Heroes and ordinary people alike must embark on journeys throughout their lives. To embark on these journeys, however, we must first leave our own homes.
This is captured in the classic three act narrative structure of the Hero’s Journey monomyth. Developed and espoused by Joseph Campbell, the Monomyth theory was first expressed in Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with the Thousand Faces.
We don’t need to look further than Luke Skywalker and Tatooine to talk about the importance of venturing forth from one’s home in popular fiction. George Lucas famously followed Campbell’s 17-stage Hero’s Journey for mapping the narrative of the original Star Wars trilogy. Once set on his path, Skywalker never returns to his home.
Luke becomes a legendary Jedi, then strays from his path before redeeming himself.
He dies alone on a distant planet, far away from his friends and loved ones.
Before understanding why we must leave our homes behind, however, we must first understand what home is.
What, Who and Where Home is
Home is a place of belonging. It can be a physical location, but it’s also other artifacts, such as your favorite furniture and your favorite clothes. More importantly, it’s people, and the relationships you have with them. For people in their 20s- that’s the age most classical protagonists start out as- relationships are often the most important aspect of their lives.
We leave these elements behind in search of purpose, which is often revealed to us as a call for adventure.
This is brought to us by a herald, such as Gandalf the Grey, Hagrid or Obi Wan Kenobi.
To grow, we need to leave the comforts of our home behind. However, it’s difficult to leave familiarity behind and head off into the unknown. Both Bilbo and Luke initially reject the call for adventure, and need additional incentives or an inciting incident to push them out of their comfort zones.
It’s easy to lose our own sense of identity when we are tied down by so many anchors.
Luke, for instance, longed for an adventure at Tosche Station, but was beholden to his uncle Owen, aunt Beru and their way of life. The arrival of the droids, and finding Obi-Wan, changed all of that.
Making Friends and Resisting the Dark Side
In fiction, there is no time for heroes to ponder about their home, once they start their journey. Luke barely has time to mourn his late uncle Owen and aunt Beru. He grieves more for Obi Wan when he passes, and interacts with his Force Ghost throughout the later movies.
As they journey on, they find a new home of sorts in the form of allies. Luke discovers a family in Leia, Han and Chewbacca. Harry, of course, discovers Hogwarts, Ron and Hermione, the Weasleys and Quidditch. Frodo and Samwise discover the strange joy of adventuring with the Fellowship, echoing the footsteps of Bilbo and the Thirteen Dwarves on their quest to reclaim Erebor.
Over time, our heroes must also confront new dangers.
Harry learns more about the terror of Voldemort, while Frodo learns about the One Ring, and Bilbo learns to fear the dragon breath of Smaug.
The legacies of biological parents are often addressed in these journeys. Harry pines, at first, for his lost parents. Luke, spurred on by Obi Wan’s lies, believes his father Anakin was a famed Jedi who was killed by the dastardly Darth Vader.
As they grow, our heroes learn that they inherited a dark streak from their roots. For Luke, it’s his struggle to not become another Vader. While he triumphs against the Sith in Return of the Jedi, he fails when he cannot trust his nephew Ben Solo to make the same choice between the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force.
Harry succeeds not only because of the powerful magical protection woven by his saintly mother and guidance from the wise Dumbledore, but because, crucially, a sliver of Voldemort’s soul lay within Harry himself.
Harry dies, just as Anakin dies and Luke dies, because only we can confront our inner darkness.
Only we can redeem ourselves, while still acknowledging our flaws and failings.
Luke dies, however, because he strayed from the path of the hero and the way of the Jedi. He forgot that despite all his accomplishments, he was still too human.
He redeems himself when he dies while saving the new heroes, the new rebels, re-igniting the flame of the Skywalker legend and fanning the flames of heroism in the hearts of future Jedi.
There and Back Again
Once the journey is over, the heroes must contend with the challenge of returning home. That is the entire focus of the Odyssey, wherein Odysseus struggles for another ten years after the ten year toil of the Trojan War.
Returning home is a tricky prospect for people who have been away for a long while.
We see this often in war films when characters return home after a military tour or two. Both Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker and Jake Gyllenhaal in Jarhead struggle to fit into the normalcy of American suburbia. Their veteran peers who suffer from PTSD, however, have it far worse.
Home is Where the Heart Is
Let’s close this piece on a more pleasant note. Captain America is one of those tragic heroes who can never go home. He fought for a world and a time that is alive only in his memories.
I wonder how Steve feels, when he looks at Sharon Carter and sees a glimpse of Peggy in her eyes, when they sparkle with mirth or frown in disagreement. I wonder what Steve sees when he sees the Empire State Building still standing after eighty years, and when he walks down a street in Brooklyn, barely recognizing anything there.
Steve Rogers remembers his home, but he doesn’t need to mourn it.
After all, home is where the heart is, and his heart is in the right place.
Whether that heart belongs to Carter, to the Avengers or modern America itself, is something that only Steve himself can discover, just as we must constantly strive to look past the noise and find the home in our hearts and minds.
I wrote this article because, truthfully, I miss my own home. But I have set off on my adventure, and must complete it before returning, if at all. I don’t know where my heart is, but right now, it’s pointing towards the horizon.
And when I look at the horizon, I can’t help but picture a Binary Sunset, and hear a familiar, bittersweet tune, speaking to me about the adventures of a moisture farmer from a long time ago, living in a galaxy far away.