I’m young enough for this new Star Wars to be my first Star Wars in the theater. It was very special for me because I grew up watching Star Wars, rebelling against my Trekie parents. When I saw episode 7 for the first time, I felt like I was just watching a remake of A New Hope with new characters. But then I asked myself, what was JJ Abrams’s greatest task with making this film? I would say it’s to preserve Star Wars for a new generation. He delivered the new movie with the same formatting as a New Hope, which kept the new plot as close to the original feeling of Star Wars – and that is what made The Force Awakens successful. This formula is the Hero’s journey, which was specifically written out by Joseph Campbell who looked at mythology and saw a pattern. There is a universal journey hero’s across all time go through in order to defeat their evil. But in this case, it takes place in one galaxy far far away…
The Call to Adventure
The Hero starts in an ordinary world with seemingly no hope for any change. For Luke, that’s being a farmer on Tatooine. Rey similarly is stuck waiting on a desert planet Jakku with no visible reason to keep living. Suddenly, a droid with an attitude, meets the hero and reveals that he has secret information which in turn ignites our hero’s curiosity.
Joseph Campbell explains, “The adventure may begin as a mere blunder… or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man.”
Our hero is timid when he discovers this droid harboring something secret, but for some reason, they protect the droid because deep down, they’re excited for the potential for adventure. Luke races after R2 who’s gone looking for Obi Wan even thought there’s danger of tusken raider attack. Yes, maybe part of this chase was because his family needed the droids for their farming, but Luke personally ran after his droid thinking in the back of his mind about the beautiful girl in the projection. The secret sitting inside the droid acted as a small glimpse of hope to distract the hero from the ordinary life he could not escape.
The exact same goes for Rey. BB8 proclaimed to be on a top secret mission. Like a dog, he followed her home, and a master and pet relationship ensued. When BB8 was offered to be bought for a very tempting about of portions, Rey could not give in because finally, she had some form of companionship, she has a greater job then to just wait and survive. Now, she could protect something.
Refusal of the Call
“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless—even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire or renown.” – Campbell
The hero takes a second look at the call and becomes afraid. But this refusal is vital to creating depth in the story. Without second-guessing the call, the hero would look shallow. It’s important to see that the hero does not have blind faith in the call, because it means that he’s engaging and working alongside his destiny, not just letting it control him. This is something that George Lucas and JJ. Abrams understood, and it’s why Luke and Rey are believable characters.
Luke gets caught up in the old stories of Ben Kenobi, but is suddenly woken up with reality once Kenobi asks him to follow him to Alderan. Luke believes his real duty lies in staying to help his aunt and uncle with the farm. He has not yet learned to hear the call of dentiny.
Rey gets a taste of adventure once Finn shows up and recognizes BB8. Finn whisks her away on a mission being chases by the bad guys and a wild rife in the Millennium Falcon follows. Rey is forced into adventure like Luke is. Now, the bad guys are looking for our innocent hero who thought he/she had nothing to do with the rebellion.
At first, Rey is weary of the call because like Luke, she has something to hold onto back home. But the event that encourages her to think twice is when Han Solo offers Rey a job on his ship. Rey’s reaction is just like Luke’s. She lives such an ordinary life, it would be an absolute dream to run away and make meaning out of her life. But there’s something holding her back. The family she’s waiting for could come any day, and she needs to be there to meet them. She denies the mentor the call. She also had not yet learned what the voice of destiny sounds like, even when it speaks through Han.
Our hero’s have to accept the call on their own, but certain events that unfold, pull on the hero’s heartstrings and escort them to the decision more quickly. Luke’s world as he knows is destroyed when the Empire kill his aunt and uncle looking for R2D2. Rey gets a taste of adventure and fellowship that she had been craving for since she was young. Finn, BB8, and later Han fill that space in her heart that was meant for her lost family. Luke answers the call out of a feeling of nothingness. There is nothing left for him on Tatoonie. Rey answers the call because she wants to hold onto the adventure for a little while longer. Whoever she was waiting for, she realized will never be coming. She needs to stop waiting and start working towards what she wants.
The Mentors stand by. Obi Wan and Han Solo and watch fate work in our hero’s hearts as they tell them, the mentor figures that they will accept the hand of destiny.
“Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.” -Campbell
The Supernatural Aid in Star Wars is and will always be the force and a lightsaber. As Luke practices using his father’s lightsaber on the Millennium Falcon, Obi Wan teaches him about the ways of the force.
“…the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.” – Campbell
Rey is told about the force from the very person who scoffed at Luke and his magic, denying there was such a thing as the force. Now, Han is the mentor who assures the new generation that the force is real and the call is true.
Once the heroes accept the call, they are not left helpless. Since destiny knew the events that would unfold from the beginning, destiny grants the hero special powers and divine help to act as assurance for the hero’s that he’s doing the right thing. In Star Wars, this is the force. The hero’s have been working without knowing it on listening to the voice of the force.
