WELCOME BACK TO THE DYM OFF-SEASON STAR WARS SPECTACULAR!!
If you're just joining us, check out the intro here, PART 1 here, PART 2 here, and PART 3 here.
PART 4: THE EPIC TRILOGY OF TRILOGIES
It is preposterous that spome people love old Star Wars and hate the new ones, because they're all the same. Every new Star Wars is a meticulously engineered recreation of the Original Trilogy.
But, it still remains to be asked: What was so good about Star Wars in the first place? Why would it be worthwhile to make the same movie nine times? (Nine times? Nine. Times.) To answer this we will go back to George Lucas's original endeavor to make a meticulously engineered recreation of The Best Story Ever.
The third and final principle of The DYM Ultimate Star Wars Theory is that the story of the Skywalker Saga is the one of the most important stories we can tell, because it is our story, the story of our lives.
George Lucas wrote The Skywalker Saga with the specific goal of creating a mythology for the modern age. He stated this goal in numerous interviews and commentaries, including this quote from 1997 in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays:
“I had a longtime interest in fairy tales and mythology, that sort of thing. I had decided there was no modern mythology. I wanted to take old myths and put them into a new format that young people could relate to. Mythology always existed in unusual, unknown environments, so I chose space."
He was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s seminal 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (and even consulted with Campbell on the story outline). Campbell observes that the stories of nearly every legendary hero in the classic mythological pantheon had certain narrative set pieces in common. He called this the "monomyth" or "Hero’s Journey."
Relying in large part on the work of Carl Jung, Campbell interprets ancient literature similarly to the way we described it earlier, in PART 3: Not as flighty fanciful tales, but descriptive accounts of people and their world. Myths are true stories composed entirely of the metaphors of the imagination. The central key to Campbell’s analysis is Jung's most famous thesis - that ancient mythological narratives all sound the same, because the archetypes they employ represent of the very structure of the uncounscious mind.
So, the Hero’s Journey, in the metaphor-laden language of the ancients, is the story of your life. To your unconscious, any difficult situation you face is a "Call to Adventure." It could be getting a new job, running a marathon, or winning a fantasy football championship (obviously). This is the path you must walk:
You have a problem which forces you to try something new. The new experience is difficult in ways you hadn't anticipated. You may fail at first but you learn something about yourself along the way. What you learn changes you, and you eventually find that the new you is more capable of accomplishing your goal. Perhaps, in the end, you'll be able to teach other what you've learned as well.
So now you also know that every time you get stuck in traffic or step in dog shit, these are among the trials that all heroes must encounter on the road to glory.
That is what Star Wars is about.
Now, compare the mundane adventure we just described to Campbell's summary of the typical Hero's story arc:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Campbell identified the universal structure of hero stories as a series of specific symbolically significant events organized across 3 acts: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return.
In the first act the heroes learns that there is much more to the world than what they see, and they meet a guide who helps them learn more.
To be initiated into the mysteries, the hero must undergo a metaphorphosis. To change themselves, the hero must face their greatest fears so, the second act becomes a journey of self-discovery.
The third act is the hero returning to the world they departed from in act 1. There have been many trials along the way - some failures and some successes. But the final victory in act 3 is decisive because the hero has brought their tranformitive power back to change (and save) the entire world.
In Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell gives us much more than an abstract of the three-act drama. He identifies 17 specific events that consistently occur in all Heroes' Journeys, and he describes the archetypal significance of each one. Every Star Wars Trilogy follows this exact outline - in fact, the essential plot points in every Star Wars are one of these 17 steps, all occurring in the same order that Campbell prescribed. His essential steps of the Hero's Journey are as follows:
The specific steps of the Hero's Journey have been documented by numerous scholars with slight variations*. The image above, for instance, has the "Rescue from Without" in the second act instead of the third. It is clear that Lucas followed Campbell's version most closely, but illustrations like this canserve as a handy guide.
Act 1: The Epic Original
The original Star Wars was, for practical reasons, written so that it could stand on its own and still capture at least the rough outline of the Hero’s Journey. It was constructed in a classical "ring" structure such that the film ends with a reference to where it began (as the Hero metaphorically "returns" to the world): The first scene has Leia standing before Vader, refusing to give him something; the last scene has Leia standing before Luke, giving something to him. The first half of the movie is generally about Obi-Wan and Han helping Luke escape from his home; the second half is them helping Leia return home (or, failing that, to the Rebel base). The two halves are bifurcated by Luke taking his “first step into a larger world” exactly half-way through the film.
The next two episodes present much more detailed versions of the traditional second and third acts of the Hero’s Journey. Luke goes far deeper into the mystery realm in The Empire Strikes Back, and then he learns much more about himself and becomes a greater hero in Return of the Jedi. They also come together with New Hope to form an expanded ring where the next two films, Jedi in particular, have layered references the original film.
New Hope and Jedi have many parallels in storyline like both journeys begin with R2-D2 and C-3PO venturing ahead of the heroes carrying a message. Then both films end with the destruction of the Death Star. But they also contained mirror opposite images in the classic mythological style. Such that the first scene of Episode IV, where Leia was alone with Vader, is reflected in the end of Episode VI, where Luke alone with Vader's burning in a funeral pyre. Now, in the trilogy, Luke begins his journey by losing his family (Aunt and Uncle) and ends it by finding his family (Sister and Father), with his self-revealing trip into the magic tree on Dagobah exactly half-way through the “second act” (Episode V).
