Of Myth And Men

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KEEPING THE FAITH: Lucas and Moyers, at Skywalker Ranch, weigh the power of old stories in a new form

MOYERS: Joseph Campbell once said all the great myths, the ancient great stories, have to be regenerated in every generation. He said that's what you are doing with Star Wars. You are taking these old stories and putting them into the most modern of idioms, the cinema. Are you conscious of doing that? Or are you just setting out to make a good action-movie adventure?

LUCAS: With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs. I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that exist today. The more research I did, the more I realized that the issues are the same ones that existed 3,000 years ago. That we haven't come very far emotionally.

MOYERS: The mesmerizing figure in The Phantom Menace to me is Darth Maul. When I saw him, I thought of Lucifer in Paradise Lost or the devil in Dante's Inferno. He's the Evil Other--but with powerful human traits.

LUCAS: Yes, I was trying to find somebody who could compete with Darth Vader, who is now one of the most famous evil characters. So we went back into representations of evil. Not only the Christian, but also Hindu and other religious icons, as well as the monsters in Greek mythology.

MOYERS: What did you find in all these representations?

LUCAS: A lot of evil characters have horns. [Laughs.]

MOYERS: And does your use of red suggest the flames of hell?

LUCAS: Yes. It's a motif that I've been using with the Emperor and the Emperor's minions. I mean, red is an aggressive color. Evil is aggressive.

MOYERS: Is Darth Maul just a composite of what you found in your research, or are we seeing something from your own imagination and experience?

LUCAS: If you're trying to build an icon of evil, you have to go down into the subconscious of the human race over a period of time and pull out the images that equate to the emotion you are trying to project.

MOYERS: What emotion do you feel when you look at Darth Maul?

LUCAS: Fear. You wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley. But he's not repulsive. He's something you should be afraid of, without [his] being a monster whose intestines have been ripped out and thrown all over the screen.

MOYERS: Is the emotion you wanted from him different from the emotion you wanted from Darth Vader?

LUCAS: It's essentially the same, just in a different kind of way. Darth Vader was half machine, half man, and that's where he lost a lot of his humanity. He has mechanical legs. He has mechanical arms. He's hooked up to a breathing machine. This one is all human. I wanted him to be an alien, but I wanted him to be human enough that we could identify with him.

MOYERS: He's us?

LUCAS: Yes, he's the evil within us.

MOYERS: Do you know yet what, in a future episode, is going to transform Anakin Skywalker to the dark side?

LUCAS: Yes, I know what that is. The groundwork has been laid in this episode. The film is ultimately about the dark side and the light side, and those sides are designed around compassion and greed. The issue of greed, of getting things and owning things and having things and not being able to let go of things, is the opposite of compassion--of not thinking of yourself all the time. These are the two sides--the good force and the bad force. They're the simplest parts of a complex cosmic construction.

MOYERS: I think it's going to be very hard for the audience to accept that this innocent boy, Anakin Skywalker, can ever be capable of the things that we know happen later on. I think about Hitler and wonder what he looked like at nine years old.

LUCAS: There are a lot of people like that. And that's what I wonder. What is it in the human brain that gives us the capacity to be as evil as human beings have been in the past and are right now?

MOYERS: You've been probing that for a while now. Have you come to any conclusion?

LUCAS: I haven't. I think it comes out of a rationale of doing certain things and denying to yourself that you're actually doing them. If people were really to sit down and honestly look at themselves and the consequences of their actions, they would try to live their lives a lot differently. One of the main themes in The Phantom Menace is of organisms having to realize they must live for their mutual advantage.

MOYERS: Have you made peace with the fact that people read into your movies what you didn't necessarily invest there?

LUCAS: Yes, I find it amusing. I also find it very interesting, especially in terms of the academic world, that they will take a work and dissect it in so many different ways. Some of the ways are very profound, and some are very accurate. A lot of it, though, is just the person using their imagination to put things in there that really weren't there, which I don't mind either. I mean, one of the things I like about Star Wars is that it stimulates the imagination, and that's why I don't have any qualms about the toys or about any of the things that are going on around Star Wars, because it does allow young people to use their imagination and think outside the box.

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