The Force within
> Prof C.M. Hew D. Gill from Sunway University tells why the Star Wars have endured and what psychological factors drive the characters
WHAT makes the series of Star Wars films so revered by millions of people around the world and endured for so long? According to Prof C.M. Hew D. Gill, it all began with the hero’s journey, an often-used pattern of narrative.
Gill, the professor of psychology and head of the Department of Psychology at Sunway University, explained: “With Star Wars, what [director-producer] George Lucas did was retell the same basic story [or myth] that every single culture has.
“Or what the American mythologist Joseph Campbell calls ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’.
“You can summarise it very quickly: [The hero lives] an ordinary life and [he/she] gets some sort of call. Suddenly, the hero recognises he has a mission.
“He goes through some danger and it looks like everything is an absolute disaster. Then he meets a mentor, and the mentor tells him what he needs to do.
“He goes off, kills the monster and finds himself. And we all can relate [to that].”
For Luke Skywalker in the original 1977 Star Wars trilogy, the ‘monster’ was Darth Vader.
And for Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars 1999 prequel trilogy, the ‘monster’ was his own fear, anger, and hate, which made him fall to the Dark Side and become a Sith lord.
“We begin as small children, we do everything we are told and we believe everything we are told,” said Gill.
“As we get older, we begin to realise that our parents don’t know everything. And then, by our teens, we are actively questioning and pushing boundaries.” He said this is what we see in Luke’s relationship with Darth Vader throughout the original trilogy. “[We] still don’t know who we are or who we want to be, and it is really once [people] are in [their] 20s that they begin to break away from their parents, just as Luke breaks free from his [father’s fate].” Gill also touched upon another powerful fatherson relationship seen in Episode VII – The Force Awakens. In the film, reformed scoundrel Han Solo attempted to reach out to his son, Kylo Ren, whom he had tried to raise to be a good person.
However, his son refused to follow the path intended for him, and decided to follow a path of his own choosing.
“At a point in your life, you can be a world’s expert in something and your dad can still say: ‘No, you don’t know what you are talking about, you are still my kid’,” explained Gill.
“And that can [provoke] anger, and that is actually what you see in [the earlier example between] Luke and Vader. It all fits.”
This is most evident in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
Here, Luke is already the Jedi Master. His training is complete. He has accepted his purpose in life and is questioning his father’s choices.
Gill explained that with the Sith, it is all about choices – and this is a very powerful story because we are all tempted by the Dark Side although morally we know that it is wrong.
He said: “In the process, he (Anakin) was absolutely and horribly physically mangled and ended up as essentially a [robot].
“In the end, he realises that there are actually bigger things in life and that love, in the end, is much more important.
“He also realises that individuals matter too, and that pulled him back [to the Light], at least to the point of reconciliation.
“At the same time [once his father dies], Luke recognises the importance of this man to his whole existence, and that actually, in many ways, he is his father.”
While the roles of fathers in the Star Wars movies are clearly established, the role of the mother is, at a glance, almost absent.
However, Gill said that women have always played a major role in the story of Star Wars, especially in the original trilogy where Luke was an orphan without a mother.
“In Star Wars, the Force actually doubles as the mother,” he added. In Greek, there is a word: ‘storge’. This is a peculiar type of love, the love of a parent. That love is unconditional but also disciplinary.
“In the same way that the Force is unconditional, that it can boost you, it could also intervene and physically knock you over.”
As for the conflict between the Empire and the Rebels, he said that it reflects what happened in the late 20th century where there is a shift away from European culture which was the global cultural centre.
“Just look at who is running the Empire [in the original films]?” asked Gill. “A bunch of old white guys!
“And look who is looking for a new beginning? [The Rebels] are about as diverse as you can get. There’s even a 7ft 6in-tall [furry] guy!”
Gill emphasised that Star Wars also talks about that change, inclusiveness and diversity. “And it is an object lesson that diversity is more effective.”
He also used the iconic Millennium Falcon as an example, pointing out that the more diverse the cast of characters present on the Millennium Falcon, the better the decisions they seem to make, and the more effective the ship is.
As Gill noted, drawing inspiration from fiction is healthy, provided that we don’t obsess over it.
It could help us cope with difficult situations by giving us examples of how others deal with their problems, but if we start believing that we are the character, that’s a problem.
“If you do it for a bit of fun over the weekend, it’s fine. Anything that takes over your life is generally not a good thing,” advised Gill.