Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 15 - The Hero's Journey

Given its rather fanciful nature there is a clear and often cited connection between Star Wars and classical mythology. Once again this may appear as if I’m reading into everything way too much and if that is the case then… well let’s face it if you think that then you probably stopped reading this a long time ago. Anyway perhaps the most commonly found structure of mythology is what you would refer to simply as ‘the hero’s journey’.
This rambling starts with philosophical author Joseph Campbell who wrote a book centering around this trope called ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. It was sommonly used throughout colleges in America during the 1960s and who would read it of all people? George Lucas of course (yeah because why on earth would I put a connection between Lucas and something else with a connection to Star Wars). Campbell summarised that myth is a metephor for the experience of life, to ‘find expression in a symbolic form’. The exact quote from Campbell is ‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won’.
The hero’s journey will often define a literal, physical journey, but frequently this experience will serve as a metaphor (the things that Drax can’t understand) for a personal or emotional transition. Most of the time this will involve a young protagonist of some sort, being called to an adventure, facing a decision between good and evil. There is one character within Star Wars that fits this description, even within detail. It is of course, Jar Jar Binks…. Except it isn’t because if I tried to stick with that any further I’d be murdered by a hoard of angry fans. It’s Luke Skywalker. I already did an overview of Luke’s character as a whole but now I just want to focus specifically on his hero’s journey.
Campbell defined three stages of the hero’s journey (remind me again how many films there are in Luke’s own journey). The first one is the departure, not the Martin Scorsese film, but it pays attention to our hero beginning his journey and setting off an their adventure. Though the hero may be enthsiastic they are naïve in the ways of the world and still secertly reluctant. This has to be the basic description of Luke in ‘A New Hope’ right? He wants escape the dust bowl that is Tatooine but even when Obi Wan asks him to accompany him to Alderran Luke initially refuses, only upon seeing his family murdered by the Empire does he agree to go, and from there naïve Luke gets into barfights with men that have death sentances on twelve systems (although I’d hardly blame him for that as the ‘I don’t like you either guy’ definitely started that by bragging about his various crimes and then threatening to murder the young farm boy).
Of course the hero encounters various thresholds that try to hold him back, sometimes they come in a passive form like Owen Lars ora more active (and by active I mean try to smash our hero’s head with a staff in the middle of the desert) one, in this case the Tuskan Raiders in the Dune Sea. They have some kind of call that pulls them away from home comforts and into their adventure, for Luke that call is the distress signal from Leia and the threat of the Empire. There’s always a possibility of rejecting the call, and Luke has that opportunity, but the hero chooses to ignore it.
Then you have the next phase of Campbell’s definition, the initiation. Here the hero will encounter numerous challenges and trials and often of an ambiguous form. For Star Wars ‘Empire Strikes Back’ acts as this initiation phase, with Luke being put through tests by Yoda to become a Jedi. Crucially though, the hero will fail at least one of their tasks during the initiation and for Luke in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ he fails nearly all of them. His Rebel army is annihilated on Hoth, he fails to listen to Yoda’s teachings, doesn’t defeat Darth Vader and cannot save his friends. This phase also involves moments of illumination and atonement with the father, Luke does both as he discovers the truth behind his parentage, Darth Vader is his father and once again the ambiguity plays a big part here as he is tempted to join his father and the dark side.
The third and final phase is called the return. The thirs phase of Luke’s journey even has the word return inits title, ‘Return of the Jedi’. It’s pretty self explanitory, and Luke once again fits the description as in the thrid film he returns to his home planet of Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from brutal gangsters. From there he must confront his past, retain the knowledge he has gained from the tests and become triumphant. Luke must face Darth Vader again and an even greater force of evil Emperor Palpatine. By the end of it the hero is regarded as being ‘free to live’ and with the threat of the Empire gone, Luke and every other character in the ‘Star Wars’ universe is able to do so. Even if you think this is all coincidental then just read this quote from the creator himself, as George Lucas said ‘it came to me that there really was no modern use of that's when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore and mythology, and I started reading Joe's books…. I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classical motifs’.
So those are a few of my ramblings about ‘Star Wars’ but I’d like to hear som of yours so please leave a commetn below. Thanks and bye.

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