George Lucas brought us Yoda … without him, Yoda wouldn’t exist –
he’s the closest thing we have to Yoda’s dad. But Yoda’s lineage can be
traced back even farther, and is quite impressive – but, let’s start at
On the heels of his success directing the low budget film American
Graffiti (which went on to earn over $50 million at the box-office), It
was 1973, and Lucas was emboldened to pursue an idea that he had been
pondering for some time – it was a space opera of sorts conceived
several years before. 20th Century Fox, tempted by the success of
“Graffiti,” was anxious to capitalize on Lucas’ good fortune, but the
drafts and revisions were rejected by most people who read them as
unusable. Luke Skywalker was an old man and the story lines would have
been unrecognizable to fans of what would become Star Wars, A New Hope.
At some point along the way, Lucas began exploring a book called The
Hero With a Thousand Faces by a man named Joseph Campbell, and the
story-arc of Star Wars came into focus. Lucas followed the framework
outlined by Campbell, and in 1977, the fourth and final edit of the
first Star Wars: A New Hope emerged as the epic story that it is today –
one that has already been enshrined with the likes the Odyssey, Beowulf
and Les Miserables as one of the greatest epic stories of all time?
The emergence of Obi-wan, and Yoda after him, was no accident. They
are literary elements employed by all of the major epic story-tellers
throughout history, and these “guides along the way” are an essential
element to connecting with your audience, whatever the medium (while
abbreviated, the most successful 30 second “Super Bowl Spots” have the
core elements of Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces).
Lucas was not shy about attributing the success of A New Hope (and
subsequent films in the Trilogy) to Campbell’s insights and wisdom. In
Joseph Campbell’s biography, A Fire in the Mind, Lucas shares how
Campbell impacted the screenplay, “In reading The Hero with a Thousand
Faces I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following
classic motifs,” said Lucas. “I modified my next draft according to what
I’d been learning about classical motifs and made it a little bit more
We now look for “Yoda Figures” as a literary element in all types of
story. It is important to keep in mind that Yoda was not a new literary
element, but was a carefully crafted take on Campbell’s “supernatural
Stories speak directly to the soul (Jung knew this, Campbell knew this and Lucas did as well).
Campbell didn’t invent his “supernatural aid” whole cloth. Just as
Lucas’ Yoda wouldn’t exist without Campbell, Campbell’s entire framework
of “myth” was inspired largely by the famous psychologist, Carl Jung,
whose “dream interpretation” method relied on a system of archetypes
(which act as the foundation of Campbell’s work). If Lucas gave birth to
Yoda, we have to give the grandfather title to Campbell – Yoda simply
wouldn’t exist without him! What’s more important is that Jung’s
influence on Campbell’s system speaks volumes about “why” stories are
important in communication – they bypass all of the neurons between
normal words and the psyche. Stories speak directly to the soul (Jung
knew this, Campbell knew this and Lucas did as well).
Lucas spent the better part of 6 years trouble-shooting his plot line before he discovered Campbell’s magic formula.
There is no denying that Lucas’ Star Wars is a masterpiece of
story-telling – it is among the greatest stories of our modern era. The
story is built on a foundation that was laid not by Grandpa Campbell, or
Great Grandpa Jung, but by the venerable tradition of myth and
archetypes that have attempted to make sense of our natural world by
telling a rather supernatural story. These are the elements of story
that pierce to the soul, and they are critical to the stories we tell.
There’s an important lesson in this for all of us who want to connect
with our audience. We should examine the stories that we are telling,
and see if they are missing any of the key elements in Campbell’s system.
If we can’t find the “supernatural aid,” a series of trials or a
triumphant “return,” then there’s likely some editing required. Lucas
spent the better part of 6 years trouble-shooting his plot line before
he discovered Campbell’s magic formula. We’d be wise to use it
religiously in our efforts to communicate a message … whatever the