Sunday, January 30, 2011

Star Wars Symbol Cycle: The (Other) Source of the Force

Note: We talked about the spiritual sources of the Force earlier, and I touched upon Jack Kirby's influence as well, but I thought it deserves a much closer look. Some other writers have commented on some of these connections, but they are so important that they deserve their own post. So since no one else is going to do it, I'm going back to the well again, along with some additional information added in. Enjoy!


One little-known but absolutely crucial precursor to George Lucas is the work of comic book master Jack Kirby. I say ‘little-known’ not because Kirby’s work - either his comic books or the various TV and Film adaptations of them - hasn’t been enjoyed by millions since the early 1940’s. I’m referring to the fact that Lucas seemed to draw so heavily on Kirby is not readily known by the general public, nor was this noticed by pop culture-illiterate scholars like Joseph Campbell.

The basic foursome of the original Star Wars film, as well as their principal adversary, have archetypal parallels with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four comics.

Han Solo is like Mr. Fantastic, the arrogant, overconfident leader of the group.

His future paramour Princess Leia is like the Mr. Fantastic's future paramour Invisible Girl, in fact the most indelible image of Leia from the first Star Wars film is as a translucent hologram.

Luke is like the Human Torch, the reckless young turk. Luke and the Torch are also linked etymologically through the terms for light in their names (a vigilant reader reminded me that Leia/Sue and Luke/Torch are siblings).

• The ugly/adorable brawn of the outfit, the inhuman Chewbacca, is like the misshapen Thing, who is also Mr. Fantastic’s old friend and co-pilot (Even the streaking star effects seen in Star Wars when the four reach hyperspace in the Millennium Falcon strongly recall the cosmic ray effects that created the Fantastic Four during their spaceflight in Fantastic Four #1).

The Doctor is in- note stormtrooper

Even if you find those correspondences tenuous, one thing cannot be denied: Darth Vader is essentially the same character as the Fantastic Four’s primary villain, Doctor Doom. Both are hideously scarred men encased in armored suits. Both wear capes. Both were once promising young mystics undone by their fascination with forbidden realms; in Vader’s case, the Dark Side of the Force, and in Doom’s case, other-wordly dimensions.

Both were haunted by the deaths of their mothers and both became tyrants. Both had rivalries driven by jealousy with their main opponents (Obi-Wan and Reed Richards, repsectively). No one who ever read Fantastic Four comics could fail to see the mirror image of Doctor Doom in Darth Vader.

When this comic was released in April 1975, Luke's surname was "Starkiller." Soon after it was changed to "Skywalker."

The Star Wars Universe's first black hero is a lot like Marvel's one. Both hail from exotic wonderlands built on mining fortunes (the Black Panther's Wakanda is home to the world's "vibranium" reserves). Both had problematic relationships with the heroes. And both were known for wearing dashing capes.

There's more: the relationship between Luke and C3P0 mirrors the relation between Thor (another blond, weapon-wielding god-man) and the Recorder, a robot send into the Universe to observe events for the Rigelian race.

Lucas may have adapted the plot for the first Star Wars film from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, but given the parallels between the heroes and Darth Vader and the Marvel heroes and Doctor Doom, it's equally likely he borrowed it from Fantastic Four #84, in which the Fantastic Four sneak into Doctor Doom's kingdom to free captured government agents. Read this:

On their way home from the Hidden Land, the Fantastic Four are stopped by SHIELD jets and brought before Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan. Fury asks the FF to go into Latveria to investigate the disappearances of SHIELD agents and any information they have regarding robots that might be active in the region.

Sneaking into Latveria, the Fours presence is soon discovered by Dr. Doom, who incapacitates the whole team by sending his Servo-Guards to deal with them. Waking up in a house, Reed and the others are shocked to see that they haven't been put in a dungeon and that the people of Latveria are cheering them as honored people. However, when they try to leave the country, Dr. Doom prevents them from doing so, saying that if they attempt to do it again he will have them killed.

One interesting detail- at the time of this story the Fantastic Four included Princess Crystal, a member of the royal family of the Inhumans. Note that her headdress has a motif not unlike Leia's circular buns.

Note same motif of Darth/Doom looming over heroes from FF#84

But Kirby’s influence on Lucas would go far deeper than the similarities between the heroes and villains of Star Wars and the Fantastic Four. The Manichean struggle that informs Star Wars at its narrative core may be as old as time, but I’m willing to bet good money Lucas first encountered it not in Joseph Campbell’s obscure treatises, but in Jack Kirby’s landmark comic book series, The New Gods.


The story goes like this: Jack Kirby, after 35 years spent sweating and struggling in comics (which included 10 years of laboring in Stan Lee’s shadow at Marvel ), wanted to create a new line of characters. So Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics (Superman, Batman) hired Kirby away from Marvel in 1971 and let him create a entire line of new titles - The New Gods, The Forever People and Mister Miracle - which Kirby referred to as "The Fourth World."

The Fourth World was unprecedented in its scope. In it, Kirby was created an interlocking universe of characters which had only a tenuous relationship to the so-called ‘DC Universe’ of superheroes. These characters were extra-dimensional ‘gods,’ superhuman aliens who traveled to Earth with the use of the ‘Boom Tube,’ a sort of Stargate that bridged their dimension and ours.

The ‘God’ of the New Gods was “the Source,” an omnipotent energy field that the gods of New Genesis interacted with through a ‘Mother Box.’ The Mother Box was a living computer that each god carried with them, usually in their headgear. You’d be correct in assuming that ‘The Source’ plays the exact same role in the Fourth World comics that ‘The Force’ plays in Star Wars.


