Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey, by Melanie Zammit

A common thread exists between the various myths of different cultures, an underlying connection which ties these disparate worlds together. These parallels are evident both in ancient and contemporary stories, and are ones which, once exposed, reveal an inherently universal structure beneath our mythological heritage. Throughout history man has constantly sought to make himself an integral part of the wonders of the cosmos. The creation of myths allows him to provide an explanation for what he is unable to comprehend and both supports and contests his beliefs through narrative.

The foundations of our belief system are supported by the remnants of Greek myth which have successfully transcended the passage of time; the walls which encompass this interior system are lined with mythological tales of the past. In this way myths make the relationship between man and the universe meaningful, providing an explanation for the existence of power structures and why those who are in power ought to exercise their authority over those who are oppressed and, in their eyes, inferior.

Monomyth: The Hero’s Journey

Star Wars, a lavish space opera steeped in myth and fantasy, is profoundly influenced by ancient stories and mythic heroes, reshaping the common pattern of mythological archetypes and yet ultimately creating an entirely self-sufficient and innovative world. Luke Skywalker’s journey is one which parallels that of many heroes in classical mythology; it follows a uniform progression and ultimately leads to a process of self-discovery. In this way, the plot of Star Wars is deeply rooted in the structure of the ‘monomyth’, a term coined by James Joyce and popularized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The monomyth is the Hero’s Journey, one characterized by stages which are common to a wide variety of myths originating from different cultures—separation, initiation, and return. In Star Wars, Luke must first separate from the ordinary world and embark on a journey towards lands that he is unfamiliar with. Obstacles which the hero must overcome pave the way down his path, enabling him to achieve an initiation. At the end of his journey Luke returns to impart his newly acquired knowledge and experience onto others.

This common pattern found in heroic journeys and adventures can be seen in various myths and stories throughout history. Prometheus stole fire from the gods after travelling to Mount Olympus, then descended back to earth in order to bestow the gift of fire and the skill of metalwork onto the human race. The ancient Greek hero Jason left his homeland to search for the golden fleece, battling and encountering many trials on his long voyage towards Colchis and finally, once in possession of his prize, returning to his native land to seize his rightful throne. Aeneas, mythical hero and defender of Troy, descended to the underworld, surpassed the obstacles which lay strewn in his path in the form of the river Styx and the monstrous multi headed dog Cerberus, and was ultimately reunited with the spirit of his dead father. Thus it is evident that the hero’s quest is not simply a physical journey, accomplished through the physical strength and stamina of the hero but, rather, it is a spiritual one.

Luke’s journey is predetermined and inevitable; he cannot escape his fate, just as the heroes of ancient Greek tradition were unable to evade their destiny. However it can be argued that, upon completing the third phase of his journey, the hero becomes ‘Master of the Two Worlds’; he has bridged the seemingly insurmountable gap that lies between the world of light and darkness, thus enabling the creation of a self-actualized identity. At the end of his journey, Luke Skywalker returns to the Death Star at the risk of his life, seeking to destroy it. Here he demonstrates his ability to cross the thin line which separates these two worlds. His journey is a linear process, threatened by various obstacles along the way, but ultimately ending in a discovery of his true self—a Jedi Knight, a pilot, a warrior. Luke is no longer overwhelmed by unknown forces which seek to control his destiny. His rational self is now capable of leading him down a path of his own making, destroying the status quo and thus allowing a process of restoration and renewal to take place.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy introduces a paradoxical theme within its story line, depicting those who are knowledgeable of their fate to be the same catalysts who unwittingly propel themselves towards it. Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine attempt to lure Luke Skywalker to the Dark side, fearing that the young hero might be capable of leading them to their downfall. Yet it is precisely by doing so that they present Luke with the tools necessary to bring about their destruction, effectively making their demise inevitable. Their downfall can only be accomplished through their attempts to avoid their fate.

This common theme portraying fate as inescapable is also evident in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex where Oedipus, in his attempts to distance himself from his prophesized fate, succeeds in doing precisely the opposite. Upon hearing his inevitable fate from the high priestess Pythia, that he would kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus travels to Thebes in an effort to thwart his destiny. However the fulfilment of the prophecy depends on this journey, leading him to the encounter with the man whom he eventually murders and the widow whom he marries, all in complete ignorance of his relation to them. Oedipus kills his father as a direct result of the prophecy which had determined that he would commit this action, a prediction which had influence on the predicted event itself. Vader and the Emperor’s destruction is presented as a self- fulfilling prophecy, perpetuating a series of actions which ultimately lead to the event that would otherwise not have come true. The actions of Vader and the Emperor parallel those of Oedipus, their efforts to escape their fate proving to be futile and ineffectual.

By incorporating Joseph Campbell’s heroic model, George Lucas presents the hero’s journey as a process which allows the hero to travel down a predestined road towards the discovery of an integrated sense of identity, encountering various archetypal characters throughout his progression. The completion of his adventure enables him to cast off the veil of innocence and ignorance which had stifled him in the past, propelling him on a path towards enlightenment and experience. Thus the hero’s journey is ultimately an inward voyage, a psychological exploration of his inner self and a battle against forces far greater than those endowed with physical and brutal strength.