Luke Skywalker or Lugh Samildánach?
Irish mythology has long influenced modern literature and media, times too numerous to count. From Tristan and Iseult inspiring Romeo and Juliet (which in turn became West Side Story) to mention of the banshee in Harry Potter to the influence of ancient Irish warriors on our conception of the American cowboy, Irish mythology has entered our collective conscious in a myriad of ways. But there’s one allusion so subtle that most people don’t see it at all, despite the fact that this series of films is one of the highest grossing of all time!
We’re talking, of course, about Star Wars! Combined, the 12 films have earned over $10 billion worldwide (not counting the TV specials and series, books, and merchandise!), all without people realizing that our original hero, Luke Skywalker, is actually a reincarnation of the Irish hero of myth and legend, Lugh Samildánach. Let’s explore the connections!
First, the names are pretty uncanny. Luke versus Lugh and Skywalker versus Samildánach—it’s hard to not see the parallel. Luke is said to mean “light-giving” (from the Greek,) while Lugh literally means “light” (from the Irish,) a complete match! While the “Skywalker” name seems self-explanatory, Star Wars lore gives a more complex explanation: it’s more than a last name, but a designation given to a Jedi warrior who can navigate with the force (aka Star Wars magic)—a highly specialized skill. Similarly, “Samildánach” is a title as much as a name as well--meaning polymath aka many-skilled, and many-skilled Lugh was (he was known to be a great musician, a healer, and craftsman, among other things.) The key here is both names grant the men a title that mark their skills!
Speaking of skills, next comes the resemblance of what can make or break any great, fictional warrior: their weapons and skillset. Both Luke and Lugh are known for their iconic weapons of choice: the lightsaber and the spear of Gorias, respectively. In Star Wars, lightsabers are essentially laser swords/spears that can cut through virtually anything, the use of which is greatly enhanced through skill with the force. The spear of Gorias is an invincible spear that represented fire/light (in some versions a sword, in some versions it can conjure a lightning bolt,) given to Lugh to help him defeat the Fomor in battle (like Luke’s lightsaber was given to him to defeat Vader, but more on that in a sec!) Additionally, both warriors are highly skilled in the magic of their mythologies, making them almost impossible to defeat.
And then, we have their origin stories: Luke Skywalker was raised by a foster family (that he thought, erroneously, were his aunt and uncle) to protect him from his (SPOILER!) father, the evil Darth Vader. Luke eventually goes on to defeat Vader in battle with his lightsaber. Lugh was also raised by foster parents, as a prophecy meant he had to be hidden away from his grandfather, the Fomor King Balor of the Evil Eye (Vader’s face isn’t looking all too good, either.) When Balor unjustly slew the Tuatha leader, Nuada of the Silver Hand, Lugh fulfilled the prophecy by killing his grandfather with a lightning bolt from his spear (though there’s many versions—even some with a slingshot.) Can’t be a coincidence!
Lastly, the governing philosophy of the Star Wars franchise mirrors Celtic mythology’s own main principles: duality and balance. Both collections of stories concentrate on good and bad, dark and light, birth and death, planting and harvest, and importance of keeping these things in harmony for the good of the universe. There’s no real moral ambiguity in any of these tales: there are good guys, and bad guys, and the good guys win (though, if either has a little more nuance it’s definitely Irish mythology—that was the basis of real, lived religion instead of a sci-fi/fantasy story, after all!)
Can you think of any Celtic tales that inspired modern media? Let us know in the comments below!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish mythology post, all about garden creature myths, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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