In essence, a Hero’s Journey is the transformation from weakness and naiveté to strength and wisdom. Though stories should be protagonist driven, that doesn’t preclude the character from needing help to realize their destiny. Often, especially in the beginning of the story, the protagonist needs a mentor to guide and strengthen them. An excellent example of this sort of relationship exists between the characters of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
In the beginning of A New Hope, Luke is introduced as a backwoods moisture farmer, a whiner who tries to shirk his responsibilities. He is by design an unpleasant character. In addition, he is barely able to hold off a single Sand Person. His lack of heroism was set up to contrast with Kenobi’s introduction. Where Luke is uncertain and childish, Obi-Wan is mature and in control of not only himself but also the world around him. Through his force of personality and skills as a Jedi, Obi-Wan is able to solve many problems that would prove insurmountable to young Luke. This contrast not only foreshadows Luke’s potential, but also provides a benchmark against which to measure the trajectory of Luke’s arc.
After establishing his authority and prowess, Kenobi’s role as teacher and bestower of power becomes more apparent. He gives Luke his first lessons in the way of the Force, and starts to correct many of Luke’s attitudes on life. Even after his death under Vader’s lightsaber, Kenobi whispers in Luke’s ear, assisting him in his greatest moments of need. When this intervention proves insufficient, Obi-Wan directs Luke to his mentor.
In The Return of the Jedi, Mark Hamill signals the completion of Luke’s Hero’s Journey through echoing many of the mannerisms of Alec Guinness’ performance. Though Hamill is still very clearly Luke Skywalker, his posture and speech patterns remind me strongly of Guinness’ acting in Episode IV. Whether intentional or unintentional, this subtle queue was incredibly effective.
Even though the Mentor figure provides for and gives strength to the protagonist, they also represent a limitation to the protagonist’s freedom of action and initiative. By definition, a mentee is subordinate to the mentor, often seeking approval and guidance before acting. Protagonists must ultimately solve their own problems. For this to happen, the mentor must be removed from his position of influence. In Star Wars, Lucas kills Obi-Wan to limit what influence he can exert on the physical world. It is an effective and popular choice, though not the only option available to a writer.
George Lucas’ strong preference for the Hero’s Journey can be seen in Luke Skywalker’s major character arc. He starts as a backwoods farmboy, but ends up guiding the course of events in the galaxy. No matter how powerful at the end, Luke as the protagonists needed the caring guidance of his mentor Obi-Wan to survive challenges he faced on Tatooine and guide him onto the path of his destiny.Tags: Sequence 05: Tropes and Archetypes