Just as in Star Wars, the Fourth World is divided into two opposing factions; the followers of Izaya the Inheritor (also known as ‘Highfather’) on the utopian world of New Genesis, and the subjects of Darkseid (pronounced ‘dark-side’) on the fascist slave planet Apokolips. In the past, Apokolips and New Genesis had fought their own ‘star war,’ and it nearly resulted in their mutual destruction. But they had settled a truce that was sealed by the exchange of Izaya’s and Darkseid’s first-born sons (“The Pact”, New Gods #7). Orion, the feral scion of Apokolips was raised on New Genesis and would become its mightiest warrior. Of course, the name ‘Orion’ brings us back once again to Osiris. Scott Free, Izaya’s son would be raised on Apokolips, but would escape and become the “Super Escape Artist,” Mister Miracle.

Both characters have echoes in Luke Skywalker. Orion would become the sworn enemy of his father and would travel to the Death Star-like planet of Apokolips battle him to the death (The Hunger Dogs, 1985). Scott Free would be tutored in the ways of the Source via the Mother Box by an Obi-Wan like character named Himon (“Himon,” Mister Miracle #8), resulting in his new identity as Mister Miracle. Luke Skywalker also has another counterpart in the Fourth World stories: Orion’s comrade-in-arms is the young, blond hero Lightray (his name is also reminiscent of Mark Moonrider, of the Forever People).

Top: Izaya (with his glowing phallic symbol) trains young
Orion in the ways of the Source
so that he may prevail against his evil father. Bottom: Ibid.

Izaya the Inheritor has similarities with Obi-Wan as well. Both were once fearsome warriors who renounced warfare after the defeat of their principal adversaries (Izaya defeated the warlord Steppenwolf, and Obi-Wan defeated Anakin Skywalker) and surrendered themselves to the Force/Source in order to tutor their young champions (ie., Luke Skywalker/Orion).

Apokolips was not so much a planet as a Death Star-like artificial world, solely devoted to warfare. In many ways, Apokolips is the visual model for the Death Star. Darkseid is not the visual model for Darth Vader that Doctor Doom is (though he may have been the source of the idea for Vader’s helmet), but Darkseid’s henchman DeSaad is the spitting image of Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi.

Like in the Star Wars films, the adversaries in The New Gods fight their battles in several different locations. Because of the pact between New Genesis and Apokolips, the combatants are forbidden to attack each other directly, so Earth became the battlefield of choice. Just as in the later Star Wars films, Kirby produced an mind-boggling array of characters, monsters and machinery for the Fourth World comics. But Kirby’s fertile imagination was not matched by his narrative prowess, and the books became bogged down under the weight of Kirby’s endless parade of concepts and characters. Faced with lackluster sales, DC canceled the entire line in 1973 and set Kirby to work on a host of new titles.

But the hardcore fans --like George Lucas-- venerated the Fourth World books and the characters remain a vital part of the “DC Universe” to this day. And another hardcore fan named Bruce Timm eventually became the producer of the popular Superman and Justice League cartoons, and has exposed The New Gods to an entire new generation by featuring Kirby’s creations in those series.

POSTSCRIPT

But Lucas' obsession with Kirby seems to go even deeper. Kirby revived the Black Panther around the time of the release of the first Star Wars film, and cast him as a globe-trotting adventurer scouring the earth for occult treasures while battling rival treasure hunters and exotic dangers. Yes, just like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But the parallels go even deeper.

In the first story-arc of Black Panther, Kirby had the Panther searching for a ancient time machine called King Solomon's Frog. The search leads him to a treasure trove in which this magical device summons a future human who looks exactly like an alien Grey. The alien is part of a future hive society composed of hatches, much like a bee's nest. The Panther is accompanied by a British rogue of uncertain loyalties and is being chased by a deadly and beautiful femme fatale and her coterie of armed thugs.

If that plot sounds familiar to you, don't be surprised. It's essentially the same plot that George Lucas produced for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Lost artifact with strange powers, roguish sidekick, femme fatale and deadly alien-like creature. And that film touches on Jack Kirby's great obsession, ancient astronauts, which he also explored in Fantastic Four with the Inhumans, a race of super-beings engineered in antiquity by the alien race the Kree. Well before Chariots of the Gods, I might add.


NOTE: I originally contributed a lot of this information on the now-defunct Star Wars Origins site.

UPDATE: Boy, talk about syncs- I just the most recent Jack Kirby Collector and they also ran a story called "The Source of the Force," calling out the Kirby parallels in the prequels. Go figure.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sync Log: Raptor's Trust

I mentioned the other day how Synchronicity has been a dominant force in my life lately. Here's a good example: A couple weeks ago I finally got a good picture of the hawk that lives in my backyard. I hear him (or her) all of the time but never got a good shot. I was a bit surprised by it- we have red tails all over the place here but it turned out this one was a Cooper's Hawk.

Lo and behold a Cooper's Hawk shows up in the news (also unimaginatively named Cooper), having gatecrashed at the Library of Congress (well known to National Treasure analysts). Mike Clelland! posted this link on the Secret Sun FB page. And then yesterday another reader posted an update on the story, which you can check out here...

You can click on the image to enlarge. Anything interesting jump out at you there?

