Character Development Case Study #5 – The Hero’s Journey (Luke Skywalker)
(There will be spoilers!)
The hero of the The Hero’s Journey is an everyman – the sort of person a reader can relate to. He or she isn’t yet super-powered, they aren’t yet motivated to do great good, and they don’t yet have the tools they need to save the world. They are just an ordinary person – kind, perhaps, and likeable, and maybe with a bit more get up and go than the average person.
There are hundreds of versions of this character. The ‘Hero’ is an archetype, featured over and over again in literature and film. Luke Skywalker is one of the most famous, and the example I’ll be using for this article.
Luke is just an ordinary farm boy. He has a talent for flying, and ambitions to be a pilot, but he’s limited in what he can do by his commitment to his uncle’s moisture farm – he’s prevented from being something more than what he is by his circumstances.
The Hero is often motivated by tragedy – something bad happens leaving them with no choice but to leave their comfortable situation, or their comfortable situation is taken away from them, forcing them to strike out on their own.
For Luke, the motivation is twofold – he receives a message from a beautiful princess calling for help. He delivers the message to Obi Wan Kenobi, who asks him to come along. It’s already established by this point that Luke doesn’t want to be a farm boy forever – he wants adventure and to be a pilot, and Obi Wan is offering him all that.
But it’s not enough. On its own, being offered everything he wants is not enough for Luke to leave behind his commitments to his family. It’s a common step on the Hero’s Journey, known as refusal of the call. The hero is given motivation, but something is still holding them back.
Luke doesn’t leave his home until he arrives back at the farm to find his aunt and uncle have been murdered by Stormtroopers. Without the ties to his family, and their murders to avenge, Luke finally has enough motivation to leave his old life behind.
The Hero often meets a mentor early on in his or her journey who helps them to develop their skills. The Hero usually discovers they have some unique talent that will make them uniquely suited to the epic quest ahead of them. On that quest they will make friends, grow as a person, and ultimately take responsibility for saving the world as they know it.
Luke starts out lacking confidence – he has great power, but doesn’t know the true strength of the force, and is unable to lift his X-Wing from the swamp. But he’s dedicated to his friends, and risks everything to save them. By the third movie his experiences fighting for the Rebels and for his friends, as well as some input from his mentors have changed him from a happy go lucky chancer to someone with the confidence to take on the Emperor.