Comparative lit: Star Wars as Norse saga

Obivan. Oh, okay. Statue of Leif Eriksson, ReykjavikIn a galaxy far, far away, a young director created an epic that dominated the imaginations of generations. But what if Star Wars were based on earlier literary traditions? This week, I’m taking a look at the Tattúínárdøla saga: all six Lucas films as Old Norse saga.

I had been aware of the Tattúínárdøla saga and the Shakespearean script for a while, and accidentally started reading the saga after a second viewing of The Force Awakens. When I was rapidly pointed at the Irish retelling by the lovely Lynn, it was a given: I would have to read them all and discover what these reimaginings had to tell us (and will Han shoot first?).

The first thing I discovered is just how awesome the folk who took these projects on are. Both Jackson Crawford (The Tattúínárdøla Saga) and Tom O’Donnell (The Tattoine Cycle) took the academic approach: Crawford includes academic notes and discourse on sources in his introduction to the saga, and O’Donnell includes footnotes explaining the literary references in use. Honestly, I was dancing in my chair by this point, and that’s before I got reading the meat of the stories.

The Tattúínárdøla Saga

According to the introduction, the films take their lead from a late Middle High German manuscript that is considered corrupt; the text as pieced together by Crawford uses a number of older (and sometimes conflicting) Icelandic manuscripts, and an older German poem as a source for the ending.

This permits Crawford to change all sorts of detail to bring the tale in line with saga traditions (for which read make it more bloodthirsty and masculine), as well as to have cheerful side-swipes at broader issues within Star Wars fandom. Jar-Jar Binks and the pod-racing scenes are dismissed as late additions to that corrupt Middle High German epic, and an older tradition is used in which Jar-Jar is summarily killed by an angry young Anakin. The text also has a few things to say about whether Hani Solosson shot first 😉

The saga relates Episodes I – IV in detail, skips over Episode V almost entirely and then adjusts much of Episode VI (bearing in mind Lucas’s preference for a generally dismissed manuscript). It’s much concerned with fathers and sons – so no change there – and the question of oathbreaking vs vengeance. The droids – especially Artú Dítússon – and the technology obvious need a great deal of adaptation, some of which is inspired.

Sadly, the women in the saga are largely played down. While Paðéma and Leia do appear and retain some of their agency, Leia in particular has a much reduced role and I actually growled when Víga-Óbívan (who comes off worst out of this retelling – he’s an unpleasant Viking) dismissively relinquishes baby Leia to Irish king Beilorgana because she’s only a girl. For the purposes of vengeance, he is only interested in Lúkr. Overall, I think this tells us more about the Norse saga tradition than late 70s US culture, but it bears noting that it’s not hard to sideline or downplay – retelling The Force Awakens would be rather more challenging (although I’m sure there’s at least one Icelandic saga entirely about a woman; I may need to try and find it).

I thoroughly enjoyed this as a random distraction. It sort of makes me want to learn Old Norse, although having been to Iceland recently, I sort of did already.