What Do Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lion King Have In Common?

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Joseph Campbell.

The famed American mythologist identified an underlying structure within stories and religions around the world. He called it “the hero’s journey.” Ultimately it has to do with each person’s search for the unknowable force that creates and sustains all that exists. This is expressed differently throughout history and is affected by culture, as he explains in his groundbreaking book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The hero’s journey is broken into steps that inspired many popular films including the Batman and Indiana Jones series as well as novels and video games. Screenwriter Christopher Vogler created a company memo based on Campbell’s work which led to the 1994 animated feature The Lion King. Vogler expanded that memo into the book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. And it’s commonly known that George Lucas credits Campbell as a major influence in the development of the Star Wars series.

You can delve more deeply into Campbell’s concepts. Beginning this month, most PBS stations will rebroadcast the highly influential work, Joseph Campbell on Power of Myth With Bill Moyers. This documentary is a series of interviews between Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers. You may also be interested in the film Finding Joe (available on Netflix) featuring interviews with 20 visionaries including Rashida Jones, Catherine Hardwicke, and Sir Ken Robinson that show “how Campbell’s work is relevant and essential in today’s world and how it provides a narrative for how to live a fully realized life.”

Maybe Campbell will help you find your own bliss. You are, after all, the hero of your own journey.

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2 thoughts on “What Do Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lion King Have In Common?

  1. I can’t help but comment, in the interest of geekiness. As someone who has studied mythology (and religion) in an academic setting, I just want to note that Campbell’s theories themselves are generally viewed today as having been a bit overstretched. He glossed over difference and variety in favour of similarity and sometimes pushed the theory over the data. He’s been highly influential, just as Karl Jung has been and Mircea Eliade (another scholar on religion). But most scholars have taken steps forward from his work and have recognized the flaws in his theories. So please, take it with a grain of salt or take it for personal application rather than solid fact according to scholarship.

  2. Campbell’s work changed my life, literally.

    My son and I watch The Lion King every year on his birthday—maybe the hero’s journey in it speaks to both of us.

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