The Call to Adventure
In mythology, the hero's journey begins with the "call to adventure." Destiny's herald is usually someone or something fairly ordinary—a frog, a deer in the forest, or in this case a humble droid—that carries an important message for the one who is prepared to receive it.
As the Star Wars story begins, a battle in space rages between the evil powers of darkness (the Galactic Empire) and the forces of good (the Rebel Alliance). Princess Leia sends a plea for help to Jedi Knight Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi on the planet of Tatooine. The hand of Fate, in the form of Jawa traders, brings her message to Luke Skywalker, a young farmboy. When Luke sees the message hologram, he is drawn into a quest to rescue the Princess and ultimately to save the galaxy.
The Wise and Helpful Guide
A hero first must encounter "threshold guardians," beings who block the way to the adventure. Luke faces threshold guardians when he is attacked by the Tusken Raiders. He is rescued by Ben.
Often the inexperienced hero finds that he cannot proceed without supernatural aid, in the form of a "wise and helpful guide" who provides advice and amulets to further the quest. Ben serves as such a guide and gives Luke a special token—a lightsaber that once belonged to Luke's father.
Ben also interprets the Princess's message and tells Luke about the spiritual power known as the Force. Luke resists the call to adventure, but when he finds his home burned and his family killed, he joins Ben on the journey to Mos Eisley spaceport to obtain transportation to the planet Alderaan, the home of Princess Leia.
Into the Labyrinth
A labyrinth has always symbolized a difficult journey into the unknown, and in one way or another it is often incorporated into tales of the hero's journey. When the heroes arrive in the vicinity of Alderaan, they find that the planet has been destroyed by the Death Star, a gigantic Imperial space station. The Death Star is a technological labyrinth—a maze of hallways, passages, dead ends, and bottomless trenches. Like traditional knights, Han and Luke don armor to accomplish their first hero deed—the "princess rescue."
The Dark Road of Trials
Midway through the hero's journey comes a long and perilous path of trials, tests, and ordeals that bring important moments of illumination and understanding. Again and again along the way, monsters must be slain and barriers must be passed. Ultimately the hero must undertake the fearful journey of the descent into darkness.
Although the Death Star has been destroyed, the powers of darkness have not been conquered. The Empire has pursued the Rebels to the ice planet of Hoth, where the heroes face new dangers from predatory creatures and the harsh climate and are forced to flee during an Imperial attack.
The next step in the hero quest is a challenge to mortal combat. The heroes experienced an initial rite of passage in the Death Star and accomplished the "princess rescue." Now Leia leads Han and Luke to the Rebel base to plan an attack on the Death Star. Luke joins the fighter pilots of the Rebellion. As he puts on his uniform, he puts aside his youthful identity and assumes a new role—that of a heroic pilot, ready to sacrifice his life for his cause.
In the end good triumphs over evil, and the heroes are recognized for their deeds of valor. This moment is the end of one adventure, but it also represents the start of the next stage—further initiation on the "road of trials."
The Sacred Grove
The "sacred grove" is another mythic motif; it represents an enclosure where the hero is changed. Ancient peoples widely believed the tree to be infused with creative energy. Forests came to symbolize mystery and transformation, and they were home to sorcerers and enchanters.
When Luke leaves Hoth, he travels to the planet Dagobah to undergo training with the Jedi Master, Yoda. The hallmark of Dagobah is its large, oddly shaped trees.
Forests can also symbolize the unconscious mind, where there are secrets to be discovered and perhaps dark emotions or memories to be faced. In this forest Luke battles an image of Vader, prefiguring his combat with the Dark Lord later in the story.
The opening of the mind and heart to spiritual knowledge requires a sacrifice from the hero. At this difficult and dangerous place on the hero path, Han and Luke both reaffirm the meaning and importance of their lives by their willingness to sacrifice themselves.
The danger of illusion is symbolized by Cloud City above the planet Bespin. At first the city appears transcendent as it floats among the clouds, but it has a dark underside that becomes a crucible of pain and betrayal for the heroes. Vader follows the Falcon to Bespin and then lures Luke there to entrap him. Han is captured, put into hibernation in the carbon freeze chamber, and taken away by bounty hunter Boba Fett to be delivered to Han's former employer, Jabba the Hutt. Han's friend, Lando Calrissian, who betrayed Han to Vader, will undergo a life change and begin his own hero journey.
Into the Belly of the Beast
One particular mythic motif is the "swallowing up" of the hero by a large monster. This represents the entry into a mystical world where transformations occur, and the eventual escape represents a spiritual rebirth.
Han and Leia are pursued by Imperial Star Destroyers and TIE fighters as they leave Hoth. To escape, Han flies the Falcon into an asteroid "cave," which turns out to be the mouth of a huge space slug. Here Han and Leia at last open their hearts to love.
Vader also undergoes a change at this point, when he emerges from an egg-like meditation chamber. The Emperor appears to him through a holographic message, and Vader is revealed as a slave to the evil forces of the Empire, rather than as their master.
The Path to Atonement
The hero's journey sometimes includes a "father quest." After many trials and ordeals, the hero finds his father and becomes "at-one" with him. This process is called "atonement."
Luke has tried to follow in his father's footsteps as a heroic pilot and Jedi Knight. The dark, unknown side of his father—and of himself—is now unveiled as Luke confronts Vader in the dark byways of Cloud City. Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father. Luke realizes that he must sacrifice himself, rather than become a tool of evil like Vader.
Leia rescues Luke as he falls from the underside of Cloud City, and when Vader calls to Luke through the Force, Luke acknowledges him as "Father"—they have begun to move toward reconciliation. Luke has recognized the dark side of himself as part of his destiny, and Darth Vader has begun his own journey toward transformation.
The Hero\'s Return
The "hero's return" marks the end of the "road of trials." The hero must return from his adventures with the means to benefit his society. Luke comes home to Tatooine to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. This is not an easy transition for Luke; his new-found abilities as a Jedi Knight are doubted by friend and foe alike.
As the story continues, all the characters undergo changes: Han is resurrected from his carbonite tomb, Lando makes up for his betrayal of Han by helping to rescue him, and Leia assures the end of Jabba's reign of tyranny by destroying him herself.