A change in the force
When I think of the term “A Hero’s Journey” the first image that comes to mind is Luke Skywalker standing proudly holding an outstretched lightsaber pointing to the stars with Princess Leia kneeling at his feet clutching a blaster as depicted on the cover of the 1978 movie Star wars IV: a New Hope. Like millions of other children, this film was, unknowingly, my first introduction into the idea of heroic archetypes.
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It was a story of a hero’s awakening and the struggle between the forces of light and dark, with glorious space battles, cocky space pirates and a pretty princess. I would watch the VHS tape multiple times a day. It had a very profound impact on my young mind and although the concept was used many times before, it’s sci-fi themed setting was more than enough to attract the attention millions of other kids and adults alike.
It is well documented that George Lucas was heavily inspired by joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). In this Campbell outlines what he calls the hero’s journey; this is a motif of adventure and personal transformation that is used in nearly every culture’s mythical framework.
This is mirrored in A New Hope where in act one of the hero’s journey we meet Luke Skywalker who lives on the desert planet of Tatooine and works on his uncle’s moisture farm. It is soon after we learn of Luke’s dreams of becoming a pilot but is bound by his obligations to his uncle to help with the harvest which will be ripe soon. When he receives the message contained within the R2-D2 droid from a princess in obvious distress it serves as his call to adventure and inspires his first steps on his journey which will lead him to Obi Wan Kenobi, his future mentor. Luke initially denies the call only changing his mind when his family and home are destroyed, only then accepting the first stage of his journey which is to rescue the princess.
The second act is generally when the hero meets allies, enemies, undergoes life and death conflict and completes the main task in his journey. This can be seen when Luke and Ben enlist the services of rogues Han and Chewbacca and experience their first confrontation with the evil empire. As Luke escapes Tatooine in search of the princess on the planet Alderaan it is truly the beginning of his journey as he ventures into space on his quest. Luke receives training from Obi Wan and bonds with Han during this time and eventually meets the princess by the end of act two.
Luke is also portraying similar characteristics of the epic hero during this time, starting in his humble beginnings as a farm boy to completing a task meant only for him and displaying many ideals of the epic hero such as morals, strength, faith, intelligence and bravery. While all these characteristics are vital to fulfil the epic hero role, it is faith that Luke must find in the force before he can truly achieve his heroic status.
When Luke and the crew of the Millennium Falcon are captured by the death star, the audience is unsure if they will succeed in escaping and weather they rescue the princess along the way. Of course our hero finds the princess and achieves the goal while nearly being killed along the way. Luke escapes the death star and his task is achieved.
Over the course of the second act Luke begins to displayÂ the qualities of an epic hero, Luke is seen as morally positive intelligent man, optimistic about his mission and displays strength and bravery in a number of ways. His faith in the mystical force also develops as he preservers to continue forward after the death of his mentor Obi Wan.
In the third act Luke displays what he has learnt over the course of his journey. It is only then that the hero can gain the true reward -in Luke’s case this is knowledge.
Luke’s final task is to aid in the destruction of the Death Star and will only return if his mission is a success otherwise he will be killed and his journey will be over. During the final assault Luke displays growth as a hero, his belief in the force and his alliance with friend Han Solo further shows his hero status. Luke uses his new knowledge gained from his journey and the force to destroy the Death Star and save the rebel alliance from total destruction.
It is at this point Luke Journey comes to an end for a New Hope but is continued by Lucas over the course the trilogy, this even continues into the latest instalment, The Force Awakens released in 2015.
Although I have focused on Luke’s role up until this point is also important to note the other archetypes present in The Star Wars movies.
Firstly is Han Solo who is possibly the most beloved character in the original trilogy. This is mostly because of his bad boy image and that he is a cynical anti-hero figure and a bit of a “cowboy” who relies mostly on courage and the use of his blaster to escape tight situations. He is an independent and strong character as his name SOLO would suggest. In the first film Han can be seen as a shape shifter, perceived by the main character as someone he is unsure of trusting. Hans’s intentions are hidden as well as his loyalties as he doesn’t want to care about the rebellion or their struggle against the empire. He only wants to care for himself and problems directly affecting him. In the final moments of the battle at the end of Episode IV Han comes to Luke’s aid and ends up joining the struggle with the rebels. Hans’s journey is more about learning to care for others rather than just about himself, this journey continues throughout the second and third films as Han the proven warrior now learns to love.
