Star Wars first came to the big screen in May, 1977 and was instantly a phenomenon. The stunning visuals, thrilling soundtrack, and otherworldly things like blasters, lightsabers, the Force and Death Star are all major parts of the public's fascination with Star Wars. Perhaps the underlying themes of the story are the real reason most people are drawn to the tale of Luke Skywalker and his friends. A space saga seems an unlikely story to captivate the world, but at its essence, Star Wars is nothing more than a story of humanity involving things we all experience like sacrifice, trials, betrayal, loss, heroic moments and triumphs.
If you asked most people what they thought of when they heard the word, mythology, most would mention Hercules, Prometheus, Zeus, or simply the Ancient Greeks. It is rare to think of anything else associated with mythology. Myths traditionally tell the story of a hero who is presented with a great quest and must overcome tremendous obstacles to fulfill his destiny. Sound familiar? If it does, it is because Star Wars is a modern myth. In the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker is our unexpected hero who ends up destroying the tyrannical rule of the Galactic Empire, but at great personal cost. Using Star Wars, we hope to help you and your students better understand the common themes and magic of mythology.
Now the story continues in The Force Awakens with the heroic tale of Rey, a scavenger from the isolated desert world of Jakku. Learn more about the heroine's journey of Rey!
Star Wars: The Magic of Myth
Star Wars has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions and millions of people like no other story of our time. This official companion volume to the landmark exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum explores the mythological roots of the Star Wars saga, a story that will continue to unfold into the next millenium.
Written by the exhibit's curator and illustrated with hundreds of photographs, drawings and images, Star Wars: The Magic of Myth illuminates this modern tale of the ageless and mythic battle of good versus evil.
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The first part of any mythic tale introduces us to our hero, their background and ultimately the difficult task that must be completed. Along the way they find their hero partners or helpers and acquire the "tools" that will eventually help them accomplish their mission... something always easier said than done.
Similar to Luke Skywalker’s youthful days on Tatooine, our heroine, Rey finds herself abandoned on the isolated planet of Jakku. The desert planet is home to numerous scavengers who scour the planet searching for junk and priceless parts alike to sell to local dealers. Fortunately for scavengers like Rey, the planet is littered with the remnants of a grand battle between the Empire and the Rebellion. X-wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers and ground assault vehicles clutter the landscape. Rey even makes her home in a partially destroyed AT-AT.
The fierce competition between scavengers on Jakku has forged Rey into a stellar and cunning warrior. For self-defense, Rey carries a metal staff with which she can quickly dispense of any would be attackers or thieves. Thanks to a flight-simulator she recovered and used frequently while growing up, Rey developed significant skills as a starship pilot. She also possesses tremendous technological knowledge due to her time as a scavenger. All of these skills will prove helpful to Rey on her heroine’s journey.
Presently, little is known of Rey’s background, but she was abandoned on Jakku when she was around the age of five. Holding on to her family's promise to return, Rey patiently bides her time on the planet, surviving in the harsh desert environment.
In mythology, the hero’s journey begins with a call to adventure, the first incident on a dangerous path that will separate him from his home and family. The call usually comes in the form of a herald, who carries a message that causes the adventure to begin. Often the hero does not recognize the hand of fate at work, and an event which may seem ordinary is in fact a turning point that catapults the hero into a world of danger and excitement.
BB-8 finds his way into Rey’s life when she rescues the tiny droid from a rival scavenger named Teedo. Despite sending BB-8 on his way, the small droid clings to Rey and refuses to leave her. Although Rey has an opportunity to sell the droid for an abundance of much needed rations, she detects something special in the droid and cannot bring herself to part with BB-8. After her encounter with Finn, Rey learns that BB-8 is on a secret mission for the Resistance and carryies a secret map to Luke Skywalker’s location. Protection of BB-8 and the map become Rey’s top priorities, thus sending her on a fateful journey that will eventually lead to her path of becoming a Jedi.
Heroes often have a straightforward goal, yet they are usually sidetracked along the way and will wander for years. Odysseus is a prime example and even the life of Moses fits this pattern. To begin her journey, an outside force must push Rey to leave Jakku. Shortly after meeting Finn, the First Order attacks and the two heroes along with BB-8 flee in the Millennium Falcon. Leaving Jakku is a symbolic beginning of Rey’s heroine’s journey as she is leaving behind all that is familiar and beginning a new, unfamiliar life.
