Friday, January 15, 2016

You Spin Me Right Round: A Whirlwind Journey Around The Hero Cycle in Star Wars: A New Hope & Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Scott Allen


I mentioned in a previous post that many people are complaining about how Star Wars: The Force Awakens was essentially the same movie as A New Hope. Chris Stuckman has a great argument that all Star Wars movies follow a formula, but I would like to discuss this idea in further detail.

The reason that The Force Awakens and A New Hope (and essentially all Star Wars movies) have a similar plot is because of the Hero Cycle. Author's have been telling the same stories for generations. Star Wars is The Lion King is Indiana Jones is The Matrix is Beowulf. They all follow the same plot. So, I would like to analyze both A New Hope and The Force Awakens from this lens.

Ordinary World

  • A New Hope: Luke Skywalker lives on the desert planet of Tatooine where he works for his Uncle on their family moisture farm. Luke dreams of leaving, joining the Rebellion, and generally making a difference in the galaxy.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey lives on the desert planet of Jakku where she works as a junk scavenger, trying her hardest to simply survive. Rey dreams of the day when her family will return to retrieve her.

Call to Adventure

  • A New Hope: Luke receives his call from a hologram of Princess Leia transmitted by R2D2--"Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." He feels compelled to help.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey also receives her call to adventure from a droid--BB-8. BB-8 has secret information and Rey is invited to help him find his master.

Refusal of the Call

  • A New Hope: Luke says that he can't go on the adventure several times--to C3P0 and to Obi Wan Kenobi. "I can't get involved."
  • The Force Awakens: Rey points BB-8 into the direction of civilization initially and then tells him he can stay with her until tomorrow when he needs to be on his way. Rey has a moment where she is tempted to sell BB-8 to get food. Also, several times during her adventure she mentions that she needs to return to Jakku because she is worried that she might miss her family coming back to pick her up.

Meeting the Mentor

  • A New Hope: Obi Wan Kenobi is the wise old man who mentors Luke in the ways of the Force.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey is mentored by Han Solo, who really excels in this role. Harrison Ford just looks like he has seen so much and perfectly acts as the wise old man. Rey is taught that all of the stories of the Jedi are true and that she just needs to have faith in all of these incredible things she has never seen before. Just look at Han's eyes in the poster. He has seen things. He has experienced love and loss, war and peace, magic and reality. He is hardened by his experiences. I cannot think of a better mentor character, other than maybe Obi Wan Kenobi, but I think I might be partial to Han over Obi Wan.

Crossing the First Threshold

  • A New Hope: Luke crosses the threshold into the world of adventure (world of fantasy) when he, Obi Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, in the Millennium Falcon, get caught in the Death Star's tractor beam and get pulled into the space station. There is a literal moment of crossing that threshold because the ship gets pulled in through a door. And now our heroes find themselves in a strange world that is different than anything they are used to.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey's crossing into the world of adventure is a little simpler than Luke's. Because Rey has spent her life on Jakku being a scavenger, her crossing is when she leaves Jakku in the Falcon. She then is thrust into this new world that is different than what she is used to. 
Interesting that both crossings involve using the Millennium Falcon. Like the Falcon is a vehicle for taking heroes into the world of fantasy. I might need to do another blog post about the Falcon as the vehicle into adventure. Hmmmmm.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

  • A New Hope:
    • Tests: Luke trains with the combat remote. He has a test in the Mos Eisley Cantina. And all of these tests come to a head when he enters the Death Star and he is faced with the choice of staying and waiting for Obi Wan, or going out himself to find and save Princess Leia.
    • Allies: Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3PO--some of the best allies in the galaxy.
    • Enemies: Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Imperial Officers
  • The Force Awakens:
    • Tests: Rey tests her budding Force powers on an unsuspecting Stormtrooper. She experiences a fairly serious test when Kylo Ren was trying to pull information out of her mind. You could also say that running from explosions on Jakku with Finn was a pretty significant test.
    • Allies: Han Solo, Chewbacca, Finn, BB-8
    • Enemies: Kylo Ren, Stormtroopers, Imperial Officers


  • A New Hope: Luke winds his way through the Death Star looking for Princess Leia. Specifically, Luke approaches the cave when he walks down the corridor what Princess Leia's cell is located in.
  • The Force Awakens: I believe that this would be when Rey enters the snow filled forest on Star Killer base.

Ordeal, Death, & Rebirth (The Cave)

  • A New Hope: Luke and friends dive down into a garbage chute and then Luke gets pulled under the water by some sort of garbage monster. For a while it looks like Luke is gone, that he has died. But then he returns.
  • The Force Awakens: In the forest on Star Killer Base, Rey and Finn face off against Kylo Ren. At the very beginning of the battle, Kylo uses the Force to throw Rey into a tree. She gets knocked unconscious and Finn goes to her. In the way Finn holds her head and looks at her, it almost looks like she is dead. And if she weren't the main character, and if this story didn't follow the Hero Cycle, we might actually believe that she was dead. Later in the battle though Rey reawakens and seems to be reborn, more powerful in the Force than she was before.

Reward, Seizing the Sword/Elixir

  • A New Hope: The reward is the Force. Luke begins to use the Force to stop the evil at the end of the movie where he clears his mind and takes the kill shot against the Death Star.
  • The Force Awakens: Once again, the reward is the Force. Rey begins to use the Force a little earlier than Luke, but after she has her rebirth she is very powerful and uses this power to stop Kylo Ren.

Magic Flight

  • A New Hope: Luke uses his X-Wing, accompanied by the Falcon, to flee the destruction of the Death Star.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey uses the Falcon to flee the destruction of Star Killer Base.

Crossing the Second Threshold (Returning Home)

  • A New Hope: Luke returns to the Rebel base, which has now become his home.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey returns to the Resistance's base. It doesn't really seem to be her home. Rey's new home would be with Luke Skywalker to engage in training.

Return with Sword/Elixir

  • A New Hope: Luke returns with a little bit of power with the Force.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey returns a fairly accomplished Force user and seeks training with the last remaining Jedi in the galaxy.
The end of the cycle is where these two movies begin to break the pattern. It has a lot to do with the fact that Star Wars movies have sequels and the cycle is just going to pick up again in the next movie.


In writing this, I saw even more similarities between The Force Awakens and A New Hope than I did before. But that does not make The Force Awakens a bad movie, or even a lesser Star Wars movie. This proves that The Force Awakens is a great movie. The Hero Cycle keeps cropping up in our books and movies because it is a good story. Ultimately, it is every man's story. Our cycle might not be as epic as Luke Skywalker's or Rey's, but it is still our Hero Cycle. We will follow the same path. There is some semblance of peace in that. We like this pattern because it reminds us of our own story.

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