The Lion Wars
Or: "Use the Force, Simba"

by Edgar Governo

Having seen The Lion King more times than I care to count, and already being quite familiar with the Original Star Wars Trilogy, it began to occur to me that these two film classics share a rather large number of similarities...

I couldn't just let go of these comparisons (both large and small), even after letting them rest for a time, so I thought I'd outline them for you, in the order that one encounters them in The Lion King. With very few exceptions, it's almost eerie how the inhabitants of the Pride Lands line up with those of a galaxy far, far away.

Of course, the reason these inhabitants line up as they do is because of archetypes, character models that are followed in both stories. Those familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell in the field of mythology will already know something about these, but--while he is often named in connection to Star Wars--the presence of these archetypes in The Lion King might not be as obvious, so here is a list of the archetypes I used, along with their embodiments in each story:

Archetype The Lion King Star Wars
The Hero
The Mentor
The Evil Ruler
The Female Warrior
The Wise Trickster
The Travellers
The Servant(s)
The Minions
Timon and Pumbaa
Luke Skywalker
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Darth Vader
Princess Leia
Han Solo and Chewbacca
C-3PO and R2-D2

If you find any additional parallels which I haven't listed here, feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

Without further ado, then, behold how the journey of young Simba is ultimately the same as that of young Luke Skywalker...

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  • The first principal character we see onscreen is a fastidious, somewhat cowardly supporting player with a British accent, who has been the servant of royalty for at least two generations.

  • James Earl Jones has a central role, but only his voice is used.

  • An evil ruler has a long-standing rivalry with a mentor figure, which began long before the events of the film(s) or the birth of our hero.

  • The Evil Ruler feels that the Mentor has kept him from what is rightfully his.

  • The Mentor endeavours to teach the Hero that his only true power comes from fully understanding the balance of life in the world around him.

  • The Hero, although destined for greatness, starts out feeling like he never gets to go anywhere.

  • The Hero is friends with, and romantically connected to, a female warrior of his own kind who is actually related to him. (Do the math, people...did you think Scar was Nala's father?)

  • The Hero makes it known to the Servant how eager he is to meet his destiny.

  • Fuzziness is ascribed to someone in a derogatory manner.

  • After venturing into a dark and dingy place, inhabited by creatures previously described as being unworthy of respect, the Hero has to be saved from danger by the Mentor's quick intervention.

  • The Mentor assures the Hero that there will always be a guiding element there for him, at least in spirit.

  • The Evil Ruler has an army of virtually identical minions, only a few of whom are given names or lines of dialogue.

  • The imagery we see of this army, especially when they are goosestepping, is meant to evoke archival footage of Nazi Germany.

  • The Evil Ruler kills the Mentor in a final confrontation between the two, and the Hero, though powerless to stop it, blames himself for what happened.

  • The Hero is hardly even given a chance to grieve before having to flee a renewed threat from the Evil Ruler's minions.

  • Seemingly left without a family, the Hero leaves home and encounters an opinionated traveller and his large, hairy companion, who operate under a completely different philosophy from what he was taught.

  • With the Evil Ruler and his army victorious, the Hero joins up with the Travellers as his new surrogate family, and stays with them for years.

  • Having promised great glory, the Evil Ruler has only caused an upset in the balance of life where he rules, and his realm is now dominated by a homogeneous population.

  • While staying in a forest far from his original home, the Hero needs to have a private conversation about heredity with the Female Warrior.

  • The opinionated traveller takes personal offence to their having a discussion without him around, convinced that this means they will end up together and leave him behind.

  • In this discussion, the Hero and the Female Warrior talk about inherited power and responsibility, but the Female Warrior has trouble understanding the Hero's choices, in light of where she feels he is most needed.

  • Going off on his own again, the Hero encounters a diminutive (but wise) trickster with a walking stick, who speaks improper English and is indirect, at best, in revealing who he is and what he knows to the Hero.

  • The Wise Trickster, who had also served as a teacher to the Hero's father and Mentor, leads the Hero deep into the jungle so he can confront the image of his father there.

  • The Wise Trickster tries to convey to the Hero that, in some ways, he and his father are the same person.

  • The ghost of the Mentor appears to dispense new wisdom to the Hero, pointing out both the folly of his ways and the true destiny that awaits him.

  • After listening to the advice of both the Mentor's ghost and the Wise Trickster, the Hero feels he knows what he has to do--return to confront the Evil Ruler, even if that means leaving behind his friends and facing his past demons.

  • Though the Hero begins to feel he is alone in the fight for good, he is reunited with his friends, who continue to stand by him in the face of danger.

  • As our group of heroes infiltrates a den of evil, the large, hairy traveller is offered up to its denizens as part of a ruse.

  • When the Hero finally challenges the Evil Ruler, he offers a peaceful resolution to their conflict, preferring not to fight him directly, but the Evil Ruler feels there is no other choice in the matter.

  • In the course of this confrontation, the Hero reveals a secret he would've rather kept to himself.

  • The actual fight between the Evil Ruler and the Hero mirrors the one between the Evil Ruler and the Mentor, but the Hero's ferocity and sense of righteousness allow him to prevail where the Mentor did not.

  • As the Hero and the Evil Ruler continue their fight, those aligned with the Hero (including the Female Warrior, the Travellers, and even the Servant) also fight against the minions aligned with the Evil Ruler in a parallel battle.

  • The Evil Ruler ultimately dies and is consumed by fire, with those on the side of nature winning out and the balance of life restored again as it is meant to be.

  • With the battles ended, the Hero is again reunited with his allies and friends; the Travellers join up with him once more, and he even has a chance to embrace the Female Warrior.

  • Although this victory is bittersweet, it allows the Hero to finally fulfill his destiny, as the Wise Trickster and the Mentor's ghost watch on approvingly.

  • The story ends with a musical celebration of life and love, including a group shot of our protagonists--Hero, Female Warrior, Travellers, and Servant--standing together in harmony.

    ...and finally:

  • A Special Edition of the story was released, on the anniversary of the original, which included new or altered footage, and even a new song that hadn't been there before.

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    These aren't perfectly parallel tracks, as you can see--Scar isn't really Simba's father, for example, and it's not as if Luke and Leia end up together at the end of Return of the Jedi. (Ick.) Not only that, but sometimes a positive moment in The Lion King has a completely different connotation compared to its counterpart in, say, The Empire Strikes Back.

    Nevertheless, one has to marvel at all of the points where these stories meet up, especially since this doesn't seem to have happened deliberately...but then, you never know.

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