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.


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.


  1. C-Knowles writes:
    "pop culture-illiterate scholars like Joseph Campbell"

    I gotta dig up the quote, but i think Joseph C said the last movie he saw before seeing STAR WARS was Ben Hur - and it was the version without Charlton Heston (and without sound either).

    He got to see STAR WARS at a private screening in Francis Ford Coppola's offices in california. I don't know where he saw BEN HUR.

    (I think I have these details right)

  2. C-3P0 and R2D2, as Mercury and Jupiter, respectively, are literal Deus ex Machina--gods-in-machines who serve to drive the plot.

    I seem to keep encountering references to Kirby's New Gods. There is an interesting connection between Raiders and Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge as well. Lucas even did the introduction to Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times.

  3. Like the FF SW comparison. Maybe I missed it but also Luke/Leia and Johnny/Sue are both brother/sister.

  4. One other thing to consider is convergent inspiration. Star Wars was definitely influenced by Flash Gordon serials and Indiana Jones was modeled on 40's serial adventures as well. It would be interesting to see if both Kirby and Lucas found inspiration in the same science fiction stories or pulp adventures as well. I think Lensman, also the inspiration for Green Lantern, certainly influenced space opera and cosmic superheroes in later films and comics. The Lensmen fit into the Jedi/Jesuit/Templar model as well.

  5. Chris, wasn't sure where to put this... I've been watching the Egyptian protests, but this headline made me do a doubletake: "ElBaradei Speaks: 'Taking Down The Pharaonic Dictatorship'" ( Curiously, the page this headline links to does not carry the same headline. Mubarak = pharaoh! So many of our memes, synchs, and symbols come out of ancient Egypt. This revolution may mean that the old world order must be in a fight for its life and that our Waking Dream is in for a big symbolic upheaval. Just a thought.

  6. I know art influences art, but this is ridiculous. It sounds like Lucas is a serial plagiarizer of Kirby. Good article, Chris.

  7. Thank you for transferring this information from a defunct site to one that is as active as your blog. As a kid growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a town old and decrepid enough to be classified as a ghost town even then (Felch- funny name!) I don't remember seeing that many comics available. Sometimes they would be in bundles with the covers torn off for sale cheap but how to get in the bundle? At any rate I am amazed and appreciative to be exposed to Kirby and and his artistic genius and better late than never.
    Thanks to all other responders as well- I read all your replies and enjoy your syncs, your civil debates, and everything in between!
    Best wishes on a beautiful snowy Sunday- I don't have any hawks but there are 6 turkeys at the bird feeder! Delorus

  8. Just as I read this post I went back to reading "The Tao of Willie" written by Willie Nelson,and what does he say?

    "I felt a lot better about selling vacuums than I did Bibles.I sold a lot of KIRBY vacuums and it didn't hurt my conscience because everything I said about those vacuums was the truth."


  9. Well,I no sooner write the above comment about Willie's book and start smiling about the little "coincidences" I've stumbled across while reading it,and then I read this;

    "At this moment,my best is going toward getting these words right.It's a nice coincidence that this moment of mine is coinciding with a moment in your life when you read them.Here we are - connected across time and space by the thoughts we share.And that is a thought that brings a smile to my face.How about you?I'm going to carry that smile with me until I stumble across the next one,and I hope you do the same.Connections to those around you,to the world around us all,and to the universe that stretches into the great beyond are the things that define us."

    Yes Willie,I'll be carrying that smile with me,as soon as I can pick my jaw up from the floor .-)

  10. "nor was this noticed by pop culture-illiterate scholars like Joseph Campbell."

    You know, not everybody is obsessed with comics. I'm not sure that makes us all "pop culture-illiterate." I thought Joseph Campbell did OK for an old guy.

  11. C!- Yeah, Campbell was pretty oblivious to 20th Century culture, which strikes me as a bit irresponsible for a mythology scholar. And his observations on Star Wars aren't really mindblowing. Lucas basically used him for academic window dressing.

    Eleleth- Brilliant links there. It's safe to say Lucas is a narrative collagist, taking ideas left and right and making something new out of it. But that's the story of culture in general, isn't it? Maybe Lucas is just a bit less subtle about it. Jack himself was a serial borrower- the nature of the comic book beast demands it.

    300- Cheers for the reminder.

    322- Oh god yeah. Kirby and Lucas shared the same obsessions, interesting given their age differences. The point here is specific plot points, not general ambient influences, however.

