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Revisiting the Force

The Force has been with us for 30 years

Mystical "Star Wars" changed
the movie universe forever

Scott Steepleton, Associate Editor, Santa Barbara News-Press May 25, 2007

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Movie buffs the world over today are celebrating the 30th anniversary of a landmark tale that begins, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . ."

"Star Wars," the George Lucas film that spawned prequels and sequels, spoofs, a Disneyland attraction and countless video games -- not including the early one that you could sit in -- was released May 25, 1977.

The U.S. Postal Service is marking the anniversary with collectible stamps and other merchandise, all going on sale today. In Los Angeles, "Celebration IV," which drew thousands to back-to-back screenings of all six films, continues its five-day run through Monday.

Just as the convention wraps up, the History Channel is set to run " 'Star Wars:' The Legacy Revealed," a two-hour look at the movie, its messages and how it affected people. A diverse lot was tapped, including Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings"), Stephen Colbert ("The Colbert Report") and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Professor Jonathan Young, a psychologist and founder of the Center for Story & Symbol in Santa Barbara, will also be featured.

Dr. Young assisted the late mythologist Joseph Campbell, author of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," whom Mr. Lucas called his Yoda -- a nod to the familiar "Star Wars" character -- when he gave seminars in Santa Barbara beginning some 30 years ago. He also was founding curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives and Library, of which Mr. Lucas sits on the advisory board, at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

"It's well known that George Lucas, when he was working on the original, was a bit stuck in terms of how to develop the story. Some friends encouraged him to go read Joseph Campbell and he found the whole structure that he needed," Dr. Young, said.

"The hero's journey (discussed in Campbell's 'Hero') is the backbone of the various 'Star Wars' adventures."

Campbell was born March 26, 1904, in White Plains, N.Y., and died in 1987. Over the years he spoke often in Santa Barbara, sponsored by Pacifica Graduate Institute.

His last talk here was at Victoria Hall in 1985.

Countless words have been written on the correlation between his books and the film, which to this day captivates people.

"It really has to do with the mystic inspiration in the film," Dr. Young said. "Not only are we watching an epic adventure, we are seeing the major challenges in our lives."

And as the characters survive, the audience gets stronger.

Dr. Young, whose Web site, www.folkstory.com, includes material about the Campbell-"Star Wars" connection, said early on he identified with Han Solo, brought to life by Harrison Ford.

"He was young and dashing," he chuckled. "There's a character in mythology called the trickster. He's not quite a straight arrow, but in the end serves the great cause."

Sounds like Solo.

"As I get older and more professorial, I feel a little bit more like Obi-Wan Kenobi," he added, a reference to the legendary Jedi Knight.

Dr. Young lamented the fact that Campbell never got to see how big mythology became thanks to "Star Wars," but he noted that because of the connection to Mr. Lucas, his mentor will be forever accessible to new generations.

e-mail: ssteepleton @ newspress.com

© 2007 Santa Barbara News-Press