Lévi-Straussian Structural Analysis of the Western Myth in Star Wars: May the Force Be With Who!

Lévi-Straussian Structural Analysis of the Western Myth in Star Wars: May the Force Be With Who!

Işıl Tombul, Nilüfer Pembecioğlu
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-7864-6.ch011
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The Star Wars film series, which began in the 1970s and has since continued with trilogies, spin-offs, prequels, and sequels, is a space western with science fiction elements that depicts a story built on power. The central conflict in the Star Wars films is rooted in dichotomies like good-evil, light-dark, and those who possess the force versus those who do not. Due to this, the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss's binary opposition model, which he used in structural analysis of the myths, is appropriate for evaluating the films. This study dwells upon the binary oppositions in the 2017 movie The Last Jedi, the second installment of the third trilogy. The study aims to question how the power phenomena is constructed mythically. Hollywood movies play a crucial role in the global dissemination of Western mythology. Thus, the ideological connotations created by popular culture were revealed.
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Created by George Lucas, the Star Wars series consists of three trilogies: the first trilogy (1977–1983), the second trilogy (1999–2005), and the third trilogy (2015–2019). The film is based on the battle between the Light Side (Jedi) representing good and the Dark Side (Sith) representing evil, trying to seize power. In this fictional universe, there is a force that not everyone can have. A planet-based government that has members from a range of races, monsters, aliens, and machines switches from the Galactic Republic to the Galactic Empire. The movie's plot seems illogical at first since it begins with Anakin's time as Darth Vader when it really ought to have begun with Anakin Skywalker's early years. In the first trilogy, we see Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) on the bad side. But in the second trilogy, we go back and watch as Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader, his childhood, youth and how he got on the bad side.

If we go where the story begins, Anakin is already the chosen one. So his destiny is already determined. The movie is shaped by Anakin's choice of evil, his pursuit of power, and his fear of losing his family. Anakin turns into Darth Vader when he turns to the evil side and comes face to face with his son Luke. According to Tombul, although the themes and characters started to change in the last trilogy of the series, Anakin's power and anxiety problem basically affected other series. There is a galactic variety in the Star Wars movies, with various alien races as well as humans. However, in general, heroes reminiscent of Protestant, Anglo-Saxon and white male figures are in the foreground. With the last trilogy, there was a change in the representation of the “other” in terms of gender and race, especially in the lead role (Tombul, 2020).

Bruin-Molé argue that we see a woman and a black character in the lead role of The Force Awakens (2015), the first film of the last trilogy and since its acquisition by Disney in 2012, the Star Wars franchise has been widely praised for its feminism. New heroes like Jyn Erso and Rey were hailed as a broader feminist triumph for Star Wars and mainstream entertainment. This situation has enabled Star Wars' marketing power to begin to show itself in women-targeted sectors (make-up, fashion, babies) (Bruin-Molé, 2017). Come 2017, Disney revived Star Wars for a new generation of fans. The ghost of the prequel trilogy is long gone and now the world of popular culture has focused on new characters (Golding, 2019). This focus shows that a new narrative is formed according to the changing conditions of the time.

Although the representations for women and black audiences began to change in order to expand the market after Disney's acquisition of Star Wars, the film ultimately maintains its main theme. Moreover, while the black character is represented as a timid person in The Force Awakens, the existence of the female character is dependent on the male character Luke. The most concrete example of this is Rey's empowerment thanks to the lightsaber, which represents Luke's phallus. In the Proppian structural analysis that Tombul (2020) applies to this film, the point to which the semiotic units reach us is the power embodied in the phallic symbol (lightsaber). In this context, a structural analysis can be useful to see the contrasts, the us-them distinction, as well as the power struggle in the film.

A structuralist anthropologist named Lévi-Strauss discovered that myths in particular were created within the framework of binary opposition when he studied primitive civilizations. As a linguist, he divided cultural structures into several categories to study them thus, he was able to see how societies build themselves making use of binary oppositions, such as us-them, civilized-savage, and known-unknown by focusing in particular on myths. Instead of focusing on how useful or beneficial the thing being defined is, this technique really seeks to make sense of the world. Consciousness working in the form of a binary opposition aims to categorize the world in order to label it meaningfully. In this context, when Star Wars films were examined, it becomes obvious that the construction of the Western myth is built on the basis of this positive-negative or binary oppositions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Western: Political term used to refer to Europe and North America.

Myth: These are the stories that human societies tell in order to interpret the universe, the world and nature.

Structuralism: It is a method of seeing phenomena as elements of the structure and considering their relations within the structure.

The Last Jedi: The second movie in the third trilogy of the Star Wars series.

Binary Opposition Model: Structural analysis model applied by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Star Wars: Star Wars is a movie series created by George Lucas.

Narration: A way of telling a series of events in literary genres.

Claude Lévi-Strauss: French anthropologist, pioneer of structuralist anthropology.

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