The Hero With a Thousand Faces
In an earlier post I spoke for a bit about how George Lucas owes a lot of the success of the Star Wars franchise to Joseph Campbell and his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces as Lucas’ space opera draws heavily on themes Campbell asserted in this work. Today I’d like to examine just which face our hero is wearing and ask who, really, is the hero of Star Wars? Prior to 1999, most people would have said “Luke Skywalker” without stopping to think twice. Sure, the story follows Luke from his humble beginnings as a Tatooine farmboy all the way through his training as a Jedi knight and finally to his inevitable confrontation with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, but is he really the story’s one true hero? Now, with the prequel films rounding out the overall story, an argument could be made that Darth Vader is actually the hero, as the prequels tell a similar tale of how he was born a slave but was trained as a Jedi and eventually became the most powerful being in the galaxy. And, although he made some questionable choices along the way, he did indeed finally triumph over the evil Sith lord Darth Sidious (Emperor Palpatine) and restore balance to the Force.
I don’t think it’s either of them though.
The real hero of the Star Wars saga is an unassuming little astromech droid known as R2-D2.
Think about it. In each film, Artoo pulls off some act of heroism that saves the main characters’ bacon. In Episode One it is Artoo who repairs the damage to Queen Amidala’s ship, allowing it to escape the Trade Federation’s blockade. In Episode Two its Artoo who rescues Padme Amidala from the Geonosis assembly line. Episode Three has Artoo destroying a “Buzz Droid” before it can destroy Anakin’s ship and he halts a free-falling elevator, saving the lives of Anakin and Obi Wan. Of course Episode Four has Artoo serving as the messenger delivering Princess Leia’s vital message to Obi Wan Kenobi and he carries the all important technical readouts of the Death Star, enabling the Rebels to eventually assault and destroy it. During that assault he keeps Luke’s X-Wing fighter in working order and almost gives his “life” (he’s a robot, after all – do they have “lives?”) in doing so. Episode Five has Artoo accessing the computer network on Bespin, allowing Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando to escape the imperials and it is Artoo who repairs the Millenium Falcon’s huperdrive, saving :uke and the others from the clutches of Darth Vader. Finally in Episode Six it’s Artoo who enables the heroes’ daring escape from Jabba the Hutt.
Both Luke Skywalker and his dad do some pretty neat shit in those movies, but it pales compared to the heroism of this one little droid. Even George Lucas, when asked in an interview after wrapping Return of the Jedi if there was a Star Wars character that he was going to miss, said, “Well, R2-D2… because he’s the hero of the whole thing. He’s the one that always comes through and saves everybody. I’d like to have a pal like that that would come and save me once in a while.”