Hey folks! Today I’m going to dive in-depth into the storytelling techniques at play within the Star Wars universe, under a well-worn and much-known lens of The Hero’s Journey. This is a narrative pattern that was first identified by scholar Joseph Campbell, who thought up the idea of the “monomyth,” which can be thought of as “the one story” that all stories come from. What follows is a transcript of the video, for those of you who prefer to read your analyses rather than listen. Hope you dig it!
The Hero’s Journey is a narrative pattern or storytelling trope, one that can easily be seen throughout many of our favorite stories and movies. Broken down, it details the most basic elements of a hero’s story: the call to adventure, the use of supernatural aid, the gaining of a mentor and helper, the “abyss” (or death and rebirth), the eventual return home, and many other details. Star Wars stands as one of the most prominent examples of “The Hero’s Journey,” having been dissected and laid out in films and English classes everywhere.
Today, we’re focusing on one element in the Hero’s Journey in particular: the refusal. It’s a step in the journey where the hero refuses to answer the call to adventure, a step where either through fear of the unknown or immense reluctance to leave relative comfort, they decide to not heed the call, sometimes even going so far as to run away from the adventure calling them forward.
In A New Hope, the call to adventure comes through Leia’s hologram message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. She is literally calling out to Obi-Wan for help, who then extends the offer to Luke, who in turn refuses the offer, saying, “I’m not going to Alderaan, I’ve gotta get home, it’s late, I’m in for it as it is… I can’t get involved, I’ve got work to do.”
Of course, this all comes after Luke is handed Anakin’s lightsaber. This lightsaber is interesting particularly because it’s the other half of this call to adventure. It’s a literal heirloom, one that represents a legacy call to an adventure that is sure to change their lives, yet is still incredibly dangerous.
We recently shared a video that chronicled the journey of this lightsaber, and what is most striking about it (see what I did there) is the fact that this lightsaber has fallen on reluctant hands twice now. It represents a legacy, one that is quite obviously tainted by the actions of its first creator, Anakin Skywalker. In the events of the prequels, it was the same lightsaber that killed the younglings, as well as many of the Jedi in the March on the Jedi Temple.
In the events of the original trilogy, it was famously used in the duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, a battle between a father and son, a son who tried to use the legacy inherited from his father (the lightsaber itself) against someone he didn’t know was his father at the time. Ultimately, he, too, rejected the legacy that Vader attempted to foist onto him, losing his hand (and the lightsaber… see what I’m getting at?) in the process.
It’s unclear what happened to the lightsaber between the events of Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens, but its mysterious absence reflects what happened to the Jedi legacy between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Judging by Rey’s reaction to Han Solo saying that “everything… the Jedi… it’s all true,” it can be safely assumed that after Luke’s disappearance, the story of the Jedi fell into obscurity, undoubtedly painted as propaganda by the remnants of the Empire in an attempt to retain control following the Emperor’s death.
Rey receiving the very same lightsaber was a pretty darn heavy-handed metaphor, one that pretty clearly illustrated what her path could very well be in the future. Despite initially refusing the call, she eventually calls to it during the movie’s climax, proving her link to it is stronger than someone who desperately wants it (Kylo Ren).
Kylo, on the other hand, is someone who has, since the beginning, tried to prove to himself and everyone around him that he’s worthy of the legacy that he believes this lightsaber represents. He wants to believe that it’s rightfully his because he sees it as a symbol of the lives its taken, as the lightsaber that felled the Jedi Order.
But it is so much more than that. It was created by Anakin when there was still good, still light in his heart, and he lost it very soon after he fell to the dark side. It was inherited by Luke, who stood as a symbol for good in an increasingly evil world. And finally, it was accepted by Rey, who bravely accepted a call to adventure, a call into the unknown, a call to fight against the very real threat standing before her.
After all of this, after everything the lightsaber’s gone through and after thinking about what it might represent, we see that ultimately, Rey attempts to return it to Luke. She finds her way to the planet on which he’s hiding, and holds out the lightsaber, turning the call to adventure back onto Luke himself. She has, in some small way, redeemed its legacy, striking down (but not killing) Kylo Ren, who stood as the newest evil in the galaxy. And, at the movie’s end, she’s offering this symbol of hope back to someone who once rejected it to stay within the light.
There’s no telling what will happen in Episode VIII–the secrets of that movie are kept locked up tighter than a Hutt’s vault. But given The Force Awakens’ brutal awareness of how much it reflects the original trilogy, it’s likely that original storytelling tropes might not hold true here. Call it hopeful idealism or naivete, but it could be that we’re in for a genre-defying story to be played out over the next two films. What Luke does with the lightsaber at the beginning of Ep. 8 may very well stand as an indicator of what to expect from the rest of this trilogy. Just like Rey, he’s being called back into an adventure, one that he ran away from for quite some time, and just like Rey, we’re hoping that he answers that call in a way only a Skywalker can.
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