Moana was several different brands of delightful, but one aspect that captured my heart is that it draws its inspiration from mythology rather than from fairy tales—something Disney hasn’t really done since Hercules, and something that gives its heroine a very interesting dynamic. The movie features the trickster god Maui as one of its main characters and incorporates other elements of Polynesian folklore, but I was especially interested—and pleasantly surprised—to see that Moana herself has quite a traditional mythical hero’s character arc.
She is a leader, chosen by nature and destiny, who sets out on a quest surrounding an important magical object, where she ventures through the realm of the supernatural and tangles with gods. When it’s over, the balance of nature is restored and she returns to her people as a wiser and more capable ruler. It’s a quintessential hero-king quest narrative, which, incidentally, is also a quintessentially male narrative. But without so much as a shrug, Moana gives this archetype to its female heroine and sends her on her journey.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why Star Wars is going to stand the test of time is because it’s the classic hero’s journey. Our plucky hero hears the call to adventure, but needs reassurance before they begin. Once our hero sets out, they meet all kinds of interesting characters and gains knowledge and training and spiffy tools to help them with their mission. Just when they think they’re at their lowest, they’re pulled out from despair and prepared for the final boss battle. Our hero wins, we celebrate, and our hero is a changed person for it. This model worked for the original trilogy, and it looks like it’s working for The Force Awakens, too.
You could probably name dozens of stories that fit this model without much effort. You see shadows of this model all throughout the Bible, too. In the Old and New Testaments we have all kinds of stories of people that follow a similar (or the same) framework. So it’d be easy to say that Star Wars is a Christian story, right? We have a great fight between good and evil, the Jedi are a lot like monks, and even the evil Darth Vader has that gloriously religious line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Christian groups clamor to ride the hype train by injecting Star Wars themes into religious services. Alissa Wilkinson’s article in Christianity Today shows just how popular a “spirituality of Star Wars” is becoming in all sorts of religious groups, especially among Christians. But does it work? Is Star Wars really a universe compatible with Christian beliefs?