Here's a closeup of the photo. Note the juxtaposition of Cooper to Isis and Harpocrates there. Note that she seems to be flying through the Zodiac to Capricorn, the month of the birth of the Sun.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Son of the Suns: The Star Wars Symbol Cycle


The Star Wars story-cycle is one of the most popular of our modern myths, but also one of the most garbled. For the original trilogy, George Lucas consciously drew upon mythic and religious elements (ransacking every myth, fairy tale, scifi story and comic book he could get his hands on, especially Jack Kirby's New Gods), but not always coherently.

Six films were made in all (Lucas has recently promised that more are on the way), but only the first (Chapter IV: A New Hope, 1977) and the last (Chapter III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005) hit the symbolic bases in the way that something like the Star Trek: the Next Generation films do. The films in-between are mostly concerned with high adventure and dazzling special effects.
Jack Kirby's Fourth World story cycle was a huge influence on Lucas

Even so, Lucas has accomplished something unique with the Star Wars films in that they truly form a cycle. The reverse chronology motif of ritual drama (meaning the drama is meant to reverse an unhappy historical event, often using reversal of time in the narrative) is used in a way to see the story as an endless loop, similar to the cycles of creation and destruction in Hindu theology.

The last film in order of release ends on a down note, in which the hero of the past three films is transformed into the personification of evil. In order to experience the kind of redemption that ritual drama provides, you need to return to the first film, which is set after the last film chronologically. By watching the films in order by release, you are then returned -- by emotional necessity --back to the beginning. And by emphasizing the chapter assignation in the titles, viewers are now perpetually confused by what the ‘first film’ actually is.

In the first-released Star Wars, we meet a Horus/Jesus analog (Luke Skywalker), an Osiris/Jesus who becomes a Set/Satan (Darth Vader), an Isis/Hathor/Mary amalgam in Princess Leia (who has Hthor’s warrior spirit), an Osiris/John the Baptist (Obi-Wan Kenobi), two Thoths in the droids C3PO and R2D2 (note similarity of the word ‘Droids’ to ‘Druids’) and an Anubis, split into the figures of Han Solo and Chewbacca (as Anubis the canine figure).

Yet Han Solo also becomes a type of Osiris in the Empire Strikes Back in his symbolic killing by Boba Fet (Boba Set?). Han also connects to Anubis vis a vis his Christian adaptation, St. Christopher, the dog-headed Christ-bearer.

 In the mythology, Christopher carries the Infant Jesus across a dangerous river on the orders of a hermit (which is exactly what Obi-Wan is, of course). The identification of the Milky Way with the Nile River is worth remembering in this context.

Along these lines, the first half of Return of the Jedi plays somewhat like an adaptation of the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris, when Leia and the others recover Han from Jabba the Hut and ‘resurrect’ him.

The Contendings of Horus and Set
is also mirrored in the clash of wills between Luke Skywalker and the desert-dwelling Jabba the Hut who has Solo encased in a Osirian carbonite coffin. How much of this is intentional and how much of it down to the fact that these conflicts have been used from everyone from the Bible writers to the authors of the various Arthurian Romances to Lucas’ most obvious touchstone Dune, is impossible to discern. Lucas himself probably couldn’t tell you.

However, the underlying theme of the films resembles that of the Knights Templar drama, who are mirrored in the form of the Jedi Knights (originally the "Jedi Templars"). There is also an explicit panentheistic motif represented the Force (the universal energy field that acts as the supreme god), as well as a great deal of confusion in some of the role-playing assignments and cultural references. For instance, Darth Vader is one of the evil order of the “Sith,” a sort of black-magic counterpart to the Jedi Templars. Sith is reminiscent of “Seth,” an alternate spelling of “Set.”

Star Wars introduces us to Luke Skywalker, a young farmer boy on the desert planet of Tatooine. Luke dreams of adventure and is filled with yearnings for his long-lost father, a legendary Jedi Knight whom Luke never knew. Adventure then finds him in the form of two robots or (“droids”), C3PO and R2D2, whom his uncle buys from the Jawas, a nomadic tribe of desert-dwelling merchants. While tinkering with R2D2, Luke triggers a holographic message intended for Obi Wan Kenobi from Princess Leia, who seeks his Kenobi’s help.

It's worth noting that in the message, Leia (meaning ‘ruler’ in Assyrian) is dressed to resemble the Roman depiction of Isis, replete with gown and veil. Luke knows of a Ben Kenobi, an old hermit who lives in the mountains nearby. What Luke does not know is that Kenobi has been standing guard as an unseen protector since Luke’s birth.


Luke meets Obi-Wan after a near fatal encounter with a Tusken Raider, the Bedouin-like “sand people.” Luke shows Obi-Wan the message from Princess Leia, prompting Obi-Wan to reveal his true identity to Luke.

Leia has included the schematics to the Death Star (an obvious Lunar stand-in) and asks Obi-Wan to deliver them to the rebels. The two then travel to the port city of Mos Eisley to find a ship to take them to Leia’s home planet, Alderaan.

 They meet Han Solo, the captain of the Millennium Falcon, in a bar and Obi-Wan offers Solo 17,000 credits to take he and Luke to Alderaan. The Falcon symbolism is self-explanatory, but the 17 requires a bit deeper understanding of the symbols.

En route to Alderaan, Obi-Wan trains Luke in the ways of the Force while Solo scoffs at the old Jedi faith (as do other characters in the film). As the Millennium Falcon enters the Alderaan system they find only planetary debris.

The fearsome Death Star, which had destroyed the planet, then appears in the distance. The Falcon is pulled aboard the Death Star via a tractor beam, and the men and the droids search for the princess. They find her but their escape is delayed as Obi-Wan fights with his former pupil, Darth Vader (played by David Prowse, with voiceover by James Earl Jones).


