Skywalker - A Hero's Beginning
The world of storytelling is a world of limitless possibilities. Human beings have been telling stories for centuries, around campfires, in books and on cinema screens. So much of our modern entertainment industry revolves around storytelling, from film to songs lyrics, each artist has a story to tell.
One of the most famous stories told is, of course, Star Wars, the film franchise we all know and love. Today I want to focus on the original Star Wars film, the film that started it all which is today known to everyone as Episode IV A New Hope. Aside from the revolutionary effects and cinematography, a huge part of the film’s success was it’s new, exciting and gripping tale of heroes and villains from a world unlike our own.
Although the film isn’t my favorite of the saga, I believe A New Hope has one of the best plots/stories out of all the films. Why? Because the film follows the story of a young boy from nowhere who became a hero, a story that inspires an audience. But it’s not just any old story, it’s a story that follows the Hero’s Journey, a storytelling theory by the American Professor Joseph Campbell. What’s the Hero’s Journey? Well then, I guess this is where our story must begin.
The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling theory that suggests all stories follow one narrative structure, outlining the journey of a protagonist and how they change and grow over the course of the story. As previously mentioned, the theory was created by Joesph Campbell and outlined in his novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory presents the eight stages of a story, moving between the order and chaos of the story and the stasis and change of the character. George Lucas was an admirer of Campbell’s work and used them as a direct reference when writing and creating Star Wars.
It is this theory that further develops the story of Star Wars, in particular Luke’s journey and character arc. Luke is outlined as the perfect hero in the first film, he is a boy who comes from nowhere and goes on to save the galaxy. He has his strengths as well as his flaws and is a character we can all relate to on some level. With that in mind, let’s look deeper into A New Hope and discover how it follows the Hero’s Journey theory.
Stage 1 - Establishing the Protagonist
Our story begins the same way most stories do, by establishing the protagonist. In A New Hope, this doesn’t happen straight away. We are first introduced to the world of Star Wars, the evil Empire and the brave band of rebels fighting against it. Technically, our first protagonists are C3-PO and R2-D2 as these are the characters we follow for the first fifteen minutes of the film until we finally meet Luke Skywalker and our Hero’s Journey is ready to begin.
During this stage of the theory, we are introduced to Luke and begin to learn more about him, who he is, where he’s from and what his dreams and goals are. At this point in the story, the character is in a familiar environment, a place where they are comfortable and aren’t at risk. We learn that Luke lives a quiet life on a farm on the desert planet of Tatooine. Here, Luke lives a simple life. But little does he know, that is all about to change…
Stage 2 - The Problem with the World
Stage 2 is the part of the film that typically occurs around the 15-minute mark. It is where the audience learns the main obstacle that our hero will face in the story. For Luke Skywalker, it is the struggle against the oppressive form. The introduction to the obstacle can come in many ways, it can be directly through the message from a princess in peril or through other forms such as a character watching twin suns set on the horizon as they wish desperately for a life greater than that of an ordinary farm boy.
This stage of the story is the beginning of the change that the characters are bound to experience and sometimes, the character doesn’t always feel ready to accept or embrace this change. Luke shows this through the way he tells Obi-Wan Kenobi that he can’t leave with him to Alderaan to deliver the message. The scene outlines Luke’s fears. Despite being so desperate for adventure, he doesn’t believe he is ready to pack up and leave just yet so he refuses the call to adventure and that’s the end of that. Or is it?
Stage 3 - Crossing the threshold
Upon his return home, Luke discovers that his home and family have been murdered and destroyed by the Empire. It is by witnessing this that Luke gathers the courage to take the next step on his journey. This is a turning point in the narrative, the moment where Luke finally leaves the familiar environment of his home on Tatooine and ventures out into the unknown with his mentor to deliver the Princess’ message.
During this stage of the story, we are leaving the world of order and entering the world of chaos. In many stories, this is the part of the story where the character enters the magical world. For Star Wars, as Obi-Wan says, “It is the first step into a larger world.” This can refer to both Luke entering the world of the war between the Empire and Rebellion, but also the world regarding his training to become a Jedi and learn the ways of the force like his father.
Stage 4 - The Road of Trials
This is the literal journey of the story, the section where the character is growing, changing and training or learning. In Star Wars we see this through the way Obi-Wan begins to train Luke as a Jedi, he is taking his first steps on the journey to becoming a Jedi. We see Luke struggling with this but ultimately growing and taking the steps towards the hero he will soon become.
It is also during this stage that we witness the fight that the characters face on their journey. This is where we see Luke arriving on the Death Star with Han Solo and Chewbacca on the Millenium Falcon. We watch as they face the struggles that the Empire has placed in their way, we watch the characters begin to face the obstacle of the story face on.
Stage 5 - Meeting with the Goddess
The whole of the story so far has led up to this moment, the protagonist finally finds what they have been looking for. This can come in many forms, a magical object, freedom or love. Joseph Campbell named this section meeting with the goddess because it is something desirable, the hero has finally found what they have been looking for.
For Luke Skywalker, this is where he finds Princess Leia. When Luke rescues Leia, his journey becomes far greater for he has now been pulled further into the war against the Empire. Leia represents the rebellion, the fight that Luke has been longing to join. He has now been given the chance to do so through his courageous acts.
The Meeting with the Goddess signifies a key turning point in the narrative. It is the point where our protagonist changes for good. They have left their old life and are ready to move on to the next stage of their adventure as a changed person. There is no turning back now.
Stage 6 - The Price
One of the saddest moments in the whole of the saga for me personally is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death. Luke’s scream of desperation and anger when his mentor is killed gets me every time. This scene is stage six of the hero’s journey, the part where the hero pays the price of the journey.
For Luke, this is losing his master. He travelled to the Death Star and rescued the prize and as a result of it, had to face the price the universe had forced upon him.
This is Luke’s darkest moment, his moment of weakness and doubt. It is this action in the narrative that will push Luke further along his path. It will determine where he goes next, it will fuel his decisions both through anger and determination to make his fallen master proud of who he has become.
Stage 7 - The Return
It’s not a journey if you don’t come home. In most stories, this is the final act of bravery, the final choice. It’s the run across town, saving a friend from mortal danger. For Luke, this is returning to his new home, the rebellion. This is where he now belongs, the place he has been searching for. Here he has a purpose, a role to play in this war.
Luke is back in a familiar place, a place where he is safe and for now, there is no uncertainty. He knows exactly where he is going from now on and what comes next, his loyalties are with the rebellion and there is no doubt in his mind.
This stage tells the audience that we are nearing the end of our story. For Star Wars, we are approaching the big finale as the rebellion are planning their attack on the Death Star.
Stage 8 - Master of Both Worlds
After a long journey of overcoming obstacles and discovery himself, Luke has finally made it to the end, the big finale. This is the showdown, the final battle, this is where the Death Star blows up.
The hero has officially won, they have saved the day and the story is complete. The character’s life has changed dramatically, life will never be the same again. They will soon face new challenges and obstacles, but the journey has given them strength and the courage to be able to continue along their path.
Luke’s journey in A New Hope is one of a hero, it is the perfect story as it lays out everything that is important when it comes to telling a story and showing the journey of a character from beginning to end.
Luke Skywalker is a hero, his story inspires us to take the leap of faith across the threshold in order to open ourselves up to change, to enter a world of chaos and grow as people. Luke’s journey continues throughout the rest of the films. Some will argue that it is a journey that ultimately leads to a terrible ending for the character. But no matter what you think about the next films, Luke was the first hero in Star Wars, he started it all.
And that’s how a farm boy from nowhere became a hero…
Sources: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell