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.)
Please note that "ordinary" is relative. With the crew of Enterprise enjoying shore leave, a strange man appears on the desert planet Nimbus III, talking with poor colonists about their "secret pain" and convincing them to become his loyal followers.
Call to Adventure
After rallying enough followers, the stranger takes over the planet's capital, Paradise City, kidnapping the three ambassadors who reside there. The crew of Enterprise hears about this and is forced to cut the vacay short. Meanwhile, a Klingon captain named Klaa receives the same message and heads to Nimbus III.
Refusal of the Call
Unfortunately, things aren't going well with Enterprise—she's in rough shape. The crew members have no time to fix her up, however—they'll have to work on repairs on the way over. Doesn't seem like the wisest move, but all right. After seeing a video of the hostages, Spock realizes that he knows the strange leader from his childhood—he was a Vulcan banished from society because he favored emotion over logic.
Meeting the Mentor
The crew mounts a clandestine rescue effort that fails when the hostages pull guns on their rescuers. They're under the stranger's spell, too. The crew finally meets him face to face, and his name is revealed to be Sybok. He and Spock clearly know each other well. With the crew members in tow, Sybok takes their shuttle and makes for Enterprise, kicking off the next stage of his mysterious plan.
Crossing the Threshold
While they're in transit, Klaa and company arrive. They learn that Captain Kirk is around, after which Klaa immediately changes his plan from rescuing the hostages to killing Kirk because it'll score him a lot of glory. All righty, then. Somehow, the shuttle manages to make it inside Enterprise in the middle of this assault, and the ship immediately jumps to warp speed. Everyone aboard the shuttle is knocked unconscious.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
After everyone comes to, Spock gets hold of a gun but shockingly allows Sybok to take it from his hands. What the hey, bro? Sybok puts the other crew members under his strange spell and takes over the ship, throwing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into the brig. There, Kirk and McCoy learn something shocking—Sybok is Spock's half-brother. Holy smokes. Before this has a chance to sink in, however, Scotty, the ship's engineer, arrives to break them out of the brig. Attaboy, Scotty.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy head to an emergency communications room to contact Starfleet. Unfortunately, the message is intercepted by Klaa, who continues his pursuit. Meanwhile, Sybok finally announces his plan: he will go to the center of the galaxy, pass through the Great Barrier, and discover the planet Sha Ka Ree, which in Vulcan mythology is where creation began. Oh, yeah, and God will be there, too.
Sybok manages to capture our trio of heroes. He performs his "secret pain" ritual on McCoy and Spock, which basically amounts to a therapy session with a side dose of telepathy. McCoy completely falls under his spell, but Spock resists. In contrast, Kirk won't even give Sybok the time of day. Meanwhile, they reach the Great Barrier and…pass through it with ease. That was surprisingly simple.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
Before them sits a single planet. Could it be Sha Ka Ree? Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Sybok descend to the surface, exploring for a bit before finding a rock formation. Suddenly, a swirl of blue energy appears, with images of various deities floating through it. This must be God. After Kirk questions the entity, however, God starts blasting energy willy-nilly, ultimately revealing himself to be an intergalactic prisoner locked away on the planet. He's tricked Sybok into breaking him free.
The Road Back
Sybok sacrifices himself to take down the impostor, but he only succeeds in buying McCoy and Spock enough time to be transported up to the ship. Poor Kirk is left on the planet all by his lonesome. To make things worse, the Klingons arrive and arm their weapons just as Spock and McCoy board Enterprise. Jeez. Can't anything go right?
God is ticked, and he's got his eyes set on Kirk. The same goes for his blasts of blue energy. Just as all hope seems lost, the Klingon vessel suddenly appears on the planet and blasts the supposed deity to bits. To his amazement, Kirk is beamed aboard and learns that Spock has struck a deal with the Klingons, saving his life and making peace in the process.
Return With the Elixir
All of the formerly conflicting parties get together for a big shindig. It's really nice. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock talk to each other about the familial bond they all share, while the rest of the crew enjoys the fruits (and drinks) of a hard-won peace.