From Library Journal
The companion to the Star WarsR exhibition at the Smithsonian.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Scientific American
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."The fairy-tale opening of George Lucas's 1977 movie Star Wars set the stage for a blockbuster trilogy that has become the stuff of cinematic legend. And through October 1998 the eclectic enchantment of Star Wars is re-created at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In Star Wars: The Magic of Myth, the museum plays host to a cosmic menagerie of Jawas, Tusken raiders and Imperial storm troopers, not to mention the ludicrous droids R2-D2 and C-3PO. The exhibit and the companion volume by its curator offer insightful commentary on the luxuriant symbolism of Lucas's "alternative universe." The costumes and production models on display illustrate Lucas's cleverness in creating not just a futuristic world of gleaming metal and overfriendly machines but one that is also ancient and battered, filled with characters drawn more from the imagery of medieval romance than from science fiction. The strategy works. We recognize the wizened guards and the virginal princesses from stories we have heard. Leather bindings, wooden accoutrements and frayed sackcloth are more prominent than Lycra and precision robotics, and Lucas ensured that the spaceships in his tale were well rubbed with dirt before he let the cameras roll. Only Princess Leia remained unsullied. In the forms of the strange creatures that lurk behind every pillar, too, Lucas borrowed shapes and textures familiar from a trip to the zoo. Greedo's face is a cross between that of a tarsier and a hatchet fish; Chewbacca is a friendly orangutan. And surely Jabba the Hutt's amphibian squint and bulging belly are made all the more abhorrent by his taste for live toads. Naturalistic touches such as these remind us that what we are seeing is really not so implausible. Mythological interpretations of the elements in the hero's journey of Luke Skywalker are outlined at appropriate points in the exhibit and explored at greater length in the book. This decoding of the story, expanded (with due credit) from the late Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, shows that the fairy-tale quality of the saga is far from coincidental. Indeed, Lucas, in a taped interview that visitors can watch, explains how he spent two years studying mythology when he was writing the Star Wars scripts. No wonder we feel the hand of fate at work when a plea for help serves as Luke's call to adventure. It was ever thus with damsels in distress, as Perseus learned with Andromeda. And it should be no surprise when a fatherly magician gives Lucas's hero an Excaliburesque light saber. High technology, of course, appears in the Star Wars movies in the horrific, labyrinthine Death Star, a space battle station capable of exploding entire planets. In the exhibit, a few malevolent minions serve as tokens of the dehumanizing dark empire and the wheezing prince of evil incarnate, Darth Vader, whom Luke battles as a rebel fighter pilot. The fascist symbolism in the empire's force is blatant, as is the significance of our gunslinging rescuers' leather holsters. The mystical, invisible Force is not on display, but its message is nonetheless clear: we want technology on our human terms, not its own impersonal ones. Whatever is lacking in subtlety in Lucas's cinematic creations is more than compensated for by their exuberant inventiveness. Nostalgia is worth a visit.