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Dr. Carl Rubino, Hamilton College – Star Wars and Mythology

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Carl Rubino of Hamilton College explains why the Star Wars series is attracting a whole new generation of fans.

Carl Rubino is the Winslow Professor of Classics at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where his teaching and research interests include ancient Greek and Roman literature, comparative literature and literary theory.  In 2011 he published the article, Long Ago, But Not So Far Away: Another Look at Star Wars and the Ancient World. He holds a Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo.

About Dr. Rubino

Dr. Carl Rubino – Star Wars and Mythology

The Star Wars story, we are told, takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

One reason these films have been so popular is that they recall another such world.  Heroes with troubled parentage, tutors with mysterious powers, immense journeys that represent whole lifetimes, the eternal struggle against disorder and violence--all these are familiar to readers of the heroic sagas of ancient Greece and Rome.

Star Wars fans love Yoda, the Jedi Master who tutors Luke Skywalker on a remote planet.  Followers of Greek myth will remember Chiron the Centaur, who lived in a cave on Mount Pelion.  There he taught the young Achilles the skills of hunting, breaking horses, medicine, and music.  Achilles also discussed the ancient virtues with his master, just as Luke does with Yoda.

The struggle between Luke and Darth Vader reminds us of Oedipus, who did not know who his father was until it was too late.  Luke, unlike his Greek predecessor, is able to redeem and reconcile with his father.
Films about ancient Rome, once a Hollywood staple, went into a long eclipse in the mid-sixties, not to return until the appearance of Gladiator in 2000.  During those years, however, inventive filmmakers found other ways to display Roman motifs.  The Star Wars story, in which a motley crew of upstarts struggles against an “evil empire,” provides an outstanding example of dressing up perennial themes in fancy new clothes.
The Star Wars films bear witness to the enduring power of this ancient legacy, which has much to do with the secret of their appeal.

Those ancient Greeks and Romans are not so far away from us as we might think.

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