I recently returned to a book I first discovered earlier in the pandemic: The Power of Myth. It consists almost entirely of edited interview transcripts from a now classic, wide-ranging filmed conversation between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, which originally spanned over twenty hours of footage, but was later narrowed down to a handful of 60-minute episodes that aired on PBS in 1988.
You’ve probably heard of this interview as it went on to become one of the most watched series in public television history. Though it covers a dizzyingly diverse set of topics — from dragons, to Gaia, to religious fundamentalism — it attracted attention at the time in large part because George Lucas had previously admitted to referencing Campbell’s 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, to help write the script for Star Wars.
Accordingly, the bulk of the interview is conducted at Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, and Moyers and Campbell eventually come around to obligingly unpacking the role of the Hero’s Journey monomyth in explaining the resonance of Lucas’s 1977 blockbuster.
What caught my attention, however, was a brief aside about Star Wars that I don’t remember from the original PBS special. Near the end of interview, Moyers recalls:
“When I took our two sons to see Star Wars, they did the same thing the audience did at that moment when the voice of Ben Kenobi says to Skywalker in the climatic moment of the last fight, ‘Turn off your computer, turn off your machine and do it yourself, follow your feelings, trust your feelings.’ And when he did, he achieved success, and the audience broke out into applause.”
What interested me about this observation was not just that digital minimalists existed even in a galaxy far, far away, but that right here on our home planet, as earlier as the 1970s, we already sensed that there was something dehumanizing about the newly emerging industry of interactive digital technology.
We often need these tools, of course, to metaphorically blow up our Death Stars, but we applaud the loudest when it’s what makes us most human that triumphs in the end.