As the hero sets out on the path of adventure, her journey will not just be a physical one, but more importantly, a spiritual one. The world of the spirit is always protected by guardians of some sort: The Nio protect Buddhist temples, an angel guards the Garden of Eden, Cerberus stands watch over Hades, the Scorpion-men guard the mountain tunnel which leads to Dilmun, and the dragon Smaug protects the treasure of the Lonely Mountain.
Rey desperately clings to the hope that her family will return to Jakku for her as they once promised. Rey watches with longing each day as starships depart the planet. Although Rey realizes there is a brighter future for her beyond Jakku, an overwhelming yearning for a reunion with her family keeps her tied to the desolate planet, unable to begin the journey that awaits her.
Once leaving Jakku, Rey confronts a much more deadly challenge that threatens to hold her back from adventure, and even end it permanently, when she must escape from three monstrous rathtars aboard the Eravana.
Heroes often are reluctant to answer the call to adventure. For instance, Daphne refuses the love of Apollo and for that is turned into a willow tree. Bilbo does not want to accompany the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain. Enkidu is reluctant to follow Gilgamesh to the sacred forest.
After escaping the pursuit of the First Order and reaching orbit around Jakku, the Millennium Falcon carrying Rey and Finn breaks down. Rey demands that they return to the planet and quickly proceeds to repair the ship. An overwhelming fear of missing out on a reunification with her family forces Rey to deny her true destiny and attempt to stop her heroine’s journey. Fortunately, fate intervenes and Han Solo and Chewbacca capture the Millennium Falcon carrying Rey and Finn before it can return to the planet.
After traveling to Takodana to meet with Maz Kanata, Han reveals he is impressed with Rey’s quick thinking and technological skills. He offers her a spot as second officer on the Millennium Falcon, stating he could really use someone like her. Although Rey fits in with Han and his exciting lifestyle, she refuses his offer to join the crew. Again, Rey is reluctant to abandon her hopes of reuniting with her family in favor of the adventure for which she longs.
Rey refuses a second call to adventure when invited by Maz Kanata to accept Luke's lightsaber as well as her destiny found within the Force.
The hero must leave her familiar life behind to begin a journey from childhood to adulthood and to a life transformation. Rey’s adventure begins when she meets Finn and they flee Jakku together. However, just as they are making their escape from the desolate desert planet, all seems lost when their ship, the Millennium Falcon becomes trapped in a tractor beam. Fearing imminent capture by the First Order, Rey, Finn and BB-8 hide in the smuggling compartments within the Falcon.
Although in apparent danger, it turns out Han Solo and Chewbacca are the ones who captured the Millennium Falcon and quickly locate the hidden heroes. After the realization that Rey and Finn are in possession of a map that could lead to Luke Skywalker, Han agrees to take the pair to Maz Kanata believing she can aid them in their quest. This marks Han and Chewie’s introduction as hero partners in Rey’s journey, who without, she could not complete her journey.
Every hero already possesses the skills needed to accomplish a goal. Often, the hero is either unaware of such skill or lacks the proper knowledge to effectively use her abilities. In order to complete their task, heroes must be taught and steered along their path to becoming a hero. For this reason, heroes require a wise and helpful guide who will assist them in realizing and developing the skills needed to defeat the “dragon” and accomplish their ultimate goal.
The hero may be unaware of her destiny, but even when she discovers it, she may try to refuse the difficult quest until the guide shows them the way.
For Rey, her guide (at least for now) is Han Solo. It is Han who pulls Rey beyond the restraints of Jakku. It is Han who reveals that the stories of the Jedi and Sith are all true. It is Han who leads Rey to Maz Kanata whose possession of Anakin’s and later Luke’s lightsaber reveals her strong tie to the Force and, perhaps, the fate of the galaxy. It is Han who guides Rey to her encounter with The Resistance and ultimately the discovery of the location of Luke Skywalker.
During her quest, the hero is often provided with insight from some mystical, otherworldly source. In the Greek myths, this insight is often provided by the gods. In George Lucas’ universe, it is provided by the Force, “an energy field created by all living things, which surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together,” as Ben once explained to Luke Skywalker.
