Sunday, July 16, 2006

Raglan's Scale and the Hero of Star Wars

Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces was a very influential book for me. It helped me see how Myth pervades all human cultures--including my own. I found it all utterly fascinating. I was glued to the television when Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell for The Power of Myth. (side note: I remember during that interview, Campbell said the he thought Judas was given a bad rap because he also fit the Hero profile--the one that "kills the beast." I wonder if he would have felt vindicated by the recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas?)

The Bill Moyers interview of Joseph Campbell was filmed at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. Lucas himself has always said that Campbell's Hero was one of his greatest influences. And my copy of Hero had Luke Skywalker on the cover. It was plainly obvious to me that Luke was an example of the hero. He was the hero of the Star Wars trilogy.

When the prequel trilogy came out we had a new hero. Anakin was the hero of the new trilogy, while Luke was the hero of the original trilogy. There was one small problem, though. When viewed as a six-part epic (in other words, pretend you saw Phantom Menace first and Return of the Jedi last), Anakin never really ceases to be the hero. I had noticed this, but never really gave it too much thought until recently when I had a conversation with my brother on the topic. He said he saw an interview with George Lucas where Lucas said that Anakin was always supposed to be the hero and the reason he made the prequel trilogy was to drive that point home.

To put this to the test, we used Raglan's Scale. I remember reading about Raglan back when I was on my big mythology kick. But I've been recently reintroduced to him thanks to an interview with the late Alan Dundes in Brian Flemming's movie. Lord Raglan came up with a list of 22 common traits that heroes tend to have.


  1. The hero's mother is a royal virgin
  2. His father is a king and
  3. often a near relative of the mother, but
  4. the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
  5. he is also reputed to be the son of a god
  6. at birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
  7. He is spirited away, and
  8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country
  9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
  11. After a victory over the king and or giant, dragon, or wild beast
  12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
  13. becomes king
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
  15. Prescribes laws but
  16. later loses favor with the gods and or his people and
  17. Is driven from from the throne and the city after which
  18. He meets with a mysterious death
  19. often at the top of a hill.
  20. his children, if any, do not succeed him.
  21. his body is not buried, but nevertheless
  22. he has one or more holy sepulchres.
We compared how many applied to Luke, and how many applied to Anakin. Some attributes are negotiable (Does Sith Lord = King? I say yes.) The ones I thought were a yes are in green, and the no's are in red.

Hero AttributeLukeAnakin
19NADeath Star = hill?

Luke doesn't even break into double digits (of course, he didn't die) but Anakin gets a whopping 18! Thet puts him right behind Oedipus, Theseus and Jesus, and just ahead of Romulus, Hercules and Perseus. Now that's some good hero company!

But now to test the final part of the theory, let's figure out Anakin's score based only on what we know from the original Star Wars trilogy. By my reasoning, I'm giving him numbers 9 through 22 except for 18 (since I didn't give it to him in my original calculation). I'm not sure about number 12, but I seem to remember that at some point in the original trilogy it was revealed that Luke and Leia's mother was a princess, so I'll give him that one. That makes a total of 13 -- more than twice Luke's score.

Therefore, according to the Raglan scale, the hero of Star Wars is unquestionably . . .


Anonymous said...

I always thought it was Anakin!

Matt Prewitt said...

Well done sir.