How a Steiner Think Tank Rewrote Star Wars
Star Wars is an epic story which took the cinema world by storm, has endured, and gathered an unbelievable following. It’s a modern day fairy tale, whose strength and influence keeps on growing, just like the myths and legends of old which have survived for millennia.
Over the years, some people have observed parallels with anthroposophical concepts, and have wondered if George Lucas might’ve been inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy.
“Spiralpadawan” considered this back in 2005, and stated on the “Jedi Council Forums” that, “the parallels in the archetypal imaging that are present in the movies and are bases for grasping Waldorf are the same. […] How I would have loved for someone to say… “Let’s watch [Star Wars] and I’ll explain Steiner to ya” it would have been a great AH HA moment! The fundamentals of Steiner’s work were not natural toys, foods, etc…. they were balance of spiritual forces, understanding development, temperaments, and our connection to the Universe. Once you have those basics down, man or woman, it’s easier to swallow the rest because you can grasp why.”
Storytelling is a crucial part of the early years of Steiner education. The concept of archetypes is even mentioned in the Woods report, for instance: “History begins with mythical and archetypal narrative in Classes 1 to 3.” Also, “from the age of ten to fourteen, […] the New Testament stories of the Gospels is one strand of the lesson content. The children should be familiar with the life of the Christ and should know some of the great, archetypal parables, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Up to about thirteen years these stories are accepted uncritically – the appeal is to the hearts of children and not their heads.”
Storytelling is an appealing and creative way of teaching, and something every parent does time and again when entertaining their children. It is also one of the draws of Steiner-Waldorf education if you’re not aware of the deeper aspects of this pedagogy.
But is there any truth to the fact that the Anthroposophical archetypes can be found within the Star Wars mythology? After all, watching films and TV is strongly discouraged in these schools. Yet a recent revelation appears to confirm that this was indeed the case. This influence didn’t come from George Lucas, but from his then-wife, the renowned film editor, Marcia Griffin.
Dr. Douglas Gabriel wrote an article, and was interviewed by Julian Jonathan on the subject. He describes how he and a few other fellow Anthroposophists ended up advising Marcia, providing ideas and Anthroposophical concepts which became integrated into the very heart of the Star Wars saga, and influenced the first two trilogies.
“It was somewhat just by accident”, he told Jonathan regarding what would become his pivotal involvement. “I was a Waldorf student in a Waldorf institute in Michigan. I was coming out of the bookstore one day, and my teacher Dr. Werner Glass turned to me and said “would you come with me?”. I followed him, we went into a room with a number of people. One of them was Marcia Griffin, the wife of George Lucas. […]
“Dr. Werner Glass had been very famous in the Anthroposophical world […] there’s [a Waldorf school] in North Hollywood, which Dr. Glass had run. He was very familiar with at lot of the people in Hollywood, the stars, the actors, because they sent their children there. So he had somehow met Marcia, and she had taken courses from him I believe, in Anthroposophy. […]
“There were four students there that I had been in school with, and Marcia, and the two directors of the institute. [Werner] sat down and he said “this is my protégé, Douglas Gabriel, he’s going to give you whatever you need”. I had no idea what he was even talking about! […]
“Werner, to my surprise, got up and left, and then the other director got up and left, and we were all sitting there looking at each other saying, “what are we going to do?””
“Our job was to help [Marcia] in the second, third, fourth rewrite of it, I don’t really remember,” Dr. Gabriel continued. “She said to us that it had been rejected two or three times, but [Lucas] had a contract for it, so if they could come up with a good screenplay, the movie would go forward, because of his fame and his power in Hollywood. […]
“So my job would be like any Waldorf teacher: we had to turn this story into something that was an archetype that would be able to be a truth that is encapsulated in a schemata, an engram, a meme, whatever you want to call it; an archetype that works from beginning to end. I knew that once we had done that, then all these very strange characters that he had created – because really that’s all the screenplay was that was shown to me: a list of characters. In the characters there were certain descriptions of kind of the plot and the way it was supposed to happen, but it was completely disjointed, didn’t hang together. After hearing it, and hearing the very sad dialogue that was part of it at that time, there was no dynamic between the characters. So our job was to work that over for three days. It was kind of a think tank”.
