WASHINGTON, April 28, 2017 — Dorothy Gale of 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” Luke Skywalker of 1977’s “Star Wars,” and Walt Kowalski of 2008’s “Gran Torino,” are film characters that, on the surface at least, appear unconnected to one another.
Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her fallible friends (Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) are tasked with bringing The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a modest moisture farmer from the planet Tatooine, strives to rescue Princes Leia, overthrow a totalitarian Empire and bring its murderous leaders to justice.
And Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a retired Detroit autoworker and vehement racist, comes to know and love his Southeast Asian Hmong neighbors to such an extent he rises to exemplify the New Testament ideal, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
This diverse group, one and all, are transcendent heroes.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder,” wrote mythologist Joseph Campbell, “fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The excerpt is from Campbell’s 1949 book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Filmmaker George Lucas credits Campbell with inspiring his galaxy of popular Star Wars characters that four decades later are far from, well, going far, far away.
“It’s possible that, if I had not run across Joseph Campbell, I would still be writing Star Wars today,” Lucas once said.
Thanks to Campbell’s insights, Lucas has profited handsomely from the sale of his sci-fi film franchise to Disney – to the tune of $4 billion.
In recognition of his windfall, Lucas announced the establishment of the Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair of Cinema Ethics at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Sitting in that chair is Ted Braun, whose documentary film “Darfur Now,” chronicling the conflict in the Sudan, won the NAACP Image Award.
Braun says Campbell “defined archetypal story patterns, building off the work of Carl Jung and others, and helped filmmakers see these classic patterns across cultures. His work helped Lucas in particular understand how to make films that resonate with, well, virtually everybody on the planet,” he said in an interview posted on the USC Cinematic Arts website.
Carl Jung theorized that humankind shares a collective unconscious mind, which instills in each of us universal symbols and archetypes. And, as Jung once said, when filmmakers artfully tug at our shared unconscious mind through script and film, they make it “possible to experience without danger all the excitement, passion and desirousness which must be repressed in a humanitarian ordering of life.”
And who knows? Living vicariously through archetypal villain Darth Vader may help prevent us from veering toward the Dark Side.