    Oyin- You can put stuff like that on the Facebook page. Please do! And if you're going to steal, you can do a lot worse than Kirby.

    Delorus- Actually, this is from my manuscript. I cherry-picked some goodies for the SWO site. And thank you for the kind words.

    Brizdaz- Ha! Good one.

    1122- Well, as Mike already pointed out Campbell was oblivious to a lot more than comic books. That's the Ivory Tower for you. Ever been to Sarah Lawrence? It's Paradise. Can't blame a guy for shutting the world out.

  12. What about Stan Lee? Co-creator and writer of the FF.

  13. ? I mentioned Stan. However, after the first handful of issues Kirby did most of the plotting on FF and Stan added subplots (centering on the relationships of the characters) as well as writing the dialogue.

  14. Another interesting idea is one Alan Moore explored in Promethea - the idea of "gods" inhabiting stories/fiction. You see it in Morrison, Mulligan, Gaiman and Carey as well. Much of th UK comics wave. What if it is not so much Lucas was directly inspired but that these characters migrated from creative mind to creative mind because they have a kind of independent existence in the superorganic mind? It would be fascinating if Lucas was completely unaware of Kirby's influence because it was coming from another, less definable source.

  15. Hey great post, I am really enjoying these Star Wars-related posts. When I read about the Darth Vader and Dr. Doom connections I was instantly reminded of the Wolves of the Calla from the Dark Tower series. I don't know if you read it or not, it's actually been brought up on a few other blogs that discuss synchromysticism (I even mentioned it to Jake Kotze and posted it on Steve Willner's Youtube channel). To be honest, I'm not sure if Stephen King was aware of the parallels between Doom and Vader, sooooo....

  16. I don't think there is any sort
    of plagiarizing considering how
    deeply mythological archetypes
    are embedded in our psyches.

    Before Kirby was the painters
    and sculptors who all drew on
    mythological themes, and before
    that were the poets of the
    ancient world...and before that
    were the shamans.

    Lucas, Kirby, and Campbell are
    all drawing on the collective did the old
    shamanastic characters of the
    neolithic age.

    I did not know anything about
    Kirby but I will have to do
    some research now, especially
    since you tie him into the
    ancient astronauts theories.

  17. Gary Kurtz: Great script, George. You must have been inspired by Joseph Campbell.

    George Lucas: Joseph who?

    Gary Kurtz: You know, he wrote 'The Hero With a Thousand Faces.'

    George Lucas: 'Hero With a Thousand Faces'? Who published it? Marvel or DC?

  18. You're on a roll, Chris!

    And so am I, thanks so much for inspiring such interesting thoughts in my head :)

  19. Hey Chris
    Every time you write about Kirby it really strikes a cord with me. I almost feel like the worlds he created are/were real in some obscure past and he is tapping into the Akashic Field or Collective Unconscious to retrieve this knowledge.

    Also, you've said before that Joseph C's views are a water-down version of the truth, and I can see how his observations are simple, but then what is the truth of it; is it what Kirby and Jung immersed themselves into and almost went insane from it?

  20. I think you mentioned Lathe Of Heaven in a post a while back and the interesting coincidental connections between George Orr - Jor Jor - Jar Jar Binks - George Lucas.

    Seeing Jar Jar as a kind of cosmic characterization of the aboriginal dreamwalker as opposed to a fairly racist minstrel show characterization gives the character more connection to the central theme of Star Wars, but it is just too hard to wash Jar Jar's Amos and Andy impression out of your mind when you watch him. "Meesa, Yousa, Yassa, Boss!"

    In any case, I wonder if JarJar was Lucas' playing with his own name - George. Maybe that's why he was so committed to the character even after fans called for Binks' head on a platter. Jar Jar was supposed to be him in the story.

    However, I'd be interested in your take on Ursula Le Guin's other science fantasy series of novels, the Hainish series, of which Left Hand of Darkness is probably the most well known.

    In this fictional universe, all space travel is limited by relativity so there is no faster-than-light travel, BUT there is a device, the ansible, that allows instantaneous communication. The basic background is that long ago, thousands of years, colonists left earth and founded civilizations on new worlds. At the time of most of the novels, Ekumen, a loose terran organization dedicated to the exchange of trade and knowledge between the worlds, is working to contact and integrate the farthest colony planets back into the larger universal community. Many of these worlds' inhabitants have no idea that they came from another planet and often consider the Ekumen's envoy, the First Mobile, to be either madmen, invaders or some sort of hoax perpetrated by their enemies on the planet.

