THE ODYSSEY OF STAR WARS - By Jack Mitchell. Reviewed by John Klassen
Jack Mitchell (1977-) was born in Sackville, NB and grew up in Ottawa. He holds a Ph.D in Classics from Stanford University and now works as an Associate Professor of Classics at Dalhousie.
Mitchell is a prolific writer and performer. Prior to his Star Wars epic, he wrote an historical poem about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, and performed the poem in cross-Canada tours in 2000 and 2005. He is also the author of three Young Adult novels set during the decline of the Roman Republic, and a book of Aphorisms, entitled D, focused on art, character, friendship, divinity, and politics. His writings also include essays, poems, and academic articles.The Odyssey of Star Wars is Mitchell’s latest, and as he describes it “most ambitious” literary project.
The Odyssey of Star Wars
This epic poem is not a retelling of The Odyssey, nor is it just another packaging of the Star Wars story. The “Odyssey” parallel lies partly in the overall structure: both are about a longing for home, a dangerous quest that takes years through many different and fantastic places, formidable forces of opposition, monstrous monsters to overcome, death possible at every corner, great battle scenes, the deaths of companions. Another parallel is the attributes associated with Odysseus but here exhibited variously by the three main characters of Leia, Luke, Han: courage, wiliness, determination, fortitude, planning, martial skills.
I don’t know when anyone last wrote and published an epic poem, but The Odyssey of Star Wars is a singular achievement. It provides a greater knowing, and appreciation, of the Star Wars story. Drawing on his skills as a poet, and training as a classicist, Mitchell has expanded and deepened the moral themes of the story, along with the depth of the characters and their actions. This modern epic, though set in a far distant future, is part of a continuum of ancient tales, fables and myths that stretches back thousands of years. The themes and structures of Homer and Virgil are evident, but I also hear echoes of Gilgamesh, Oedipus, Herodotus, Beowulf. Mitchell firmly shows the power of epic poetry that is a pleasure to read in bringing to life a rich and complex story with detailed descriptions and actions.
All of this is accomplished through Mitchell’s strong writing. He connects to the ancient world, not just through the structures and rhythms of epic poetry, but through imaginative similes and metaphors that use natural events and images common across the eons. His descriptions of places, events, and actions are immediate and colourful, often better than the movie scene.
Two overarching themes weave through Mitchell’s epic, referenced many times by various characters. One is the interconnectedness of all living things: a sense of fate expressed through individual lives and larger social and historical movements. Another is the tension of the dichotomy of evil and good that exists in everyone even, and especially, in Darth Vader.
Each chapter begins with an “Invocation” that functions as a sort of Greek chorus. They evolve in their focus as the story progresses. Reading through them as a piece presents a guide for the story and the themes Mitchell explores and develops: good, evil, truth, justice, courage, wiles, forbearance, love, friendship, perseverance, time, sacrifice, fate, the levelling effects of hubris.
A word on the production and presentation of this book. The binding is strong and conveys a sense of substance; you don’t see hard-cardboard covers much any more. There are sidebars throughout the text that serve as useful signposts for those of us not as familiar with the plots of the movies. The lines are numbered as one would see in a translation of, for instance, Homer. These are helpful references for readers who like to make notes on the text.
In the end, I can easily imagine a wandering minstrel in a Star Wars future singing Mitchell’s poem of the Force and the foundation stories of Han, Luke, Leia, Vader, etc, etc.
But we can enjoy it today.
Tags: John Klassen