Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
One of the reasons why the mythologies of Greece, Rome, the Norse, and so on were so important was because they reflected the values and ideals of their respective cultures. The Greek way of life and their thinking on morality and spirituality can be found in their stories and tales. Mythology will always be a mirror of a culture’s identity and such things become enriched by the artists and thinkers of the time. Poets like Homer, Virgil, Hesiod, and John Milton will take their mythological and religious heritage from Europe and craft beautiful epics such as The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Metamorphoses, or even Paradise Lost and La Divina Commedia which used classical mythological imagery to weave grand spiritual stories.
And then we have painters like Botticelli who created the lovely Birth of Venus or Michelangelo who crafted many beautiful pieces of sculpture and painting that depicted images from Judaeo-Christian religion and Classical myth. The arts are a spawning ground for many creative minds to enrich their cultural heritage through music, painting, poems, and even films.
Through music Handel’s Messiah retold a longstanding spiritual message that was important to much of the religious life of Western Europe. Through poetry Ovid retold the many transformation myths of Greek and Roman mythology in his Metamorphoses.
Most cultures and nations have a strong, vivacious mythological background shaping the life and philosophy of its denizens and always the arts will revitalise it in new ways.
Sadly, however some culture’s lack a clear mythological background that distinguishes it from other cultures. England is one of these. Much of the myths stemming from natives of English soil were eradicated by invasions from intruding cultures such as the Romans and the French leaving England with some half-forgotten folk tales and Arthurian Legends which are honestly more French in origin than anything else. The mythology that lived in the native English people is now gone, forgotten, and lost. The great J. R. R. Tolkien was outspokenly upset about this and he initially contrived his Legendarium (which later evolved into the Silmarillion and its famous related stories such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) as a mythology for the English people.
Another culture that suffers from this lack is America. I am not referring to the Natives, of course, (who actually do have an enriched mythological background), but more specifically the American nation descended from colonists over two centuries ago and a host of immigrants from all over the world composing a melting pot of various types of people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The American ideals found in our government, constitution, etc. have no singular mythological root like the ideals and laws of the Greeks and the Romans. We have no natural mythology to represent us.
And that is where George Lucas comes in.
Like Tolkien’s Legendarium, Lucas’s Star Wars acts as a sort of adopted mythology to represent and reflect the ideals of its respective people. Star Wars is the American mythology: a sweeping series of epics and tales that embody our ideals of freedom vs. tyranny (Alliance vs. the Empire), diversity (alien species coexisting while facing prejudice from the human-centric Empire), and democracy (The New Republic). These all-American ideals can be found in Star Wars.
So what does this have to do with fan art?
Well, establishing that Star Wars can serve as a make-shift American mythology; like the Classical and Mediaeval Europeans Star Wars is subject to enrichment from artists and writers. Many fan artists have created many beautiful images of elements from Star Wars such as ships, characters, famous battles, the Jedi, and several other things. While I would not put them on the same pedestal as Botticelli or Raphael many of these artists have created work that are worthy visual representations of the Star Wars mythos. While I am yet to see any epic poems composed set in the Star Wars universe I am still waiting.
But these fan artists in the meantime really help Star Wars expand its fandom and shows a deep appreciation for it.
Fan art tends to get a poor reputation thanks to the unfortunate advent of creepy Rule 34 pornographic content such depictions of Leia in the slave outfit with a much too generous bust size, Twi’lek burlesque dances, or some very inappropriate and unspeakable images of Ahsoka Tano.
But putting those “artists” aside there is a whole community of painters, drawers, and CG designers who have made some really top notch stuff that makes Star Wars more alive; and if snobbier types could try to take a closer look and see how Star Wars is a reflection and representation of our American heritage perhaps they would scoff less.
Now I get not all fans of Star Wars are American, but not all readers of the Elder Edda are Norse either. And like the American ideals found in our Constitution and Bill of Rights Star Wars has made a point to speak for the human race as a whole. Appreciating Star Wars as a sort of adopted American myth opens a lot of doors for continued works of art, music, and literature. And if we can respect that as more than just a silly childish hobby, but rather serious creative output then all the better.