Han is accompanied through the trilogy by his trusty companion Chewbacca. It is common for a hero to befriend a beast along the way as this helps the hero to be reminded of the natural world.
Luke’s main companions include the droids C3PO and R2-D2. They mostly serve comic relief and the everyman archetype. They react to situations much like the audience would if they were thrown into the action. They cower and flee from danger but are also the heralds who issue challenges to the hero as well as announce the coming of change in the hero’s future.
R2-D2 also serves as the Catalyst of the story. He is passionate and helpful, and is completely dedicated to the cause, he delivered the first call to arms to Luke and eventually accompanying him to his next stage of training with the last remaining Jedi master Yoda.
Yoda, similar to Obi Wan before him is the old man mentor archetype, although he also embodies multiple archetypes also. When Yoda first meets Luke in the swamps of Dagobah, he is the trickster who is pretending to be a senile old creature, later it is revealed that he is a threshold guardian who is protecting the wisdom and secrets of the Jedi order until the hero proves himself worthy of such gifts. These secrets also contain the truth about Luke’s family and the eventual downfall of his father, Anakin Skywalker. Yoda is also represents the oracle that possesses the ability to see beyond the present to future possibilities.
Luke’s father Anakin Skywalker experiences a true Visionaries arc throughout the series. From a simple slave on Tatooine to becoming one of the last Jedi knights, he remained committed to the order until a vision of his dying mother and death of his beloved wife lead him to the dark side only to be reborn as the tyrannical Darth Vader. Vader is committed to the vision of the empire and remains its most staunch supporter until the undeniable force of change returns him to the light side of the force. This happens as a result of this long lost son Luke who he sacrifices himself to save from the emperor and herald in a new era in the process, which would be led by his children Luke and Leia.
Princess Leia represents the feminine in the otherwise male dominated Star Wars universe.
In the original trilogy she is firstly depicted as a damsel in distress who is captured by the empire and has to be rescued by the hero’s. She then reveals herself to be a warrior as she fights to escape the Death Star. Later in the series she takes on a leadership role in the rebel alliance and also a romantic role with Han Solo. In the final film of the original trilogy she is revealed to be the twin sister of Luke Skywalker, thus becoming a female counterpart to Luke with the same strength and potential he has.
Leia and her mother Padme are also good examples of what may be perceived as gender bias in the original and prequel trilogies. Aside from these characters the Star Wars universe is practically devoid of female characters. Similar to the society we live in, the Star Wars universe is predominantly patriarchal with characters such as Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi garnering more attention with the female characters usually taking a back seat to the action when they are around. Characters such as Luke and Obi Wan show qualities such as loyalty, integrity and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, while the females are mostly submissive with very few opportunities to be heroic themselves.
While the male characters mostly fill the role of the archetypal male hero that the audience is used to seeing, they do have some differences. Han Solo for example is good looking, adventurous with a bad boy attitude while at the same time being irresistible to the opposite sex. Luke Skywalker is also adventurous but is different in that by the end of the original trilogy does not win the girl and forgoes the stereotype of “ladies man” in favour of the serious hero with a solemn nature similar to the samurai found in the Kurosawa films that originally inspired Lucas. The Jedi from the prequels follow much the same archetypes, female Jedi are present in these movies but are mostly relegated to the background in scenes with no input of value coming from them during the course of the movies.
Female villains are also noticeably missing from the films and females in general and are nowhere to be found in the ranks of the Galactic Empire, with the addition to the noticeable lack of alien creatures as well. Although, this may have been a product of the times of the original films production as women in general would not be viewed as legitimate villains. Regardless of the real reasons for this the Star Wars universe is practically devoid of female heroes and villains alike. also worth noting is that the female characters do little to further the cause of the hero’s and will often get in the way, requiring the hero’s take time to rescue them.