As Luke and his friends try to escape the Death Star, Obi-Wan engages Darth Vader in combat to divert attention away from them. As Obi-Wan and Vader fight, the former warns the later of the futility of his cause.

Obi-Wan is on the threshold of his apotheosis, and is about to become one with the Force. When he sees his companions escape with Princess Leia, he becomes discorporeal. Vader slices only through his empty cloak. Luke doesn’t understand and believes Obi-Wan has been struck down.

The Millennium Falcon escapes and reaches the rebel base and the Death Star schematics are delivered. Luke joins the rebels, and they then attack the Death Star. The divine voice of Obi-Wan guides Luke as he completes his mission and the Death Star is destroyed.


The conflict told here mirrors the Contendings of Horus and Set (and its endless clones), with Luke and Darth Vader battling using opposite sides of the Force, and the Emperor embodying the usurpation of rightful rule. But there are other important subtexts to the story (the secret to the film’s success is how many borrowed memes it packs into a very simple story).

Again, the dissolved Jedi Knights clearly recall the dissolved Knights Templar, and Obi-Wan is very much a John the Baptist figure. Wan is pronounced the same as “Juan”, the Spanish variant of John (an obvious nod to Don Juan of the Carlos Castaneda novels).

Darth Vader’s role in Star Wars is not generally understood. He is not a political figure- he is a religious one. He is essentially the pope of the Sith Empire. He acts as the inquisitor aboard the Death Star, not as its military commander. He is clearly doing the Emperor’s bidding, and leaves ordinary military protocol up to the Death Star’s commander, Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing). His faith is not held in high regard by the military men, and is ridiculed by one of Tarkin’s generals.

Just as plot points from the original trilogy come from Kirby's New Gods (which was making waves at the time Lucas began working on Star Wars) Darth Vader is essentially a doppelganger of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s archvillain, Doctor Doom. The mix of mysticism and science, the body armor, the fascism- it’s all taken lock, stock and barrel from old Fantastic Four comics (Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca form their own foursome in this regard).

As we see in later films, Vader is a broken and fragile man, kept alive only through the use of his armor. He can’t even breathe on his own. He personifies religion in service to the state; a dead, useless thing that can only bring misery and death.

The “red” and gold” Rebel space-fighter squadrons give away the Solar-Lunar struggle being played out here.

TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Please Watch This.



The music is from the soundtrack to the Cameron/Soderbergh Solaris, which I write about here and here. I'm reading Lem's book- there's no doubt in my mind that it's meant to take place in the Sirius star system.

Posted yesterday on the Secret Sun Facebook page.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Programming Note



The two constant realities of my life -- pain and Synchronicity-- have been batting me around like a ping pong ball lately. I'm learning quite a bit and the path is being cleared (or at least it seems to be) but I'm also completely exhausted. I prefer to post when I'm at full strength, especially since there's so much I need to sort out before I share it, if that's what I decide to do.

In the meantime, watch the new Fringe (non-US readers try here, as always) or contemplate the great mysteries of life. Or meditate and believe in possibility. Or none of the above. Whatever your bliss demands. I'll be back as soon as the batteries recharge.

And don't forget the Secret Sun Facebook page is open for business around the clock...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Year of Thinking Magically Addenda: To and from the Force



At their best, movies once offered us gnosis of a kind that the ancients could only write their weird apocalypses about. It's part of a larger phenomenon- the most enthusiastic adopters of any new communication technology are people selling either religion or sex. Both offer an escape from the grinding boredom of life.

It's no wonder then that fundamentalists are so anti-Hollywood. It's not the sex and violence that really bothers them- it's the competition. In the Middle Ages, the Church was the place you went to live that escape; where you heard the music and the legends and saw the great, luminous depictions of the superheroes of ancient Jewish mythology. The first motion picture dealt a mortal blow to that exclusive franchise that Darwin could only dream of. Each cinematic innovation-- sound, color, 3D, special effects -- was just another nail in the coffin.


And then Star Wars came along and struck mortal terror into the hearts of religious profiteers. Why would a film preaching morality and self-sacrifice be such a threat? Because it offered an alternative cosmology- a panentheistic philosophy that drew heavily from Buddhism, Native American shamanism and as we've discussed, Carlos Casteneda.

As we see explained by Yoda, the Force is an entirely plausible vision of divinity- an essentially sentient energy that can be grasped, understood and utilized by the initiate. But it was a two-edged sword -- if you were greedy or hateful, the Dark Side would rise up and destroy your soul. Maybe that struck a bit too close to home with the film's critics.

The Force is elegant in its simplicity, and plausible in the extreme. You didn't need to buy into the sci-fi reality onscreen to understand the Force. I often wonder if it was the Force that really sold Star Wars to the world. It was a one-two punch: dazzling visuals and action, undergirded by this powerful, simple philosophy of practical magic.

As we've seen, Lucas seemed to lose interest in the Force as a philosophy after Empire Strikes Back and used it as an all-purpose wireless power grid for the Jedi to use to shoot plasma beams from their fingertips. Since writing the previous post I actually tried watching the prequels, but couldn't make it through the first half of the first one. I opted for a hilarious YouTube critique of Attack of the Clones, that brilliantly cataloged the utter chaos I was seeing onscreen. But the reviewer quite cannily compared Yoda's elegant soliloquy about the power of the Force with the crass, reductionist chatter about "midichlorians" from Phantom Menace.

