How A Near-Fatal Car Accident Led to the Universal Appeal of ‘Star Wars’


Well, here’s a little Star Wars surprise from an unexpected place: Forbes, the business magazine.

An article by entrepreneur and author James Altucher details the many ways that Star Wars has affected his life, and how trying to be more like a Jedi Knight has guided how he lives in life. I really like his advice – Read, Exercise, Be Tolerant, Believe, Practice Being Good – and even if you’ve never seen Star Wars it’s the kind of stuff that will improve your life no matter what. Here’s an excerpt:

“C) Practice being ‘good’.

Being a good, compassionate person is not something like “having two arms” or “being able to see”. It’s a quality we develop over years and thousands of hours of practice.

Most people are not good people. In business, in art, in almost every “world” I’ve been in, most people I’ve meet are pretty gray to black. It takes practice to be the person who is a source of compassion and honesty.

Supposedly it takes 10,000 hours to master something. Unfortunately, most people spend 10,000 hours trying to be a jerk to others. If all you do is put in your 10,000 with small kindnesses, then the universe will return that many times over.”

See? It’s something we can all follow. Of course, the universality is part of the genius of Star Wars, isn’t it? The universal themes resonate with all of us, because it’s not too much like any of us.

The Jedi Knights are similar in some ways to the warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple, but even if you’re not familiar with the monks you’ll still related to the Jedi’s  ethos and discipline. They’re kind of like the wizard characters we’re all familiar with from fairy tales, too. Sir Alec Guinness’s Obi Wan Kenobi is particularly like the wise old man or wizard that we’ve encountered so many times before, but again, he doesn’t represent any particular real faith or culture on Earth.

Most of this has to be attributed to Star Wars creator George Lucas’ deep knowledge of mythology. As many of you undoubtedly know, Lucas had read many spiritual and philosophical texts and immersed himself in the writings of Joseph Campbell, a writer who championed the universality of myth. His books The Power of Myth, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Masks of God remain hugely influential in academia and popular culture at large.

Star Wars: The Magic of Myth was an accompanying book to the National Museum Tour of the same name. In it, author Mary Henderson examines the parallels between the saga and world myth, and how Campbell and came to influence Lucas and inspire the creation of Star Wars. As it turns out, a near-fatal car accident set it all in motion.

Star Wars: The Magic of Myth

“George Lucas was born in Modesto, California, in 1944. His first love was car racing, but just before graduating high school, he was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident. After this brush with his own mortality, he became interested in anthropology, sociology and psychology, and studied these topics at Modesto Junior College, along with creative writing. He was particularly fascinated with indigenous folktales and their cultural context. While working on a college project, Lucas discovered a book with a “wonderful life force”: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which examined some of the universal themes of myths and fairy tales from a variety of ages and cultures. This discovery began a lifelong interest in mythology for Lucas.

In 1964 he entered the University of Southern California as a film student. His first professional film, THX 1138, the story of a man accidentally granted free will in a robotic society, was released in 1971. In 1973, the release of American Graffiti, a look at growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, established Lucas as a blockbuster filmmaker.

Until the hero of THX 1138 developed a will of his own, he was more machine than human, while the teenagers of American Graffiti were adrift, searching for a meaningful future. Lucas’ fascination with Campbell’s work, a concern for the preservation of the human spirit in an increasingly technological world, and his interest in the process of growing up would all go into the mix that became the Star Wars films.”

A brush with mortality and a deep dive into the world of mythology led to Star Wars, which in turn offers its own mythos. It’s odd how myth evolves, but that’s how it works. In time will our descendents turn to Star Wars and see something more than just a fun movie series? Will they believe in it and look to it for guidance like our ancestors might have to the gods? Perhaps. In this way, the ripple of life that began with a brush with death will continue for generations to come.