Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mythic Heros in Star Wars

Orphaned at birth, the boy of humble origins learns that he is an heir of a mystical order of holy warriors who fight against evil in the galaxy
This would be the mythic heroic description of Luke Skywalker’s character. If he does this, he is a hero. If something distracts him from this, and many things will try, he slips from his mythic heroic position. So in the sense of the narrative, Luke is fighting two battles: the first is the fight against evil and tyranny; the second is the fight against distraction.

A mythic story is one that is so fundamental to the human condition that it is recognized as a universal experience. Everyone understands this story, and in some way identifies with it, or with the longing that it reflects. There is a longing to participate in the hero's story, and there is admiration for a hero who does follow the path.

Not everyone has a life that fits this formula, but the audience finds value in a life that conforms to that heroic ideal, even if it is not directly applicable to them. The audience can see themselves, some part of themselves, in this story. Even though it does not describe them, in some way the listener wants it to describe them.

 The Pathway

 A Mythic Heroic pathway must have an element that is universal, that is independent of time period or genre or setting. Luke's pathway appears equally valid in a story of science fiction, modern fantasy, classic epic fantasy, even gritty realism.

For a mythic hero, it is not enough to find that a mythic story describes your life. You must also make a conscious choice to follow the pathway that the mythic story illuminates. We know that Luke is a mythic hero because his actions are consistent with his mythic story.

Everything that Luke does in the first movie takes him down his mythic heroic pathway. This is true even of those things that he does as a result of other people’s choices. However Luke makes two critical choices that drive the plot of the movie: first he chooses to leave Tatooine – “There’s nothing for me here now. I want to come with you to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force, to become a Jedi like my father.” Next, he chooses to rescue Princess Leia – “We can’t just leave her. We’ve got to rescue her. They’re going to execute her. “ – Han: “Better her than me.”

That choice to help Leia is alone what drives the second half of the film and the story of the Rebel Alliance. Everything that Luke does after is an outgrowth of that decision. And that decision is based on his heroic myth to fight evil in the galaxy.

By contrast, and a contrast provided directly in that scene, Han has no such heroic imperative. Not that he is not a hero, but that his herioc myth is different:

A Scoundrel, whose past has taught him that he can only rely on himself, is transformed when he comes to understand and believe in the power of friendship and good to alter his fate and that of the galaxy.

He sees how Luke's "goodness" alters the fate of Leia, and later of the Rebel Alliance.  He comes to understand that concept himself by aiding Luke in the attack on the Death Star.  Implicit in both these myths is the value of development and change. For Luke it is maturing from a boy to a warrior, moving from someone who is passive and ruled the the demands of others (Uncle Owen, Obiwan) to someone who has achieved his own independence and self reliance.  For Han it is the redemptive transformation from scoundrel to reluctant leader.  Han already embodies the lessons of independence that Luke needs to learn, but in turn learns from Luke the value of friendship. Implicit in the myth is the presence of a Myth arc, a pathway that the hero must travel to remain heroic. Others who do not follow a path are merely static observers.

Returning to that scene with Luke and Han, Han is a hero, at that moment, because although he confronts his scoundrel identity, he does not allow himself to be entirely directed by it. Luke persuades him to help through promises of a reward, but he does help. And Han's decision takes him a step further along his mythic arc. The two of them are both heroes but in different ways, and in different stages of development. At this point, Luke has "already taken the first steps into a much larger world," while Han, the more worldly-wise of the two, is barely beginning down that pathway -- a path he will not fully embrace until he returns in the Millennium Falcon to assist Luke's assault on the Death Star.

1 comment:

  1. So, then. If a RPG is played against a mythic or heroic background, we (the players & our avatars) should be epic, mythic heroes constantly offered a choice between the exalted and the mundane and constantly choosing the mythic path.

    We progress from ordinary farm boys or smugglers to noble beings by being offered the opportunity to be small and selfish in our choices and rejecting it. Even Vader matures from petulant schoolboy to a figure surrounded by "a cloud of awesome evil."

    How does an RPG achieve that? Is there not overwhelming evidence that many of the current pool of players consciously select veniality as a style of play? Captain Sparklypants, charter member of the guild MyLittleP'Ownies has no aspirations beyond the third grade playground: shouting "Yaha! I'm better than you are!"

    'TOR had an opportunity to support the cause of the noble and shrugged it aside. Were they unable to recognized heroism and mythic stature in the Sith and so abandoned it altogether? Were they worried that embracing cruelty as nobility would make the game too dark? Had they watched that first SW trilogy too many times?

    So, why don't the game companies hire actual writers? They throw money at visual artists! Cutting edge visuals, some of astonishing beauty and imagination. But the stories and storytelling rarely even rise to the level of cheap, paperback science fiction or fantasy. Epic, mythic stories / characters / quests come from the imagination of artists, not technicians, not hacks.