Caves: The Depths of Self Discovery in Star Wars, Beowulf, and The Faerie Queene

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Fall 2014


Caves in medieval literature lay the foundation for the cave scenes in Star Wars, particularly in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. In the trash compactor sequence in A New Hope, we find a cave-like environment in terms of appearance, predicament, and the events that occur inside. The Dianoga monster that attacks Luke in the trash compactor is very similar to the serpentine monster Error that attacks the Red Cross Knight in Book I, Canto 1, of The Faerie Queene. Both monsters wind their bodies around the heroes. Furthermore, the trash compactor is full of slimy goop much like the muck that Error vomits out of her maw. In the face of these perils, Luke and Red Cross Knight both discover that the self is not enough sometimes to combat the hostile forces lurking in the universe. Another power is needed to confront these monsters. Indeed, turning to the Wampa Cave in The Empire Strikes Back, one finds Luke relying upon the Force to escape another encounter with a monster. This is similar to the Red Cross Knight having to “add Faith unto his Force” to escape Error. Luke’s fight with the wampa also recalls Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother under the mere, as both characters must locate weapons in the caves to defeat their foes. Similarly, in the belly of the Space Slug in the same film, Han must also discover his own resourcefulness in order to escape being eaten. Finally, the Dark Side cave on Dagobah parallels the Cave of Despair in The Faerie Queene. While Red Cross Knight discovers the guilt and despair inside himself, Luke fails in the cave by giving into the feelings of the Dark Side, thus confronting his own guilt and own potential despair (“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny”). In this way, Luke discovers his own failings much like the medieval heroes discussed in this video.

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