Moyers & Campbell on Star Wars’ Mythological Influences

June 21, 1988

In this clip from The Power of Myth — Bill Moyers’ groundbreaking conversations with mythologist Joseph Campbell — Campbell draws parallels between Star Wars and mythological themes of heroism, spiritual adventure and the actions of man. Released in 1988, The Power of Myth was one of the most popular TV series in the history of public television and continues to inspire new audiences.

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  • http://www.cinerover.com/ Kaye Armstrong

    Glad to see this show is making a comeback! I loved working on this series. I did the location sound and video. Joseph Campbell, George Lucas and Bill Moyers are THE most interesting people I met in my 40 year career.

  • Rahat

    Wonderful news.  When the series first ran, years ago, the book club I belonged to gathered as a group to watch and had some very thought provoking conversations.
    I hope that this series provokes more civil conversations this time around.

  • http://twitter.com/knowbuddhau Dave Parker

     Oh my metaphor!  Can’t thank you enough for those interviews.  

    Mr. Moyers, it may interest you to know, I was at the centennial celebration of Campbell’s birth, held in 2004 at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.  As fate would have it, it was held during the week of my 40th birthday.  Not for my sake, of course; Campbell used to lecture there every year during the third week of March.

    So I flew my borderline-agoraphobic self all the way there, all by myself, to debut in public my Zen knock-knock joke.  It was very, very well received.  (If I had time, I’d tell the story of how I presented it to my roshi, marking the occasion of my satori, who had no idea what a knock-knock joke was at the time.)

    KNOCK-KNOCK
    (who’s there?)
    BUDDHA!
    (buddha who?)
    KNOW, BUDDHA YOU!

    Jean Erdman-Campbell graced us with her presence, as did the crouching tiger/hidden dragon-man himself, Chungliang Al-huang.  (The Joseph Campbell Foundation Web site used to have a picture of me and JEC at the cocktail party held in the lodge.)  John Cleese was scheduled to speak, but had a terrible cold.

    On one of the last mornings, Al lead us in tai-chi on the bluff overlooking the Pacific.  He stood with his back to water as he greeted us, saying, “Metaphor be with you!”  “And also with you!” I replied.  I was surprised that no one else joined me.

    But that’s not what I began to write about.  I’d like to know your thoughts, Brother Bill, on the most god-awful fear I have regarding Campbell’s comparative mythology.

    As you no doubt know, Campbell lectured for decades for the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, beginning in 1956 (as listed in his life’s chronology on the Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Web site http://www.pacifica.edu/innercontent-m.aspx?id=1754).  Given the horrendous weaponization of religions all around the world that seems to be a hallmark of US foreign policy, I fear that, just as APA/DOD systematically weaponized ‘Psych!’ into psyop, someone has systematically weaponized Campbell’s comparative mythology into mythop.

    The political power of the power of myth is this: to bring into being the world stage on which we all are playing our notorious parts.  This can’t have escaped the notice of our homegrown hegemons.  

    Such a project seems to me to be behind things like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cyclone.  But I’m not a journalist, though, and I’m really at a loss as to how to test this god-awful hypothesis.

    But you, Brother Bill, were there.  I’m most curious about that infamous bunch known in intelligence circles as the neocon “crazies.”

    How did they get to be called that, and why?  Long before he was put in charge of the 9/11 commission, I read things by Philip Zelikow, on the importance of the power of myth in politics, that made my blood run cold.

    I think the crazies take the power of myth seriously, unlike almost everyone else today, who think that ‘myth’ is a fancy synonym for ‘lie.’  What an advantage the crazies have!  People barely take psyop seriously; they can’t even imagine mythop.  

    To impart a feel for the political power of myth, I like to ask: which is more powerful, myths or nukes?  Obviously, we were jacked to war in Iraq by mythical nukes.

    The nukes themselves are well nigh useless, but myths about nukes are even more powerful than the weapons themselves.

    Brother Bill, I bow in your virtual direction.

  • http://twitter.com/knowbuddhau Dave Parker

    Well then, let me take this opportunity to bow in your virtual direction, too.

  • http://www.cinerover.com/ Kaye Armstrong

    THANKS DAVE!

