Joseph Campbell often noted that while mythic structure is universal, myth itself must be kept fresh through reinterpretation. Every generation must recontextualize myth to suit their times, to create their own road map for how to fit best into the world.
After the release of Star Wars, Campbell and Lucas became friends. Campbell credited Lucas with reinvigorating the mythic force in the modern world. In return Lucas reignited worldwide interest in Campbell's ideas, which have had profound repercussions on world culture in general and Hollywood in particular. Lucas once called Campbell "my Yoda."
One of the Campbell's messages is that "mythic structure" is more than the underlying archetype of a good story; myth teaches us how to live well. If George Lucas were to create a mythic map of his life, it might include these elements:
George's nickname in highschool was "Luke." Luke S. = Lucas.
In myths characters often embody more than one archetype. The mentor, for instance, can have their own heroic arc, and their own mentor. Just as Obi-Wan originally learned about the force from Yoda (according to the original trilogy), Joseph Campbell studied mythology under Heinrich Zimmer, an Indologist (anthropologist who specializes in India). In particular, Zimmer described the concept of Prana, which translates literally into "breath" and means "the all-pervading vital energy of the universe" (Buddhists brought the concept of Prana to China, where it is called Ch'i and later to Japan, where it is called Ki). This idea may have influenced Lucas' idea of The Force. Heinrich Zimmer was a disciple of Ramana Maharshi.
Trash compactor monster
Campbell teaches that the "belly of the whale" (or near-death experience) tends to be where the hero finds the magic he'll later use to overcome his final ordeal. In high school Lucas suffered a near-fatal car crash, making him suddenly aware of his mortality. He became almost obsessed with the idea of living a meaningful life, transforming overnight from a "directionless loafer" into "the guy who always works harder than everyone else." His convalescence left him little to do but read: mostly science fiction and comicbooks. Lucas has said that his accident came from his fascination with speed, and he explores that fascination in Star Wars, constantly searching for the balance point between presenting as much visual information as possible and incoherence.
The word "profound" comes from the Latin profundus, literally "just before the bottom" but figuratively "at the edge of death." A hero is someone who reaches the edge of death, steals a piece of magic, then brings that magic back home to share with his community. Star Wars is powerful because it is literally profound, an embodiment of the lessons Lucas learned from his near-death experience.
Francis Ford Coppola
The Shapeshifter is the archetype for a character whose loyalties are ambiguous, or whose loyalties change. The Hero isn't sure how much they can count on this person. Lucas probably based Han Solo partially on his own big brother figure, Francis Ford Coppola.
The Dark Side
After the success of the immensely profitable American Graffiti, Lucas was strongly pressured to repeat this "success formula" rather than experiment with something as risky and atypical as Star Wars.
Destroying the Death Star
Star Wars trilogy
Once the hero has heeded his mentor, gone on his journey, resisted Temptation From the True Path, overcome the obstacles, and faced rather than fled from his brush with oblivion (the Belly of the Whale), the hero's reward is a magic elixir. The Hero completes his journey by sharing this boon with his tribe, making the world a little better forever.
You may have noticed that this website is careful to not say anything about George Lucas which isn't already widely known; American law says that creative people are "public figures," so they don't always have the same legal right to privacy as everyone else. But is it really okay to invade someone's private life without their permission, even when doing so doesn't break a law?
Lucas draws on the most popular modern myth of his childhood