some friends and I visited the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, in Washington D.C. for an exhibit of props, costumes and other goodies from the Star Wars films. (We had already been to the one they devoted to Star Trek). In the displays, the museum outlined George Lucas' interpretation of the Hero Journey through the three first films. Lucas had studied the works of Joseph Campbell, a guy who studied myth, legend and faerie tale and made it comprehensible to the rest of us. Then Lucas brought it to the masses with Luke and Han and the rest. Here are my notes from the exhibit, with an eye to writing my own tales. Perhaps they'll be useful for yours...
Remember Space 1999? It was SF then, now it's ancient history.
George Lucas based his mythic tale on the concepts of Joseph Campbell , who studied the worlds mythologies and folk tales. Mythologizing mythology; taking an overview of all the world's spiritual ideas. PBS did The Power of Myth as a series, I own Hero With A Thousand Faces (the Hero Journey Cycle), Primitive Mythology and Myths to Live By, all by Campbell. I cant find Hero, I am in the middle of writing several Hero Journey tales. I did find my Star Wars notes.
Forthwith, here they are:(with some nods to other Hero Journeys I have loved)
Star Wars is driven by character, story. You don't have to explain what everything is. We figure out hyperdrive and lightsabers without the scientific treatise.
The Hero is obscure, ordinary; a farm boy, a Hobbit, a Gelfling, a girl from Kansas, a fat panda working in a noodle shop, a beat-up trash compactor robot named WALL-E.
The Mentor is Jedi, wizard, wiz, wise man. Gandalf, Obi-Wan.
The call to adventure:
Begins with The Herald: usually small, unassuming. Talking frogs. Gollum with a ring. Droid with a message. The guy pasting the sign on he wall about choosing the Dragon Warrior (Kung-Fu Panda). Starship landing (Wall-E). Ok, that one wasn't small and unassuming. In Pan's Labyrinth, the messenger is a bug-fairy. The Hand of Fate oftens plays a role here: the apparent Bad Thing drives the tale forward, involves the Hero, becomes part of the Journey.
Mos Eisley spaceport. Rivendell. Train stations (Narnia: Prince Caspian & Harry Potter). The Stairway to Heaven in Kung-fu Panda: the Place of Enlightenment is at the top. Note that he falls down that stairway a lot.
The Hero must leave familiar life behind and begin journey from childhood to adulthood, and to a life transformation. The threshold contains dangers, but also helpers. In SW, Han and Chewie are Dark Hero? Trickster? Beast Prince (Chewie) Animal Companion (the power of the Hero's instinctive nature). The ship has an animal name as well. Maybe it should have been the Millenium Raven. Or Chasseur. Han is a privateer (complete with wicked swift agile Baltimore Clipper); out for his own gain at first, but always fighting the tyrannical empire.
I do a lot of Elves, shapeshifters and folk with animal totems. They are plugged into their instinctive natures, one with Nature.
A dive is a Hero Journey. You cross the Threshold of the Surface into an alien world where all the rules are changed. A journey by ship is similar: the Dock is the threshold. You leave this last attachment to land and set out into the Unknown.
Into the labyrinth:
Difficult journey into the Unknown. Death Star. The Old Forest. Moria. Heroes don armour to rescue princess. Pan's Labrynth has a very literal labyrinth.
The dark road of trials:
Midway through the hero journey comes the long and perilous path of trials and ordeals bringing important moments of illumination and understanding. The decent into darkness. Moria again. One of Lewis' entire tales (the Silver Chair) is a Journey in the Dark. Monsters to be slain. Obstacles to be passed.
Into the belly of the beast:
The Millenium Falcon flies into the asteroid cave which turns out to be the maw of a huge beast. Jonah and the whale. Pinochio and the same whale. Leviathan. Is there an equivalent in Middle Earth? In Pan's Labyrinth, there is the beast-frog under the tree, who spits out the key (rather grossly). Vader undergoes transformation in egg-like chamber. You are eaten, you are spat out again, transformed.
The sacred grove:
Enclosure where the Hero is changed. Trees infused with creative energy. Forests symbolize mystery and transformation (the forest world of Dagobah). Forests are also the unconcious mind; secrets, dark emotions to confront (Luke's battle with the Vader-image under the tree). Water is also the Unconcious Mind. The Dive Beneath, to the scary dark place.
Opening of mind and heart to spiritual knowledge requires sacrifice from Hero. Cloud City: Han and Luke both reaffirm the meaning and importance of their lives by willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater cause.
The princess rescue, the Death Star attack, lightsaber battles, firefights. The blowing up of the Death Star in film one is the beginning of the next stage: the Road of Trials.
The path to atonement:
Hero Journey sometimes includes a Fatherquest. After trials, the Hero finds the Father and becomes At-One with him. A spiritual symbol of oneness with God. Luke is following in his father's footsteps: pilot, Jedi...
...but Luke is ready to sacrifice himself rather than follow his father's path to evil. Luke falls (from the underside of Cloud City), is rescued (by sister: one with the same father), acknowledges Vader as Father, they move toward reconciliation, Vader moves toward his own transformation.
The hero's return:
End of the Road of Trials. Hero returns across the threshold to his society with the means to benefit it. In SW, each character has undergone their own Hero Journey. In LOTR, the Hobbits return to the Shire and cleanse and heal it. Aragorn takes on the Kingship. Legolas and Gimli rebuild Gondor. WALL-E and EVE bring people back to Earth and spark renewal. Po the Panda defeats the Villain as no one else can, and restores order to his world.
The shadow rises:
The forces of evil can also undergo change and rebirth, recoup power, gain new strength. Tolkien actually had a thought to write something after LOTR, in which this happens. If you start at the beginning of his world, the Silmarillion, and read through, you see the dark rising again and again: Morgoth the Vala is replaced by Sauron the Maia (a lesser evil), whose understudy was a wizard: Saruman. Presumeably by the time you get to the Age of Men, the Evil would have degenerated to mere human tyrants and dictators; reality.
The hero twins:
Luke and Leia are yin-yang, two sides of the same person, in a way. Anima and animé, or animus, or whatever. One of my favorite images in tales, is this Hero Twin thing: often two guys, opposites: Starsky and Hutch, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Red and Blue in Hellboy, and last but definitely not least: Legolas and Gimli. By their contrast, they show us a complete picture. And they're usually very funny.
The enchanted forest:
The inhabitants can be helpful, dangerous, or both. The Hero must know the right magic to invoke the protective powers. Luke wins the help of the Ewoks (these faerie folk are small, have primitve tech, and a lush environment compared to the cold hard tech of the Empire). The Fellowship enters Lothlorien, but not easily and with great welcome. Boromir shows the attitude of the mainstream culture: fear of the now unknown powers of the Elves, and distance from them.
The heart of darkness;
The Fortress of Evil. Destroying it. Tolkien has several, in varying stages of evil power: Moria, Cirith Ungol, Mordor, the Cracks of Doom. Mount Doom self-destructs at the end. Dark Crystal has one of the more unique Dark Tower images: the castle which peels off its layer of darkness as the skeksis are reunited with the uru and become, again, whole urskeks. The castle casts off its dark skin and glows once more with light.