The Hero’s Journey is the universal story of mankind. Reverberating throughout all cultures of all times, with so little variation as to prompt the great mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell, to name it the monomyth.
The story begins in a situation of crisis. Sinister forces have seized control of the fabulous realm, the alien world or the Galaxy far, far away and their victory is about to be completed. In this dire situation, a figure enters the stage who is nothing like the usual “hero” stereotypes: the archetypical hero is, at first, neither brave nor experienced but utterly weak, timid, and ignorant.
His origin is either unknown or very special (immaculate conception, famous, long-dead parents, foundling etc.). Soon, further characters from the universal arsenal of archetypes enter the stage: the wise, elder mentor, the rugged, savvy loner, the pure, equally autonomous and yet fragile female element and many more. When the hero’s fateful mission is revealed to him, he refuses at first, horror-stricken. But then, dramatic events force him to embark upon his journey, accompanied by his helpers. Their support allows him to grow beyond himself, then he seems to fail catastrophically, only to eventually defeat his antagonist, often redeeming him in the process.
Thus, the Hero’s Journey can be divided into three major parts: outset, initiation, consummation. The final triumph leads to a complete liberation and renovation which utterly transcends the usual frame of reference and, therefore, eludes the confines of language. Thus, the story usually ends on a seemingly banal or even completely open note.
Archetypes within us
The pioneers of psycho-analysis have great merit in paving the way to understanding the Hero’s Journey: to C.G. Jung we owe our knowledge about the archetypes, whereas Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams deciphered the imagery of our subconscious. Comparing the mythology of mankind to the findings of dream analysis, Campbell realized that both, during any given stage of individual or collective development, tell the same events, using the same images. This prompted Campbell, like Jung, to realize that, simply put, dreams are individual myths – and myths are collective dreams.
It does not take a huge leap to make the connection that the countless, universally uniform narrations of the Hero’s Journey can, in fact, be seen as metaphorical representations of an intrapersonal process. At the surface, each of us is the hero or the heroine of our respective, individual life; looking more profoundly, however, we realize that the hero, his companions, helpers and antagonists represent personified aspects of the human psyche. Seen from this perspective, the Hero’s Journey turns into the metaphor of an inner self-realization – one, we believe, everybody will be called to embark upon in their time.
In some way, possibly buried deep in the sub-conscious, we believe that everybody feels the need to undergo this process. Maybe this explains why the Hero’s Journey’s famous representations in literature and film remain so immensely popular for decades.
The Star Wars Scenario
Let’s take a look at the original Star Wars trilogy from this angle, shall we? A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of The Jedi (1983) represent the Hero’s Journey’s three huge steps in rare clarity, rivaling our time’s and culture’s other great trilogy about the Hero’s Journey: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was hugely influenced by Joseph Campbell’s monumental work about the mythology of mankind.
The title – “Star Wars” – is a bit misleading: it is not about huge balls of plasma and super-heated gas going to war with each other but about a war – a cataclysmic, all-out, no-holds-barred conflict – taking place in the realm, the sphere, of the stars.
The inner universe
Throughout the millennia, different cultures knew the concept of the microcosm, the “human system” in its completeness. In the microcosm, personalities incarnate in seemingly never-ending succession, leaving behind the essence of their experience. Thus, “stars”, concentrations of energy, are born in the microcosm’s perimeter, forming the individual inner “firmament”, mirroring the whole of cosmic and macrocosmic existence. Our personality in our current, individual life is at the microcosm’s center, surrounded by vast, unconscious forces: the “Earth” from which we “gaze” at these “stars”. When a human being undergoes the process metaphorically narrated in the Hero’s Journey, the entire microcosm is fundamentally changed, renewed and liberated: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Revelation 21:1). First, however, this celestial sphere will be the stage for a “war” amidst the “stars” – Star Wars.
This universal human mystery does not aim to “enlighten” our current, ego-centric personality. Its goal is not for us to be more successful, more at ease or happier in our current state, but for the microcosm to be transformed back into its original, “holy” (i.e. whole, complete) state. In its early stages, this process might very well resemble a war in the above sense: an existential conflict between the “good” (i.e. liberating, renovating) and “bad” (i.e. binding, limiting, self-serving, divisive) forces within.
Necessity forces action
The internal Hero’s Journey begins when a human being realizes the necessity to undertake the above process, and decides to actively promote it. While his or her external life remains largely unchanged, the figurative Hero embarks on his Journey through the inner realms of the human being. He is being accompanied and helped by his “fellows” – inner aspects activated by the inner commotion.
