Last week Mr. Spherical Model and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. I’m about to do something of a review—trying to avoid spoilers, but be forewarned nevertheless.
image from IMDB.com
About halfway through, a light came on for me. Suddenly I understood, on a larger scale, what story was being told. It’s what I’ll call The Hero’s Story. The list includes Harry Potter; The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight series, Mistborn trilogy, and Steelheart trilogy; the Eragon series; How to Train Your Dragon; The Ranger’s Apprentice series; and a great many others in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, especially. There are some elements you can expect:
· There’s the hero, who starts out as little known or cared about. Possibly an orphan. Parentage possibly unknown.
· The undeveloped hero discovers a special skill or power.
· The hero goes through a development or training process, usually with a mentor or trainer.
· The hero’s special skill or power develops beyond what one would normally expect, often surpassing expectations—or even abilities—of the mentor or trainer.
· Nevertheless, the hero doubts himself/herself. Often this is related to learning about parentage and wondering whether heritage is destiny.
· The hero may even give up temporarily, but will return to use his/her special skills in an epic battle for the sake of all the other people depending on him/her.
· There may be a parallel anti-hero story—a similar character with similar skills, who is on the side of evil.
· The hero wins against the otherwise undefeatable adversary. This may require significant sacrifices—and possibly his/her own life, although more likely the loss of someone close to the hero. But the hero must win or the story fails to meet the contract between the writer and the reader. In the battle between good and evil, good always wins.
How does this fit in Star Wars? In the original trilogy (episodes 4-6), Luke was the insignificant orphan. He is mentored and trained in The Force by Obi-Wan Kenobi. He starts out pretty ragged, but gets better. He uses the force at the end of the first movie to destroy the death star.
A lot of the training goes on in The Empire Strikes Back (maybe still the best—at least of that trilogy) by Yoda. He leaves for a while, frustrated in his lack of progress, and distracted by the need to take action elsewhere. At the end of that movie, he learns that he is the son of the arch villain Darth Vader. Back before all details could be leaked on the internet, that was truly a stunning moment in the theater.
In Return of the Jedi, Luke is a force to be reckoned with. Only he has the power to take on the evil emperor and Darth Vader—the essential meta-battle going on while the military battle takes place outside.
There’s another element we’ll see repeated: Luke sees some good in Darth Vader, his father. Instead of simply hating the evil and fighting it—or giving in to join it, which would make the story not even worth telling—he invites the evil villain to give up his evil ways and join forces for good.
I saw this element as not very believable in that original trilogy. And if we’d seen, at that point, the killing of the children that Anakin Skywalker, AKA Darth Vader, did in the second trilogy (episodes 1-3), it would have seemed even more implausible.
And yet, we see this possibility of redemption come up again in The Rise of Skywalker. This time—because we’d seen Kylo Ren murder his father, our beloved Han Solo, I did not see it as even a remote possibility. And yet it’s a valuable part of the story, approached rather believably I thought. (I hope I’m not telling too much here—not saying what the result is.)
|one of the duels between Kylo Ren (left) and Rey|
Disney/Lucasfilm image found here
In both Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the story includes their succumbing to the dark side because they saw it as inevitable; they did not believe they had the strength to resist, so they bought into the idea that attaching themselves to the bad guys is the necessary choice—and not really a matter of choice. But it is a matter of weakness. And this is an idea worth exploring further sometime, when we’re using the story to understand evil in our own world.
Anyway, each individual Star Wars movie, if it’s going to work, is going to be its own hero story, or an obvious part of a larger hero story, as in the cliffhanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back.
In the newest trilogy, Rey is the unknown hero this time. She’s an insignificant orphan, making a living as a scavenger when we first meet her. She learns of her powers in the first movie—and uses them against a much more trained adversary, and wins that first battle.
In the second movie, The Last Jedi, Luke is her mentor/trainer. At the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, Leia is her mentor/trainer. We can see that Rey is extremely skilled. Still, she is frustrated at her lack of progress—and she’s worried about her destiny, because she has discovered her heritage. (I won’t mention it here, but apparently those who speculated that having her and Finn be actual nobodies was not really the point of the second movie.)
