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A change in the force

When I think of the term “A Hero’s Journey” the first image that comes to mind is Luke Skywalker standing proudly holding an outstretched lightsaber pointing to the stars with Princess Leia kneeling at his feet clutching a blaster as depicted on the cover of the 1978 movie Star wars IV: a New Hope. Like millions of other children, this film was, unknowingly, my first introduction into the idea of heroic archetypes.

It was a story of a hero’s awakening and the struggle between the forces of light and dark, with glorious space battles, cocky space pirates and a pretty princess. I would watch the VHS tape multiple times a day. It had a very profound impact on my young mind and although the concept was used many times before, it’s sci-fi themed setting was more than enough to attract the attention millions of other kids and adults alike.

It is well documented that George Lucas was heavily inspired by joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). In this Campbell outlines what he calls the hero’s journey; this is a motif of adventure and personal transformation that is used in nearly every culture’s mythical framework.

This is mirrored in A New Hope where in act one of the hero’s journey we meet Luke Skywalker who lives on the desert planet of Tatooine and works on his uncle’s moisture farm. It is soon after we learn of Luke’s dreams of becoming a pilot but is bound by his obligations to his uncle to help with the harvest which will be ripe soon. When he receives the message contained within the R2-D2 droid from a princess in obvious distress it serves as his call to adventure and inspires his first steps on his journey which will lead him to Obi Wan Kenobi, his future mentor. Luke initially denies the call only changing his mind when his family and home are destroyed, only then accepting the first stage of his journey which is to rescue the princess.

The second act is generally when the hero meets allies, enemies, undergoes life and death conflict and completes the main task in his journey. This can be seen when Luke and Ben enlist the services of rogues Han and Chewbacca and experience their first confrontation with the evil empire. As Luke escapes Tatooine in search of the princess on the planet Alderaan it is truly the beginning of his journey as he ventures into space on his quest. Luke receives training from Obi Wan and bonds with Han during this time and eventually meets the princess by the end of act two.

Luke is also portraying similar characteristics of the epic hero during this time, starting in his humble beginnings as a farm boy to completing a task meant only for him and displaying many ideals of the epic hero such as morals, strength, faith, intelligence and bravery. While all these characteristics are vital to fulfil the epic hero role, it is faith that Luke must find in the force before he can truly achieve his heroic status.

When Luke and the crew of the Millennium Falcon are captured by the death star, the audience is unsure if they will succeed in escaping and weather they rescue the princess along the way. Of course our hero finds the princess and achieves the goal while nearly being killed along the way. Luke escapes the death star and his task is achieved.

Over the course of the second act Luke begins to display  the qualities of an epic hero, Luke is seen as morally positive intelligent man, optimistic about his mission and displays strength and bravery in a number of ways. His faith in the mystical force also develops as he preservers to continue forward after the death of his mentor Obi Wan.

In the third act Luke displays what he has learnt over the course of his journey. It is only then that the hero can gain the true reward -in Luke’s case this is knowledge.

Luke’s final task is to aid in the destruction of the Death Star and will only return if his mission is a success otherwise he will be killed and his journey will be over. During the final assault Luke displays growth as a hero, his belief in the force and his alliance with friend Han Solo further shows his hero status. Luke uses his new knowledge gained from his journey and the force to destroy the Death Star and save the rebel alliance from total destruction.

It is at this point Luke Journey comes to an end for a New Hope but is continued by Lucas over the course the trilogy, this even continues into the latest instalment, The Force Awakens released in 2015.

Although I have focused on Luke’s role up until this point is also important to note the other archetypes present in The Star Wars movies.
Firstly is Han Solo who is possibly the most beloved character in the original trilogy. This is mostly because of his bad boy image and that he is a cynical anti-hero figure and a bit of a “cowboy” who relies mostly on courage and the use of his blaster to escape tight situations. He is an independent and strong character as his name SOLO would suggest. In the first film Han can be seen as a shape shifter, perceived by the main character as someone he is unsure of trusting. Hans’s intentions are hidden as well as his loyalties as he doesn’t want to care about the rebellion or their struggle against the empire. He only wants to care for himself and problems directly affecting him. In the final moments of the battle at the end of Episode IV Han comes to Luke’s aid and ends up joining the struggle with the rebels. Hans’s journey is more about learning to care for others rather than just about himself, this journey continues throughout the second and third films as Han the proven warrior now learns to love.

Han is accompanied through the trilogy by his trusty companion Chewbacca. It is common for a hero to befriend a beast along the way as this helps the hero to be reminded of the natural world.

Luke’s main companions include the droids C3PO and R2-D2. They mostly serve comic relief and the everyman archetype. They react to situations much like the audience would if they were thrown into the action. They cower and flee from danger but are also the heralds who issue challenges to the hero as well as announce the coming of change in the hero’s future.

R2-D2 also serves as the Catalyst of the story. He is passionate and helpful, and is completely dedicated to the cause, he delivered the first call to arms to Luke and eventually accompanying him to his next stage of training with the last remaining Jedi master Yoda.

Yoda, similar to Obi Wan before him is the old man mentor archetype, although he also embodies multiple archetypes also. When Yoda first meets Luke in the swamps of Dagobah, he is the trickster who is pretending to be a senile old creature, later it is revealed that he is a threshold guardian who is protecting the wisdom and secrets of the Jedi order until the hero proves himself worthy of such gifts. These secrets also contain the truth about Luke’s family and the eventual downfall of his father, Anakin Skywalker. Yoda is also represents the oracle that possesses the ability to see beyond the present to future possibilities.

Luke’s father Anakin Skywalker experiences a true Visionaries arc throughout the series. From a simple slave on Tatooine to becoming one of the last Jedi knights, he remained committed to the order until a vision of his dying mother and death of his beloved wife lead him to the dark side only to be reborn as the tyrannical Darth Vader. Vader is committed to the vision of the empire and remains its most staunch supporter until the undeniable force of change returns him to the light side of the force. This happens as a result of this long lost son Luke who he sacrifices himself to save from the emperor and herald in a new era in the process, which would be led by his children Luke and Leia.

Princess Leia represents the feminine in the otherwise male dominated Star Wars universe.

In the original trilogy she is firstly depicted as a damsel in distress who is captured by the empire and has to be rescued by the hero’s. She then reveals herself to be a warrior as she fights to escape the Death Star. Later in the series she takes on a leadership role in the rebel alliance and also a romantic role with Han Solo. In the final film of the original trilogy she is revealed to be the twin sister of Luke Skywalker, thus becoming a female counterpart to Luke with the same strength and potential he has.