When i’m first introduced to a new person, and we begin to have a casual conversation, one of the first ice breakers I normally ask is “What’s your favorite movie?” The question almost always helps me to understand the person better, as the movie they have chosen clearly resonates with them in some way. Whenever I ask this question I receive a variety of answers, everything from The Notebook to Saving Private Ryan. Two movies that are often absent from the list of answers are Citizen Kane and Star Wars. Citizen Kane is about the story of Charles Foster Kane, the millionaire newspaper tycoon. The film is held in such high regard because it is perfectly able to capture the “romantic and idealistic passion for power, style, impact, meaning, and success, everything a true American might desire — like Charles Foster Kane” (Castle 1). Star Wars takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The story arches two generations, the first three movies follow Anakin Skywalker and his fall to the dark side of the force. The last three movies follow Anakin’s son Luke as he tries to redeem his father. While these two movies are incredibly different, they do share a few similarities.
A stark difference between the two films is in their narrative structure. The way the story is told in both movies is very different. In Citizen Kane a reporter is trying to figure out why Kane’s dying words were “rosebud”. He tries to figure it out by interviewing people who were close to Kane. The story of Kane’s life is told by these people through a series of flashbacks. This is an interesting way to film a movie because the viewer hears about an event more than once, and the story changes a little bit depending on who’s telling it. This allows the audience to see multiple sides of Kane and have a deeper understanding of the character.
Star Wars narrative structure is quite different from Kane’s as Star Wars structure follows the story pattern of a myth. In 1949 Joseph Campbell came out with a book called The Hero With a Thousand Faces which looked at myths from all different cultures across all different times. Campbell noticed all the myths had an overhanging structure to them, he called this a monomyth.There are several stages that the main hero must go through to complete his journey. George Lucas, who was working on a childrens novel at the time, picked up the book and loved it. Lucas then found the inspiration to create his epic space adventure, Star Wars. Even though Lucas tells the same story as countless other myths, he has modernized it and made it prevalent for the modern generation. Lucas openly credits Campbell for having a great influence on the Star Wars saga (Chalakov 2).
One of the comparisons is that of Anakin’s and Kane’s character and personality. When both characters are young and up and coming they share similar views and ideas. Anakin, who at this point is training to become a Jedi knight, exemplifies and represents all that the Jedi order believe in. Anakin wants to use his powers to protect those who cant protect themselves. Kane has similar goals and ideals when he first takes over the Daily Inquirer going so far as to even create a declaration of principles that states “report the news honestly and will make the paper a champion of his readers’ rights as citizens and as human beings.” These are the goals of nobel, strong, young, and some might even say naive individuals.
Of course, these would not be very interesting movies if everything went according to plan. When Anakin’s mother is captured by sand people, barbarians from his home planet, he is forced to go and rescue her. He sneaks into the sand peoples camp, and once he find his mother shes incredibly weak. She dies in his arms, with her final words she talks about how proud she is of her son. Above all, a Jedi is never supposed to give into hate and anger, but Anakin does exactly that. He murders the entire village of sand people “I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They’re like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM!” Anakin no longer represents the codes of the Jedi order. David Begor from brightlightsfilms.com explains where Anakins is in Campbell’s story arch, “Anakin can clearly be seen at the ‘initiation’ stage of his heroic quest, the point of the mythic journey at which the moral certainties of youth crumble as the hero is forced to confront his own dark impulses” (Begor 3). This is the beginning of Anakin’s path to the dark side. He does not protect the weak anymore, he slaughters them.
Kane suffers a similar fate and becomes the exact thing he was trying to protect against. While Kane started out as a beacon of hope, he slowly but surely began to act like his rival newspapers. First by simply using yellow journalism, purposely sensationalizing the news to sell papers. Not to long after he started using his paper to sway public opinion to get the American people to support the Spanish-American war for the simple reason that Kane wanted the war. Later in his life Kane receives the declaration of principles he wrote back when he was a different man. Kane immediately takes the principles and burns them. Kane, just like Anakin, has become the exact thing he was trying to fight against.
Another distinction between the two films can be seen in their inherent ideology. The moral behind Star Wars is simple, one person truly can make a difference. It doesnt matter how small or simple that one person is, when extraordinary circumstances arise someone has to answer the call. In Campbells story arch the hero is supposed to come from humble beginnings and answer the call for a quest that is much larger than life. This is exactly the situation Luke was presented with, and he succeeds in going from a farmer to the first Jedi knight in over twenty years. Luke defeats the empire and redeems his father in the process, a task that was once considered impossible.
While the ideology of Star Wars is supportive the same can’t be said about Citizen Kane’s message. The overall message for Kane is a warning, money, power, and fame cannot give you happiness. This is clearly represented when the viewer sees Kane when he is an old man living like a hermit in his huge castle of a home Xanadu. Kane is surrounded by priceless art, and lives only the most lavish of an existence. He has everything, but his dying word “rosebud” is a reference to his sled he used to play with as a child. He prefered the simple and happy memories of his childhood to the power and wealth of his later years.
The ideology of the films continue to differ on the idea of male supremacy. Star Wars is all about female empowerment, while Citizen Kane stands behind male supremacy. In the beginning of Star Wars it appears as though the female lead, Princess Leia, is a damsel in distress that Luke has to rescue. While we get an idea of who Princess Leia is in a few scenes early on, the audience doesn’t really meet the character until the first scene where Luke and Leia meet. Luke walks into Leia’s holding cell dressed as an imperial stormtrooper, the very first thing Leia says to him is “Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?” She doesn’t give into her captors, she is brave enough to actually insult them. In the same scene Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and Leia are all trapped in a hallway with stormtroopers firing lasers at them. Luke and Han are returning fire, but don’t know how to get out of the situation. Leia immediately grabs the gun out of Luke’s hands and shoots a laser at a trash shot, creating a hole large enough for everyone to escape through. On top of that, Leia is the first of the characters to go into the trash shot. This is no damsel in distress. This is an intelligent and capable women who knows what she needs to do, and has the strength to go through with it.
Citizen Kane on the other hand seems to support the idea of male supremacy. Throughout the movie Kane is always dominating over his wife, especially so with his second wife Susan. Even when they first meet, he already has her bending to his will. Susan mentions that her mother wanted her to become an opera singer, immediately upon hearing this Kane has her sing to him even though she is not interested in doing so. This supremacy over her continues over the length of their entire marriage. Kane even uses his money to build Susan the Chicago opera house, so she can carry out her singing career which she was never that interested in to begin with. Susan’s voice is incredibly weak and she is meet with nothing but ridicule. Kane forces her to continue to work on her singing voice. It gets to the point where Kane has such an influence over her he forces her to keep practicing, even when she has lost all interest in continuing to sing. Susan can no longer make a decision, Kane makes the decision and she simply follows.
While these two movies share a few similarities they are still starkly different. The biggest similarity between the two films is Kane and Anakin’s personality, they start out as pure individuals, but are both drawn to power and corruption. However these films differ strongly in both ideology and the way the story is presented. Star Wars presents a positive ideology that one person can really make a difference and the film also supports women’s empowerment. Citizen Kane on the other hand presents the moral lesson that money and power can’t buy happiness, the movie also seems to support male supremacy. These two movies, while being different, support two very powerful lessons that a lot of people could learn from.
Chalakov, Nikola. “The Hero With a Thousand Faces in Contemporary Fiction.” NBU.com. N.p., 12 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.
Begor, David. “Attack of the Clones.” BLFJ. Bright Lights Film
Journal, Nov. 2002. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.
Castle, Robert. “Citizen Kane.” BLFJ. Bright Lights Film Journal, Aug. 2004. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.