This question about destiny came up in the Harry Potter series—where you see a lot of these hero story elements. While his parents are mostly heroic martyrs to the cause against evil, he has the elements about himself that concern him. He speaks Parseltongue—the language of snakes—which identifies him as Slytherin-like, and therefore likely to choose the dark side. Fortunately, his mentor, Dumbledore, advises him that who we are isn’t determined by some destiny we have no control over; it is determined by the choices we make.
Eventually Rey realizes that her choices do indeed matter more than her bloodline.
You know going in that she will win the final battle against the ultimate evil. That is giving nothing away. It’s the getting there that is interesting.
I’m interested in hero stories, because, in a world where truth and goodness—even reality—have been made relative, it’s harder for a younger generation to understand meaning and purpose. They long to be important—to be a hero in their own story. Failing to find that in work or other pursuits, they might spend endless hours experiencing a hero’s success in a computer gaming world. (I wrote about this here.)
Being the hero in our own story is actually important for all of us. We need to know our purpose. We need to find meaning in our lives.
Our life mission and our special power or skill will be related. Sometimes we learn our mission by noticing our developing skills. Sometimes it’s the other way around; we develop the skills we need in order to meet our mission. We find meaning in our life when our unique contribution and mission meet.
I’m going to take one tangent here, in this partial movie review. It’s about the actor who plays Kylo Ren. I’ve seen Adam Driver in other things (I recommend Silence, in which he plays a missionary to Japan several centuries ago). I respect him as an actor. But I’m puzzled at making him the “leading man” possible love interest of Rey. He isn’t an attractive person. I remember being shocked the first time he took his helmet off in The Force Awakens—a helmet he didn’t need, as Darth Vader had needed his; it’s just a personal prop. That first view was surprisingly disappointing. This was the son of Leia and Han? Really? Were we supposed to see him as attractive, and I just didn’t happen to? There’s always that possibility, because of taste differences, and my being in an older generation.
Fortunately, when son Economic Sphere and his wife came for Christmas, they had already seen the movie, so we could discuss freely. Mrs. Economic Sphere, suggests that this was purposeful. Kylo Ren was always intended to be inferior. She may be right. He’s undisciplined. His anger gets out of hand with various tantrums in The Force Awakens. In all of this trilogy, there are rivals not quite willing to accept his leadership, where there really weren’t any to Darth Vader in the earlier trilogy. He seems to idolize his grandfather but can never measure up to his stature, although his size and build are probably adequate.
He also seems to miss the fact that his grandfather joined Luke against the emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. And my very observant DIL also noted that Kylo Ren probably got swindled when he acquired that Darth Vader helmet he reveres. Remember, the face and helmet were separate parts, as we saw just before Darth Vader’s death-after-redemption. On the funeral pyre he’s not wearing the helmet. And yet, what Kylo Ren has is a battered—presumably because of the funeral pyre—helmet attached to face part. DIL concludes it must be a fraud.
There’s a Studio C skit that emphasizes the sniveling weakness of Kylo Ren, called out by Rey, included below. Worth watching for a chuckle.
Anyway, while this might not be my favorite Star Wars movie (I still prefer The Empire Strikes Back, and the non-trilogy prequel Rogue One is probably in second place), the good guys win—with some sacrifice along the way, but still very decisively, as it should be. And it’s a fun and interesting ride getting there.
Speaking of riding, Finn gets a great scene in which the bad guy controllers can’t shut down the speeders, because Finn and crew are not riding speeders. Fun moment to watch for.
Also, let’s note for the sake of the real world, the central controllers are the bad guys. Enough said about that for now.
[i] The 36 are listed in the appendix of Theme and Strategy by Ronald Tobias, Writer’s Digest Books, © 1989. The Hero’s Story, as I describe it, is from my own understanding and reading experience.