Far, Far Away: Nostalgia and the Arthurian Legend in The High Republic

Dr. Lauren

From the moment of its earliest inception, Star Wars has always relied heavily on nostalgia. The Original Trilogy is an homage to the sci-fi radio serials of the 1930s, the Sequel Trilogy mines the audiences’ love for the first three movies to drive its narrative, and more recently, appreciation for the much-maligned prequel trilogy stems heavily from now adult fans reflecting on their youth. Even The Mandalorian has used nostalgia to fuel its success, introducing fan favourites or hinting at possible storylines that come from Star Wars’ past greatest hits including the films and animated television shows.

(C) Lucasfilm

It should come as no surprise, then, that the newest installment of the Star Wars saga – The High Republic – should find its creative roots heavily steeped in nostalgia. During the Live Stream Launch Event, participating authors were asked where they found their inspiration for The High Republic’s massive trans-media storytelling initiative. Both Claudia Grey and Charles Soule mentioned the Arthurian legends while discussing their upcoming work. 

Stories about a great warrior named Arthur have existed since the seventh century, but King Arthur as he is known today – an icon of popular culture – is a result of nineteenth-century interest and twentieth-century adaptations. Yet the medieval Arthurian legend contain numerous connections to Star Wars and its stories, not least of which is its own reliance on nostalgia. It seems that The High Republic is inspired not by specific Arthurian narratives, but rather its form and themes. 

The High Republic is set 500 years before any Skywalker business and as such, it provides Star Warscreatives and readers an opportunity to explore a previously unseen era of Star Wars lore. According to Charles Soule, who wrote the first Del Rey novel, The Light of the Republic, the Arthurian legend provided two points of important inspiration for his conception of The High Republic, or, in his own words, “two Camelots” informed his creative process.

The first of these Camelots is, of course, the medieval idea of King Arthur and his knights. Soule mentions chivalry, its codes, and the optimism of the Arthurian court. While medieval Arthurian literature certainly views Arthur as an idealized king, in reality, the stories told about him depict a fallible leader whose relationships and personal decisions often lead to trouble for his kingdom. 

Arthurian literature exists in multiple narrative formats and was written in numerous languages, from Middle English to Old French, German, Italian, Hebrew, and more. This patchwork created not a single narrative, but rather an ever-changing story collection that was in a constant state of transformation and translation (not unlike a certain multi-billion-dollar franchise we all know and love!). 

The idea of Arthur as a peace-time king is born of stories that are set early in Arthur’s reign. Famously, Arthur pulls a sword from a stone (in actuality it was an anvil) and becomes the King of England. He then defeats invading Saxons and, depending on the story, also conquers numerous European countries, thus ushering in an age of peace that is forever threatened by outward enemies and courtly intrigue. 

The depiction of Camelot as a Golden Age was not new in the medieval period. Geoffrey Chaucer, writing in 1400, described “the old days of King Arthur” in The Canterbury Tales, as if Arthur and his knights had lived in ages past. Arthur was viewed by many medieval kings as emblematic of ideal kingship and, later, national pride, but it was not until the nineteenth century that he took his place as a pop culture icon.

In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, medieval literature, art, and architecture saw renewed interest amongst Victorian scholars and society. They saw Arthur and his Court as an idyllic representation of peace and good manners. The chivalry so famously displayed by Arthur and his knights was interpreted by nineteenth-century society as a codified guide to behaviour and gender. This is reflected in the Jedi Code, especially in the celibacy requirement (which goes poorly for Anakin, as it does for many of Arthur’s most famous knights like Lancelot and Gawain). 

More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that in the nineteenth century, Arthur become a popular character in books for children, which granted the already timeless king a particular type of immortality. He became a magical figure of a Golden Age rather than the complex political icon of the medieval period. In the twentieth century, Arthur’s popularity only grew, as did the numerous types of media dedicated to him and his court. 

Soule’s “second Camelot” refers to the administration of John F. Kennedy and what Soule describes as the feeling of “opportunity” inspired by the space race. It was Jacqueline Kennedy who famously said “there will never be another Camelot” in an interview following her husband’s assassination. The likely inspiration for Kennedy’s association with King Arthur came not from its medieval sources, but rather the Lerner and Loewe musical, Camelot, which was a massive hit in 1960 and a favourite of President Kennedy’s. 

According to a Life Magazine article published in honour of JFK, the deceased President’s favourite lyrics from the musical were “Don’t let it be forgot/that once there was a spot, /for one brief shining moment/that was known as Camelot.” This sense of nostalgia deeply impacted how the Kennedy administration and White House is viewed to this day. While the Kennedy marriage was far from idyllic, for an entire generation, JFK become emblematic of an idealized, simpler time. The physical attractiveness of the President and the First Lady, their young children, and the sense of a lost time of peace gave rise to the notion of a Golden Age lost.

According to the panel, The High Republic is a rare opportunity to see the galaxy during peacetime and to see the Jedi as who they claim to be: peacekeepers. This is contrary to the Jedi audiences have experienced previously who are either depicted enmeshed in a galactic civil war or appear as the final survivors of a lost religion. Just as Arthur and his knights were already figures of the past during even their earliest iterations, Star Wars famously sets itself “a long time ago.” To see a glimpse into the yet-to-be explored past, a past that uses the Arthurian legend as an inspiration, will offer a type of Star Wars story that will likely feel familiar and new all at the same time.

Of course, once one scratches the surface, all Golden Ages are tarnished. What makes The High Republic so fascinating then is the idea that it takes place in the Golden Age of Star Wars. As viewers, we have only seen the Star Wars universe in moments of great strife: the rise and fall of Sith lords, the rise and fall of the Empire, and the subsequent development of the First Order. What will it mean to see the galaxy during a time before these great threats? What does it mean that the creators of The High Republic are inspired by a mythology that views itself through the lens of nostalgia, acknowledging that while a Golden Age may exist, it must always end? After all, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without a bad feeling or two.

Dr. Lauren holds a PhD in Medieval Literature from the University of Edinburgh. She teaches literature and communications at various universities and colleges in the Greater Toronto Area. Her research focuses mainly on queer representation in popular media. Dr. Lauren loves Star Wars more than she loves most people and spends the majority of her time worrying about Ahsoka Tano’s general health and wellbeing.