Crossing the Threshold
“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.” – Campbell
As Rey flies in on the Millennium Falcon, she see’s how beautiful the galaxy is. She witnessed grand masses of green for the first time. The rules and limits of this new world are unknown to her, but she has every confidence she can take it head on. She enters a cantina and witnesses a whole new world she never knew. She seams to handle her new surroundings a little more easily then Luke. When Luke enters the cantina, he gets in trouble for brining in droids, gets in a fight with some aliens, and yells at Han Solo, the only person could help him escape form inevitable capture. This is the difference between Luke and Rey. Rey keeps her head down but still examines her surroundings. She follows Han’s every direction and it keeps her out of trouble. She enters the threshold very easily. Luke however, is too wide eyed too stay out of trouble.
Belly of the Whale
The Hero is humbled and must accept that he/she needs to go through a metamorphosis. “The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again.” -Campbell
For Jedi, this rebirth is through the force. They release their old self, and let the force sculpt them into the person they can’t become on their own. There are many instances where Rey and Luke make a connection with the force reminding them that they need to give themselves up to the force in order to become the person that their destiny needs in order to continue the call.
Rey has a vision once she grabs hold of the lightsaber. Once she takes hold, the force enters her mind and gives her more pieces of the puzzle. The force grants her information that will eventually lead her to where she needs to go. Even when she decides to run away, the force catches up to her. Just as Jonah in the Bible runs away from God, God follows him and punished Jonah for his behavior. Jonah sits in the belly of the whale until he decided to get back in line with the call.
When Rey runs away from the lightsaber, she gets captured by Kylo Ren. This is her punishment for rejecting the lightsaber. She is interrogated by Kylo until the force comes back for her and shows her that she has power she never knew about. Rey uses the force to get out of the belly of the whale and propel herself further down the road of the call.
Death of the Mentor
This is a very vital step in the hero’s journey. The mentor cannot be there to hold the hero’s hand the whole time. He must leave so the hero can enter a short time of solitude and growth during the trials. The death of the mentor also highlights the real evil of the opponent. If the dark side can kill the great and mighty mentor, then they have real and ligament power that the hero needs to go up against.
Luke’s reaction to Obi Wan’s death shows just how innocent he is and highlights the great distance of enlightenment between him and Obi Wan. Rey did not scream or cry when Han died. She handles her emotion more internally and dealt with her sadness as she fought saber to saber with Kylo.
It’s important for the hero to actually watch the mentor die. They need to see the power of the opponent so they can train hard enough to defeat it, surpassing the mentor. Not only does the hero have to beat evil in a physical battle, but in the case of Star Wars, the hero has to discover a way to redeem the man who fell in the dark. The hero must reach to the humanity of the enemy to pull him back to the light. The hero must undergo spiritual training in order to achieve this feat.
The Road of Trials
“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage… Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again.” – Campbell
The Road of trials can take a long, long time. It usually consists of more then one event that challenges the hero that helps him to grow. Think about how long the Lord of the Rings was and how many moving parts the plot held. It’s more believable that the hero grows over a long and tedious amount of time, but in the formula used in just episode seven, Rey is substantially strengthened by one single trial.
Her mentor has died. Finn is unconscious. There is no one that can help her. This pressure forces her to rely on the only other ally she has – the force. Her battle with Kylo Ren symbolizes her entry into the coming trials that we should see in the coming movies. She wins the battle in two senses. She rejects the temptation of the dark side that led Kylo astray, and she temporarily defeats the evil staring her in the face so she can escape and continue her training.
Luke’s first trial is not an epic lightsaber battle like Rey’s but still an event where he is forced to rely on a higher being. Luke man’s his X-wing being the only man who can make the shot to destroy the death star. He knows he can’t do it alone, and Obi Wan’s voice assures him of that fact.
“Use the Force Luke…” Obi Wan’s ghost orders him.
It’s interesting to see how this reminder from Obi Wan is parallel to Kylo’s reminder of the power of the force. When Rey is face to face with Kylo, he tempts her with the dark side, but Rey is able to discern between the light side and the dark, allowing her to choose the light side. Luke was not faced with an option between light and dark during his first trial. He had the option to either use the force, or ignore Obi Wan. This shows me that Rey has much more potential to be a great Jedi then Luke.
The Meeting with the Goddess
The mentor’s death also brings up the point that the hero needs to continue growing, and needs to find a replacement. This replacement is an even higher being then the Mentor. For Luke, that was Yoda, the leader of the high council in the new republic. For Rey, that’s Luke, founder of a new generation of Jedi. (until he wimped out when Ben Solo rebelled) This new mentor is a god in their eyes. In mythology, it’s usually some sort of female goddess, a mother earth figure, but it doesn’t always have to be this way.
“This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.” – Campbell
Rey goes to the secret hidden island where Luke resides. It feels like a temple or holy place, a world of self punishment through solitude. Luke lives alone and meditates with the force just as Yoda did when he was exiled to Dagobah system. The hero must meet the god and see how humble and sorrowful he is on the inside.
The god’s temple is the island that Rey dreamed about. Kylo Ren also saw it when he interrogated Rey after she ran away from the call. Since it was present in her dream, it is a very spiritual place for the force. Now Rey has come to the home of the god/goddess figure. Luke stands as her new mentor, but also the father figure she so longs for. The last few moments of the movie, she holds out his old lightsaber that once belonged to Anakin. It appears that she’s returning it to it’s rightful owner, but the rightful owner is her now. The saber choose her. She holds out the saber as a way to ask the god to teach her his ways, and to redeem her as his child.