“Who’s your favorite Star Wars character?”
“Is Darth Vader a good guy or a bad guy?”
“What color is Luke’s lightsaber in Episode VI?”
That was some of the Q&A between my son and I while walking up and down a frozen gravel mountain road on an overcast day in December 2006. That year my wife and I, along with our children and several other family members, broke our normal routine and spent Christmas in the mountains of Blue Ridge, Georgia.
John, who had the traditional Gerber Baby blonde hair and blue eyes, was three years old at the time, and already a Star Wars fanatic. Being a Star Wars fan myself, I was so proud that he loved the original trilogy over the three prequels. As young as he was, he understood the difference between the two trilogies and was a Star Wars “purist.”
I captured our discussion from that cold December day on home video and I still delight in watching John answer all of my questions about the movies correctly. In one part of the video, he refers in a soft, concerned voice to the Wampa from The Empire Strikes Back as the “scary bear” with the “r” in “scary” sounding more like a “w.”
The Force is strong in my family
Thinking back, I see how much enjoyment my family has derived from the Star Wars franchise over the years and how it has brought us closer together. As a child, my brother and I played with the action figures and collected the mini die cast models. We watched the original movies, Episodes IV, V, and VI, over and over again, gathered around the TV with our cousins, especially on holidays, never tiring of the cheesy dialogue and exciting special effects. Sometimes we just let the movies play in the background during a family gathering. I even made my mother buy us C-3PO’s cereal. Yuck! But it was never really about the popularity of Star Wars and all of the commercial products that we loved. Instead, it was the Star Wars story, the drama, that captured our hearts.
The Hero’s Journey Template
So, what is it about the Star Wars story that is so attractive to so many people? Is it good characters, a good music score, good special effects? Well, yes to all of those, but most importantly the story follows a specific template which seems to be be built into the essence of humanity. The original trilogy follows the Hero’s Journey template which I have written about before on Medium. The Hero’s Journey follows three main acts: Departure; Initiation; and Return.
The “first” movie, Episode IV, is known sometimes simply as “Star Wars” but the proper title of that movie is A New Hope, and that title is appropriate. The Rebel Alliance finds hope in their fight against the Empire in a young Luke Skywalker who leaves his home planet for adventure and, guided by the Force, destroys the Empire’s planet killing Death Star using torpedoes fired from his X-Wing star fighter at the end of the movie.
The next movie, The Empire Strikes Back, chronicles the Rebels’ struggle to survive under the relentless aggression of a vengeful Empire. The movie ends with the reluctant, but beloved hero, Han Solo, being captured by a bounty hunter and Luke losing his hand in a lightsaber battle against Darth Vader, who Luke comes to learn during one of the most memorable moments in Hollywood cinema is not only one of the most evil beings in the entire galaxy, but also his father!
Hope is all but lost for a time until the final movie of the trilogy, Return of the Jedi. The film begins with a newly made and confident Jedi Luke helping his friends rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt’s lair. The trilogy ends with Luke as the main cause of Darth Vader’s redemption and return to the Light Side of the Force. In one of the final scenes, Vader, freshly defeated by Luke in an epic lightsaber battle, looks on as the Emperor, electrical bolts crackling from his fingertips, slowly tortures Luke to the very edge of death. Suddenly, Vader turns away from the Dark Side of the Force and throws the Emperor over a railing into the depths of the partially rebuilt second Death Star, saving his son’s life, ending the Empire’s reign over the galaxy, and bringing balance to the Force.
Our Hero’s Journey
Like the Star Wars trilogy, our Christmas vacation in the mountains of Blue Ridge, Georgia in 2006 was unforgettable, and the vacation in itself was a mini Hero’s Journey.
We left South Florida to embark on a twelve hour road trip seeking adventure in the mysterious mountains of Georgia.
We arrived near our destination at night. My truck’s navigation system stopped working in the remote area we were in. I had to drive very carefully in the dark with no streetlights up a steep mountain road using some written instructions as a guide. The road dropped off on either side of us into the woods below. One mistake could lead us all over the edge. At one point we had to choose whether go right or left at a fork in the road. I chose the correct path even though my wife was not confident about it at the time. We arrived at the cabin safely and over the next few days celebrated Christmas in a very memorable way.
We left the Blue Ridge mountains to return home with the “ultimate boon.” The boon was the vacation experience, the memories we took back with us, and, of course all of the Christmas gifts. My son won many lightsaber battles against his dad and uncles that weekend, we enjoyed good food together, good beer and wine, we spent quality time away from the world talking and telling funny stories, and we were all blessed to receive more Christmas gifts than we ever needed. John’s Star Wars toy haul especially, which barely fit under the Christmas tree, would be the envy of any Star Wars collector.
Today John is thirteen years old. I took him and my eldest daughter, Christina, to the theater to see the last two Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens and Rogue One which was very enjoyable for all of us. John and I also find time in our busy schedules to play the Star Wars Battlefront video game together against other Star Wars fans on Playstation 4. He almost always scores higher than I do when we play; if I were not so proud, I’d be jealous of how good he is at the game.
And so, the Star Wars drama continues to engage us as a family … and we all continue on our Hero’s Journey through life, and for that I am grateful. The Force is strong in my family.