Leia may be an exception to this; she is the most influential female character by far in the Star Wars universe and after the release of Episode IV in 1977 lead to a noticeable uprising in strong female leads in film. Two years later we would see possibly the most heroic female character ever, Ellen Ripley appears in the hit horror movie Alien. With Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor furthering the cause in 1984’s The Terminator a few years later. How much influence Princess Leia had over these characters is easy to see. Leia is headstrong and cocky and when we are first introduced to her she is perceived by the audience as an authority figure being no way over sexualized. Even in the face of her captures she is fearless which is uncharacteristic of the damsel in distress idea.
Episode IV is basically a story about a princess who needs to be rescued from the villain’s stronghold. Women are seen to be on a lower threshold than men and require rescuing as they cannot do so themselves, interestingly, as soon as the male heroes rescue Leia, she takes control of the situation telling the heroes what to do, even rescuing them in the process. At one point she even takes the weapon from Luke to open up a pathway to escape. When they finally escape the Death Star, Leia is also the only one to realise that their escape may have been too easy with the real reason being that they would be used to track the location of the rebel bases.
As part of the Rebellion, Leia is also regarded as an authority figure. She orders the all-male rebel pilots around throughout the original trilogy. She is seen as an important and influential strong female protagonist.Â Gwendolyn Glover, a noted feminist blogger writes, “I know that for many, Princess Leia is a sex symbol. The unattainable and perfect woman. For me, Princess Leia is my feminist icon. She was my first (and pretty much only) female role model for feminism…. In a male dominated universe, she stood out as a force to be reckoned with. Tough, smart, and outspoken, she typified everything that I wanted to be,”(Glover, 2009).
Leia’s role in Episode IV does a lot for female protagonists in the film industry. With the release of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 Leia’s character conforms more to the traditional female character roles seen up until then in film. Her romance with Han Solo is a stark contrast to her disinterest in the male leads in the first film and she quickly becomes useless for the majority of the film. In the first 15 minutes of Episode V Han is required to rescue her from the crumbling ruins of the rebel base on Hoth while she displays fear of rodents and requires a male to kill them for her. Which all seems out of place for such an independent character who, in the previous film required none of this attention from her male counterparts and spends the majority of this film falling in love with one of them.
One scene in particular stands out in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. When Leia is confronted by Han, she is backed into a corner and asked about her true feelings, the male character takes her hands preventing her escape. The scene ends as she succumbs to her feelings and passionately kisses her capture. This scene can easily be construed as disturbing as it may teach men that borderline violent behaviour or intimidation is a viable way to a woman’s heart.
This trend continues in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi when after rescuing Han from Jabba the Hutt, Leia is herself captured and forced to wear a gold bikini and lie at the foot of Jabba’s bed with a collar around her neck, waiting to be rescued by a man. in this we see leia’s change from the first film where she is dresses from head to toe in white to the final film where we see her practically naked creating one of the most iconic images of male fantasy ever to be seen on the big screen.
After she is rescued by Luke she succeeds in killing Jabba (who resembles a giant phallus) with the chain that was previously used to hold her. Towards the end of the film, Leia redeems herself by saving Hans life by shooting attacking Stormtroopers in the film’s final battle. Thus, although Leia conforms to the traditional gender roles, she does project some positive traits throughout the course of the original trilogy.
With the release Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens in 2015, popular culture was still lacking adequate female representation and role models.
When a woman was cast as the lead character in the latest instalment of the Star Wars Saga it was a regarded as a big deal.
Rey, played by Daisy Ridley was both a protagonist and a hero, she has no romantic interests, wears combat outfits and fights villains just like Anakin and Luke in the trilogies before her .
Starting out as a scavenger on Jakku she combines some of the best traits of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Han Solo and is both a relatable and believable female lead which is rare to see in films even today. This leads to breaking the stereotype which is present in the earlier films and reinforces the gender balance. Young girls growing up with these new films will have a role model to look up to, while boys will see Rey as a hero regardless of gender.