In The Force Awakens, Rey's first introduction to the Force occurs when Han Solo confirms the existence of the Jedi and Sith. Her true awakening, however, occurs when the lightsaber that once belonged to Anakin and Luke Skywalker "calls" to her and reveals a vision as she touches the relic. Rey finally embraces her Force sensitivity when faced with betraying Luke's location to Kylo Ren. Using the Force, Rey is able to escape the clutches of Kylo and the First Order.
In mythology, the wise guide often gives the hero an object with magical powers to guard and assist him on his chosen path. The idea of a magical sword, such as the lightsaber, appears many times in legend: it is a powerful symbol that gives its owner the right to challenge authority. In this case, Maz offers Rey the lightsaber that once belonged to Anakin and Luke Skywalker.
Throughout most of the film, Rey’s magic talisman is her staff. With this weapon, Rey can quickly dispatch anyone who threatens her. Later in the film, Rey’s talisman becomes the lightsaber that once belonged to Anakin and Luke Skywalker. It is this weapon that will give Rey insight into her true self as a Force-sensitive and, ultimately, a Jedi. The lightsaber also provides her with the strength to defeat Kylo Ren and eventually discover the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker.
By finally accepting the lightsaber, Rey embraces her destiny of becoming a Jedi. The weapon is a powerful talisman, which inspires her to venture out to find Luke Skywalker and begin her Jedi training.
A labyrinth is a type of maze that has always symbolized a difficult journey for the hero that leads to the unknown.
All seems lost when Rey is captured by Kylo Ren and taken back to Starkiller Base. Using the Force to probe Kylo’s mind, Ren intends to acquire the map to Luke Skywalker by seeing the map within her memory. During the mind probe, Kylo has trouble seeing into Rey’s mind. Instead, Rey uses the Force to see within Kylo Ren’s mind. She is able to see his fear of not being as strong as his maternal grandfather, Darth Vader.
Shaken and defeated, Kylo leaves a restrained Rey alone in the interrogation room. Realizing the Force is with her, Rey uses a Jedi mind trick to get a Stormtrooper to free her and hand over his weapon. With her ever-growing Force powers, Rey uses stealth and cunning to flee Starkiller Base. Along the way, she comes across Finn, Han and Chewie who have come to rescue her and destroy the shields that protect the base.
One could also see Rey’s quest to find Luke Skywalker as the labyrinth in which she finds herself. This quest is what forces her from Jakku, teams her up with Finn, BB-8, Han, Chewie, Maz Kanata and, ultimately, The Resistance. The search for Skywalker also leads Rey to discover her true destiny of becoming a Jedi. In the end, finding Luke Skywalker marks the completion of her quest, thus making it through the labyrinth and symbolizing Rey’s transformation into a hero.
In traditional mythology, the hero must rescue a princess or someone in distress. This feat strengthens the hero as the princess rescue requires them to apply the skills already learned and to trust their growing power. In The Force Awakens Rey is the person in distress, yet she is able to liberate herself by using and trusting in the Force. Rey’s realization of her Force abilities provides her with the strength and means to escape Starkiller Base.
As the hero matures, there comes a point in time when she must let go of her guide and strike out on her own. Just as Arthur had to lose Merlin, so, too, does Rey have to lose Han Solo in order that she may grow. Rey's loss comes at an awkward time as her journey is just beginning. Without Han she must seek out a new guide, one who can complete her quest to become a Jedi.
The next step in the hero quest is a challenge to mortal combat. As a final test to their training and to fully emerge as a hero, the "dragon" must be slayed or the end quest must finally be confronted by the hero. For Rey, her true test comes when she faces off with the evil Sith, Kylo Ren. Trusting in her newly discovered Force abilities, Rey ignites Anakin and Luke’s lightsaber for the first time and, although untrained, engages in lightsaber combat against Kylo Ren. Despite holding her own against Kylo, the Sith backs her up to a precipice. Faced with defeat, Rey summons the Force, allowing her to injure Kylo and push him back just as a crevice opens beneath them, separating the pair. Rey then retreats with an injured Finn to the awaiting Millennium Falcon.
This moment marks the end of one adventure for Rey, but it also represents the start of the next stage: further initiation on the “dark road of trials.”
First posted on: December 26, 2015 by Wes Dodgens
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Like this? Be sure to check out the Hero's Journey of Luke Skywalker!