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Star Wars: The Magic of Myth
Mary Henderson
Bantam Spectra Books, 214 pages

The Magic of Myth
Smithsonian Exhibition
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Star Wars movies, Bantam Books and the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum presented a major exhibition along with this lavishly illustrated book exploring the mythological, historical, and cultural influences behind George Lucas' trilogy.

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A review by Thomas F. Cunningham

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When you first saw Star Wars, or when you saw it "for the first time again," did you get the feeling you were watching an old western in a futuristic setting? As you think about the story now, do you see the Empire as a metaphor for Nazi Germany? The Magic of Myth, a companion volume to an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, explains why you might have these thoughts when watching the Star Wars trilogy.

I have been interested in myth and mythology since college and this book summarizes all those years of study into one easy and thought provoking narrative. Mary Henderson examines the creation of a twentieth century myth, bringing the reader through the process that George Lucas went through in creating Star Wars. The late Joseph Campbell was considered by most to be the world's foremost authority on myth and mythology. Lucas consulted with Campbell in the development of the Star Wars story, and according to Campbell, one of the strongest elements of a myth is the hero. The Magic of Myth looks at the transformation of Luke Skywalker into a hero of classic proportions, relating characters in the first movie, Star Wars: A New Hope, to classical mythological figures like Hercules, King Arthur and Jonah.

Another important element of myth is the struggle between good and evil. If Luke is good then, obviously, evil is Darth Vader. The age-old battle between good and evil as reflected in the Star Wars trilogy is a theme which also receives its due attention in this book.

Henderson takes us on a journey of enlightenment through the trilogy, pointing out the different mythic symbols along the way. Then we are introduced to the cultural and historical influences in the creation of a modern myth. Henderson explains the connection between Star Wars and the westerns and swashbuckling movies of the '30s and '40s. Exploring the Empire as an analogy for Nazi Germany, Henderson parallels the costumes, the leaders and the underlying philosophy of the Third Reich to those of the Empire.

The book ends by looking at different mythic images, from Leia, the feminine hero, to eastern philosophy; from Art Deco to the '70s. These images, and indeed this book, flow in such a way that you will see the movies in a different light. I enjoyed The Magic of Myth to the point that I am sorry I don't live in DC where I could just pop over and see the exhibition. If you're a fan of Star Wars, I suggest you buy this book, read it, watch the movies again, and see the deeper story.

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas F. Cunningham

Thomas Cunningham is an independent corporate coach working in the software industry. Bad science fiction films give him a rash.


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