Whoosh! Issue 33 - June 1999

XENA AND STAR WARS:
MYTHIC PARALLELS

IAXS project #648
By Josh Harrison
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
1707 words



Introduction (01-05)
Xena and Obi-wan (06-13)
Gabrielle and Luke Skywalker (14-20)
Supporting Characters (21-24)
Conclusion (25-26)
Biography



Xena and Star Wars: Mythic Parallels




Introduction

Hey! C3P0! Watch that hand!


A lobby standee for THE STAR WARS SPECIAL EDITION.


[1] George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy (Star Wars, 1977; The Empire Strikes Back, 1980; Return Of The Jedi, 1983) has certainly made an impression on American popular culture. The three films constitute one of the highest grossing movie series of all time, and the eagerly anticipated first chapter this summer, The Phantom Menace [which is unreleased as of this writing] is sure to break box office records.

[2] The Renaissance Pictures television series Xena: Warrior Princess has made an impression of its own. While it is not quite as widely popular as Star Wars, there are few people who are not aware of the show in some sense. Indeed, the recent protest by a Hindu group offended by the episode THE WAY (84/416) proves it has more than a cult following.

[3] Even a cursory examination of the two works reveals similarities. Each is set against a fantastic, but not completely unfamiliar backdrop. Strange creatures populate each. Each features tense drama, light-hearted comic moments, and adrenaline pounding action. Each is inspired by the classic mythologies of days gone by. While by today's standards, the effects of the Star Wars films may seem almost pedestrian, they pushed the boundaries of what could be done on screen. The same can be said of the marvelous work done by Flat Earth for Xena.

[4] But the most significant similarity may be that the focus of both Xena and Star Wars is on the characters themselves. Watching these human characters struggle with the same doubts, crises, and joys that the rest of us struggle with is what keeps most fans coming back week after week. Despite the epic backdrop and high adventure, the desires and concerns of Luke Skywalker and his friends, or Xena and Gabrielle, are readily identifiable and real to the viewer.

[5] My purpose is to compare the roles played by the various characters in the two pieces. I will look at the archetypal roles and personalities of the major characters and some supporting characters and will show that at their core essence, the two tales, while differing in many ways, have a great deal more in common than "first glance" might indicate. But before I dive into the analysis, a word of thanks to the members of the Chakram mailing list, whose comments contributed greatly to this essay.


Xena and Obi-wan

What's with the webbing? Spidey armour? Sigh...an illustrious career and I'll be remembered for this...


Xena, warrior princess (right) and Obi Wan Kenobi, Jedi master.


[6] We first turn our attention to the title character, Xena. While the obvious conclusion may be to identify her role with that of the central hero from Star Wars, Luke Skywalker, analysis shows that perhaps a better choice for comparison may be Luke's mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

[7] At the time we meet Kenobi in the first film, he is a warrior from a past age. His past is long and painful, filled both triumphs and tragedy. One of these tragedies, we learn, is that he is responsible for the creation of Darth Vader. Kenobi feels on his conscience the weight of all the pain that Vader has caused.

[8] So Kenobi has retreated from the world at the time we meet him. He has, in one sense, given up his role as Jedi Knight. Indeed, the fact that he uses the name Ben instead of Obi-Wan indicates his "fallen" status.

[9] Into this existence comes a call for help, a message that he is needed again. Also appearing is Luke Skywalker, the hero of this cycle. Ben once again takes up the mantle, this time as mentor to the young Jedi-in-training.

[10] [As a brief aside, in his work on mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell states that in the cycle of the hero's journey, the hero is aided by a mentor. Often the role of mentor is fulfilled by the hero of the previous cycle. The Star Wars trilogy is Luke's cycle. The new films will presumably relate Kenobi's cycle.]

[11] When we first meet Xena [SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)], she is burying her armor, a gesture that shows she wishes to leave her warrior past behind her. On her conscience is the weight of the pain and suffering that she has caused. She seeks, in her own way, to escape from it.

[12] Into this comes a call for help. A group of villagers has been taken captive by slavers, and it falls to Xena to take up her role as warrior again to save them. In the group is the plucky and determined Gabrielle, a young girl from the village who follows Xena later in the episode. Gabrielle looks up to Xena as a mentor of sorts, much as the young Luke Skywalker looked up to the hero of the Clone Wars.

[13] Both Xena and Kenobi are warriors. Both sought to retreat from their life of battle. Both were called back into that life. Both acted as mentor to a young, impressionable hero. With these similarities, it seems appropriate to draw a comparison between Xena and Obi-Wan Kenobi.


Gabrielle and Luke

Someday...I'll be important, too. Someday...I'll think I'm important.


Gabrielle, optimistic farm girl (right) and Luke Skywalker, optimistic farm boy.


[14] If Xena is Obi-Wan, then it would make sense that Gabrielle is analogous to Luke Skywalker. But even without the obvious connection, there are a large number of similarities between the two characters.