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Rey, and her companion Finn mirror well-known initiation myths from mythology: While Finn draws from various Biblical folktales and Celtic myths, Rey’s story is a updated version of one of the oldest myths, The Epic of Gilgamesh, while adding a feminist interpretation (Glen Robert Gill, 2016). Rey’s struggle with the main villain Kylo Ren, who is later revealed to be the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, resembles mythic themes of relations and rivalries between siblings. Although Rey’s lineage is kept secret from the viewer, the idea that she is a Skywalker would make perfect archetypal sense.
When we are introduced to Rey we quickly realise she will follow much of the same traits as J.J. Abrams previous leading female characters such as Jennifer Garner of Alias and Anna Torv of Fringe. Rey is a solitary hero who resides in the desert. Her name evokes ideas of light or solar heroism (“Ray”) and royalty with Rey meaning “King” in Spanish.
Rey however starts at the bottom of the social hierarchy unlike Gilgamesh. While stranded on the planet Jakku we see her scavenging parts from crashed Imperial ships as a means to survive which may be a forecasting of her future as a rebel. Rey is an inverted feminist version of Gilgamesh that will have to be trained and moulded with the martial tradition of the Jedi order to become a Jedi and possibly even becoming immortal during the course of the new films.
Rey is also an orphan similar to Finn that reminds us of many female examples such as Daenerys Targaryen from Game Of Thrones, Jane Eyre or even Annie.Â This can have special feminine implications as the search for her family is not just about parental affirmation but also about overcoming social vulnerabilities and inequities.
Similar to the first meeting between Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu, the first time Rey and Finn meet they begin fighting and arguing with each other, only to later find a common purpose. Just as Rey is an inverted feminist Gilgamesh, Finn is an inverted version of Enkidu, Enkidu can be seen as a representation of the natural or uncivilized side of humanity. As Finn is spurred to escape the soulless structure of the First Order to the natural environment of the Resistance by the cold toughness of Captain Phasma, who is the negative projection of the maidenly anima. Phasma’s chrome covered armor projects the mythological idea of the mirror, as this symbolizes self-contemplation and self-examination.
As Finn and Rey grow closer as friends, we see in them less as deserters (Finn deserted the First Order, Rey was deserted on the desert planet by her family) but an updated version of the archetypal friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The friendship that develops between Rey and Finn during The Force Awakens reminds us that friendships born in the midst of battle do not need to be exclusively masculine, and do not have to be endorsed or convoluted by a romantic element.
When Rey and Finn escape the planet Jakku they are introduced to Han Solo and Chewbacca, the original trilogy’s version of the same archetypal characters. Han Solo’s return also brings with it the Jung’s archetypal figure “the wise old man”. Just like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role to Luke in A New Hope, Han becomes a mentor figure to our main characters. Han also affirms the existence of the Force to Rey in the exact same location on board the Millennium Falcon as Obi-Wan Kenobi tutored Luke.
Soon after our four heroes meet they must work together to escape gangsters who are attempting to capture Solo, the archetypal significance of this is found in the pursuing group’s destruction by the hideous rathtars that escape their cages during the course of the action, these snake-tentacled creatures are reminiscent of the mythical Medusa that is itself a demonic incarnation of the yonic symbol that Freud called the “vagina dentata”(Leah12. 2012) In relation to Rey’s journey, this can be seen as a parallel of Gilgamesh’s battle with the monstrous Humbaba. In a archetypal sense monsters are generally projections of the negative self or extensions of the viewer’s self-image, it is also worth noting that while Gilgamesh decapitates his monster in an egoistic search for prestige, Rey only dismembers her monster to aid her companion, Finn. It is also notable that during Rey’s martial induction, she generally only uses her developing abilities for defence and enemy persuasion just as the Jedi code demands, and only time she is openly aggressive is when Finn is cut down during his battle with Kylo Ren in the films climax.
Rey is basically the 21st century version of Luke Skywalker, a young 20 – something character who is possibly the last hope for the Jedi order.
