Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Every Writer Should Pay Attention to Star Wars

Star Wars. Those two words are enough to conjure a thousand images all on their own. I doubt George Lucas had any idea the behemoth his movie would become. Just to clarify, I am speaking only about Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The three prequels are another discussion entirely.

If you take away the robots, the fantastic scenery, the spaceships, and the ewoks (dear God, please take the ewoks), what you have is the story of a kid who becomes a hero and saves the inhabitants of an entire galaxy. In writing the tale, Lucas was inspired by numerous sources, but he specifically mentions the book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Campbell summarizes the hero’s journey in the introduction to the book:

“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.”

I can think of countless movies, books, and television series that fall into that pattern. Here are a few:

1. Superman
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Men in Black
4. Spiderman
5. Lord of the Rings
6. Shrek (Yes, Shrek)
7. Indiana Jones series
8. Xena: Warrior Princess
9. Harry Potter series

Campbell didn’t just come up with the hero story on his own. He examined various myths throughout history and defined and pieced together the themes that appeared over and over. The Odyssey is a prime example. Virtually every religion has at least one story that follows this pattern very closely as well.

It pleases us on a primal level to see the hero or heroine emerge, triumph over extreme adversity, and save us all.

If you want a crash course in the hero’s journey, just follow Luke Skywalker’s path through the Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas did the homework so you don’t have to.

As for me, I’m heading out to pick up a copy of The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

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