[15] When Luke is introduced in Star Wars, he is young and idealistic. He looks towards the horizon, dreaming of a life beyond the walls of his home. He does not really fit in and is not satisfied with the life his Uncle Owen has planned for him. Then he encounters the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, stumbles across Leia's message to Kenobi, meets the aging warrior, and is launched into an epic adventure.

[16] Luke's enthusiasm and spirit catapult him into a leadership role in the rebellion. He trains as a Jedi under Yoda and discovers the shocking truth behind the fate of his father and the identity of Darth Vader. His resolve is tested, and he stumbles on his hero's path. He perseveres, however, and in the end his goodness redeems Annakin Skywalker and defeats the evil of the Emperor.

[17] Gabrielle undergoes a similar journey. When we first meet her as an idealistic young girl from the village of Poteidaia, she does not fit in and is not satisfied with the life her family has planned for her. When Draco's men capture her and other girls from her village, she impresses Xena with her determination and spirit. Like Luke, Gabrielle dreams of a life of adventure. Her chance encounter with the Warrior Princess launches her into an epic journey.

[18] Gabrielle learns many things from Xena by merely watching her. Dangerous opponents test her resolve and abilities, and at times she has doubts, stumbling on the hero's path that stretches out before her. Now, in Season Four, she is seeking to find once again that inner spark that drove her to follow Xena to Amphipolis. She is looking for a way out of the darkness in which she finds herself.

[19] Both Gabrielle and Luke are introduced as young, idealistic dreamers. Both learn the skills they need to succeed at their tasks and have those skills repeatedly tested. Both suffer from loss and doubt as we watch their stories unfold.

[20] While we know Luke's journey ends in the redemption of his father and the defeat of evil, Gabrielle's future remains cloudy. Will her journey also end in salvation and evil's defeat? We cannot be certain, but things look promising.


Supporting Characters

Why would ANYONE want a hairy sidekick?? Yeah, well at least *I* don't get beat up by a GIRL!


Autolycus, the King of Thieves (right) and Han Solo, a dashing thief.


[21] Parallels can be drawn with some of the supporting characters as well. While the connections are not as easily established, or as solid, they are still evident.

[22] The personalities of Autolycus and Han Solo, for instance, are very similar. Both are rogues who seem to have only personal profit in mind. As we get to know them better, however, we learn that underneath the veneer of callous self-interest beats a good heart, interested ultimately in doing the right thing. And when the chips are down, they stand by their friends.

Soon, I'll be so rich I can bathe in gold! Bathes in black gold


Salmoneus, an ancient Greek capitalist (right) and C3P0, a droid.


[23] Salmoneus and C-3PO as well, share common traits. They both have a tendency to moan about their personal safety when danger is lurking about, and both of them are rather comically presented. However, Salmoneus tends to be more generally optimistic than C-3PO, who seems to see the cloud in every silver lining. This is an example of the parallels being less than perfect.

[24] The final character I would like to address is Callisto, the counterpart of Darth Vader. Both are villains, obviously, but there is more to it than that. Vader was created as a result of Kenobi's actions. Callisto became who she was because of Xena (or so we have been led to believe). Both Vader and Callisto wield magical powers. Each is a dark reflection of their nemesis. Both Vader and Callisto elicit sympathetic reactions as we come to know them better. Both were ultimately motivated by the desire for revenge: Callisto against Xena, and Vader against the Jedi. Both are also fan favorites. But once again, the comparison falls short. Most obviously, Vader was redeemed before his death while Callisto was not.

Hudson, upstaged by no one David Prowse, upstaged by a voice


Callisto, a pain in the neck (right) and Darth Vader, an even BIGGER pain in the neck.



Conclusion

[25] Both the Star Wars trilogy and Xena: Warrior Princess are tales of high adventure, the age-old struggle between good and evil. Star Wars has long been viewed as a classic of storytelling on a mythic scale, and comparison seems to indicate that Xena also deserves to be seen as such. Each piece, in its own way, draws inspiration from the myths of ages past. Ultimately, however, each story focuses on the characters who drive it, and it is the characters that keep fans returning time and again.

[26] It remains to be seen whether Xena's epic will end as happily as Star Wars does, but there can be little doubt that it will be a wonderful journey to that end.



Biography

Josh Harrison Josh Harrison
Josh is a freelance writer and actor living in the "great north woods" of Bangor, Maine. A huge fan of the fantasy genre, he was aware of the show but wasn't hooked until midway through the third season, when he became enamored of the rich characters and risky storytelling that marked "The Rift". He is a vocal member of the Chakram mailing list, and proudly assumes the title of Hard-Core Nutball by pointing out the fact that he stays up until 12:30am late Sunday/early Monday to watch Xena, despite the fact that he can tape it and watch it later. What little free time he does have is taken up with playing role-playing games, maintaining his website, and thinking deep and meaningful thoughts.
Favorite episodes: The Greater Good, Is There a Doctor in the House?, The Return of Callisto, Maternal Instincts, A Good Day, The Ides of March
Favorite line: Mattie: "I don't watch that show. It's chop-socky crap." Deja Vu All Over Again
First episode seen: A Necessary Evil
Least favorite episode: In Sickness & In Hell

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