Hello Readers! May the Fourth is coming up this Monday and to honor this unofficial Star Wars holiday, we are getting our literary nerd on.
What makes Star Wars: A New Hope such a timeless classic? Those oh so quotable characters? The future/ past vague space setting? Those practical effects that still hold up despite all the jacked in CGI updates?
Well, all of that certainly helps, but the story of A New Hope resonates with so many of us on a basic level. You don’t have to be a science fiction fan to follow and appreciate Luke Skywalker and Company’s trials and tribulations through the original trilogy because at its core, Star Wars follows a tale as old as time. No, not Beauty and the Beast. Look, I’m not speaking Greek here….
The Hero’s Journey
Okay maybe I am a little. The Hero’s Journey goes way back, like ‘Greek Myth’ way back, or possibly further. We see it in the story of Hercules (the Disney version has this distilled to a science, sans the pesky murder and tragedy that came later), and the myth of Perseus, we see it in Arthurian legend, we see it in Star Wars. It is an archetypal base structure of storytelling, which is lit-nerd speak for it’s one of the common maps for plot lines. Stories are all about structure, effective storytelling follows a course of rising and falling actions and drama; when the structure is sound, the storyteller can build a world fit to immerse an audience, like somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.
The Star Wars universe is an interesting mashup of future and past elements, high technology, with low-fi morals and societal structures which resemble more classic Arthurian knight codes of honor or high seas pirate fantasies. Despite this blending of genres with surreal environments and creatures, the story remains simple, a story of good vs evil, a story about the hero, and that is why it works.
Simple is Not Bad
The movies aside, Star Wars has gone on to have a rich and massive literary presence, spanning forty years and hundreds of novels written for everyone from children to adults that explore the moral complexities and story formats A New Hope doesn’t address, but this entire book universe exists because it can build on the basic structure that is the Hero’s Journey.
George Lucas didn’t use this story format by accident, he was a big fan of the man himself, Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero of a Thousand Faces. Lucas has always been vocal about Campbell’s influence on the Star Wars universe. In fact, Campbell's study of the Hero's Journey is the cornerstone plot structure for dozens of modern movies and stories. Harry Potter, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, and more all follow the Hero’s Journey.
Some Word Nerd Wisdom
Joseph Campbell’s work showed the connective tissues between world myths; how they echoed one another despite cultural and geographical barriers. The hero’s journey is so universal because it spotlights the human condition, our common journey. It speaks of our transition from childhood to adult, how we find our moral footing, and how we overcome adversity. Whether we are following a Greek demi-god proving his worth to his divine parentage, or a farm boy finding his role in a galactic war, the core themes of their stories are the same. We seek out the stories that resonate with us, and we continue to tell these stories in new ways. Some of those ways include space knights.
May the 4th be with you!