As more of the archetypal levels of the psyche are increasingly integrated and humanized, the psyche is also likely to erupt in more primitive ways that create an ongoing shadow problem. For Jung, the end of this millennium and the beginning of the next one signifies the dawning recognition that along with the development of the "good" side of humans is the dark side that also has to be integrated. In Luke 10:18 Christ remarks, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Even as Christ walks the earth as the embodiment of God's newest incarnation, he describes this other divine descent into human existence. (It is noteworthy that near the end of Return of the Jedi, an enraged emperor assaults Luke Skywalker with lightning bolts when he refuses to be turned to the dark side.)

Noting that events in the Book of Revelation belong to the end of the Christian aeon (which is now upon us) Edward Edinger remarks: "It is interesting that the image of the fall of Satan from heaven should come up in the same scriptures that announce the incarnation of God in Christ" (Edinger, p. 115). Edinger suggests that our time is an apocalyptic one. My sense is that Lucas, as an artist, draws upon these apocalyptic energies in creating his story.

In The Phantom Menace, at the time when the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn is moved by the possibility that this young boy--with a midi-chlorian count higher than any of the Jedi--might be the answer to a prophecy of one who will bring balance to the Force, dark figures are already mobilized for other purposes. One of these, the dark apprentice Darth Maul, first becomes known to the Jedi after he "descends" to Tatooine and challenges Qui-Gon Jinn, just at the moment Qui-Gon is bringing the boy to their ship.

The Jedi Council on Coruscant, though recognizing that the Force is strong within this boy, remain very dubious about his training to be a Jedi. They sense much danger in him. The theme of ambivalence concerning the "special one," young Anakin Skywalker, will obviously be central to Star Wars Episodes II and III, which are scheduled for release in 2002 and 2005--after we've entered our new millennium. This theme mirrors both the messianic myths and the psychic turmoil that were afoot in Western civilization two thousand years ago, and which, according to Edinger, are upon us now.

Star Wars Style in 1999

While the mythological underpinnings of Lucas's most recent film are still very evident, some may feel (as I did) a change in style from the earlier movies. Lucas directed only Episode IV and then passed on that task to others for Episodes V and VI. The first of these movies holds the most charm: As the drama unfolds and the various characters are introduced, we are treated to humorous and entertaining bantering between most of the characters, and particularly between the two droids and between Princess Leia and Han Solo.

In recent interviews Lucas has said that there were two major reasons why he waited to begin the new trilogy and once again sit in the director's chair. The first was his family--he had adopted three children and was raising them as a single parent and experienced an inner shift away from his primary identity as a filmmaker to that of a parent. Direct involvement in a film project of this magnitude would have taken too much time away from his children. Parenthood was the identity and life that he enjoyed most. Now that his children are older (his youngest is 6, and the oldest is 18) he fells he can more easily devote the required time to making these films.

The second reason is the enormous improvement in film technology that has occurred since he created the original trilogy--much of whose wizardry was the product of his own special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic. The new technology allows him much greater opportunity to match his imaginative visions with their screen translation via special effects. He perceives himself to be like a painter with a palette of colors that now more nearly reproduces those within his own mind.

Having enjoyed the way the original trilogy of movies unfolded, I found The Phantom Menace to be a little too fast-paced at my initial viewing. I felt that there wasn't adequate time to connect to the characters, especially the digitally created ones. This, however, was not a problem for my two sons, ages 10 and 13. (My wife also found the pace too accelerated, though she immediately enjoyed the digitally created characters.) I also missed some of the charm of the original.

Yet with the possible exception of the Star Wars Special Edition releases of Episodes IV-VI, no movie has captured our entire family's imagination as this one has. Everyone wanted to see it again, we all had questions about what we had seen, we all wanted to know what would happen next. It is hard to ask more of any movie. Curiously, after a second viewing, it turned out it was our youngest family member who was correct about what happened during the scene we had debated the most. Despite the stylistic differences, Star Wars was still essentially Star Wars.

Lucas has a unique ability as a filmmaker to grasp the young imagination. He has indicated that he intentionally directs the movie with twelve-year-olds in mind, but he obviously touches a much broader audience. And today young people are not necessarily an easy target, entertainment-wise! In a time when peer pressure dictates that a movie can't be any good if it isn't at least rated PG-13, Lucas's PG adventure and its ability to capture the imagination of a young audience is quite remarkable. The last Star Wars movie was released in 1983--sixteen years ago--yet Lucas returns to us as the same artist, though with a somewhat different style, still passionately committed to telling an engaging story, especially to his young audience. Spending so much time with his own children has probably contributed significantly to this.

The Young Person's Psyche

Lucas reports that when he was ten years old, he began asking himself questions about God. In particular he wondered why there are so many religions if there is only one God. How can anyone understand the ages-old spiritual mystery of life in an all-inclusive way not bound by one system of faith. Through his engaging film saga with its multiplicity of characters and its mythological roots, Lucas has translated this facet of his own youthful spiritual journey, along with so many other facets of being a young person, to the big screen.

The menagerie of Lucas's exotic characters has a direct appeal to children's imaginations, much as animals often do. The somewhat controversial Jar Jar Binks, the outcast Gungan the Jedi first meet when they land on the planet Naboo, is a good example. Young people identify readily with such a character; my two sons now fall into their own version of Jar Jar's "Gungan speak" at the dinner table. Emotional qualities can be expressed in this highly idiosyncratic way that are hard to express in other ways.

