During the Spring 2020 semester, I took this really awesome Mythology class with one of the coolest professors at Shippensburg University. We talked a lot about Greek and Norse mythology.
But the professor is what made this class so amazing. Dr. Smith told us right off that she’s a total nerd and we talked a lot about pop culture stuff, and how it relates to Greek and Norse mythology. This includes Star Wars.
I really appreciate the number of students who liked Star Wars in the class. I sat there thinking, “I’m with my own kind!”
Well, anyways, we also talked about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, as discussed in his book, Hero With a Thousand Faces. Later in the class, we had an assignment and for it I compared Luke Skywalker’s journey in A New Hope to the stages in the Hero’s Journey. I thought I’d share my argument with you here. Oh, and spoilers.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is undoubtedly the hero of the Star Wars saga. I mean, at least until Rey takes over following his death. But, we’re going to keep this essay contained to A New Hope.
However, for just A New Hope, I feel that Luke hit only the following stages: the call to adventure; supernatural aid; crossing of the first threshold; the belly of the whale; road of trials and; meeting with the goddess. The rest of the steps do not occur until later films, and I feel it would be wrong to force every step into this movie alone.
Luke’s call to adventure began when he and his uncle happened to buy C3PO and R2D2 from the Jawas after they escaped from the imperial forces. He witnessed Princess Leia’s transmission begging for help from Obi Wan Kenobi that was saved onto R2D2.
Luke set out to find Obi Wan on Tatooine and ask him to save Leia. Obi Wan would go, but wanted Luke to accompany him. He wanted to, but had his aunt and uncle to think about. However, upon returning home, Luke had discovered the devastating scene of his aunt and uncle burned to bones. He had nothing left on Tatooine, so he left with Obi Wan – and Han Solo, Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2 – to find Leia together. Obi Wan would also teach Luke the ways of the Force.
Luke’s supernatural aid for his journey would then be Obi Wan and Yoda. Both are mentors to him and teach him the ways of the Force. Okay, Yoda doesn’t mentor him yet.
Furthermore, as witnessed several times throughout this film and later ones, words of wisdom from both when Luke needs them the most. They also appear to Luke as Force spirits.
Following the crossing of the first threshold is the belly of the whale. Luke enters the belly of the whale when he and the other passengers on the Millennium Falcon are pulled into the Death Star. Of course, this is a great plot advantage because this is where Princess Leia is being kept.
The Road of Trials is next. Luke, Obi Wan, Han, Chewie, C3PO and R2D2 need to hide from the stormtroopers, and they then discover that Leia is on board. Obi Wan goes to disable the Death Star’s tractor beam so that they may escape, while Luke, Han and Chewie rescue Leia. They end up getting stuck in the trash compactor with some sort of creature, and make a harrowing escape with the help of R2D2. Obi Wan sacrifices himself to Darth Vader so that the rest of the crew may escape.
The final trial in this film takes place later when Luke, with the help of rebel forces, destroys the Death Star.
The ‘meeting with the “goddess”’ step would seem to occur when Luke first meets Leia, in that Leia is the “goddess.” However, I argue that the true meeting would happen in the very last scene of the movie, at the rebel base when Luke and Han are being awarded medals for their heroism, it is Leia who is presenting them with the medals. I argue that this is the true “meeting with the goddess” step of the hero’s journey, as it is more than just Luke and the crew saving Leia from the imperial forces and desperately escaping before they are all killed.
It is the first moment of peace and calm for all of them. It is in this moment, that we remember that while Leia is also a badass warrior and kicks major ass, much more ass than Luke or Han, let’s be honest here, she’s also a the princess of Alderaan. In this sense, this ceremony is Luke’s meeting with the goddess.
While Luke Skywalker certainly meets all the steps of the hero’s journey as a Jedi, and his ‘road of trials’ can be expanded much more to include everything he’s gone through in later films, we can only properly identify a few of the steps in A New Hope.
While it could be said that within the confinements of this film alone, Luke crossed the return threshold at the ceremony, I must say that he doesn’t truly enter the ‘return’ part of the hero’s journey until after Return of the Jedi, when the Emperor Palpatine is killed and the Empire has fallen. Even then, the remainder steps are not fully completed until Luke dies and becomes one with the Force.