What Is The Blueprint For Stories About Heroes? Host Guy Raz raises the curtain on this episode by exploring the hidden blueprint embedded within our most popular and powerful stories.

What Is The Blueprint For Stories About Heroes?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So on the show today, like the rest of the galaxy, we're going to talk a little bit about "Star Wars." But don't worry, you don't have to know about Sith Lords or Banthas or Lando Calrissian to understand what is coming up because today's show isn't actually about the films, but about the journey that inspired them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

MALACHI THRONE: (As narrator) Somewhere in space, this may all be happening right now.

RAZ: OK, so back in 1977 when the first "Star Wars" film came out...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

THRONE: (As narrator) An adventure unlike anything on your planet.

RAZ: ...No one...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

THRONE: (As narrator) "Star Wars."

RAZ: ...Had seen anything like it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

THRONE: (As narrator) It's an epic of heroes.

RAZ: But to one person, the story actually seemed pretty familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: There is a certain typical sequence of actions which can be detected in stories from all over the world and from many, many periods of history.

RAZ: This is Joseph Campbell. He was a mythologist and writer. And to him, "Star Wars" was not a new story. It was just another story. It was a story that followed in a very striking way, when you start to think about it, a kind of blueprint encoded in human stories and myths for thousands of years. And Joseph Campbell was the first to define this blueprint, which he called the hero's journey.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

BILL MOYERS: Do you, when you look at something like "Star Wars," recognize some of the themes of the hero throughout mythology?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think that George Lucas was using standard mythological figures.

RAZ: Joseph Campbell died in 1987. This audio is from a TV documentary with journalist Bill Moyers a few years before that. And Campbell's hero's journey was no small idea. According to Campbell, it followed three acts and 17 distinct substages. And it's a formula that can be found in everything from "Moby Dick" to "The Wizard Of Oz," from "The Matrix" to Homer's "Odyssey" and, yes, even "Star Wars."

So here it is, Campbell's basic three-act formula. One, departure; two, initiation; and three, return. Basically our hero leaves home on a journey or a quest, goes through a kind of crucible and then returns home victorious. And yeah, a lot of stories do that. But what's really crazy is how "Star Wars" follows even the very granular substages of Campbell's model. So here are the first four. It all starts with our hero living a kind of normal, boring life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) It just isn't fair. Oh, Biggs is right. I'm never going to get out of here.

RAZ: Then the first stage - call to adventure.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

CARRIE FISHER: (As Princess Leia Organa) Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) What's this?

RAZ: Which alters the hero's destiny.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

FISHER: (As Princess Leia Organa) Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

RAZ: That then leads to stage two.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) I can't get involved.

RAZ: Refusal...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) I've got work to do.

RAZ: ...Of the call.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) It's not that I like the Empire. I hate it. But there's nothing I can do about it right now.

RAZ: But eventually, this gives way to stage three.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

ALEC GUINNESS: (As Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi) It's your father's lightsaber.

RAZ: Supernatural aid.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

GUINNESS: (As Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi) This is the weapon of a Jedi knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster.

RAZ: Which is followed by stage four - crossing the threshold or...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) There's nothing for me here now.

RAZ: ...Leaving home.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) I want to learn the ways of the force and become a Jedi like my father.

RAZ: OK, you get the point, right? You really can look up all 17 stages of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey and you can find them plotted out in "Star Wars" all the way through the movie's final climactic scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

GUINNESS: (As Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi) Use the force, Luke.

RAZ: Which aligns with hero's journey stage 13 - magic flight.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

GUINNESS: (As Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi) Let go, Luke.

RAZ: And Campbell was asked about this, whether "Star Wars" followed his formula - departure, initiation and return.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

CAMPBELL: Oh, perfect. It does the cycle perfectly.

RAZ: And OK, if "Star Wars" follows the hero's journey pattern laid out by Joseph Campbell, the next question is why?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MYTHOLOGY OF 'STAR WARS' WITH GEORGE LUCAS")

GEORGE LUCAS: My last mentor probably was Joe, who...

MOYERS: Joseph Campbell?

LUCAS: Joe Campbell, who asked a lot of the interesting questions and exposed me to a lot of things that made me very interested in a lot more of the cosmic questions and the mystery. And I've been interested in those all my life, but I hadn't focus it the way I had once I got to be good friends with Joe.

RAZ: This is "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, longtime friend of Joseph Campbell. And he has said in interviews that yes, "Star Wars" is his version of the hero's journey.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MYTHOLOGY OF 'STAR WARS' WITH GEORGE LUCAS")

LUCAS: When I did "Star Wars," I consciously set about to recreate myths and the classic mythological motifs.

RAZ: And George Lucas did this because something about the pattern of events Campbell identified...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

CAMPBELL: Leaving one condition.

RAZ: ...Seems to resonate...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

CAMPBELL: Finding the source of life to bring you forth.

RAZ: ...In this really visceral way...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

CAMPBELL: And resurrection.

RAZ: ...With the human experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

CAMPBELL: And that is the basic motif of the hero journey.

RAZ: To Joseph Campbell, the hero's journey wasn't a pattern that had simply happened to crop up in so many of our most popular stories. In fact, it was the entire reason those stories became popular in the first place, because the journey of striking out from home and overcoming challenges and searching for your true calling, that's something we all kind of search for at some point. It's a journey of listening to yourself, figuring out what you really want in life and then going out and finding it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH")

CAMPBELL: If the person doesn't listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program, you're going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off-center. He has aligned himself with a programatic life, and it's not the one the body's interested in at all.

RAZ: So this episode stops along the Hero's Journey, Ted speakers who set out from home, found mentors, were tested who emerged from the crucible and ultimately learned more about themselves than they ever knew before.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE POWER OF MYTH")

MOYERS: So perhaps the hero lurks in each one of us when we don't know it.

CAMPBELL: Well, yes. I mean, our life invokes our character and you find out more about yourself as you go on.

MOYERS: Unlike the classical heroes, we're not going on our journey to save the world, but to save ourselves.

CAMPBELL: And in doing that, you save the world.

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