Study Guide

Star Wars: A New Hope Hero's Journey

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

Luke begins his adventure in the Ordinary World of moisture farming on the desert planet Tatooine—which is normal for him, at least. We learn that Luke is still a child when he whines about those power converters, but we also see that he yearns for a life of adventure and not the safe, uneventful one his Uncle Owen has planned.

Note: The hero's journey really kicks off when we meet Luke, but there is a lot of movie before that. These sections are all about exposition, telling us what we need to know about this odd universe and the galactic war.

Call To Adventure

Luke's call to adventure comes when he finds a message stored in R2-D2. After Leia famously says, "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope," we know that the ripples of the galactic war have found their way to Luke's ordinary world. Luke may not realize it, but his life has changed.

Refusal Of The Call

Initially, Luke refuses the call to join the rebellion and save Princess Leia. When R2-D2 runs off, he wants to retrieve the droid more because he doesn't want to be in trouble than a sense of duty. After finding Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke still refuses to join as he has work to do on Tatooine.

Luke doubts his ability to be of any help, saying, "It's all such a long way from here." At the end of this stage, Luke returns home to discover his Uncle and Aunt murdered and their farm a smoldering ruin.

Meeting The Mentor

The third and fourth stages blend a bit in Star Wars. Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi after a run-in with Sand People chasing R2-D2 into the desert. Obi-Wan explains about the Jedi, the Force, and Luke's father, but when the wise old man offers to teach Luke the ways of the Jedi, Luke refuses.

After discovering his home burned and his family murdered, Luke returns to Obi-Wan and says, "There's nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father." Luke has agreed to accept Obi-Wan as a mentor who will guide him on the next stage on his journey.

Crossing The Threshold

Luke leaves home and crosses the threshold of his journey in the form of Mos Eisley spaceport. The spaceport is a new world for Luke. He stops and stares at all the activity in the Cantina and doesn't know how to handle himself when a pig-nosed hooligan picks a fight. Luke is out of his element, but Obi-Wan's guidance and Luke's commitment to the journey see him through.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Luke gathers more allies to his cause, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Well, "gathers" is the wrong term; he technically hires them. When Luke and company prepare to leave Tatooine, stormtroopers attempt to stop them. With the help of his new allies, Luke succeeds in escaping the planet with the droids. He is on his way to Alderaan.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

On the way, Luke makes preparations for the difficulties ahead as Obi-Wan begins teaching him about the Force and how to wield a lightsaber.

However, they don't make it to Alderaan. They discover the planet has been destroyed and replaced with the Inmost Cave, a place of danger and conflict, represented by the Death Star. Fear and doubt return to Luke in the face of such a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. In his words, "I have a bad feeling about this."

Ordeal

After Obi-Wan leaves to turn off the power to the tractor beam, Luke begins his ordeal. The ordeal is a test that the hero must overcome, usually by drawing on his skills to defeat an enemy. The rescue of Princess Leia represents this ordeal. Luke and his companions draw on their skills to mount a successful rescue of Leia.

However, the minor success is not without loss as Luke witnesses Obi-Wan's death at Vader's hands.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Luke emerges from his ordeal a worldlier, more adult hero. His reward isn't a sword—Obi-Wan already gave him that—but he does join the rebel fleet as a pilot, just like he wished back on Tatooine. As a bonus, he skips all the student debt he would have accrued going to the Academy. Luke is now ready for the last part of his journey.

The Road Back

At this point, the hero typically begins his journey back to the ordinary world from the beginning. Luke begins this stage, too, but he isn't heading back to Tatooine. Instead, his ordinary world is one without the Empire and the threats of the Death Star. As such, Luke's road back requires that he join the rebel offensive and destroy the Death Star.

At this stage, Luke must also choose between his needs and the greater good of the rebellion. When Luke turns down Han's offer to leave, he chooses the greater good.

Resurrection

The climactic final battle takes place, the attack on the Death Star. The consequences have never been higher: if Luke fails, the Rebels will be destroyed and the Empire will rule the galaxy through fear. The odds are against him and his Rebel companions, and several pilots die during the attack, including Luke's childhood friend, Biggs.

Ultimately, Luke succeeds in destroying the Death Star thanks to an at-the-buzzer save by Han Solo.

While Luke isn't physically reborn here, we do see him undergo a change. Remembering Obi-Wan's words, Luke trusts the Force and comes into his powers. He takes his first steps toward becoming a Jedi.

Return With The Elixir

An elixir is a magical potion that is meant to bring about a positive effect. While Luke doesn't bring back a vial of super-juice, his return signifies that his friends and the Rebels will survive to fight another day. That's a good compromise, if you ask us.

The elixir also represents the success of the journey, and we see Luke's success when he is presented the medal by Princess Leia. Luke wanted to leave the farm, join the larger universe, and make a difference that mattered. The ending scene shows us that he did just that. This galaxy isn't so far, far away for Luke any more.