Jack Mitchell figures he was about three years old the first time he watched Star Wars. By the time he was old enough to warrant owning a lunch box—around age six—it had to be a Return of The Jedi number. Before age 10, he saw the original trilogy on the big screen. “That's when I realized how deeply they were part of my imagination,” he tells me, speaking by phone. Like most kids of his generation, he was obsessed. “But you kinda took it for granted that everybody's able to quote the original trilogy,” he adds.
In terms of both biography and source material, his book The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem—which makes perfect Star Wars Day reading, and incidentally is on sale May the 4th—feels predestined, something Luke Skywalker would find relatable. Mitchell’s background as a trained Homerist (he teaches classics at Dalhousie University) dovetailed with his love of George Lucas’s opus. If you feel like this is such a stretch it just might snap, now’s the time to remind you that both Lucas and Homer were telling stories of a brave soldier in the face of a world-altering battle.
“In some ways, everybody kinda writes their own sort of personal Star Wars,” Mitchell begins. “I think my personal Star Wars plays up the grand, epic saga elements of it, and the sort of cosmic resonance of the individual Skywalker story—the story of Anakin. Nietzsche has this line where he says poets treat their experiences shamelessly, because they exploit them for material. I think I was definitely drawn towards those parts of Star Wars which are the most Homeric or Virgilian.”
When Michell’s own child was old enough to choose a lunch box, his classmates were all talking about Star Wars, a full two generations later. Though Mitchell thought the movie mightn’t be age appropriate (thanks to scenes like “the smoking skeletons of Luke’s aunt and uncle”) he did read a version of the stories aloud at bedtime. “And in reading this book over and over and over again to him, I realized…this was good material for epic poetry. I was looking for a good subject for an epic poem that would resonate widely. And I thought: Well, let’s give it a shot,” Mitchell says. “Next thing I knew, I had the first film done.”
He rounded out the trilogy for his book. “I haven't parodied The Odyssey. I’ve done the Star Wars story, as it would have been done by Homer and the Homeric poets, if they had known the story,” Mitchell adds. “If they had had VHS,” I say. “Exactly! VHS of the Bronze Age,” he laughs.