I'm not going to pile on Lucas here. I understand him in a way. I think he's very much an example of the types I'm very well familiar from a life spent in Fandom. I understand the obsessiveness, the overwhelming need for control, the meticulous focus on meaningless trivia. The irony here is that the early drafts of Star Wars: A New Hope were every bit as fractured, incoherent and overstuffed as the prequels, at least that's how the Lucas bio I recently read framed it.

The difference then was that Lucas had to whip it into shape because he was writing on Fox's dime, and had people around him such as his ex-wife and ex-producer to tell him he was writing garbage and to go back and make sense of it. The evolution of the Force is explained in an excellent article on Lucas and Gary Kurtz from Adherents.com. The synopsis included from the early drafts of the first film echoes the total narrative mayhem of the prequels:
In this version, the Force has two aspects: Bogan, the evil, and the good, Ashla (from C.S. Lewis's Aslan). Skywalker, apparently unburdened by the celibacy imposed in earlier versions, had twelve sons, to whom he passed this knowledge. They became the Jedi-Bendu, and 'brought peace and justice to the galaxy' -- by what means isn't specified. All this ended in the Clone Wars when the Great Senate, in league with the Power and Transport Guilds, allowed knowledge of Bogon to fall into the hands of the Sith Knights, personal bodyguards to the emperor. The Sith hunted down the Jedi -- though not the father of Luke, Biggs and Windy, 'The Starkiller,' the search for whom begins a theme of the film. Once he finds them, Luke will give him the Kiber Crystal, which has the power to amplify the Ashla force a hundred times.

'Anybody who read those drafts,' recalls Kurtz, 'said, "What are you doing here? This is absolute gobbledegook."' He urged Lucas, who later defined his religion as 'Buddhist Methodist', to go for something simpler and more universal. 'Comparative Religion is one of the things I studied in university,' says Kurtz. 'I also studied the Buddhist and Hindu sects, and studied Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and also Native American spirituality; shamanistic methods and so on. I got out a lot of my old books and we talked about it. If you trace back most religious thought to the teachings of the great prophets, whether Judeo-Christian, or Muslim, or even Hindu or Buddhist, you start to see a lot of similarities. The core philosophies are very very similar. The most obvious one is the Buddhist tradition about karma -- the karmic action that comes out of cause and effect. So the Force is an amalgamation of lots of different things.

'I saw Ben Kenobi as a shaman, really, rather than a character tied to any conventional religious background. The American Indians look upon God as the Great Mystery -- that's what they call him. [Their religion] is about the universal energy you can draw on through individual effort. You draw on the energy of the Great Mystery in the dances and tribal prayers. [I thought] this would be a good way to connect with this, since it's simple enough that you don't have to go through weeks and weeks of explanation trying to get some sense of what the religious philosophy is. And it's true enough, in the sense that it's based logically on a real belief system. We wanted to avoid that problem of imposing some sort of religious messiah on our characters so that we could have some sort of religious history. So there is a Joseph Campbell connection, but it's just one of many.'
The fact that all of the magic vanished from the franchise following Kurtz's firing after Empire certainly bolsters the arguments that he was the force behind the Force. The point here though is that the best fiction draws heavily on reality. So when you have a film so divorced from reality as Star Wars, the familiarity and plausibility of the Force becomes all the more alluring, because in a way it's the only part of the story that seems familiar to us. It's a magical philosophy that doesn't rely on banishing spells and secret alphabets but on concentration, deepened perception, unlearning and radical intuition. It heightens latent human abilities rather than creating new ones, like the best of our own magical traditions.

UPDATE:
Battlestar Galactica recreator Ron Moore has a new series about a magical police force. The name? Why 17th Precinct, of course. Thanks to Deb for the tip.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Year of Thinking Magically: The Irresistable Force



In 100 years everyone will have forgotten the prequels and the sequels and the spinoffs and focus solely on the original Star Wars movie.
Why? Because there's nothing said in anything that came after that wasn't said best in the first film. Sure, Empire Strikes Back was fun and exciting, but suffers from its episodic nature and from following a story that is complete and finished in and of itself.

I'll admit to being an extremely unbiased commenter- the original Star Wars came out shortly before my 11th birthday and blew the top of my head off. I pored over every scrap of information about the making of the film I could get my hands on (though I quickly lost interest in the comic as soon as the adaption was done).

I even planned the building of a Star Wars fan clubhouse on stilts, only to have a carpenter neighbor tell me my plans were not only ridiculous but extremely dangerous, to boot. The point is that I consider myself to have been the exact right age to experience the film, even if I was too old to play with the toys (or at least thought I was at the time). It helped that I was already an obsessive sci-fi and comic book fan several years running. I don't remember if losing my virginity hit me as hard as Star Wars did, which probably goes to show that it didn't.



And of course, the first
Star Wars- the real Star Wars- is about (and only about) magic. A magical battle, to be exact, between the white magic of the individual and the black magic of the state. Maybe even more subversively, the magic of the film is a profoundly pragmatic variety -- magic as a finely-tuned expression of our intuition. Certainly not the fanciful spellcraft of the Harry Potter Universe.

And the ideas about a pervasive Force that can be wielded by the magician are explained in the movie so explicitly as to approach panentheistic propaganda (as opposed to the pantheism charge usually leveled against the film), a concept which comes straight of the magical playbook. It should be no surprise that all of this inspired a half-serious religion based on the Jedi.

