This week, we are doing something a little different. Normally, Fox or I would take a fairy tale, folklore or myth from once upon a time ago, and give context, history and our thoughts on it. However, I threw Fox for a loop when I told her I wanted to talk about a story from a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Today we are going to discuss, Star Wars!
That’s right, at its core, this divisive, multi-million dollar franchise, featuring laser swords, space wizards and gunslingers, is actually a fairy tale in disguise. “But sparrow”, I hear you say “Star Wars is too new to be a fairy tale, and it’s a sci-fi”. While I get this gut reaction, it’s not exactly right either. It’s kind of like when people say cereal is a soup. It feels wrong but it is kind of accurate.
Just so you know where we are coming from, let us tell share a little bit about our relationship with Star Wars. Want to know more about your animal companions? Check out our About Us page to learn more!
Fox has had more limited exposure to Star Wars as a whole. While she knows the memes and general story well, it wasn’t until 2020 that I was able to convince her that this was something worth watching. Since then she has seen Episodes 1-6 and has been slowly making her way through the Clone Wars series.
I have a longer-term relationship with Star Wars. It goes all the way back to when I saw The Phantom Menace in theatres for the first time. As a child, I was awed by the world of space travel and the Jedi. In retro-spec this film generally does not hold up, but I will never forget how taken in I was with the fun fantastical elements. And how I was on the edge of my seat as Obi-Wan fought Darth Maul.
I came home that day and told my father all about the “amazing” movie I had seen. He would then tell me how there were not one, but three more movies in this new world I had just entered. I was stunned. He then told me the story of Luke and how amazed he was when he saw the original Star Wars as a teenager.
Since then I have watched all the movies, shows and a couple of the books. I have been on a rollercoaster of loving the franchise and disappointingly frustrated with it. But love it or hate it, it is my firm belief that the original Star Wars is a fairy tale. And today, I am ready to make my case.
Quick thing to note before we start, Star Wars is a huge franchise! And it feels like every week new lore is being added to the ever-expanding universe. To tighten our focus, when I talk of Star Wars, I’ll be referring to the original trilogy.
Star Wars: A Fairy Tale
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… These are the words that open every Star Wars film. They are a comforting repetition, a reminder that this tale may be old and far away, but it still gives the plausibility that it could be true. It’s very reminiscent of the “Once upon a time”, a simple line that started many of my favourite childhood fairy tales. And it is no coincidence that these openers sound very similar.
When George Lucas was writing the script for the original Star Wars in the mid-1970s, he read the book The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joeseph Campell. This ended up being profoundly influential to Lucas’ approach to the story. The book analyzes many myths and old tales from around the world. Campbell noticed a pattern to all these stories and summarized his findings in his book. Today this archetypal narrative is better known as the Hero’s Journey. After reading this book Lucas realized that this is what he had been doing all along. He had been following the rules of the hero’s journey and was trying to capture that magical familiar feeling those stories provide. Once he realized this, Lucas would lean into the classic motifs. This brings me back to the beginning and the feeling we get from those opening words.
“I put this little thing on it: ‘A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, an incredible adventure took place.’ Basically it’s a fairy tale now.”
That line was added, because the creator himself saw his story as a fairy tale and he wanted to lean into the traditional elements, from start to finish.
But just because the creator says it’s one thing, doesn’t exactly make it so. The truth of it lies in the execution. So let’s talk about characters.
When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he is a simple teenage boy wanting to see the world! But he is sadly stuck working on the farm for his aunt and uncle. We can hear him early in the film whining to his uncle after he is told to clean the new droids: “But I was going to Tosche Sation to pick up power converters.” Not exactly a hero yet but Jack Spriggins is also a fairy tale hero, so the bar is really low here.
The point is, that Luke is a simple youth who dreams of something bigger for his life. Additionally, he is always the youngest or at least the most naive in his group. Sound familiar? Yup, he is for all intents and purposes, the youngest child protagonist.
Now that we have our hero, let’s look at our princess. Princess Leia is not our traditional princess archetype. She is smart, self-reliant, make her own decisions and oh wait this sounds like the protagonist from East of the Sun and West of the Moon. While I dearly love Leia for her fierceness, she still fills that damsel in distress role and provides a morally good and heroic task for Luke and company to complete.
Rounding off our good guys we have Han, the one who will actually have character development, Chewy, the tag-along guy and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mentor/positive father figure to Luke. And they have to face off against the evil Darth Vadar. Every single character is very clearly defined to be a good guy or a bad guy. Don’t get me started on Han right now. Yes, he is a smuggler but I don’t think anyone ever seriously worried about him being legitimately evil.
While it’s easy to point at each of these characters and point out their tropes and archetypes, the rest of the characters are not as important from that perspective. The youthful hero saving the beautiful princess is of course a classic and Star Wars checks this box, but it’s not what defines it. Fairy tales are magical stories generally geared for kids and they always have a happily ever after.
Star Wars was always made for families, specifically for kids. The world is a re-skin of the generic high fantasy sword and sorcery tale, becoming a space and sci-fi epic.
In conclusion! Star Wars was created with the motifs of a fairy tale in mind. The original characters draw on the traditional archetypes for their characters, particularly for the main hero. Lastly, the story just oozes that child-friendly story of magic and adventure, even if it’s slightly tweaked to fit a science fiction world rather than a traditional high fantasy setting.
Star Wars means a lot to a lot of people. Its influence can be felt in today’s culture especially around “geek/fandom” culture. And it is often simple fairy tale stories that can speak to so many people the way Star Wars has.
Fox challenges this idea and we discuss more of what it means to be a fairy tale on our podcast!
So what do you think dear Travellers? Am I right in thinking Star Wars is a fairy tale? Or is it just another fantasy story? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @FromEnchanted.