Title

MonStar Wars: Monster Theory in Star Wars and Medieval Literature

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Video

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

Monsters are not simply objects of horror or awe, but rather they often reflect something deep inside the hero himself. When a hero’s inner conflict is expressed symbolically through his clash with a monster, the resulting contest is known as a psychomachia (literally “mind-battle” or “spirit-battle”). Psychomachiae are repeatedly found in both older literature and the Star Wars films. For instance, the monster Grendel from Beowulf can be understood as reflecting Beowulf’s own negative traits, whereas the Wampa monster in The Empire Strikes Back similarly tests Luke’s heroism and also loses his arm much like Grendel. Comparisons can also be made between the monsters in Star Wars and those found in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene. In Spenser, the madman Furor and the wretched hag Occasion appear as “unnatural” figures of anger and rage—more monster than human. By the same token, in Return of the Jedi we encounter the mob boss Jabba the Hutt—a gross, slug-like creature with reptilian eyes—whose monstrosity and otherness embody sins of greed, lust, and gluttony. Ultimately, Jabba represents Desire, which Luke learns to resist through Temperance, a virtue Spenser also encourages in his epic. As a last example of overlap between The Faerie Queene and Star Wars, Spenser’s snake-like Error and George Lucas’s trash compactor monster share very similar traits. First, both monsters possess bodies that can be read allegorically, and both appear at a time of crisis. Most importantly, neither monster is truly defeated, and each threatens to reappear later in a new guise. All of these stories blur the line between man and monster, showing how one needs the other in order to be meaningful.

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