Why We Love Star Wars

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A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

We love Star Wars.  When I say “we,” I mean “we” in the larger collective sense.  I can’t (and shouldn’t) speak for everyone here at Space.porn, of course.  However, Star Wars permeated American culture and it’s far-reaching influence back in 1977.  It hasn’t let up since.  That makes me pretty comfortable in saying we love Star Wars.  I know this blog is about space. However, as a writer and literary scholar, I’d like to take this opportunity to look at what’s so awesome about Star Wars and how it earned its iconic status in our culture.  First, however, we should address the inter-galactic elephant in the room when it comes to the Star Wars universe.

Opinions May Vary.

I was born a year after Episode IV came out.  Some of my earliest memories are watching Empire on VHS and going with my grandpa to see Jedi in the theater at five years old.  Star Wars dominated my childhood.  Still – Nothing either George Lucas or Disney has done with the franchise since those three films concluded in 1983 has “ruined my childhood” like some of the uber-fans out there say.  Sorry, but if you’re one of those, I got no time for you.  These are amazing movies, but changing them doesn’t change the fact that you had an awesome experience with them when you were a kid.  Period.

That said, some Star Wars movies are better than others.  Even within the original trilogy.  You can’t tell me that if you were an adult and watched Wicket and the other Ewoks in the village you wouldn’t crap out a brick the way you did when Jar Jar Binks first bumbled on screen.  

So, if we can all agree that we all love Star Wars for different reasons, we can proceed.

George, Joseph, and the Monomyth

It’s been documented that George Lucas, when writing the original trilogy, consulted with a guy named Joseph Campell.  Campbell is the guy who wrote the book on what is known as the “monomyth.”  The monomyth is a plot arch that has been used across generations and cultures since time immemorial.  It’s also been referred to as the “Hero’s Journey.”  If we look at this graphic, then compare it to Episode IV, we can see that they line up perfectly.  

The Hero’s Journey

Circular diagram showing the hero's journey from the known through the unknown.

A diagram of the Hero’s Journey, based on the work of Joseph Campbell.

Step 1: The Call to Adventure

Luke’s droid runs off, saying he’s the property of Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan tells Luke his father was a Jedi and that he has a destiny.  If that isn’t a call to adventure, I don’t know what is.

Step 2: Supernatural Aid

AKA: The Force. Obi-Wan doesn’t just tell Luke that his father was a badass fighter pilot.  He doesn’t just say that Luke should go and join the Rebellion.  No.  He says, “You must learn the ways of the Force… if you’re to come with me to Alderaan.”  Force: first.  Come with me: second.

Step 3: Crossing the Threshold

So Luke gives all kinds of reasons why he can’t go off and learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi.  Then he finds all of his reasons flew the coop when the Stormtroopers came and charred Uncle Owen and Aunt Baru.  Now he has no reason not to cross the threshold into the unknown and begin his transformation from whiney farm boy to Jedi badass.

Step 4: Challenges and Temptations

This is where all of the plot (or, as we say in the business, “rising action”) takes place.  Our hero must have the help of both his mentor and outside forces to work his way toward slaying the dragon.  For Luke, it’s Han, Chewie, and eventually Leia.  And let’s not forget about Wedge and Biggs.  All of these challenges lead up to the revelation, or turning point, in the hero’s transformation.

Step 5: The Revelation/Abyss/Dark Night of the Soul/Death & Rebirth

This is where Obi-Wan dies and Luke is left to wonder what to do.  He knows he still needs to destroy the Death Star, but he doesn’t know if he can do it on his own.

Step 6: Transformation

Luke gets in his X-Wing, begins the fight, and then has to choose to listen to his old self – the competent but inexperienced pilot from the farm on Tatooine, or the Jedi talking to him through the Force.  He chooses to turn off his targeting computer, and at that moment, he’s transformed for good.

Step 7: Atonement

In the movie, this is where Luke’s decision to listen to Obi-Wan, and therefore The Force, wins the day. This atones for all of the sacrifices that have been made up to that point, and it also redeems Han Solo.

Step 8: The Return and the Gift of the Goddess

The movie ends with a giant celebration upon the X-Wing squadrons’ arrival, and then there’s a regal ceremony in which the princess (close enough to a goddess – RIP, Carrie Fisher) awards the heroes with medals.

Okay, Lucas followed Campbell’s blueprint.  So What?

Well, it’d be one thing if Campbell just happened to make up the cycle for the hero’s journey, but he didn’t.  He fleshed it out after analyzing thousands of myths and legends from across continents and cultures.  The point is, the formula that Lucas used to create his galaxy far, far away is the same one that was used to make the Odyssey, the Illiad, a lot of Shakespearian tragedies, and even older epics like Gilgamesh.  This formula goes back thousands of years, and Star Wars is the twentieth/twenty-first-century version of it.

Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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