How does Star Wars: A New Hope follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey breakdown?
Welcome to the inaugural installment of our new series A Hero’s Journey Breakdown where we explore Joseph Campbell’s mythological storytelling structure and how iconic films fit into that mold.
Christopher Vogler’s approach to Campbell’s structure broke the mythical story structure into twelve stages. For this series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations:
- The Ordinary World: We see the hero’s normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
- Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
- Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
- Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
- Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
- The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that cause the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
- The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
- The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they’ve earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
- The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
- The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
- The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world.
Here we turn to George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
Note: As with any application of story structure or formula, this is just a hindsight interpretation and implementation of The Hero’s Journey to this cinematic tale. There can and will be variances.
The Ordinary World
Luke Skywalker is living a normal and humble life as a farm boy on his home planet of Tatooine.
Call to Adventure
Luke is called to his adventure by two individuals — R2-D2 and Ben Kenobi. Luke triggers R2-D2’s message from Princess Leia and is intrigued by her and the message.
When R2-D2 escapes to find Ben Kenobi, Luke follows and is later saved by Kenobi, who goes on to tell Luke about his Jedi heritage. Kenobi suggests that he should come with him to Alderaan.
Refusal of the Call
Luke refuses Kenobi, telling him that he can take Kenobi and the droids as far as Mos Eisley Spaceport — but he can’t possibly leave his Aunt and Uncle behind for some space adventure.
Crossing the Threshold
When Luke discovers that the stormtroopers searching for the droids would track them to his farm, he rushes to warn his Aunt and Uncle, only to discover them dead by the hands of the Empire.
When Luke returns to Kenobi, he pledges to go with him to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force like his father before him.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
After Luke, Kenobi, and the droids hire Han Solo and Chewbacca to transport them off of Tatooine and onto Alderaan, Kenobi begins Luke’s training in the ways of the Force.
Wielding his father’s lightsaber, Kenobi challenges him to block the shots of a small training remote. At first, he can’t do it. But then Kenobi gives him a helmet to wear that has a blast shield that blocks his view of the remote. Kenobi teaches him to reach out and trust his feelings.
Luke blocks three shots from the remote — blind.
The plan to defeat the Galactic Empire is to bring the Death Star plans to Alderaan so that Princess Leia’s father can take them to the Rebellion. However, when they arrive within the system, the planet is destroyed. They come across the Death Star and are pulled in by a tractor beam, now trapped within the metaphorical belly of the beast — The Galactic Empire.
As Kenobi goes off to deactivate the tractor beam so they can escape, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca discover that Princess Leia is being held on the Death Star with them. They rescue her and escape to the Millennium Falcon, hoping that Kenobi has successfully deactivated the tractor beam.
Kenobi later sacrifices himself as Luke watches Darth Vader strike him down. Luke must now avenge his fallen mentor and carry on his teachings.
Luke has saved the princess and retrieved the Death Star plans. They now have the knowledge to destroy the Galactic Empire’s greatest weapon once and for all.
The Road Back
Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids are headed to the hidden Rebellion base with the Death Star plans. They are suddenly pursued by incoming TIE-Fighters, forcing Han and Luke to take action to defend the ship and escape with their lives — and the plans.
When they are triumphant, they realize that the Galactic Empire must be tracking them. But they have no choice but to race against time to take the plans to the Rebellion and prepare for battle.
The Rebels — along with Luke as an X-Wing pilot — prepare to take on the Death Star.
The Rebellion and the Galactic Empire wage war in an epic space battle. Luke is the only X-Wing pilot that was able to get within the trenches of the Death Star. But Darth Vader and his wingmen are in hot pursuit. Just as Darth Vader is about to destroy Luke, Han returns and clears the way for Luke.
Luke uses the Force to guide his aiming as he fires upon the sole weak point of the deadly Death Star, destroying it for good.
Luke and Han return to the Rebellion base, triumphant, as they receive medals for the heroic journey. There is peace throughout the galaxy — at least for now.
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