The Jedi are a sci-fi take on the Knights Templar, in fact they were called the "Jedi Templar" in an early treatment. The sixth film, Revenge of the Sith, is a fairly cogent allegory of the fall of the Knights Templar, which serves to set everything up for the real Star Wars. This is borrowed heavily (along with a ton of other plot points) from another magical narrative, Frank Herbert's Dune. Herbert used the House of Areides as his Templar stand-ins, and the repulsive Harkonnens as his Vatican stand-in. The Bene Gesserit were Herbert's sex-changed Jesuit stand-ins, which speaks to the gender fluidity which permeates both religion and science fiction.


But the Jesuits would probably prefer they not be seen as magicians, which the Bene Gesserit and Jedi most certainly are. And the Jedi are much less ambiguous in their allegiances than their Dune counterparts, which gives the first Star Wars its kick. There's also a residue the strange confluence between the fall of the Templars and the Arthurian romances which rose to popularity soon after in the Merlin-Arthur relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker (originally Luke Starkiller, Son of the Suns).

There's a little of everything in Star Wars, actually, which accounts for its immense popularity. The secret to create a monster franchise is ripping everything off and recombining it all in a new way. And by that I mean, adding magic. Roddenberry did it with Star Trek, Chris Carter did it with The X-Files, and George Lucas raided everything he could get his hands on for ideas. Going so far as to add a highly unlikely source for a Hollywood blockbuster, but one that Secret Sun readers are well-acquainted with.

Although I'd argue (along with many others) there's quite a bit of Alan Watts in Obi-Wan, there's also a lot of Carlos Castaneda as well. Aside from Flash Gordon and The New Gods and Joseph Campbell, Lucas lifted quite a bit of Don Juan (or Wan) for Obi-Wan. (There's a very interesting essay at a Star Wars site that digs into the influence, and that's where some of these quotes have been pulled from.)

This isn't speculation, it's all pretty well-documented. Like this:
"Lucas had by now simplified the mysticism in his script. Obi-Wan Kenobi would be a guardian of the wisdom of the Jedi knights and the force, a mysterious power "that binds the universe together". Lucas had found the inspiration for the idea in a story in Carlos Castaneda's Tales Of Power, in which a Mexican Indian mystic, Don Juan, described a "life force" (Empire Building, page 62).
And then there's this:
"The idea of using another person, perhaps an alien, for Luke to play off of came up during story meetings. George Lucas and Leigh Brackett thought that the alien could be an Indian desert type, very childlike even though he's an old man" (Annotated Screenplays, page 167)

A lot of people love Yoda, but I see him as a badly-animated Obi-Wan reprise. Obviously not really anticipating a sequel, Lucas killed off Obi-Wan for dramatic effect and then had to scramble when Luke needed to be trained as a Jedi. It would have been immensely more dramatic had it been Obi-Wan, but there is one interesting factoid about Yoda that should be pointed out in this context:
Another idea, which did not make it on to screen, was to show Yoda " ... during the training ... always smoking from his gimer stick, a short little twig with three branches at the far end". (Annotated Screenplays, page 183). This may allude to the shaman's ingestion of psychotropic plants as an aid in their quest.
The writer goes against the grain of fan opinion and presents the loathesome Jar Jar Binks as a possible vegetation spirit, citing no less than RAW to bolster his argument.
Robert Anton Wilson recounts his own experiences of Mescalito in "Cosmic Trigger". He describes seeing "a man with warty green skin and pointy ears, dancing in a cornfield." He then tells of reading Castaneda's "The Teachings Of Don Juan" five years on from his experience, in turn realizing Castaneda's description of Mescalito as being exact with the figure he saw. He suggests that Mescalito may simply be an archetype of the collective unconscious, placing him in the same archetypal group as the Irish leprechaun or of Mr Spock from Star Trek (I believe that some writers tie extra-terrestrial experiences into this grouping also).
By proxy, the potent narrative magic of Carlos Castaneda had given Star Wars its own magic in turn. Or at least that would be my argument. Reading about the making of Star Wars is like reading a play-by-play description of a multi-car pileup on an interstate- the entire production was plagued from start to finish and yet somehow pulled together at the very last minute and changed the world forever.

That, my friends, is magic. That is what I'm trying to explain. Maybe without the explicit magic none of it would work at all. It's magic that defeats the Empire, a lesson we'd all do well to pay close attention to.



POSTSCRIPT: Like a lot of other people, I'd argue that the magic was gone from the Star Wars Universe after Empire, which may be explained by the firing of producer Gary Kurtz, who had a major influence on the creation of the franchise. Sure enough, Kurtz is yet another Sci-Fi Mormon and has become something of a martyr to fans who feel betrayed by Lucas's stewardship of the franchise. In an interview with The LA Times, Kurtz splashes ice water on Lucas' claims of a preordained epic:
For Kurtz, the popular notion that “Star Wars” was always planned as a multi-film epic is laughable. He says that he and Lucas, both USC film school grads who met through mutual friend Francis Ford Coppola in the late 1960s, first sought to do a simple adaptation of “Flash Gordon,” the comic-strip hero who had been featured in movie serials that both filmmakers found charming.
“We tried to buy the rights to ‘Flash Gordon’ from King Features but the deal would have been prohibitive,” Kurtz said. “They wanted too much money, too much control, so starting over and creating from scratch was the answer.”
Lucas came up with a sprawling treatment that pulled from “Flash Gordon,” Arthurian legend, “The Hidden Fortress” and other influences. The document would have required a five-hour film but there was a middle portion that could be carved out as a stand-alone movie. Kurtz championed the project in pitch meetings with studios and worked intensely on casting, scouting locations and finding a way to create a believable alien universe on a tight budget.
Kurtz went on to accuse Lucas exactly of what many fans have -- writing to facilitate merchandising. Kind of the story of Lucas' generation, in a strange, sad way.