“Once [Marcia] had read this to us, I turned to her and said, “well what you really want is an adult fairy tale, a sci-fi fairy tale, on the level of C S Lewis’science fiction trilogy.”
“And she said, “yes, that’s exactly what we want.”
“”Well let me first show you how a fairy tale works.” So I stood up to the board, took a coloured chalk, and started to show.
“Every fairy tale, and every true myth, legend, fable or anything else, has a beginning and an end, and you go through catharsis. […] You come to some revelations throughout it, and then you reach the end, you get the goal or enlightenment, and then it’s over.
“Well if you have the right characters, everything all plays out, and all the dialogue comes naturally once you know the true nature of the archetype you’re describing […].
“Archetypes comes from either Carl Jung’s version of the collective unconscious or the subconscious, or one can see very clearly in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Russian fairy tales, that they come from dreams. They were the collective dreams of cultures. Those collective dreams came from the spiritual world and therefore they had to come in symbol and parable. You can’t communicate spiritual thoughts in physical reality, that’s the reason why in the fairy tale, anything can happen.”
This belief in the spiritual world is very real for Anthroposophists, and by association, Steiner-Waldorf schools, as we’ve explored previously.
“The resolve of every fairy tale is, what?” Dr. Gabriel continued. “You meet the other, and you get married and then you get your kingdom. […]
“So what really happens in Star Wars as a fairy tale? Luke meets his other. Strangely enough his other is his sister. So Luke is the soul, but his sister Leia is the spirit. She is really the part of him that he has to say “oh at first I thought you were sexually attractive, now I have to find you spiritually attractive, and we must work together to defeat evil and create a new kingdom”. And in fact they do. […]
“So there’s the soul, evolving with the spirit, looking for the fairy princess, looking for the beautiful lilly, as Goethe says, or looking for that other side of yourself, that spirit side. That’s Luke’s path.”
The Anthroposophical Influence
Dr. Gabriel was keen to state that the ideas he shared weren’t his own, “they’re the ideas of Dr. Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, Waldorf Education, and all the many things that he created,” he confirmed. “He’s the greatest genius of our time. […]
“I appreciate the fact that Marcia Griffin was a student of Rudolf Steiner’s, to some degree at least, from what I was told, and that she was very familiar with the concepts of Anthroposophy […]”
“So, you can really say that the spiritual concepts that Marcia Griffin brought into this script came directly from Anthroposophy. If you wanted to go any further with what a real Jedi warrior really is, you would study Anthroposophy, you’d study the work of Rudolf Steiner.”
Fleshing Out the Characters
The changes that Dr. Gabriel suggested affected the very heart of the story and involved all the main characters of the original saga: “some of those characters existed,” he clarified “but they didn’t fit in, and so [Lucas’] descriptions just make them go off a cliff. […]
“I would say that I was just a contributor, but I would like to say is that I helped create a framework for it, in my mind that’s what I say, because I see the picture I drew on the board […]
“I’d say, “it doesn’t fit, scratch the character. No, change that character. That evil character? that’s his dad now. And now Luke has a twin.” “Oh, so the twin here, goes to here, and this character goes to this character.” “Yes.” We have to make this hang together, it has to be tangible.”
“Luke needed to be a hero, and not a fighter, he needed to resist fighting, and he needed to resist the machines. He needed to resists power that would be offered to him […]
“[Lucas] called him Luke Starkiller. I was the first person to kill that idea. I said “you don’t want Starkiller, you want someone who is a sky dancer, or a sky walker, like the Tibetan tradition of the wind horse, or the Chinese tradition of the sun monkey king who was a sky walker, who could catapult across the sky infinitely fast, faster than the gods.””
“So, if a fairy tale starts off in a place away from space and time, then there’s a hero. Well the hero always has three challenges. Well the three challenges are really the three aspects of the soul, like Dorothy and the three characters in the Wizard of Oz. Those are parts of herself, and so Luke had three parts to himself, Chewbacca, the kind of lower animal’s instinctual astral body, Han Solo who was the thinker but also a liar, and then you have Obi-Wan Kenobi who was his teacher, the spiritual part of his soul. So there’s three parts to the soul, and those are really challenges.”