Jar Jar Binks captures the vulnerability, awkwardness, and naivete that children and adolescents feel and try to hide for fear of being shamed, ridiculed, and ostracized. Jar Jar is an outcast member of a tall, frog-like amphibious society, one that feels condescended to by the seemingly more civilized Naboo. Jar Jar and the Gungan, a "people" living in an underwater city, serve as a symbolic connection to the unconscious--those who live more closely to it in unassuming ways. Yet amongst the Gungan, Jar Jar is an outcast banished to the surface world. His crime? He's clumsy.

Jar Jar thus carries numerous significant psychological characteristics best appreciated by children. Curiously Jung remarked that the frog is animal symbolism for the child (Visions, p. 543.) Children are not yet equipped with the tools to free themselves from an identification with their psychological "clumsiness" which, like Jar Jar, can get them in trouble in their own families and amongst their peers. The ridiculed aspect of the personality can't help being any other way, especially at early stages of development.

Jar Jar carries the same qualities as the dumbling or stumblebum figures found in our fairy tale lore who become either the true heroes or possess qualities that must be included together with the hero. Because he is clumsy, Jar Jar needs the heroes' help--first that of Qui-Gon Jinn on Naboo and later that of young Anakin on Tatooine. Jar Jar and the Gungan represent those aspects of the psyche that are still in the process of development and which are crucial for individuation. When Queen Amidala realizes the importance of establishing an alliance with them, a significant psychological connection is realized.

In the adult personality a figure like Jar Jar represents material that has fallen into the general realm of the shadow--and, I believe, more specifically into the realm of the inferior function. This aspect of the personality must be included but is not heroic to the eyes of the ego. Those components of the personality represented by characters like the Gungan embody our chthonic roots, creatures "of the depths of the earth. . . . always a bit comical or grotesque--in vivid contrast to the world of light." (p. 533.)

Ironically, it is this very character that has received the most derision from critics, including an accusation of racism by at least one journalist. Such criticism misses the symbolic point of the character even as it signifies an unconscious recognition of the psychological source of racism: the projection of such unconscious aspects of the human personality onto certain individuals or entire groups of people thereby denying them in ourselves. In The Phantom Menace a wise Jedi, a young boy, and a valiant young queen suggest another approach.

Jung, too, felt deeply the awkwardness of his youth, and like Lucas, dealt with significant spiritual issues at an early age, especially when he found himself questioning his minister-father's established religious beliefs. In his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung describes in detail the spiritual and psychological conundrums into which many of his early experiences catapulted him. The powerful reality of these unusual experiences fueled and directed his immense creativity: He sought to address and ameliorate the suffering of those experiencing similar conflicts.

Jung recognized that children are naturally "close" to the collective unconscious, as are primitive people and psychotic individuals. These groups have not yielded completely to the pull of a rational consciousness that is urged to dismiss nonrational elements of psychological experiences as inferior.

In the galaxy George Lucas creates there are plenty of playful, imaginative characters for children to identify with, and some--like Jar Jar Binks, the droid R2D2, and young Anakin Skywalker--get to journey into the galactic drama right along with the Jedi who are so intimately connected to the Force.

The Star Wars epic entertains on so many levels, and like a rich dream or any good story, it can also enlighten if we allow the images to stay with us. It feels to me that Lucas has aimed his story at the age group--and the psychological disposition--that will receive the images exactly as they are, and not be deterred by too much rational criticism. This hunch was confirmed for me by a young man who has, for a number of years, befriended my older son in their mutual quest for Star Wars figures from the earlier movies. After seeing The Phantom Menace he expressed his disappointment in George Lucas (ironically, he's probably about the age, late twenties, that Lucas was when he filmed the first Star Wars). He had particular difficulty with the theme of the virgin birth. To him Lucas was just bringing in religion, and that felt like an artificial intrusion and a "cop-out." This archetypal image was equated with religious beliefs that his rational mind had eliminated long ago as meaningless. But to the younger psyche--one still at home in the archetypal world--such an image "works" very naturally--it simply belongs, it doesn't have to be dismissed.

Jung struggled with his own spiritual experiences and issues, steeped himself in the world's mythic and symbolic traditions, and worked throughout his lifetime to create a psychology that enabled us to embrace core archetypal experiences and seek to understand them. George Lucas also struggled with the "big questions" about life from an early age (he had a near death experience as an adolescent), steeped himself in world mythology and the modern art of filmmaking, and has created his own unique story--one that speaks directly to the modern soul, no matter what age. With The Phantom Menace he has, once again, set the stage to offer us more.

© Steven Galipeau 1999.

Steven Galipeau is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Studio City, California, Executive Director of the Jungian-oriented Coldwater Counseling Center, and a past Book Review editor of Psychological Perspectives.

Further Reading

Edinger, Edward. (1996). The Aion Lectures. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jung, C. G. (1973) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Revised Edition. Recorder and edited by Aniela Jaffe, translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Pantheon Books.

_____. (1997). Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930-1934. Edited by Claire Douglas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

New: an Open Court Book by Steven Galipeau:

The Journey of Luke Skywalker: An Analysis of Modern Myth and Symbol

"The Journey of Luke Skywalker reveals that, at a time when the fate of the world demands that each of us see through the evil of uncompassionate empire-building, popular film has managed to become an effective vehicle for the instruction of the soul."
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