[Alternate titles: The Eternal Arc; Could We Call the Jedi a “Campbellite Religion”?]
I’ll start off with a confession: I’ve had more doubts about the new Star Wars movies than moments of excitement. This isn’t because I doubt the capabilities of J.J. Abrams, et al, or because I’m worried about CGI, or anything like that.
My reasoning is simple: the story was done.
See, the brilliance of Star Wars is in its archetypal nature. It is the story of the hero’s arc: the rise of the hero and the downfall of the evil empire. And we saw that narrative to completion. There wasn’t a single subplot left hanging, or a mystery still to get resolution on. The only story we were not filled in on in the Original Trilogy was the story of Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker. And of course, we got those movies already—and despite the poor storytelling on display, that story is also a perfect archetypeal counterpart: the fall of a hero and the rise of an empire. Together, the two stories are one, and complete.
So you’ll understand why the thought of Disney making more of them sounded to me like a cash grab when it was first announced. I didn’t really care how well they’d do it, because the problem is at the core of this narrative: what story is there left to tell? Let me amend that: what universal/classical/archetypal story is there left to tell?
That, for me, is what will convince me the new ones are worth making when I see Episode VII this Thursday night. So far they’ve done it right: not revealing even a smidgen of plot. That shows that they think they’ve still got a story worth telling, and one worth keeping secret, rather than just whoring it out to make more money. I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not. Ultimately they need to find a great arc to depict that is inherent in the Star Wars universe and that doesn’t feel like just another excuse for cool action scenes. It needs to be absolutely necessary, and absolutely universal. And because they were smart enough to get Lawrence Kasdan on their writing crew, I honestly have more faith than fear. So here’s hoping!
While we wait for Thursday night (if you’re not seeing it at the (quasi) midnight release, you are not a true fan), let me share with you what I find so perfect about the Original Trilogy. This week I’ll be posting excerpts from the first chapter of The Hero Doctrine, which is all about Star Wars and how Luke Skywalker’s Hero Cycle almost perfectly parallels the arc of our souls—essentially, the Plan of Salvation.
Honestly, only if Episode VII gives me more gospel parallels to think about, I’ll consider it a success—and I’ll be posting about them next week.
(I’ll also consider it a success if we hear at least one original line from James Earl Jones somewhere in there.)
Chapter 1. The Eternal Arc
You’ve all heard of Luke Skywalker. In the story of Star Wars, Luke starts out as a moisture farmer on the barren planet of Tatooine, and ends as a key player in the rebellion against the evil Empire, gradually transforming from an ordinary soul into the epitome of a classical hero. The general arc of this transformation is called the “Hero’s Cycle,” a literary and mythological concept first formed by Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In the book Campbell details the various trials and stages a would-be hero has to go through to obtain that status. This cycle was based on myths and legends of old, the stories of heroes; Campbell discovered that all these otherwise disparate myths agree remarkably on the precise situations and experiences that ultimately form an ordinary Joe into a hero. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, followed this cycle purposefully and perfectly with his protagonist Luke, and the timeless nature of that tale is one of the primary reasons the Star Wars movies are so universally loved.
There’s another arc I’d like to talk about, however, similar, but far more significant. I call it the Eternal Arc. It is about man’s potential to become like Heavenly Father, and it parallels the Hero’s Cycle with startling precision. Just as Luke unknowingly progressed through various stages of character development in his unconscious quest to become a hero, so must we advance through different stages of existence, different states of being, in our conscious quest to join our Heavenly Father in all His glory and domain.
Now, much of what follows may very well feel remedial to you, but bear with me. We’re going to cover this doctrine from beginning to end so it is properly understood in its context—a process that we echo in our own personal journey into eternity.
Paul in the Book of Acts called us “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29), and in Romans he writes, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” before following logically that, “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). That state— as joint-heirs with Christ—is the end goal of our very existence: to inherit the station and glory of our Heavenly Father. First we must become like Christ in traits and attributes, and then we may become like Heavenly Father in glory and stewardship. That is the grand destination at the end of our journey.