The three-fold human being, splitting a person into the sprit, the soul and the body, is an essential part of Anthroposophy. But this division goes further and, as Rudolf Steiner said in The Study of Man, “if you want to examine the human being effectively from any point of view you must return again and again to the separation of man’s soul activities into cognition (which takes place in thought), and into feeling and willing.” This belief was applied to story Dr. Gabriel and his colleagues were developing.
“How does Luke meet those challenges in his soul, of thinking, feeling, and willing?” he continued. “Well it had to be archetypal. So therefore the plot itself had to have the hero’s challenge between the left and right hand path of evil. […]
“Obi-Wan Kenobi dies and becomes a Force ghost. And so as a dead person he speaks to Luke. That’s what the spirit world is: it’s to speak to people across the threshold of death.”
Could Yoda have been influenced by Dr. Gabriel’s suggestions? He wasn’t sure, however, “there was an example that I gave, which I wonder if that didn’t turn into Yoda,” he explained. “the masters always stay hidden, they live alone, they only appear when they need to affect others, and they usually only have one or two students that they train. That’s an archetype that we see in many great spiritual masters, and I wonder if that didn’t affect the development of the character.”
This description actually applies to all three masters: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Emperor Palpatine.
Dr. Gabriel also had a hand in shaping the nemeses. “The character that I insisted on, was that the evil Emperor not be evil at first, that he turn evil, and that we see how he turns evil,” he revealed. “And that Darth Vader not be evil at first, we see how he turns evil. Why? Because that’s teaching everyone the path that you would go if you took the right or left hand path. We need to see that, we need to see the ultimate end of where that goes. And then we see the ultimate end of where Luke goes, which is resolution, and he and Leia save everything, and they go off to la-la land at the end of it, that’s what a fairy tale is supposed to be.”
When it comes to churches of Jedi cropping up, with followers (and others) dressing up, Dr. Gabriel was excited about the idea: “Those archetypes are real”, he insisted. “They’re in them. And when they put on the suit of Darth Vader, let them act that out. That’s what we do in Waldorf Schools: we put on plays, we do drama all the time. Why? Because once you’ve played the evil role, you don’t need to play it. You’ve seen what that is. Once you’ve played the really good role, you know where you’re going.”
An Elegant Weapon
Character development wasn’t the only thing Dr. Gabriel influenced. He also inspired the most iconic weapon of the Star Wars saga, the lightsaber. His reaction to reading that Jedi warriors carried guns was extreme: “no, no, no, no, no, no,” he exclaimed, “a Jedi warrior doesn’t have a gun, he has an aura. That aura takes anything shot at him and turns it equally back to the person it came from. […]
“It’s what the lightsaber was supposed to be. It’s supposed to be connected from the body. I described it as your electric spine and that electric force is the force that you have to develop, which then was turned into the midi-chlorine references, which in fact had to do with the Force. The Force is directly connected, according to Lucas, to midi-chlorian in your blood. This is the concept found in Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy called the Etherisation of the Blood which I said should be the main focus of how people attain becoming a Jedi warrior, which is to actually understand how to retain your breath through certain exercises and transmute elements so that then they become light. That’s what the lightsaber’s supposed to be. […] It is a shield that’s always in place, 360, completely around you, so that you cannot be harmed.”
Midi-Chlorians & the Etherisation of the Blood
Dr. Gabriel was very keen to explain that to him, the Force is a reality and that it can be developed by anyone, with practice. “And what do they get?” He revealed. “They get what Yoda got: long life, wisdom. What you saw in the first three movies was not a Yoda who was out swinging his lightsaber, he had the Force, he moved things around by the Force, he could change people’s minds, he could affect people’s minds. […]
“Is there such a thing as midi-chlorian? Well, as far as we know, no, but if you ask George Lucas, he says he was talking about prana, or life energy. I would say that you could take it a step further: there’s a substance called ormus that is found in every living thing. But when it’s super concentrated into human, it causes your brainwaves to cohere, and actually, the highest brainwaves, gamma waves, come into play, within seconds after taking this substance. So there are possibly substances that can be found that would link up with this concept”.
The Evil of Machines
We explored Steiner’s and Anthroposophists’ view on technology in a previous article, and Dr. Gabriel was as clear as all the other Athroposophists on the subject: “It is the question of our age, and robots and what we’ll do with robots has everything to do with moral development.