    It's a very unique idea compared to similar organizations like the Federation of Planets or Galactic Empire or The Culture in other science fiction series. Primarily, it is the limitation of sub-C travel and the Ekumen's decision to send only one envoy unarmed with very few technological marvels to support them that changes the tone of the novels from high adventure to more grounded, contemplative journeys of mind, spirit as well as body.

    In any case, the peaceful, intellectual and compassionate approach of the Ekumen definitely offers a strong comparison and contrast to the warrior monks of the Jedi. Check out Roconnan's World and Left Hand of Darkness if you haven't already. As you can see from Lathe Of Heaven, Ursala K. Le Guin offers a perspective in her stories as unique and unexpected as Phillip K. Dick.

  21. I wonder if King Solomon licked frogs. Funny someone sent me a text yesterday about frog licking and travelling.

  22. Chris,
    I love your blog, but your frequent jabs at Joseph Campbell, I just don't understand. Oblivious to 20th Century culture? What about the first half of the 20th Century when he was a young man exposed to the creative explosion of Joyce, Jung, Picasso, Eliot...They were pop icons of their own era.
    And shut off in the ivory tower? You've seen how much he's written trying to bridge the past to today.
    You know how much time and energy it takes to create that body of work. I'm sure Jack Kirby had an imbalance in broad pop culture knowledge as well. Anyone who takes on a great work of their life like a Campbell or a Kirby is likely to have such an imbalance. It's perfectly natural and should be lauded. Since rather than being in touch with the ephemera of pop culture - they were in touch with something far more potent - a mysterious something you touch on in post after post on your blog.

  23. There is a post at Red Pill Junkie's blog on this subject (for those who might be interested),which is worth a read.
    You can either click on the link in his above comment,or copy and paste this link into your browser;

    And in the comment section below his post I've put a link to a movie called "Paul" written
    (and voiced) by Seth Rogen,about an Alien who is picked up by two sci-fi geeks,outside Area 51 and taken on a road trip.

    It looks pretty good/funny.

  24. Tim McClelland?

    My long lost brethren from Scotland?

  25. Awesome read, as always.

    Kirby was a genius and tuned into something, wether he knew it or not. We can debate what that something was and slice it a million different ways. But there's power there. I know it when I come across it. You do too.


  26. Raj,
    I see your blog profile says you're from London.You wouldn't happen to be a Tottenham Hotspur fan by any chance?

  27. Brizdaz,

    I'm afaid not. I'll watch World Cup matches for a laugh but I've never really been into watching football regularly. Don't mind actually kicking a ball around though.

  28. Mike Clelland: good to hear from you, brother! We sure love synchronicities here, don't we?

  29. I've come to regard Kirby as a mystic in the classic sense, not just a pop culture mystic. I think he had a direct channel to the zietgeist and archetypes of the world, to the superhconscious. I believe every artist strives for this, in one way or another.

    Much is made of Kirby's action sequences and dynamics, but that's not the whole picture. He was also a master at communicating great majesty! Think of the Eternals, all out awesome and majestic, but they hardly move! Or, the undeniable greatness of Dr. Doom, or Galactus, or the Black Panther, the Silver Surfer, etc. They just have to stand there, and their greatness shows through instantly.

  30. All this reminds me of a couple of neat little syncs-the first is William S. Burroughs 'art slogan', which is "steal everything." But make it your own. The second is a magazine that I read, years ago, featuring a flexi disc, and weekly journal excerpts from various artists. The one I read was about a sunday where Robert Smith of The Cure and his girlfriend go to watch the first Star Wars movie, being bored. Movie had been playing for quite awhile, so theatre was empty except for a few kids who were running up and down the aisles. Smith and his girlfriend followed the kids, and soon discovered to their delight, that the kids were following the stereo sound of the lasers, as they traveled through sets of speakers. Ignoring the movie, they spent the next couple hours running around with the kids.

  31. Mr. Knowles, I didn't know Luke's surname was "Starkiller" at first. That's ironic because in the expanded Star Wars universe, Starkiller becomes the codename for Galen Marek. Galen Marek is a human male who was taken in by Darth Vader as a child well before the events of Episode IV A New Hope. His father, a jedi, was slain by Darth Vader, and Vader, sensing the boy's force powers "adopted" him. It was really Vader's hope that he could assist in slaying Palpatine eventually. Nonetheless, an adult Galen turned on his master and eventually sacrificed his own life for good. The Marek family crest actually became the symbol for the rebellion.

    Anonymous Detroit