The original Star Wars trilogy begins at a place that most of us might, consciously or unconsciously, know from experience. The entire “galaxy” is in the vice of the evil “Galactic Empire” about to activate the Death Star – a space station the size of a moon, capable of destroying an entire planet. The microcosmic firmament has spawned a deeply unnatural “star” capable of suppressing and even destroying the others.
But the Forces Of Good have not yet been completely annihilated: from a hidden, secret base – another microcosmic “star” / force concentration whose location eludes the Empire – the Rebel Alliance (outnumbered and outgunned, making up in pluckiness and likeability what they lack in firepower) is running guerilla skirmishes against the vastly superior foe. And they have won a decisive victory: rebel spies have stolen the Death Star plans. Now Princess Leia – the female principle, emotional intelligence, who will display further aspects during the course of the story – is heading home with the plans. But Darth Vader, the prime antagonist and right hand to the Emperor, intercepts her and abducts her to the Death Star. She has managed, however, to save the plans into the memory of a robot – a droid as they’re called in Star Wars. This droid, R2-D2, is part of a robot duo which serves as comic relief but also embodies important inner aspects.
R2-D2 is essentially an intelligent, self-propelled toolbox and universal problem-solver. He communicates by means of binary beeps, chirps and whistles unintelligible to the audience but clear to every movie character. He is accompanied by C-3PO, a golden, humanoid droid always looking slightly out of place within the dusty, “used”-looking movie scenes. He knows six million languages (which is to say: all of them), is programmed for etiquette and capable of operating machinery, but truly intelligent he is not: judgmental, pedantic and anxious, he never gets the relevant point of any given situation. Let’s interpret him as unenlightened, mechanically judging morality and R2-D2 as practical intelligence. Together, they make up a good portion of the still quite limited mind.
While Princess Leia’s ship is being captured above the desert planet Tattooine, the two droids make their way to an escape pod and crash on the planet’s surface. They end up in the hands of a farmer who happens to be the uncle of Luke Skywalker (“he who walks in the skies”, a truly foreboding name). Kept ignorant about his origin and heritage, Luke dreams of freedom and heroic accomplishments against the Empire. But even leaving the planet is currently out of his reach.
Along with the plans, Princess Leia has recorded a call for help to one Obi-Wan Kenobi – a former Jedi Knight also dwelling on Tattooine. In the night, R2-D2 escapes into the desert and starts his search for Obi-Wan. After a dramatic search and rescue mission, Luke, R2-D2 and C-3PO meet the old hermit Ben Kenobi who soon reveals himself to be Obi-Wan. He tells Luke how his father was betrayed and killed by Obi-Wan’s former friend and disciple, Darth Vader, hands Luke his father’s lightsaber (a sword with a blade made from light, an overwhelmingly powerful symbol) and beckons Luke to join him, Obi-Wan, on his journey. The Hero’s mission is revealed to him. Struck with fear, Luke refuses. As it happens both in heroes’ stories and in everyday life, the task seems too big. But fate plays her hand: imperial troops have tracked the droids to the farm, killed Luke’s foster parents and burned the place down. The Hero has become homeless. Distressed, with nowhere else to go, Luke joins Obi-Wan.
This two-fold uprooting – the unknown origin and the loss of home – are perpetual traits of the archetypical Hero; they hint towards the central human principle’s transcendent origin.
Obi-Wan resembles Merlin, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Virgil of the Divine Comedy: an ancient inner principle of wisdom and experience, unable in and of itself to pursue the process of renovation and liberation, but unconditionally committed to helping accomplish it.
Because Obi-Wan, Luke and the droids cannot risk to raise any attention, they hire a smuggler to transport them: Han Solo and his non-human copilot, Chewbacca. These two represent the two aspects of the ego’s will: the pragmatically self-serving side and the brute, savage side. The ego’s will does not enable it to overcome the state of the microcosm, but through cunning and criminal energy it has gained a certain, relative freedom to operate outside the “law” – i.e. the restrictions and conventions confining the human being within his or her situation. The ship of the two, the Millennium Falcon, is the fastest ship in the galaxy. From now on it will serve to carry the mind striving to be renewed. At the Falcon’s helm, Han and Chewbacca easily outmaneuver the gargantuan, clumsy imperial ships.
Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids board Han’s and Chewbacca’s ship and set course for Princess Leia’s home world. Intelligence, morality, experience, ego and will have joined the inner Hero principle, now in possession of a vehicle (let’s remember the meaning of this term in Indian teachings) capable of crossing the microcosm’s inner vastness with relative freedom.
The adventure takes its course …
 Campbell, Joseph: The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Novato/CA, 2008