Recently Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy gave a devotional address to BYU students about realizing our divine birthright and eternal destinies. In the devotional he compared us to the characters of Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter, both of whom discovered their “royal heritage” and began a quest to live up their progenitors’ legacy. However, he only referenced these characters as a brief aside. In reality, the story of Luke Skywalker—the story of the classical hero—lines up a lot more significantly with the Plan of Salvation than a brief aside lets on.
You should know the story of Luke Skywalker already. From moisture farmer on the barren planet of Tatooine to Jedi knight and de facto leader of the rebellion against the evil empire, Luke’s story is the epitome of the “Hero’s Cycle,” a literary and mythological concept popularized by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The hero, at first perfectly ordinary, goes through a series of stages that facilitate his or her rise into greatness. It is a timeless, universal tale—and there’s a spiritual reason for that. Read on and you’ll see how the story of Luke Skywalker truly provides mirrors for us all.
- The Call to Adventure
The hero’s journey always begins with a rousing cry to action. The lad or lass is called upon 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 hidden in the mechanical bowels of R2D2. Faced with an invitation to go to Princess Leia’s rescue with Obi-Wan Kenobi, he rejected it, perhaps overwhelmed at the sudden change that would bring. But when stormtroopers killed his aunt and uncle and destroyed his home, Luke was compelled to take up his cross.
We each had a call to adventure of our own. Multiple ones, actually. Can you remember the first? No, me neither. That’s the veil working. But we had the choice to go down to a mortal life to begin our journey to become like our Father—or follow Satan’s plan and remain eternally stunted.
In mortality we’re given more calls to adventure. Sometimes it’s literal, in the form of a mission call. Or perhaps it was the moment when the missionaries knocked on your door, or really any kind of powerful personal experience that brings you to an awareness of who you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do in this life. Whatever it is, the call to adventure gives you the opportunity to set out on the path of progress.
Our first call came in pre-earth life. And if you’re reading this, that means you kept your first estate and chose to heed the call the first time it was offered to us. What other calls have you been given?
- Crossing the Threshold
This stage refers to the moment when the would-be hero can never turn back. The bridge has been burned, the path has been chosen, or the hero has made an unbreakable commitment. Without this step, the hero could go back to her old life at any time, and because all heroes face weakness and peril in the face of strain and pressure, she can’t take the path back home. It compels the hero to stay the course and hold strong against adversity.
For Luke and many other classical heroes, the threshold is the moment when the hero refuses the first call to action. On Tatooine, Luke felt the initial weight of destiny on his shoulders, responded with fear and uncertainty, and so refused the call. It wasn’t until he learned that the Empire killed his aunt and uncle that he accepted 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, for there is no other choice
Once we chose to come to earth and gain bodies, we could never go back to premortal life. Our eyes have been opened to mortality, with all its pains and pleasures, its rights and wrongs. We are past our point of no return, and our eyes can never be closed again.
The mentor figure is essential to the hero’s development because he guides the future hero to the path she cannot find on her own. Luke had Obi-Wan Kenobi and later Yoda, who both 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 and how to make good choices—and, like Obi-Wan, they remind us of our true potential to become like our progenitors. Our mentors can be various things at various times: the prophets, the scriptures, priesthood leaders, personal advisers, friends, but perhaps 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 anyone to train us or teach us truth, we would remain ignorant and stunted, not knowing any better than to make poor choices. With a guide like the Holy Ghost, we become responsible and accountable for our actions, and become full agents like Heavenly Father.
- The Road of Trials
The mentor is especially important given the next stage of the journey. After we open our eyes to the reality of the world, we face the tests, trials, challenges, and temptations that accompany it. The mentor gives us the perspective we need to overcome these trials and understand their purpose—to be shaped and carved in the right ways by the winds of adversity.
Luke faced many a peril in his quest to save the princess and topple the Empire. He risked his life to save Leia, endured the threat of death by garbage compactor, watched as his mentor and old friend was cut down before his eyes, fought off stormtroopers in the Death Star and on Hoth, and so on and so forth. But his ultimate challenge was spiritual, a parallel to ours: enduring the moral seduction of the satanic Emperor Palpatine.
We are all on the road of trials right now. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to define our sojourn on this Earth. Trials have been placed before us so that we can learn to endure, to struggle, and to overcome, and in the process, internalize the traits of godhood. The gospel helps us recognize those teachable moments as training grounds for higher living, and respond with the appropriate perspective. Brigham Young said, “the gospel…causes men and women to reveal that which would have slept in their dispositions until they dropped into their graves. The plan by which the Lord leads this people…brings out every trait of disposition lurking in their [beings]” (Journal of Discourses, 3:47.)
