Simba, Neo, Shrek, Shaun, Nemo, Moses, Hercules, Westley, Peter Parker, and almost every cinematic (and literature-based) hero can trace all or most of his (or her!) path to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, described in The Hero With A Thousand Faces published in 1949. No character more so than Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) follows this monomyth, as George Lucas attributed Campbell’s book to having had a strong influence on him when crafting his iconic character, as seen in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Seventeen stages divided into three sections, there have been a number of variations written since – countless response papers, books, and documentaries that narrow the number of steps, that add some other steps or sub-steps, that change the order around, and so on. But there’s nothing like checking back with an original theorist and looking closely at our own “farm boy.”
Separation: Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, Crossing the Threshold, Belly of the Whale.
This always starts with the boring little potential hero living in a boring little place, living out a boring little life. Luke dreams of being a pilot, but feels stuck on the Tatooine farm. Yet, when he brings R2-DR to Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) with Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) message, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!,” Obi-Wan calls Luke to adventure. Luke immediately refuses, “Look, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire; I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now… It’s all such a long way from here.” Despite the fact that he’s been longing for adventure, when it comes a-knockin’, he turns it down. Supernatural Aid can be literal or in the form of a mentor. In this case it is both. Obi-Wan explains the Force and shows Luke his father’s lightsaber. Later, in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda (Frank Oz) is his second mentor showing him the supernatural ways of the Force. However, it is only when his aunt and uncle are killed that he crosses the threshold and joins the mission. A crossing of the old life to the new. Luke’s eyes are opened as he enters Mos Eisley’s Cantina, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” Obi-Wan warns. Although there is debate on what exactly Luke’s Belly of the Whale is (trash compactor, the entire Death Star itself, the Dagobah tree – see how it doesn’t exactly have to go in order?), Luke does find himself trapped more than once and has to fight his way out.
Initiation: The Road of Trials, The Meeting with the Goddess, The Woman as Temptress, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon.
Luke has many trials while inside the Death Star — during the battle to destroy the original Death Star, his training on Dagobah, saving Han from Jabba (Larry Ward), saving Leia from Jabba; all of these are essential for his eventual evolution to true hero. The Goddess he has already met and thinks he has (ick!) feelings for — Leia. She is sometimes considered the Woman as Temptress, but I have always seen the Dark Side of the Force as the Temptress, the thing that could turn the hero away from his true purpose, as conceptualized by Luke’s failure inside the tree. Atonement with the Father – does this need any explanation? Instead of Vader (James Earl Jones) turning Luke over to the Dark Side for Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), Luke successfully brings his father back over to the side of good. “Father, please! Help me!” At the end, Darth Vader, now reverted back to Anakin Skywalker (Sebastian Shaw) kills the Emperor to save Luke and dies in his son’s arms. The Apotheosis is a spiritual rise. It is now that Luke is a true Jedi. It also sometimes refers to the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin that appear at the end of Return Of The Jedi. The Ultimate Boon is the real goal. Luke and Leia are the last of the Jedi. The Dark side has been defeated for now (hello, Episodes VII, VIII, IX!!). Now it is time to rebuild the Jedi.
Return: Refusal of Return, The Magic Flight, Rescue From Without, The Crossing of the Return Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, Freedom to Live.
The Return is often not as tragic as a denouement in literature (except when there is a twist), but usually more exciting than an epilogue, and is more of a “what does the hero do now?” mixed with a dash of who he/she is meant to be. Sometimes the hero saves the day, but does not want to return to reality (think Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb in Inception). Luke does not return to a life on Tatooine to be hailed a hero (not yet anyway – who knows what the story will be for Episodes VII, VIII, IX?). But he does return to the life of a Jedi, the origin he was denied. The Magic Flight is a little more difficult to pinpoint in Return of the Jedi. Luke’s journey has been studied through the lens of A New Hope as well as the whole original trilogy and it works better for just A New Hope (escaping Death Star via Millennium Falcon). The Ewoks helping and anytime Luke heard Obi-Wan in his head at critical life-saving moments fall under Rescue From Without. Luke did cross the Return Threshold in order to become the Master of the Two Worlds. He is a Jedi, at one with the Force, and now a man. He was just a young boy (and a whiny one at that) at the start. The Freedom to Live is the part where the mentee becomes a mentor. The hero is now wise enough to be able to teach others. Luke is now ready to rebuild the Jedi.