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Star Wars: characters and designs found among our collections

mercredi 13 décembre 2017

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  • Set design: The Magic Flute (Act 1), The Hall of Stars in the Palace of the Queen of the Night, Karl Friedrich Schinkel
    Set design: The Magic Flute (Act 1), The Hall of Stars in the Palace of the Queen of the Night, Karl Friedrich Schinkel
    (C) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA


For 40 years, the world created by George Lucas has transported us into a modern mythology where all of the ingredients and characters seem familiar. Take visual tour of the iconography of myths, legends and heroes who have imposed their codes onto the collective imagination.

The success of the saga is without question and rests on a proven narrative structure, that of fables, classical myths, biblical sagas and legends from the Middle Ages such as that of King Arthur and his famous sword Excalibur. Such references give the audience an impression of déjà vu, even though the story and the characters have been invented for this modern fable. This is the very concept of the monomyth explored by Joseph Campbell, who developed the notion that all of the world's myths are variations on the same story designed to reassure the audience: offering example, an explanation of the world and consolation for the trials of existence.

If the characters and landscapes dreamed up by the production teams seem recognisable and almost familiar, this is perhaps because they are based on archetypes that have already been visually assimilated.


Some hairstyles frequently return to current fashion, and that of Princess Leia seems to draw directly from a number of Victorian styles and the imagination of the Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Portrait of Princess Auguste Marie Gertrude, study, Caroline von der Embde
(C) BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image MHK


Fritz Lang directed Metropolis in 1926 and the resemblance between the Maschinenmensch or 'human being machine' and C3PO is staggering.

Metropolis, Fritz Lang. Around 1925-1926,  Horst von Harbou
(C) BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image SDK


The cities imagined by George Lucas' teams fuse styles and architectures among desert landscapes. It's a choice that reminds us of the views of the Orient depicted by the travelling artists of the 19th century. 

Jérusalem, Johann Martin Bernatz
(C) Archives Alinari, Florence, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Fratelli Alinari


The iconic incarnation of doubt turned to evil, Darth Vader wears a helmet that protects him as much as it conceals his face. His helmet gives him the profile of a galactic samurai. 

Sallet, Part of the "Harnois Blanc", produced around 1470-1480
(C) Paris - Musée de l'Armée, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette


As the eighth episode of the series is released this December, it seems like a good occasion to have a look at these concordances in our museum collections.