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Star…   Wars.  Star…  Wars?
    Is this the primary way we recount the past?
    By noting the starts, exploits, horrific atrocities, and ends, of wars.
    Did Campbell ever discuss any benefactors of civilization who were successful in preventing or averting wars?
    “Star Wars” itself would seem innocent as a comix entertainment for children and nerds, especially in comparison to real events of the last two centuries. 
    But myth would not be meaningful were it innocent.
    Myth sets the standard, the acceptable pattern for human behavior. Lucas comes from a dystopian tradition like many modern auteurs of space opera. “Star Wars” is the sibling of “THX1138″ where individuals live isolated, serving a nuclear reactor complex.

    Let’s admit the truth.
    Those of us who value an optimistic view of the future are in pre-existing asymmetrical opposition to anti-human institutions (corporations, empires, lobbyists, secretive conspiracy agencies, misusers of technology, scientific falsifiers, molders of consent). Our greatest stars (hero figures) should be the clarifiers of truth and the peacemakers, our direction finders. Moyers&Company aspires to such a role.

    While they rested and rethunk, remobilized their disarray, constellations aligned this week for war with Iran. We all understand how wrong and hopeless such a war would be for most of us, and what a magnificent and degenerate wager it would be for our financial Oligarch class, at the expense of our success and rights.  Just you watch AIPAC Monday. See how Romney and Obama are caught in a toilet vortex stirred by extreme powerful elite interests. And Moyers&Company dodge this opportunity to clarify and calm the public. They nurse their vaccination boo-boo and dread the tiny backlash from a clumsy pratfall. 

    Get up and run. The Peace Train is leaving the station, but with hustle you can still catch it. Forget the dystopians: What would Joseph Campbell say?

  • bev

    this is so-o-o-o annoying! I am unaware that Campbell ever did an entire show about Star Wars – but he does mention that in the interviews for “The Power of Myth”.  That show is airing march 3-6 in Colorado – and I can not find any mention of it anywhere on this PBS website.  I wanted to post it to my Facebook and let others know it’s on!  I hate this stupid website that has a lousy search engine

  • http://billmoyers.com BillMoyers.com

     Hi bev,

    Local television stations have full discretion as to if and when they air “The Power of Myth”, so we can’t make a single programming announcement that would be accurate for all.

    Your best bet is to check your local station website, which will likely have a complete programming guide. But perhaps this link matches your need:

    http://www.cpt12.org/tv_schedule/program_details.cfm?id=120120306203000

    On BillMoyers.com, the only “Power of Myth” content is on this page, but we’ll be adding more clips soon, so please stay tuned.

    I hope this addresses your question with satisfaction, and that you enjoy the program.

  • David F., N.A.

    Probably all great athletes, and most above average ones, use(d) the force.  I would like to think that I was in the second group (come on, guys, don’t burst my bubble).  My friends and I used to call the force, “the zone” or “the flow.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29

    Besides the physical abilities of Jordan, Gretzky, Montana and Woods, I think, their success laid heavily upon their ability to quickly get into the zone, and then stay there.  When I got into it, it felt like everything was moving in slow motion.   I’d throw up the basketball and I could see it going in the hoop. But its more than just watching.  It’s like I felt it.  It’s like, without thinking, I saw, or calculated, the arc the ball had to take and just threw it in. 

    Instead of Obi Wan saying “this time, let go of your conscious self and act on instinct” he could have said, “Just do it.”

  • Anonymous

    I just finished watching the Joseph Campbell interview with Bill Moyers and thought the discussion was very enlightening. However, my perception and opinion changed somewhat after Mr. Campbell’s remark about Darth Vader and his myth being representative of the “state” and when he revealed himself to Luke by taking of his helmut gear that Mr. Campbell state he appeared like a “worm like man” or something to that effect. Everyone knows that the reason Darth Vader wore these mechanical computerized devices etc as this was the only way he could continue to be “alive” after he suffered  life sustaining injuries and seek vengence after losing his battle and wife to Obi Wan. I don’t see Vader being mythical representation of the “State” at all. Vader’s loss of and regain of his humanity was a better representation than all of Luke’s mythilogical presentation. It was obvious Mr. Campbell did not see this.

  • Anonymous

    “The force”–a bit vague here. This could be any philosophy from Buddhism to fascism. Let’s hope most people see it as the former!
    Campbell a bit vague here. Moyer should have caught it and pushed him on it. Where is the moral/ethical side of this?