Study Guide

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

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.)

Ordinary World

For Star Trek, interstellar conflict is the ordinary world. The film opens with a giant alien cloud of energy entering the space of the United Federation of Planets, an interstellar organization headquartered on Earth.

And there's even worse news—it's heading straight for the capital planet.

Call To Adventure

The only ship close enough to stop it is the Enterprise, which is currently undergoing renovations. Admiral Kirk, the ship's former captain, takes control of the Enterprise from Captain Decker and announces that they will be leaving immediately.

Meanwhile, Spock, the ship's former science officer, leaves the planet Vulcan after receiving telepathic messages from the space cloud.

Refusal Of The Call

Enterprise goes into warp drive, but an engine malfunction causes the ship to get stuck in a wormhole. In order to save the ship, Decker countermands one of Kirk's orders, which really ticks off the Captain. Macho posturing abounds.

Meeting The Mentor

A Federation shuttle approaches: it's Spock. He tells Kirk that he's been receiving message from the cloud entity and that he wants to learn more about it. Some people are hesitant to trust him, but Kirk has full faith in his old friend.

Crossing The Threshold

Finally, they come in contact with the entity. The crew is split: Decker wants to hold back and analyze the situation, while Spock wants to dive in headfirst. Ultimately, Kirk gives the order to enter the cloud.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Once inside, the ship is attacked by the entity. One of the crew members named Ilia (Decker's ex-bae) is zapped and seemingly killed, though a perfectly recreated android replica of her appears moments later.

She claims to have been sent by "V'Ger" (the entity) to learn more about the Enterprise.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

As Decker evokes Ilia's memories in an attempt to bring her consciousness to the surface, Spock sneaks into the cargo bay and steals a spacesuit. He leaves the ship and prepares to enter what is literally "the inmost cave": the center of V'Ger.


Spock travels through a holographic tour of V'Ger's travels. He learns that it came from a planet of sentient machines and that it's traveled really far to reunite with its "Creator."

Once he reaches the end of the tunnel, Spock reads V'Ger's thoughts with a Vulcan technique called "mind-melding" and gets knocked unconscious. He floats back to the ship, where he's rescued by Kirk.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Spock tells Kirk what he learned. By now, V'Ger has reached Earth and is threatening to destroy the planet if the Creator doesn't respond. Kirk, bolstered by Spock's knowledge, tricks Ilia by saying that he knows why the Creator hasn't responded, but that he wants to tell V'Ger directly.

Ilia agrees and leads Kirk, Decker, and Spock to V'Ger itself, which turns out to be an old space probe. In fact, it's the former Voyager VI probe, which was launched by NASA. It had somehow ended up on the planet of sentient machines, where its technology was upgraded and it was given consciousness.

The Road Back

Kirk gets the old NASA codes for interacting with Voyager series probes, but V'Ger sabotages itself before the final sequence is entered. It wants to encounter the Creator directly.

Spurred perhaps by his love for Ilia, Decker runs up and enters the final code himself, merging with the machine as he and Ilia dissipate in a stream of energy.


As they evaporate, the energy begins to spread and envelop all of V'Ger. The crew rushes back to the Enterprise, which is the only thing left standing (or floating?) once everything's said and done. Kirk reports Decker and Ilia as casualties before correcting himself: they're simply missing.

Return With The Elixir

The crew wonders what they just witnessed. Maybe it was the birth of a new species. Maybe it was the next evolution of humanity. Or maybe it was an origin story for the Borg.

Either way, everyone is happy to be reunited and back to their old, adventuring ways.

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