Could Star Wars be Based on Vedic Literature?
By: Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News
A book by scholar and popular ISKCON author Satyaraja Dasa (Steven J. Rosen) investigates the connection between two unlikely bedfellows—Star Wars and the Hindu Tradition. Or, perhaps more accurately, Star Wars and the family of religious traditions often termed “Hindu,” such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism.
You might be doing a double-take right now. Wait—you mean, Star Wars, the phenomenally popular series of fictitious sci-fi films, created purely as entertainment? And Hinduism, an ancient spiritual tradition meant for developing love of God and freeing oneself from this material world?
Do not adjust your computer screens. Not having been a fan of the film series, Satyaraja Dasa, author of The Jedi in the Lotus: Star Wars and the Hindu Tradition, wasn’t overtly aware of the connection either. That is until Rajiv Malhotra, leader of the Hindu organization the Infinity Foundation, contacted him in 2000.
Malhotra was familiar with Satyaraja’s many pevious books on the subject of “Hinudism” and his reputation as a scholar of the tradition. So he approached him to document the many similarities between Star Wars and Hinduism that Hindus everywhere had reportedly pointed out.
Satyaraja agreed. “I did, however, explain to him that I would have to point out at the beginning of the book that the word ‘Hindusim’ is a misnomer,” he says. “I said I’d be happy to subtitle the book ‘Star Wars and the Hindu Tradition’ to attract the interest of the Hindu community. But my interest was to show how Star Wars reflects Sanatan Dharma, the eternal function of the soul described in Vaishnavism, rather than the so-called sectarian Hindu tradition which came later.”
As was his style, Satyaraja threw himself into the work, watching all six Star Wars movies one after the other, and reading every book about the series. Soon, he too noticed many parallels between Star Wars and the Vedic tradition, and became inspired.
“It was exciting that, although there were books on Star Wars from Christian, Buddhist, and Daoist points of view, no one had yet written a book on the series’ obvious parallels with the Hindu tradition,” he says.
Satyaraja explains that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was friends with and heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist, and even said, “There’d be no Star Wars without him.” Campbell’s “preferred stock of myths,” as he called them, included the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, ancient Vedic histories about God’s avatars written thousands of years ago.
Although he never specifically mentioned these books, George Lucas did say in interviews that he had “drawn from ‘Hindu mythology.’” And following the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977, he stated that its story was shaped, in part, by ideas described in Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which the main examples of the “monomyth”—a kind of archetypal hero story—are given from the stories of ancient India.
In The Jedi in the Lotus, released this October, Satyaraja shows that this influence yielded in Star Wars many startling parallels with the Vedic epics. For instance, he compares the plot of the original Star Wars trilogy to the plot of the Ramayana.
In Star Wars, Princess Leia is kidnapped and held against her will by an evil Warlord, Darth Vader. Her desperate cry for help is delivered by a mysterious non-human entity—the android R2-D2—to the youthful hero Luke Skywalker. The hero then comes to the princess’s rescue, aided by a devoted and noble creature that is half-man and half-animal, Chewbacca.
By the end of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, Luke, aided by the mystical Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and leading legions of anthropomorphic bear soldiers, wages a huge war. Darth Vader and his evil empire are defeated, the princess is returned to safety, and peace and righteousness return.
By comparison, in the Ramayana, Princess Sita is also kidnapped and held against her will by the demon Ravana. Her cry for help is delivered by a mysterious non-human entity—the talking vulture Jatayu—to the youthful hero Lord Rama. Rama then comes to his wife’s rescue, aided by a devoted and noble creature that is half-man and half-animal, the monkey god Hanuman.
Rama also wages a war to get Sita back, leading an army of Vanaras (bears and monkeys who have anthropomorphic characteristics), and finally rescues her from Ravana. The forces of the underworld defeated, Rama-raja (the kingdom of truth and righteousness) reigns supreme.
Satyaraja says that George Lucas didn’t exactly deny all these similarities, but was very guarded about his influences, saying enigmatically, “I’m telling an old myth in a new way.”
There are also other parallels between Star Wars and the Vedic tradition. The relationship between Yoda and Luke is similar to the traditional guru/disciple relationship, and Satyaraja says that the instructions Yoda gives are “almost verbatim” from the Bhagavad-gita, the ancient spiritual manual spoken by Lord Krishna to Arjuna.
“Yoda teaches Luke self-control, and the importance of restraining the senses,” he explains. “Every Jedi, he says, must overcome desire and anger. Similarly, in the Bhagavad-gita, it is written, “By the time death arrives, one must be able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and overcome the force of desire and anger. If one does so, he will be well situated and able to leave his body without regret.”