Whether we are good or bad, the road of trials will prove us, just as they did both Luke and his father, Anakin.
- Death and Rebirth – Transformation
As a result of the road of trials, the hero passes through a state of death and rebirth—not literal death, but a kind of shedding of the skin. The old self is cast aside and the hero takes on a fresh new identity with a greater understanding of himself and his capabilities.
At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke goes through this process as he learns the truth of his parentage and falls into a veritable bottomless pit. In the next film, he reappears as a practically reborn man, a Jedi knight with newfound skills and confidence. In the climax of Return of the Jedi, Luke’s rebirth is tested and found complete: he refuses to join the Dark Side, and he ascends to his final height.
While Luke’s deeds could be called “good,” even “great,” they were less important than Luke’s inner transformation. Luke himself became something great, a legend and inspiration to so many, and the tool by which his fallen father was redeemed. From farm boy to hero and even to savior: that is the transformation process of the Hero’s Cycle—and the plan of salvation.
Our own symbolic death and rebirth is crystallized in our moment of baptism—when our souls are washed clean and our new lives as disciples of Christ begin. But ultimately, our transformation gradually takes place throughout our lives. The goal of the road of trials is not to solve and endure them for their own sake: it is to transform into the gods we’re meant to be. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become” (“The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32.).
- Atonement with the Father
The transformation process takes the hero to a stage that resonates so loudly with our theology that it almost needs no explanation. After all, what else could “Atonement with the Father” really mean? To Campbell, it meant a confrontation with the being that holds ultimate power in the hero’s life, most commonly a father or father figure. This stage is where we internalize that power and discover truth about our identity, our place in the world.
For Luke this occurred at the very end of the original trilogy. By withstanding the temptations of the emperor, he proved that he was willing to die before giving in to his evil side. In his refusal to turn, he invoked his father’s old identity as a hero and a good man. His example and testimony destroyed Darth Vader and brought about Anakin Skywalker’s return to the good side. This change of heart was the titular “Return of the Jedi,” as for the first time in their lives, Luke and Anakin looked into each other’s eyes as father and son, both Jedi knights at last, and spiritually at one.
Similarly, Christ also asked us to be at one with our father: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). After becoming a full soul, with spirit and body, we are asked to go about perfecting that fused being, to become like our father and reject all ungodliness, deny the carnal nature inherent in mortal bodies and choose the divine nature inherent in our spiritual bodies. Oneness with the Father—eternal life in His presence, and the eternal life that He Himself lives—is what the Atonement is all about.
- Ultimate Boon
The everlasting happiness and never-ending inheritance we receive as joint-heirs with Christ is our “Ultimate Boon,” what we’ve been working on and searching for all this time.
For Luke it was peace both within himself and throughout the galaxy. He rejected the Dark Side and saved his father’s fallen soul. He grew to his full potential and realized the Jedi he was meant to be. He destroyed the evil in the galaxy, ended the war decisively, and set the prisoners free. In the end, Luke fulfilled his destiny, his potential, and his power.
After we receive the ordinances of the gospel, show our faith in Christ, repent of our sins, live righteously, and endure to the end, then we can advance to our highest state of being: exaltation. A station where we, like Luke, understand ourselves in our totality—our destiny, our potential, and the profound power we’ve accumulated, as well as the role we’ve played in frustrating the enemies of our Father’s plan.
As our eternal reward, Christ promised that we would receive “all that [the] Father hath” (D&C 84:38). Not only will we dwell in God’s presence, “to go no more out” (Helaman 3:30), but we will be sealed to our families and given the sacred power to create new worlds and tell new stories.
Think of the beginning of Star Wars. When you first see that whiny kid living on a desert planet with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, could you believe he would one day give hope to the galaxy and topple the devil’s Empire?
CS Lewis wrote in his book The Weight of Glory, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
Think of our day-to-day lives. When we pass others in the street, do we see them for their potential, for their preciousness in the eyes of God? Do we even see ourselves with that same potential?
Ponder the consequences if Luke had remained with his aunt and uncle, farming moisture out of a barren wasteland of a planet—what a parable for our modern-day distractions! Meandering through apps and further down the Facebook feed, employing ourselves primarily in video games, putting all our resources and spending all our time merely seeking to gain more and more money, more and more things that fall away from us as we rise into the next world—though flashy and colorful, this kind of living leaves our Book of Life as empty and desolate as Tatooine.
We have a destiny far grander than that—and it is Satan’s victory if we forget it or disregard it or if it remains only potential while we slumber through the Lord’s rousing cries. Fulfilling our potential is our prime goal in this life, and our hero’s journey is also our Heavenly Father’s work and His glory—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).