UPDATE: Talk about Synchronicity! This posted today on NME.com: "George Lucas believes the world will end in 2012." Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mindmemes



After a too-long absence, Savage Steve Willner unleashes this phantasmagoria of psychedelic madness on the interwebs. If all of this digital gadgetry was invented for anything it was to take us into the deepest inner reaches of the collective unconscious that Steve is able to reach. Note such initiatory mindmemes as the morphing pattern fields, which I once thought were a little quirk of my own damaged brains.

There's a brand spanking new interview up with yours truly on UFOMystic. The theme is the sadly shrinking common ground between sci-fi fandom and the Weirdness communities, and a review of some of the most powerful collisions between the two (PKD, Quatermass, etc.). Read all about it here.

It was quite a busy week or so. Aside from the UFOMystic confab, there's a string of new SHRnR interviews up for your listening pleasure:
There's a big piece on the Voice of America website that you can read (and hear) here. Some distinctly non-Secret Sun type comments going on there. Is it my imagination or are huge swathes of the Internet beginning to resemble Dante's Inferno? By huge swathes I mean the comments sections on all of the major websites. Click here to listen.

Then I did a very indepth interview with Cosmic Gnostic that covered some of the rock 'n' roll stuff in the first half. In the second half we really dig into the foundations of The Secret Sun and the whole concept of pop culture scrying. Click here to listen.

Then there's New Realities, which digs into the spiritual dimensions of music, rock 'n' roll specifically but not exclusively. We talk a lot about culture formation and the shamanistic undertones that inform it and drive it all along. Click here to listen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Gems in the Junkheap



I live for the moments when memes converge in the most unlikely places and then step outside the boundaries of their ostensible origin points. They Came from Beyond Space provided one of those moments; it's a very low budget British sci-fi quickie from the 60s, the kind of junk that usually doesn't even scan with most people. But I can attest that you'll find strange symbolism pop up in these films like mushrooms in the New Jersey rain. And compared to the bilge that passes for genre entertainment these days, the storytelling is practically bulletproof.

Beyond Space offers up a secret army of alien walk-ins (one of my very favorite fringe sci-fi tropes, for reasons I can't quite explain) and a pretty obvious ripoff of the plot of Quatermass II. Then the film becomes a knockoff of yet another Nigel Kneale opus (via HG Wells, that is) First Men in the Moon, only with a stronger Theosophic tinge. Curiously, the lead characters are named "Temple" and "Mason"

So aside from the walk-ins, we have a whole host of secret society themes bouncing around. Somehow, that all makes sense for a UFO movie, even though it shouldn't. It all makes me wonder how long some of these groups have believed that the ancient gods were actually extraterrestrials and how the whole concept of walk-ins and soul transference would play out in that context. All the more so given that AAT really entered the public consciousness first with Quatermass and the Pit (a Mystery initiation narrative in disguise) and then with Morning of the Magicians.

The Temple/Mason surnames here give me that old telling tales out of school vibe, which seems to be uncannily common in these low-budget sci-fi/grindhouse quickies. What better place to leak forbidden knowledge than in a film that absolutely no one would take seriously? That way if someone started having inconvenient thoughts about secret societies and the space program or mankind being banned from the moon, they could quickly be dismissed as having watched too many cheesy sci-fi movies.



Like Starship Invasions, for example. UFO literature is filled with undersea alien bases and hybridization programs and so is this film. But it's interesting to note that the alien base in question is a pyramid and the film presents us with a war between opposing alien factions, one of them led by one Captain Rameses of Orion, played by Mr. Hammer Von Wickerman himself, Christopher Lee. Boilerplate stuff, you say? Probably, but that secret war trope is lent a bit of extra frisson by this sequence...

...in which a UFO slams into a skyscraper. Fascinating little coincidence there.

Speaking of secret societies, I know I promised a review of The House of Anubis but I couldn't make it through an entire episode - even by tween standards, it's some truly atrocious television. I thought this clip was mildly curious, in that the Eye of Horus is distinctly a vesica piscis, but that's as far as it goes. Most of the show offers up the tedious teen angst of future hedge fund managers, agribusiness executives and European Parliament bureaucrats.

I realize the usual suspects are getting themselves all worked up by the "Illuminati" symbolism in this show but that's only because A., they secretly get off on it, and B., they're so convinced that Jehovah will soon make them a billionaire that they don't dare question the kind of corrupting, in-group privilege that is the real raison d'ĂȘtre of private school fraternities like the one we see in House of Anubis.

If anyone noticed anything of real interest in the show, let us know. Bonus factoid -- House of Anubis is based on a Belgian show- you can check out its site here. If you must.



On a much happier note, House of Anubis got me thinking about Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, which is worth a look even if it's not one of Hammer's finest hours. It's based on a Bram Stoker novel (Jewel of Seven Stars) that was made into a number of films, including the Charlton Heston vehicle The Awakening (1980), which was Mike Newell's first feature. Just to bring it all full circle, Newell also directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Potter novels are obviously a major influence on House of Anubis.

Blood centers on the whole walk-in/possession trope as well, just in case you're so distracted by Valerie Leon's epic curves that you can't make heads or tails of the plot. And just to bring it really full circle, Blood also stars Andrew Keir, my favorite Quatermass.

NOTES: The Libyan Sibyl explores a strange Oprah utterance about "human suits" here.

