WMU News

Mythical, philosophical, religious elements draw fans to 'Star Wars'

May 13, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- High-flying adventure isn't the only thing moviegoers are counting on when the next installment of the popular "Star Wars" film series, "The Phantom Menace" swoops into the nation's theaters on May 19. To many fans, George Lucas' films are imbued with deep mythical, philosophical and even religious meaning, says Dr. Brian Wilson, a WMU assistant professor of comparative religion. Among those overtones is Lucas' own belief that humanity and advanced technology can successfully coexist.

"Lucas, of course, brings his own philosophy to the screen," Wilson says. "And there's a very, kind of optimistic idea that somehow rugged individualism and humanity can coexist with very sophisticated high technology. And so that's why you find, along with the space ships and the blasters and the tractor beams, these kind of retro elements, the quasi medieval costumes, the knighthood, the emphasis on aristocracy. And so what you have there is this idea that somehow humanity actually can create a balanced society that is both highly technological but humanistic in focus."

Wilson says that when Lucas created Star Wars, he borrowed from scholar Joseph Campbell's theories on mythology and psychologist Carl Jung's views on people's inner struggle between their dark and light sides. The powerful field of energy known as "The Force," meanwhile, takes on the religious elements of Taoism.

Part of what has made the films so popular is their religious overtones, Wilson says.

"The religious message is in them, even though Lucas tends to play this down because he's in the business of making money and he wants to draw people into the theaters, and the last thing people want is a sermon in a movie," Wilson says. "But I do think there's a strong religious message going throughout these films and people at some level, consciously or unconsciously, probably unconsciously, are really responding to it."

Another factor in the films' popularity stems from people being more eclectic today in the sources of their religious inspiration, Wilson says. People are more apt to draw inspiration from a variety of sources, even movies.

"We're entering into a phase, especially in America, in which religion is becoming privatized, that it's becoming a much more individual thing than it ever has been," Wilson says. "That doesn't mean that this is the death knell to organized religion. But people are more willing to experiment and be eclectic and mix and match and take serious religious messages from what's essentially a Saturday afternoon matinee."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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