“If we follow the path of Darth Vader and machines, you see the right hand path of evil that leads to fear, death, destruction, obsession, manipulation of people, all the horrible things […]
“What is the Death Star? The Death Star is taking our star and making it mechanical. It’s what happens when the machines take over”.
The notion that machines can’t be fully trusted is further exemplified by Luke switching off his targeting computer during his last attack run on the Death Star, relying on the Force, to accomplish his goal, as advised by Kenobi, speaking to him from the spirit world.
The Paths of Evil
This negative view of technology is enshrined in the concept of the two paths of evil which Anthroposophists believe each and every one of us must face: “everyone in today’s world actually has two devils talking to them, one in the left ear, one in the right ear,” he explained.“We have to find the middle path and that’s not easy to do. So, that’s what it’s about. When do you know you’re on the middle path? When literally the Force comes up. […]
“You may not meet the evil Emperor, you may not meet Darth Vader, but they’re there, around you at all times. Everywhere you go, you’re being pulled away with media, with light, with what we call Lucifer, this being who wants to draw you out, keep you away from living in the Earth and loving other people. Then you have on the other hand, the right hand, the path of Darth Vader which wants to draw you down into control, power, dominance, militarism, violence, evil, fear, all of those things. That’s him. Well, we all have those two things happening in us at all times. […]
“Each and every one of us in today’s age, must face this being that I insisted would be called Ahriman, but […] they called him Darth Vader, which actually is a much better name.
“But there literally is evil in the world, and that evil is coming to us through machines, and we do need to learn what George Lucas has taught us: we have to look through the eyes of these machines and see where they’re going to go. And if we aren’t awake, he’s given us a picture that: cyborg wars, mixing humans and machines does not work. Cloning, it’s an evil. […]
“Our father in the modern age, are machines and robots and electricity and all the things machines do for us,” he continued. “We must understand our relationship to Darth Vader, and I insisted that he be half-machine half-human, and that he had to go through a path of initiation, […] through the other left-hand path of evil, which is Palpatine, […], who turns Darth Vader to the evil. Because the oldest evil in the world is the left-hand path, and that’s the path that pulls you out of your body, but every time it does, you have to pay for it. So when the evil Emperor uses the lightning from his fingers, what does he do? He grows older all the time. He pays for every bit of it. So what does he have to do? He has to convince others to enter into the machines, become the machines, and become what is called the will power.
“So over here you have thinking divorced of reality, the Emperor, and on the other side, you have will force, divorced of consciousness. So the two are actually working together, but they are working in opposite directions.
“Luke stands in the middle. So what we see is, Luke has the challenge. Will he go to being a Sith Lord who can actually have lightning coming out of his fingers, have all this incredible power to hold against your enemies, or will he go towards Darth Vader, the path of the machine, who is also his father?”
The ultimate end of our two antagonists was obvious to Dr. Gabriel: “The evil Emperor and Darth Vader must destroy each other. […] They’re giving up Luke to kill each other, because of their obsessiveness, because the left and right path don’t really work together, they work opposite, but at the same time they work off of each other. And so in the end, it’s Luke, the higher self, who then can accept both of them for what they are, not become either one of them, understand their genesis, their development, who they are, what they had to go through, which all of us have to go through, and then resolve.”
The Force Awakens
At the time of the interview, Dr. Gabriel hadn’t seen the latest installment of the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, yet his extrapolation, based on his beliefs, and the archetypes he had helped set up through this think tank, seem accurate nonetheless: “here’s what I hope happens: that Luke stays resolved as the Prodigal Son returned, and that there’d be a female force come forward because that is the force of today’s age: the way to combat Lucifer and Ahriman, the evil Emperor and Darth Vader, is to follow the path of Sophia, the path of wisdom, the path of the female trinity, the path of the soul becoming purified so that it can then commune with the spirit. That is what I hope these three new movies will point out.”
Star Wars wasn’t the only motion picture Dr. Gabriel influenced; he hinted at another major series of cinematic adventures: “I can say that not long after that, I spoke with Kathleen Kennedy and continued to speak with her for over a year about the movies Indiana Jones. […] It’s actually a more impressive story than this one, that’s for sure.”
The photos of Marcia Griffin and george Lucas were taken from The Secret History of Star Wars.
Update [5 April 2016]: Dr. Gabriel has published his memories of his involvement with Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist and the Indiana Jones franchise.