Act 2: The Epic Prequel
The Prequel Trilogy sets a distinctly different tone from the uplifting heroism of the Originals. There is an uneasiness and tension, which signals that each of Anakin’s accomplishments is actually another step in his decent. Anakin's story is ostensibly a trajedy, not a typical Hero's Journey. But, remember that the Prequels are the "second act" of the Trilogy of Trilogies, so subterfuge and mystery abounds and this part of the story is not as straightforward as it seems.
The Prequels manage to recreate all 17 essential stages of the monomyth while still having a tragic end to Anakin's tale. They accomplish this by playing the "acts" of the monomyth in reverse - so that the steps of the first act take place in Episode III, and the third act steps take place in Episode I. Additionally, the three films shift the focus of the monomyth story arc to three different jouneys in Anakin's life:
Anakin's place in the Saga is defined by his embrace of the Dark Side, and the destruction of the Jedi. This is his "Dearture." But he is not called to this adventure until Episode III, when Palpatine offers the "Supernatural Aid" (Act 1, step 3) to help save Padme's life.
Anakin also has a personal quest for Padme's affection which plays out in Episode II. His road of trails is Padme's rejection. His apoethesis - when he becomes the god - is when Padme says "I love you." The highlight of the second act is the descent into The Abyss of self-discovery. Anakin's twisted version is his highly-Oedipal return to Tattooine. Where Luke and Rey saw images of themselves in the Abyss, Anakin sees his mother, in real-life, as she dies in his arms. Oof.
To play out the uplifting steps of the third act, the focus is shifted to the Jedi, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. They are the heroes in this part of the story arc. Interestingly it seems that Anakin is now the object of the quest, not the hero. Episode I is the only Prequel film with a heroic victory and a "boon bestowed on humanity" (Act 3, step 17). Anakin - the chosen one - is that boon that changes the world for everyone.
Since New Hope and Return of the Jedi have so much in common already it would be easy enough to draw parallels between either of them and either Episode I or III. But, even beyond the prescribed Hero's Journey steps, there are contextual signals that are too overt to go unnoticed:
Episode IV features Ob-Wan and Luke leaving Tatooine before Obi-Wan sees Vader for the last time. Then Episode III has Obi-Wan and Luke going to Tatooine after Obi-Wan sees Vader for the first time.
Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi have identically staged finale scenes - both featuring simultaneous land battles, space battles and lightsaber duels.
The denouement of both Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi is a solemn funeral pyre, followed by a lively party scene. Other Star Wars end with a heroic victory, but none others show the common people's victory celebration (indicating that this is where the Hero has saved the world, not just himself). Other Star Wars films have a beloved character die near the end, but none others show the funeral. This gives a clear sense on finality at the end of The Phantom Menace that belies it's subtitle of "Episode I."
The perceived finality of Episode I directly feeds the dramatic tension of Episodes II and III. Nothing about the story feels right now as it continues beyond it's natural end. So the audience finds it understandable, even predictable, that all the heroes are prone to mistakes in judgement throughout, and even become the villains at times. This allows for the films to invert many of the archetypes from the originals making the Jedi the aggressors in battle while Palpatine plays the innocent victim/captor.
Considering the first six Episodes together (in number order), the tale follows Anakin’s decent into darkness, then picks up with Luke’s ascent to the light, retracing his father’s steps, and actually bringing his father back to the light. The Phantom Menace begins with the emergence of the Sith. Return of the Jedi ends with the destruction of the Sith.
Act 3: The Epic Sequel
In the Sequel Trilogy we "Return" to the classical heroic tale.
[ed note: The DYM editorial staff will have to "return" to this section in the winter, once we have the full Sequel Trilogy in hand. For now, here's the high-level analysis]
Thus far, The Sequel Trilogy has seamlessly hit all the samesteps as the the first two, and also has taken on a life of its own. The Sequels manage to reference both prior Trilogies simultaneously and find a middle ground between their contrasts. The Sequels most often parallel the Originals in overall plot outline but will also invert some archetypes where they identify a trait Luke and Anakin had in common and give the opposite attribute to Rey.
Luke and Anakin both dreamed of leaving their desert home - Luke was driven away by the death of his family while Anakin was driven to return to the family he left behind. What Luke and Anakin had in common is inverted in Rey, in that she has no family and wants to stay to await their return.
Most every Star Wars features a rescue mission and an aerial battle. In New Hope the space battle is the finale. By contrast, Revenge of the Sith and Force Awaken have the space battle earlier in the film, just before the rescue mission. Those two have the battle as the less consequential set piece, and the decisive victory is not won for the heroes of Force Awakens until Rey is rescued.
Both New Hope and Force Awakens end with the destruction of a spherical super-weapon, but we think it’s significant that Han and Finn stealthily infiltrated Starkiller (remember the Hero looking inward and transforming himself in order to change the world) whereas the attack on the Death Star was a full-scale invasion.
Ultimately, we believe these changes portend our heroes' eventual triumph in Episode IX being qualitatively different from their victory in Episode VI. Luke's own maturation in The Last Jedi set the stage for a truly transformational hero to emerge.