Todd Campbell talks about the alien walk-in narrative The Astronaut's Wife in relation to the Tucson horror, via Goro (who sees Tucson as Two Suns a la Jupiter/Lucifer in 2010). If any of you are wondering why I'm not writing about that myself I have a policy of avoiding any appearance of exploiting someone else's tragedy. Although you or I wouldn't see it that way, others most certainly do and I believe it's incumbent upon us to avoid seeming insensitive to others' suffering. I generally keep any research on these kinds of tragedies to myself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stairway to Sirius: Dogtown Blues

The Sirens, from last year's season finale

Exactly a year before the season premiere of Californication on Sunday, we looked at the extremely incongruous Sirius symbolism that was all over last season's finale. It was all part of an absolute orgy of Sirius and Merpeople symbols that was floating through the Memestream at the time.

I hadn't thought too much about it until I watched the new episode, and lo and behold the show was picking up right where it left off. What any of it is supposed to mean is beyond my reckoning, but it certainly is part of a much larger constellation of Sirius (and Atlantis) symbolism hiding beneath the surface in the entertainment media. Allegedly.

Photobucket

The recap clips included this shot of Hank and Karen, played by the radiant Natascha ("Christmas Day") McElhone or Solaris (read: "Sirius") fame. Karen is the diminutive of Katherine, establishing her as one of the Hollywood Hathors. Note the Blue Star looming in the background, which we here on the Secret Sun recognize as one of the epithets for Sirius.

Photobucket

Here we see the calm before the storm, when the scheming Mia (the show's Nephthys) invites Hank and Karen to a reading of the book she stole from Hank. Looking between then is the pentacle of Venus, which we see Karen crowned with here.

Photobucket

Now, I've been watching this show since the beginning and never caught that Mia published her book under an assumed last name, "Cross." Which is doubly interesting given Mia is the diminutive of "Maria." Triply, given that she stole Hank's story and sold it as her own. Calling Acharya S....

Photobucket

I guess it's redundant then to point out that Mia's agent/boyfriend is named "Paul."

Photobucket

Hank's reunion with Karen when he's released from jail (one of his many symbolic resurrections) is blocked by Marcie, his friend and agent's spunky bisexual wife. Continuing the Sirius symbolism (this scene takes place in Venice aka "Dogtown"), Hank calls her Karen's "watchdog." Even more interesting, he calls her the "gatekeeper." Marcie is a he/she name, referring to the planet Mars.

Photobucket

Speaking of he/she's, Carla Gugino appears as Hank's new lawyer. Carla is another he/she name (literally- Carl means "man") and when we first see her she's dressed in distinctly masculine clothing. Gugino has alien identity written all over her; she starred in the X-Files knockoff Threshold, as well as Race to Witch Mountain, another Sirius-fest.

Photobucket

Here's where I start to wonder if they're just screwing with us; after the meeting with the he/she, Hank and Charlie enter a building and descend a staircase from the ground floor...

... a visual which Secret Sun readers need no introduction to.

Photobucket

They end up in the lobby of the UTK agency, or "United Talent Kollective." No agency would use that spelling. The UT got me thinking of Utu, the Sumerian sun god, but I couldn't account for the K. Then again, reading it backwards you get "KTU," or K2. So there you go.

Either way, here Hank meets Sasha, the actress who'll be playing Mia in the adaptation of his book. We see a lot of her in this episode. Quite a lot. It almost makes up for all of the credulity that's strained to the breaking point when the 18 year-old starlet seduces the fifty-plus Hank. And you guessed it; Sasha is yet another he/she name.

Photobucket

And here we make sure that we understand that Sasha is yet another Hathor, identified with her Roman counterpart Venus.

Photobucket

Speaking of K, we see Charlie flash Hank an 11, which certainly fits with all of the relentless homoerotic joshing that acts as a humor substitute on TV these days. I'm open to any other interpretations as well.

Photobucket

Here's another interesting motif: an in flagrante Sasha reflected in a Sun mirror, which we also saw in I Am Legend...

...linked to that beautiful, amazing, wonderful dog who steals the film. What's the connection, you ask? Well, here we get a literal rendering of the Dog Star through visual juxtaposition.

Photobucket

And a few seconds later after that shot, we see Hank dreaming of returning home to Dogtown.

Photobucket

Here he dreams of Karen, who is helpfully wearing a Phoenix pendant around her neck.

Photobucket

The dream ends badly and Hank wakes in Sasha's apartment, under the Dog Sun mirror...

Photobucket

...which has yet another incongruous stairway. Not just any stairway, but one with the a spiral motif...

...just like the one from Oslo, that led to the whole Stairway to Sirius last year in the first place. How about that? Quite a series of syncs, no?

So there are three possibilities here. First, it's all just random bits of the Memestream. No meaning or significance at all. La la la.

Second, the producers of Californication are big Secret Sun fans. Possible? Sure. Likely? Can't quite say.

Third, I seem to have stumbled on a very strange series of symbols that are embedded into certain shows and films for reasons I can only guess at. Maybe it's being driven by the Sirians themselves, who can say? Stranger things have happened. Allegedly.

Which explanation do you prefer?

POSTSCRIPT: I want to plug the big gabfest I had with Cosmic Gnostic. We start with the rock 'n' roll stuff and go much deeper into the concept of counterculture and all that it implies. More importantly, we dig into the basic philosophies behind this blog and its place in a much larger constellation of esoteric philosophy and culture, particularly the Psychedelic subculture.

SECRET SUN TOP TEN