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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.)
In The Phantom Menace, the ordinary world is one of peace. The people of Naboo are so used to peace they only have security volunteers, and the Jedi are used as ambassadors rather than warriors. The ordinary world lasts for all of ten minutes before the adventure comes knocking in the form of a black horseman looking for Baggginssss.
Oops. Wrong movie.
The call to adventure is less a call and more an assassination attempt to adventure. Darth Sidious orders Nute Gunray to make two moves simultaneously: invade Naboo and kill the Jedi. The Jedi manage to escape the droid control station and make it down to Naboo.
At this point, all of the characters have been called to adventure: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan must fight the Trade Federation to contact Chancellor Valorum, and Queen Padmé Amidala must find a way to restore her people's sovereignty.
There isn't really a refusal of the call in The Phantom Menace. At no point does either Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan wonder whether to side with Naboo and combat the Trade Federation threat. Even the hesitant Padmé knows she must defeat the invading army; she just doesn't know how.
The characters do put the call to adventure on hold and request that it listen to some easy listening hold music while they figure stuff out. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan run into Jar Jar and need to find a way to get to the Naboo capital. Jar Jar takes them to Gunga City, where Qui-Gon mind tricks the head honcho, Boss Nass, into giving them transportation. The call to adventure enjoys an all-sax rendition of "Jack and Diane" while they travel the planet core to the Naboo capital.
Again, things are a little different in The Phantom Menace than your traditional hero's journey. Since Qui-Gon serves as both the protagonist and the mentor, he can't very well meet himself. Instead, Qui-Gon rescues Queen Amidala from some battle droids, and all the heroes are joined together on the quest.
Being the mentor that he is, Qui-Gon advises Queen Amidala, suggesting that something more is at work behind the Trade Federation and that they escape the planet to contact Chancellor Valorum.
The threshold is when the hero pushes forward to begin his quest in earnest. For Qui-Gon and Padmé, that threshold consists of a blockade of deadly battle stations that have all their guns aimed at the Queen's spaceship. They narrowly escape, but the hyperdrive is damaged, forcing them to land on a remote planet called Tatooine.
On an unfamiliar planet filled with unwelcoming citizens, Qui-Gon is presented with a new set of challenges. He must find a way to secure a hyperdrive for the ship, but he has no money the local shops will accept, and this galaxy was too busy developing hyperdrive technology to figure out how currency exchanges work.
To help him succeed in this task, Qui-Gon meets a new ally in young Anakin Skywalker, who manages to win money in a podrace. Qui-Gon also meets a new enemy, Darth Maul.
In the hero's journey, the cave represents a place of danger. The hero's approach to said cave represents him walking into danger, so on his approach, he prepares as best he can.
The time we spend on Coruscant represents this approach in The Phantom Menace. Padmé attempts to garner support in the Galactic Senate to fight back against the Trade Federation, and Qui-Gon informs the Jedi Council about his encounter with a Sith.
Padmé isn't successful and decides to return to Naboo to fight the threat herself. Qui-Gon is equally unsuccessful in convincing the Jedi Council to accept Anakin for training. He returns with Padmé to protect her.
The ordeal is exactly that. It's an ordeal, test, trial, or otherwise dangerous situation the hero must face that requires him to draw on all he has learned throughout his journey.
This is represented by the Battle of Naboo, and it's a four-prong ordeal. Jar Jar and the Gungans face the droid army on the field, Padmé attempts to capture Viceroy Gunray, and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan must battle Darth Maul. Even Anakin gets in on the action by accidentally piloting a Naboo fighter to join the battle to destroy the droid control station.
The reward can be an actual seized sword, but it can also be a transformation that changes the hero from one state to another. We see each hero seize their own sword during the Battle of Naboo, transforming into something more.
Padmé becomes a true leader for the Naboo, and Anakin becomes a pilot who saves the day. Even Jar Jar is, um… at the battle…? So that's something.
The only character that doesn't seize his metaphorical sword is Qui-Gon—because Darth Maul stabs him with an actual sword.
The road back returns the characters to the ordinary world we left at the beginning of the film, and our heroes return in victorious style. Anakin destroys the droid control station, and Padmé captures Viceroy Gunray. Between the two, they effectively win the Battle of Naboo, ending the invasion and bringing peace back to Naboo. This is evident by the droids shutting down, clinching victory for the Gungans.
The only plot thread left dangling is Obi-Wan Kenobi (literally). If Obi-Wan succeeds, he can save the universe from the Sith. If he fails, then Darth Maul and Darth Sidious will continue to phantom menace the universe.
Typically, this stage represents a resurrection in the hero, and that happens here in a way. When Obi-Wan leaps over Darth Maul, he seizes Qui-Gon's lightsaber and cuts down the Sith lord. This represents Obi-Wan accepting his role as a Jedi knight. So while Qui-Gon may be dead, his role as mentor and warrior lives on through his apprentice-turned Jedi knight.
In this final stage, the hero returns to the ordinary world. The elixir can represent many different things: an actual elixir, victory over any enemy, happy days, and so on.
Having defeated their enemies and grown into their roles, our heroes return to their ordinary, peaceful world. Padmé continues to reign as queen over a peaceful planet. Obi-Wan has assumed the rank of Jedi knight and has taken Anakin as his Padawan.
And Senator Palpatine will continue to be a manipulative, conniving politician who is only out for himself. See? Perfectly ordinary world.
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