So said mythologist Joseph Campbell in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living, a collection of the famed professor’s favorite sayings and reflections on modern mythical storytelling. To fans of Star Wars, that passage might recall a certain cave that Rey wanders into in The Last Jedi, convinced her past holds the secret to her power, and terrified that it does not.
Star Wars has operated in concert with Campbell’s work since the days of George Lucas and Luke Skywalker and The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It’s baked into the archetypal hero’s journey of Rey in the sequel trilogy, and one key moment in the trailer for the ninth and final movie in the saga, The Rise of Skywalker, shows the continuation of Rey’s transition from desert-dwelling nobody to the hero of her generation.
The teaser opens with a shot of Rey, panting and pumped with adrenaline, running from a red-faced TIE fighter on an unnamed desert planet. As the fighter, likely piloted by the villainous Kylo Ren, barrels towards her, Rey leaps into the air and elegantly flips over the ship, avoiding collision. The moment is a beautiful offering of the Force power she’s learned to wield since her clumsier handling of a lightsaber in The Force Awakens, evidence of her growing mastery. But it also recalls the familiar imagery of Minoan bull-dancing, an ancient ritual sport and a famous motif in art from the Middle Bronze Age. The symbology of bull-leaping is also recalled in Joseph Campbell’s Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine.
Twitter user @ashesforfoxes first noted the parallel’s between Rey’s transfixing air dance and bull-leaping as it appears in ancient art, like the fresco painted onto the Palace of Knossos in Crete, Greece.
I took one art history class in college so I’m not the best to speak to this but while reading Joseph Campbell’s Goddesses on the flight home I was reintroduced to the symbolism of Minoan bull dancing that spoke to me then. And now. pic.twitter.com/USJ7vjtQUA
— nat is drowning in validation (@ashesforfoxes) April 17, 2019
Campbell has spoken and written at length about the figure of the bull. In the below video, he discusses the myth of bullfighting as a representation of the sun, moon, serpent, and bull. “Just look at a bullfight,” he says. “The bullfighter is wearing a brilliant, shining garment. He is the solar power and and the bull is the moon power.” Rey, in her shiny outfit, is the sun (the name Rey even evokes a sun-like “ray”), and Kylo, in his black-horned ship, is the moon and bull. In the same video, Campbell also recalls the story of a priestess kissing a serpent, and how it invokes the same symbology as a bullfight: “It’s very much like the bullfighter going over the horns of the bull. You sacrifice the bull so that there should be a new period. The past must be killed so that there can be future. This is the bull’s sacrifice.”
In Minoan culture, and in all forms of bull-leaping, the bull is not sacrificed or even harmed at all, but the shot of Rey leaping over Kylo’s bull-like TIE fighter recalls both sports in its own way. Campbell’s phrase, “the past must be killed,” sounds remarkably like the line Kylo says to Rey in The Last Jedi: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” Could Kylo be the past Rey must kill to continue the Skywalker legacy unburdened?
That’s a lot to infer from a minute-long clip in a trailer, but Campbell imagery is already so embedded in Rey’s storyline that it’s easy to get carried away with theories about where her story could go next.
Directors taking imagery straight from Joseph Campbell books: more likely than you think (please continue I’m dying to hear) pic.twitter.com/VgwXQqN5Qs
— corseque (@northgalis) April 17, 2019
There are so many paragraphs from Campbell’s writings that could be applied to the relationship of Rey and Kylo, and the Skywalker saga at large. This excerpt from Goddesses, for example, speaks to the state of the galaxy post-The Last Jedi:
I have read somewhere of an old Chinese curse: “May you be born in an interesting time!” This is a very interesting time: there are no models for anything that is going on. Everything is changing, even the law of the masculine jungle. It is a period of free fall into the future, and each has to make his or her own way. The old models are not working; the new have not yet appeared. In fact, it is we who are even now shaping the new in the shaping of our interesting lives. And that is the whole sense (in mythological terms) of the present challenge: we are the “ancestors” of an age to come, the unwitting generators of its supporting myths, the mythic models that will inspire its lives.
As Luke says in the voiceover for The Rise of Skywalker trailer, “a thousand generations live in you now.” This is the new, “interesting time,” and he could be talking to Rey or Kylo, both carriers of the Skywalker myth, both the yin and yang of the Force in this new generation. The bullfighter and the bull. The sun and the moon.
Images: Disney, Lucasfilm