How is ‘Harry Potter’ like ‘Star Wars?’
Aside from being extremely popular and wildly profitable, Harry Potter and Star Wars have a lot in common. From their characters and themes to their histories and even specific scenes, the multi-billion-dollar franchises contain as many similarities as they do differences.
Harry Potter first came on the scene in 1997 in the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a story about a boy who discovers that he’s a wizard. The book quickly became a series, which spanned seven books in all that were ultimately turned into eight films and further adapted into three spin-off films, video games, and an award-winning play. So far, the franchise has made over $32 billion, making it the 10th highest-grossing media franchise of all time.
Star Wars, on the other hand, began its life as a film, now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which was first released in 1977. Since then, there have been more than 10 films, multiple television series, and several book series. The real money maker for the Star Wars franchise is its merchandising, which has earned more than half of its total sales. The Star Wars franchise has made $69 billion thus far, making it the fifth highest-grossing franchise of all time.
The Star Wars series is a sci-fi epic that recounts the adventures of people called Jedi, who wield lightsabers and influence a mysterious power called the Force. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is a fantasy series that takes place on Earth and involves an entire spectrum of magical creatures including hippogriffs, basilisks, phoenixes, and dragons. As different as they might seem on the surface, both series deal with similar themes and ideas. Let’s take a look at some of their biggest commonalities.
Harry Potter takes place in a fantasy world filled with magic, where spells and magical creatures are as commonplace as flying brooms and glasses of Butterbeer that refill themselves. Star Wars is a science fiction world also filled with creatures that some may consider magical, but the main comparison comes down to the Force. In Star Wars, certain characters can feel the Force and use it to do extraordinary things like moving things with a flick of their hand or making individuals more agreeable to deception with a wave. In Harry Potter, a witch or wizard may use spells like Wingardium Leviosa to lift objects from across the room or Confundo to trick people into being particularly impressionable.
These powers allow their wielders to accomplish great feats outside of the realm of everyday human experience, making the characters as powerful as they are potentially dangerous. These superhuman abilities ultimately help decide which side will win a war and whether or not characters can get themselves out of sticky situations. Like everyone’s favorite neighborhood Spider-Man knows, with great power comes great responsibility, and the characters in both Star Wars and Harry Potter quickly learn that just because they have special abilities doesn’t mean they’re going to make life any easier. As fun as power can be, in the wrong hands, it can make life spectacularly complicated.
Good vs. evil
Not only are both franchises stories about good and evil, but they also contain similar structures that embody those themes. For example, Star Wars centers around the ongoing war between the Jedi and the Sith. The Sith dress up in black and use the Force for evil to control the world. The Death Eaters in Harry Potter are also dressed in black and use magic for evil. The Order of the Phoenix, while not a one-for-one, is similar to the Jedi Order ⏤ a group of people who come together and battle those who would use their magic for evil. Harry and his friends mirror this at Hogwarts with the creation of Dumbledore’s Army. Both franchises also call their antagonists by titles, for example, Star Wars has Emperor Palpatine and Lord Vader while Harry Potter has Lord Voldemort.
As with any epic saga, these stories would be nothing without the dramatic stakes that pit the forces of good and evil against each other. While it might have been enjoyable to witness Harry learn the ins and outs of wizard life without the threat of a power-hungry maniac always looming over him, the raised stakes made us worry about him and also root for him when he was able to use his newfound knowledge to thwart his enemies. Similarly, Star Wars wouldn’t be half as epic if the Sith weren’t so sinister that the Jedi had to step in to stop them from taking over the galaxy. It’s right there in the title. Without a war, the story wouldn’t be as interesting, and the lessons the characters learn about stepping out of the darkness and into the light are what give viewers valuable life lessons about vanquishing the evils that exist in our everyday lives.
In Star Wars, fallen Jedi like Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi may appear as Force ghosts. They are blue apparitions who appear to other Jedi in their time of need. Harry Potter has something like this where fallen witches and wizards (and the occasional Muggle) appear as blue apparitions, usually to Harry himself. For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, before Harry sacrifices himself in the Forbidden Forest, he twirls the Resurrection Stone and is met by James and Lily Potter, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black. There are also the ghosts that roam Hogwarts castle, most notably Nearly Headless Nick. These ghosts serve little purpose in the series other than hiding the occasional Horcrux or providing some comic relief. One of the better parallels between the two is Yoda’s comedic appearance in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, when he cackles like a madman and blows up an ancient Jedi site with his mystical Force powers.