Journeys, of course, need maps. We need to know exactly where we are going to go and which paths we need to take on our way to the end. Luke Skywalker didn’t have a map to chart his personal journey, but we do. We call that map the Plan of Salvation or, the Plan of Happiness. The plan takes us from ordinary peasants, busy with the daily doldrums of mortal toil, to spiritual kings and queens, heroes and rulers in our own kingdoms—from blurry-eyed intelligences all the way to exaltation and eternal life as heirs in the presence of God. This plan was presented to us before we were born into this world, when we were mere unembodied spirits. In that state of being we lived with Heavenly Father as His literal spirit children. He had a spirit as we do, and as it is an essential part of us, so is it an essential part of Him.
But we existed before even tabernacles of spirit. Just as we have an eternal future, so have we had an eternal past, an existence before even Heavenly Father clothed us in spiritual form. As mere intelligences, we had only the most basic of identities, but even then, a potential we perhaps didn’t understand. This is the state Luke begins in, unaware of his destiny but looking up at the stars, wanting to join them, and be a part of a higher life, even if he didn’t know what that would be.
In Luke Skywalker we see a mirror of our own potential.
The Call to Adventure
The Hero’s Cycle always begins with a rousing cry. The lad or lass is figuratively awoken and called upon to put foot to the path for a special mission or duty that will eventually carry them away to a transformative adventure.
Luke was roused from his state of mediocrity by a literal call for help; the message came in the form of C-3PO and R2D2, droids that possessed a recording from Princess Leia asking for help from whoever got the message. This was Luke’s Call to Adventure—the first opportunity to show his true potential.
Likewise, our corresponding first step in our Eternal Arc was our own call to adventure, the love of a God who showed us what we could one day be: a being like Him. He brought us out of our ethereal existence and gave us more sharply defined identity through spirit and gender.
Crossing the Threshold
The stage of Crossing the Threshold refers to the moment when, no matter what the decision, the would-be hero can never turn back. It is a bridge burned, a path chosen, a cause to which the protagonist is comprehensively committed. Without this step, the hero could go back to his old life at any time, and because all heroes face weakness and peril in the face of strain and pressure, the path to return to the lesser estate cannot be accessed. It compels the hero to stay the course and hold strong against adversity, for the hero has no other place to go except total surrender.
For Luke and many other heroes, the threshold is the moment when the first call to action is refused. Luke felt the initial weight of destiny on his shoulders, responded with fear and uncertainty, and so refused the call. It isn’t until Luke learned that the Empire killed his aunt and uncle that he accepts Obi-Wan’s invitation to train as a Jedi. The deaths of Owen and Beru made staying home and declining the journey an impossibility, and so at this point Luke is compelled to journey on, and become who he was born to be.
In pre-earth life, we, too, made certain choices, but unlike Luke, we did not refuse our initial call. We kept our first estate, our first stewardship, choosing to heed Heavenly Father’s call the first time it was offered to us. This choice allowed us to be sent to this earth and be given bodies, the next essential phase of being in our Eternal Arc, and our second great stewardship or estate.
The decision to come to earth was a decision we can never take back, in which our eyes were opened to mortality, with all its pains and pleasures, its rights and wrongs, and all the mundanity and mediocrity in between. As our spirits obtained a mortal frame, we became a full soul, with body and spirit fused together. This was our point of no return, after which our eyes could never be closed again.
The mentor figure is an essential part of the hero’s development for it is through the mentor that the hero perceives the greater goal. The mentor, who could be a normal human being or a supernatural entity, must be there to guide the future hero to his path, for he cannot find it on his own. Luke had Obi-Wan Kenobi, who taught him the basics of fighting and revealed to him his true potential—to be a Jedi knight, like his father.
Similarly, we have mentors everywhere in our lives. Ideally they teach us how to navigate the world, how to make good choices, and, like Obi-Wan, remind us of our true potential to become like our progenitors. These are the prophets, the scriptures, priesthood leaders, and, most especially, our earthly parents. From them, and from the gift of the Holy Ghost, we learn our true parentage, and thus our true identity and destiny.
Without a guide, without anyone teaching us truth and training, we would not be responsible for poor choices–we would not know any better, leaving us ignorant and stunted. With a guide, with the Holy Ghost, we become responsible and accountable for our actions, and become full agents, just like Heavenly Father.
–Part 2 to be posted tomorrow.–