Star Wars and the hero myth

Star Wars and the hero myth

Read about how the film Star Wars follows a pattern found in myths to practise and improve your reading skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises.


Reading text

Critics of the 2015 film Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have called the film unoriginal and predictable because the story so closely mirrors the very first Star Wars film in 1977. But, in fact, both films follow a structure that pre-dates all Hollywood films, that of the 'hero myth'. That's because director George Lucas based Star Wars on the ideas in Joseph Campbell's 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Later editions of Campbell's book even featured Star Wars' hero Luke Skywalker on the front cover.

In his book, Campbell analyses myths from all over the world to describe the 'monomyth' – a pattern that you can see in myths from every culture. In short, a hero sets off from home on a journey, where he overcomes obstacles and defeats enemies to return with a prize. It's a tale that has been told for thousands of years, from the Ancient Greeks with The Odyssey to JK Rowling's Harry Potter books.

George Lucas was one of the early film directors to directly base his story on the 17 stages of the hero's journey. Typically the hero starts the story living an ordinary life, but something happens that calls them to an adventure that changes everything. At the beginning of Star Wars, Luke lives an ordinary life with his aunt and uncle, repairing robots. When he finds Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi inside the robot R2D2, it is 'the call to adventure' that starts the hero on his journey.

According to Campbell, the hero at first refuses the call to adventure, but a mentor appears who helps them and they decide to 'cross the threshold' and travel into the 'special world' where the adventure happens. The next stage consists of passing tests, fighting enemies and meeting friends as the hero prepares to face their biggest challenge. For Luke the mentor is, of course, Obi-Wan, the friends are Han Solo and the robots R2D2 and C3PO and the enemy is Darth Vader inside the special world of the Death Star.

Next, the hero overcomes obstacles on the way to facing their greatest challenge. There often comes a moment when they face death or loss and that experience gives them the strength to finally defeat the enemy. Luke loses his mentor when he sees Darth Vader kill Obi-Wan, which helps him find the strength he needs later on. When heroes succeed, they return from the special world, changed by their experiences forever. Luke's change comes when he remembers Obi-Wan saying, 'Use the force', and he uses it to help him aim his laser into the heart of the Death Star. Luke takes his first steps to becoming a Jedi, and the hero myth restarts in The Return of the Jedi, except this time his mentor is Yoda.

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Submitted by danisep on Wed, 02/12/2020 - 21:46

I'm not too old, so the first movies of superheroes that I saw, it wasn't Star Wars and over here there is no a lot fans of those movies but I decide to watch all the saga three or four years ago and the first three movies was really good the oldest movies I get engage and decide to watch the new ones but it wasn't the same, I like how look all those sceneries and the lights blazers and I think that the new movies like avengers are taking something from the old greatest superheroes movies in the same way, when I was kid the first movie of super heros that get my attention was spiderman and the green goblin.

Submitted by cittàutopica on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 12:12

I like heros who lose, since I have studied the epic poems as Iliad and Odyssey: therefore Hector rather than Achilles.

Submitted by Rodinei Gaspar on Thu, 29/10/2020 - 14:04

In my opinion, hero stories are good entertainment. We can have a great time watching actions and funny scenes, if we were watching a super-hero movie, or imagining the scenes in our mind, if we were reading a book. But, sometimes these stories can be repetitive and boring, if they don’t change structure or don’t develop the characters. Opinion from my pal Iuri.

Submitted by Denise on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 09:56

I don’t know that much about hero’s movies but there’s one that I really love is “Wakanda forever” Black Panther. I love African culture so that movie for me it’s just wonderful. The mix of technology and black culture on it it’s perfect from my sight!
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Submitted by Hennadii on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 09:46

Actually, the classic "Star Wars" trilogy is my favourite hero story. I was a boy when I first watch it at the local cinema. It was like I discovered the whole new world. Nothing else could be compared with this movie. We came to the cinema almost every day with my friends and every time we were excited at the end of the film. The first part "The New Hope" was so cool, all these stuff: laser-sword, Imperia's ships, The Death Star and, of course, Darth Vader (and that music - even now, when I'm writing my comment it's playing in my head). And I can't overlook one of my favourite actor - Harrison Ford. Yes, all guys played well, but Han Solo looked like a guy you want to be like. Next part was even better (rare case for sequels). Maybe because of master Yoda or those walking tanks, or it was that fact that Empire won the day - another rare case for heroic movies. I don't know, but for me "The Empire Strikes Back" - is the best part of the whole Star Wars saga. The end of the very first trilogy was quite good by not so strong as the previous parts. Don't know why, but if look a bit childish with these fluffy little bears and weak scenario. Anyway, even the worst part of the first trilogy was better than other SW movies, IMHO.

Submitted by Roblox on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 22:23

My hero story is pretty woman. How wonderful being in love with the guy who save her misarable life. He turn her life into a greater life. This movie making dream become realilty.

Submitted by antinaoki on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 00:50

I don't have a favourite hero story for the moment, but i used to love the origin story of the Spider-man. Peter Parker was just a normal high school student with absolutely nothing cooler spots than other students. But after he got bitten by the super spider which gave him the superpower and the loss of his uncle he decided to use his superpower to do the right things, just like the article says : the losses makes one a hero. BUt unlike the Superman or Batman who was really popular at the time, they always look out or the great global crises , Spider-man always look out for the neighbourhood and afterwords , he got a nickname : Friendly neighbourhood Spider-man.
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Submitted by OlaIELTS on Thu, 07/05/2020 - 02:02

My favourite hero stories include superman, spiderman, acrimony and so on.