Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
As the movie begins, Rick Deckard is trying to eat some sushi in peace. He doesn't get very far: he just starts to order it at the roadside stand when his past life reaches out drag him back in. He's been trying to retire from his life as a blade runner, a guy hired to "retire" (or, you know, kill) escaped replicants.
Call to Adventure
But guess what? Deckard's about to get forced into a new assignment. Another blade runner, a guy named Gaff, shows up and tells Deckard that he's wanted down at the police station, acting almost like Deckard's under arrest. Although he pretends, at first, not to understand Gaff's multi-lingual street slang, Deckard agrees to go.
Refusal of the Call
At the station, Deckard's boss, Bryant, presents him with the mission: he has to kill four escaped replicants who hijacked a space shuttle, killed the crew and passengers, and came to earth. Deckard tries to wriggle his way out of the assignment, suggesting another blade runner named Holden. But Holden's already faced off with one of the replicants and has been injured in the process. Bryant informs Deckard that he has no choice: he needs to kill the replicants.
Meeting the Mentor
Gaff doesn't say that much, but Bryant suggests that he should be Deckard's role model, since he's a super successful blade runner: "You could learn from this guy, Gaff. He's a goddamn one man slaughter house." Later, Gaff helps provide a possible clue to Deckard's identity—the origami unicorn he leaves behind might indicate that he knows that Deckard is really a replicant.
Crossing the Threshold
Deckard crosses the threshold when he goes to visit Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the creator of the replicants and the head of the Tyrell Corporation. Here, Deckard meets up with Rachael, a replicant who has fake memories and thus seems more human-like. He hears Tyrell's views on the replicants: they're just tools, and Rachael herself is just an experiment.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Deckard's first big test is to track down one of the replicants: Zhora. A snake scale he finds in Leon's shower eventually leads him to the club where Zhora is working—she performs an exotic dance with an artificial snake. After she tries to escape, he chases her down and kills her. He also tangles with Leon, another replicant—but Deckard's new ally and potential girlfriend Rachael blows Leon's brains out. Back at his apartment, Deckard ends up sleeping with Rachael.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Deckard tracks the two remaining renegade replicants to the somewhat creepy apartment of J. F. Sebastian, a genetic designer. Pris (the first of these remaining replicants that Deckard encounters) attacks Deckard, but he ends up killing her in the process. When the other replicant, Roy Batty, arrives to find his lover dead, he flips out and breaks two of Deckard's fingers before chasing him around the apartment.
Roy seems ready to kill Deckard. When Deckard hits Roy with a pipe, it has little effect, and it becomes clear that he's severely overmatched. After a chase sequence during which Roy acts increasingly nuts, Deckard finds himself hanging off a roof, prepared to plummet to his death below. Roy jumps over to where Deckard is, apparently coming to push him off the edge.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
Strangely, Deckard never really "seizes the sword." He doesn't defeat Roy. In fact, Roy could have easily killed Deckard if he had wanted too. But he doesn't. Instead, he shows Deckard mercy, which provides him with a moment of illumination. Roy pulls him up from where he's dangling and tells Deckard that he (Roy) is about to die, thanks to his limited lifespan as a replicant. Deckard is left as the living witness to Roy's graceful and forgiving demise.
The Road Back
Armed with this new knowledge, Deckard heads back to his apartment. He's worried that Gaff has already killed Rachael (who went on the run and has also been marked for death). Before he leaves the scene of Roy's death, Gaff arrives, telling Deckard, "It's too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?"
Fortunately, Deckard arrives to find that Rachael is still alive. Gaff visited the apartment but decided not to kill her, leaving behind a silver origami unicorn as a token (and a message perhaps indicating that Deckard is a replicant himself, if you're watching one of the versions of the film with the unicorn dream sequence). Deckard wakes Rachael up to tell her they need to leave. The head into the elevator, probably to split town.
Return with the Elixir
If you're watching the "final cut" or director's cut versions of Blade Runner, this part isn't included. But at the very end of the original theatrical version, Deckard reveals that Rachael doesn't have the four-year time limit on her lifespan that the other replicants do. She'll be able to live a normal life, as long as Deckard's. As they drive out into a beautiful Western landscape—totally different from the movie's L.A.—it seems like they're set for a classic, happily-ever-after kind of ending… which is not necessarily what you would expect from this kind of movie, and (spoiler alert) it wasn't actually what Scott wanted.