In fact, a scene in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is quite similar to a scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In The Rise of Skywalker, Rey uses her lightsabers against the Emperor and multiple Force ghosts appear to encourage her to keep fighting. In The Goblet of Fire, when Harry is fighting Voldemort in the graveyard, their wands activate a blue wall of magic that casts out people who have died by Voldemort’s wand, including Harry’s parents and Cedric Diggory. The two scenes have quite a similar look and feel to them. Blue seems to be the color that both franchises use when dealing with apparitions, all of whom return for a specific reason and act as valuable voices of reason for the central characters in their respective franchises.
The wise old mage
Harry Potter is loosely guided throughout the series by the Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. The old wizard keeps his distance from Harry but offers sage advice in times of need. He also appears in the Fantastic Beasts prequel film series and is one of the only characters so far to do so. In Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Luke gets trained by the old Jedi Master, Yoda. Yoda, learned in the ways of the Force, teaches Luke the ancient Jedi ways before he dies. Being of an ancient age, Yoda appears in the Star Wars prequels as well. There are also other older Jedi Masters in the prequels, but Yoda is a standout throughout the entire series, especially since he has appeared in each trilogy.
Of course, the theme of guidance is ever-present in both Harry Potter and Star Wars, not just in Yoda and Dumbledore. In Harry Potter, Harry often has an older figure that guides him while he learns how to navigate life without his parents. These examples are Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and Minerva McGonagall. In Star Wars, any Jedi Master can be seen as this figure for one or more characters. In the prequels, Qui-Gon is Obi-Wan’s mentor and Obi-Wan is Anakin’s. Obi-Wan is then that for Luke in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and in the sequels, Luke takes that spot for Rey and to an extent Kylo Ren. These wise figures pass on valuable life lessons to their respective apprentices, without which the characters would not learn what they need to know in order to realize their destinies.
A United Kingdom
Both Star Wars and Harry Potter are filled with British actors, which makes sense for Harry Potter in particular. The franchise is set in the U.K. and J.K. Rowling wanted the cast to reflect that, choosing not to cast any Americans in any of the roles. Star Wars is a little more peculiar. After all, Luke, Leia, and Han were all played by Americans, but Vader, the Emperor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Grand Admiral Tarkin were all played by British actors.
Most of the newer films were filmed in the U.K. as well, so that might be why those films seem to have a higher population of British actors in them. You would think there would be more than just a couple of accents in space. To be fair, Star Wars does have a mix of accents, and if you look at the prequels some might say, somewhat rightly, that changing accents might have been a mistake. We’re looking at you, Jar Jar, and you too, Nute Gunray.
Tools of the trade
Both franchises have a tool that aids the good side as well as the bad. In Star Wars, both the Jedi and the Sith use a lightsaber, not only to defeat their enemies or defend themselves, but also as a tool to cut through things. In Harry Potter, the world is filled with witches and wizards who use wands. They also use it to fight or to defend themselves, but they mostly use it as a tool. Spells such as Reparo, which fixes things, or Diffendo, which cuts things not unlike a lightsaber. Both worlds also have a method of retrieval for their equipment. Using magic, a witch or wizard can use the spell Accio to summon their (or an opponent’s) wand and a Jedi can use the Force to bring their lightsaber to them.
Both tools also share something else in common. For Harry Potter, a witch or wizard must go to their local wand store to purchase a wand. Once there, the wands each vary and are all unique from each other. Each wand has to have a core coming from another magical property, such as a phoenix feather in the case of Harry’s wand, and the wood for each wand comes from one of many different trees. The wands are so unique that they bond to their owners and are usually buried with them or burnt upon death. Lightsabers, on the other hand, come from kyber crystals (or synthetic crystals, made up of other things) of which there is an abundance on the planet Ilum, the planet that was later turned into the Starkiller base. The Jedi lightsabers are different colors and depending on the era are either tied to the role of the Jedi wielding it or chosen to match the preferences of that Jedi. They mostly come in blue, green, orange, purple, and yellow. The Sith build their lightsabers with their own crystals, channeling their own Force into them and thus making them more powerful. Sith lightsabers are red, especially in modern periods.