Early in the film when Rey first meets Finn and they are fleeing from pursuing Stormtroopers, Finn repeatedly reaches for Rey’s hand to aid in her escape. Rey snaps at him “I know how to run without you holding my hand”. She also outmatches the main villain Kylo Ren both mentally and physically during the course of the film. One of the more notable scenes involves Han Solo recognising that Rey is somebody who can handle herself, in one scene in particular he offers to show Rey how to use a blaster to which she replies “I think I can handle myself”, his agreement reminds the viewer of how Leia saved his life at the end of Episode VI. He then continues to approve of her proficiency without coming across a patronising, even offering her a job alongside him and letting her fly his beloved Millennium Falcon.
Rey is also an example of the young, maidenly aspects of Jung’s term anima, which describes the archetypal feminine. Like much of Abrams previous work it shows an understanding that the anima does not need to be a companion or object of the masculine self which presumes the perspective of the audience, instead being a representation of that perspective.
It has also been claimed that Rey’s character is what’s described as a “Mary Sue” type anima archetype (Zulai Serrano, 2015), which claims the character can do no wrong, making her a character too unrealistic for some viewers. The rich feminine dimension of The Force Awakens makes itself very apparent with the first appearance of the droid BB-8, who serves as Rey’s heroic token just as R2-D2 served as Luke’s. The “figure eight” body shape of BB-8 resembles that of theNeolithic Venus, which contrasts against the small phallic structure of R2-D2. BB-8 is what is called ayonic symbol, this is the archetypal image of female embodiment (the chassis of BB-8 houses the reward of the quest which is the map to finding the missing Luke Skywalker, this can also be seen as a sort of rebirth for the character in the process).
As stated earlier, the original trilogy had only one main female character and although the Prequels had more female characters their representation was even worse, even going as far as to have Padme (Leia’s mother) dying of a broken heart in Episode VI. The new film takes steps to address this by having several women in key roles.
General Leia is the leader of the resistance and has been allowed to age gracefully on screen, she is seen as the role of leader while still being a mother figure throughout. Over the course of the films Leia has moved from a Princess to a General and from a lover to a leader of the Resistance. Leia also functions independently without either Luke or Han which is very different than the last time we seen her in Return of the Jedi.
Leia also conforms to the mature pole of the anima archetype, named by Jung as theGreat Mother. This marks a major archetypal change for Leia from the original trilogies, where she often functioned as the pure aspect of the anima, a role now taken by Rey. Leia still remains a positive representation of the anima as she continues to oppose the negative aspects of the anima, which Jung calls theTerrible Mother. This figure is not represented by one character in particular but by a vast destructive power such as the Death Stars of A New Hope and The Return of the Jedi, and its most recent incarnation Starkiller base in The Force Awakens. Where the Great Mother supports and upholds, similar to what Leia does, the Terrible Mother consumes all, as shown in the Death Star’s ability to destroy planets from afar.
We are also introduced to the character of Maz Kanata an old, wise mother figure who has been referred to as a female Yoda. It is Maz who gives Rey Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and “Awakens” the force in her. The fact that this character has been given Yoda’s role is very noticeable and can be seen as a major step in the gender balance issue. To a lesser extent Captain Phasma as a woman under the Stormtrooper suit is completely new to the Star Wars universe. It is also the first time we see female pilots at the controls of the X- wings during the final assault on Starkiller base which was unheard of before the release of the film.
The Force Awakens is a game changer in many respects. It honors and updates the themes and tropes fans expect to find in the Star Wars universe by reiterating and reinterpreting compelling characters and symbology from known mythology. While still retaining its traditional values and fearlessly putting a female character such as Rey as the main protagonist and keeps a healthy mix of old and new characters that continue to transcend their archetype roles. The The Force Awakens can also be seen as more of a reboot than a sequel that builds on the best elements from the previous films and what it promises in the future.
Whether the story of the Skywalker family continues throughout the course of the new trilogy is still to be determined but with the inclusion of Rey as the hero a new generation of fans (Male or Female) will look up to promises to bring us in new, fascinating directions.
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