[STAR WARS THEME MUSIC] BROOKE GLADSTONE: The latest film in the Star Wars franchise, Episode II - Attack of the Clones, opens May 16th. Eagerly awaited by fans both highbrow and low, this being public radio, it's the highbrow fans we want to address. You may have been soothed by the notion that Star Wars draws its inspiration from history's great epics, from Virgil and Homer -- even from God almighty. It apparently soothed George Lucas who quickly adopted the views of Bill Moyers and his confrere, the late mythologist Joseph Campbell, who told us in their PBS series The Power of Myth that Star Wars could be likened to the Bible, as in the scene from the first film where Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia fall into a trash compactor.
HAN SOLO: Got a bad feeling about this.
CHEWBACCA: [MAKES NOISES TO COMMUNICATE UNEASINESS] [TRASH COMPACTOR BEGINS TO OPERATE]
LUKE SKYWALKER: The walls are moving!
PRINCESS LEIA: Don't just stand there! Try and brace it with something!
BILL MOYERS: But my favorite scene was when they were in the garbage compactor, and the walls were closing in, and I thought that's like the belly of the whale that Joe Campbell--
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That's what it is. Yeah, that's where they were -- down in the belly of the whale.
BILL MOYERS: What's the mythological significance of the belly?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: It's the descent into the dark. Jonah in the whale. I mean that's, that's a standard motif of going into the whale's belly and coming out again.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But Steven Hart, writing in a recent issue of Salon.com isn't buying it. He says fans seeking cultural cover for their guilty pleasure were gulled by Moyers and Campbell. Sometimes, he says, a trash compactor is just a trash compactor.
STEVEN HART: Now this is supposed to represent the belly of the whale in which the hero is transformed, except no transformation does occur. They get their help from an outside agency, C3PO. They emerge pretty much the same. Luke Skywalker does not call upon the Force to hold back the crushing walls of the compactor. There is no transformation to speak of in story terms or character terms.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So your premise here is that George Lucas says that he used Joseph Campbell's work, but actually he didn't.
STEVEN HART:The connections to literary science fiction, classic science fiction are just screamingly obvious, whereas any connections with mythology and religious imagery are so vague and amorphous as to be virtually useless.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: First of all the "screamingly obvious" antecedents to Star Wars -- give me a few of those.
STEVEN HART: The Foundation series written by Isaac Asimov; the Lensman series written by E. E. Doc Smith [sp?]--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ah. That one features both a Force and something that would, could stand in easily for Light Savers.
STEVEN HART:It features several parallels to the Star Wars series. The Lensmen speak of what they call "The Cosmic All," whereas in Star Wars of course you have The Force. We've learned from The Phantom Menace that the Jedi get their powers from little microscopic entities called Mitaclurians [sp?]. The Lensmen get their powers from collections of microscopic entities called Lenses.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well, if as you claim George Lucas borrowed actually very little from Joseph Campbell, then why is Joseph Campbell so quick to celebrate and publicize the association?
STEVEN HART: Certainly it didn't hurt his bottom line to have his writings associated with a hugely successful movie series. It was a mutually beneficial association both for Campbell and George Lucas. It certainly added a bit of gravitas to the Star Wars movies. It's very classy to be able to cite Joseph Campbell as an influence as opposed to Isaac Asimov and E. E. Doc Smith.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I wonder do you dismiss the notion that some science fiction actually can be profound?
STEVEN HART:No! Wouldn't dismiss it at all. [AHEMS] One of the complaints I would have with Star Wars in fact is that it helps cement the image of science fiction as something that it actually outgrew about 70 years ago. Film science fiction is pretty much 70 years behind literary science fiction.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Given how absolutely fanatic hard core science fiction fans can be, why wasn't there somebody else-- shaking their fists over this obvious ripoff?
STEVEN HART: To a lot of science fiction fans, the things that I wrote in the article are too obvious to even go into. Why some of the writers didn't go after George Lucas I don't know. Isaac Asimov was a gentle soul. Some writers are very militant. I know Harlan Ellison [sp?] has become famous for going after people who rip off his ideas; he got a settlement from James Cameron for the movie The Terminator.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:This whole thing really makes you angry! --the fact that George Lucas and Joseph Campbell are feeding off of each other and that they've given cultural cover to all Star Wars fans. Is there something about this beyond this story that makes you angry?
STEVEN HART: What irritates me is the thought of a whole generation of science fiction writers whose work has been plundered by Hollywood, going unnoticed yet again, adding insult to injury. The Rolling Stones took their name from a Muddy Waters song. Imagine if they turned around and said they'd never heard of Muddy Waters and they got all their inspiration from Beethoven. We're talking about that level of absurdity here. I would think it a matter of grace and integrity for George Lucas to acknowledge his sources. I'm saying let's put away the togas and put the chariots up on blocks and send the spear carriers home. We don't have to go to Ancient Greece to find the sources of Star Wars. You just have to go to a used book store that traffics in science fiction magazines of the 1950s and you'll find all the parallels there that you need.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
STEVEN HART: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steven Hart wrote the recent Salon article Galactic Gasbag.
STEVEN HART: Or, as it was originally known, May the Fraud Be with You.
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers with Sean Landis and Michael Kavanagh; engineered by Scott Strickland, Dylan Keefe and George Edwards, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Lu Olkowski. Our web master is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large, Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Capello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
DISEMBODIED STAR WARSIAN MALE VOICE: And I am your father.