In addition to their uniqueness, each franchise’s tool is completely one-of-a-kind and passed down to others upon that character’s death. In Harry Potter, it is the Elder Wand, a wand from The Tale of The Three Brothers, which was forged by Death itself. The wand fell from Grindelwald to Dumbledore, then to Draco Malfoy for a time until he was disarmed by Harry Potter who, once Voldermort was defeated, snapped the wand in half. The Star Wars equivalent is more shrouded in mystery. The Darksaber was once stolen from the Jedi temple after being manufactured by a Mandalorian Jedi. The tool fell throughout history between the Mandalorians and legend said that once a Mandalorian wielded the weapon, they were capable of ruling all of Mandalore. The Darksaber has been more popular lately, as it made its live-action debut in The Mandalorian.
A hero’s journey
Both franchises feature protagonists who start from nothing and go on to become some of the most powerful people in their respective universes. Harry Potter started as an orphan living in a cupboard under his abusive aunt and uncle’s stairs. Luke Skywalker was also living with his aunt and uncle, who were moisture farmers. Luke wanted to leave his life on Tatooine to become a rebel pilot and ended up becoming a Jedi. Harry, on the other hand, left the cupboard to go to school at Hogwarts and ended up becoming a great and powerful wizard.
Each hero also ends up fulfilling his journey, defeating the villain, and saving the day ⏤ but not without learning a few things and overcoming some major obstacles, of course. Both heroes suffer great losses as well. Harry lost his parents and Luke lost his aunt and uncle. Harry watched Sirius Black die and Luke watched Obi-Wan become one with the Force. Luke got his arm severed by Darth Vader and Harry was killed by Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest. Of course, Luke found a replacement, and Voldemort only destroyed the part of himself that was inside Harry, so both characters overcame what was thrown at them.
Why is it always you three?
The primary protagonists of Harry Potter are Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger. In Star Wars, at least the original trilogy, the main protagonists are Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa (apologies to both Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian.) The three characters also have somewhat similar personalities. For example, out of the six of them, Princess Leia and Hermione Granger are the smartest and most level-headed characters. Han Solo and Ron Weasley would take the award for most thick-headed, as well as for being the somewhat comic relief. Harry and Luke are no doubt the main characters of the two franchises, but they also become the primary eyes of the audience. Harry is introduced to the magical world and so are we; Luke ventures outside of Tatooine and so do we.
You could also argue that Anakin, Padme, and Obi-Wan are the three protagonists in the Star Wars prequels and that Rey, Finn, and Poe are the three protagonists in the sequels. There are more like four protagonists in Fantastic Beasts, the Harry Potter prequels, although after Queenie Goldstein joined forces with Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, it might just be down to Tina, Newt, and Jacob.
Both Harry Potter and Star Wars have had movie prequels released after the original films. The Fantastic Beasts franchise is not incredibly loved by fans but it probably has more going for it than some of the Star Wars prequels, all of which stir mixed feelings from hardcore Star Wars fans. The criticism on both parts is valid for the majority of their complaints, but some of the content garners more negativity than others, and in some cases, rightly so.
Harry Potter also has a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which takes place after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. This is the closest parallel to the new Star Wars sequels Disney has made over the last six years. Albeit, Harry Potter has nothing close to The Mandalorian, or Star Wars: The Clone Wars, both of which are not only some of the best Star Wars content that has been released in the last 10 years, but also just make for great television. They should consider making some Harry Potter prequel television shows, perhaps about the founding of Hogwarts or a series focusing on the Marauders (which consisted of James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew).
The lessons we learned along the way
A majority of Harry Potter takes place at Hogwarts, which is a school for witchcraft and wizardry. Harry and his friends spend a number of years studying magic there whilst simultaneously embarking on their various adventures. The Star Wars franchise is filled with different examples of schooling. The Sith Lord always has an apprentice, one who learns the ways of the dark side, and a large part of the Star Wars Darth Vader comic books focuses on the Emperor teaching Darth Vader the ways of the dark side.
The Jedi in the prequels recruit new Jedi as children and teach them when they are classified as younglings. When they are old enough they become a Padawan, accompanying the Jedi Knights on missions. In the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy, the new Jedi still learn this, albeit in a less formal way. Teaching is quite a prevalent theme in both franchises. It’s rare for franchises to have arcs about teaching, especially as heavy-handed as that theme can be in these ones. It usually comes as a nice change of pace from whatever life or death situation our favorite characters are getting themselves into.
It turns out that Harry Potter and Star Wars have much more in common than you might think at first glance, but perhaps the most important are the lessons they each teach their audiences about life and the people in it. These lessons, as important for the characters as they are for the audience members watching them, are ultimately what have helped the franchises continue to be as popular and memorable as they both are. May the Force be with us, as our mischief is now managed.