Note: the following post will include spoilers for the movie Rogue One.
I have written before about the purpose of the hero’s journey and how it pertains to my autistic sons. The Hero’s Journey: Autism and Your Child I incorporate into my children’s travels all things Star Wars, Star Trek, mythological storytelling, and tales that have a positive lesson or hope for the future, of course. The important concepts that all these stories do have in common is that the hero, or heroine, faces overriding issues, confronts these issues, and resolves them in dramatic and positive fashion, riding a wave of adoration in the end. Philosophers call this the hero’s journey.
However, the hero’s journey embedded into the present fascination with Dystopian futures holds no appeal to me. If I want angst I will simply turn on the news. Real life holds enough hurdles and issues, I never needed to invent any in my imagination.
Now one of those realistic truths, is that in real life heroes do not always make it to the end of the journey. I began to think about this part of the hero’s journey that we so like to ignore, when watching the latest Star Wars installment, Rogue One. Our heroes accomplish their mission. We knew that going in. They steal the plans to the Death Star. But what happens in the end, is that our heroine and her compatriots are killed by the Empire. That I did not see coming. It is Disney afterall and Star Wars.
Good people, people who were part of the rebellion always did die in all of the chapters. In fact, if you read the extended part of the Star Wars saga, you knew that trouble and death is as much a part of the story as is life. Yet in true Saturday matinee style, we really lost no one withwhom the audience became highly invested. A pilot here or a fighter there died, but our main characters fought, loved, and lived to stand another day.
However in Rogue One, they died. They all died. Their’s was a dangerous mission. They knew it was a suicide mission going in. But in true fantasy, unlike in real life, death does not come to the good and pure of heart. Death is a mechanism of punishment for evil deeds. Yes the bad guys, the black hats, perish and get their just rewards. But with a nod to reality, in Rogue One, our angels die as well.
“They’re gone, they’re all gone.” I thought.
Unexpected part of the journey. Real. Truthful. Honest. But unexpected.
Unexpected, because rebellions are built on hope. And to have hope you need to survive.
Perhaps that is why the last line of Rogue One, when the captain asks Princess Leia, who had just been handed the plans for the death star, what she was holding in her hands, her answer was a simple one word response,”hope.” Hope encompasses basic human desire, the need for furthering the greater good, for seeking justice and for demanding liberty. Hope is the catalyst to fighting for what is right. Hope is the midwife to every birth of freedom.
So yes, rebellions are built on hope.
Resistance to tyranny is built on hope.
The demand for equality is built on hope.
And while all these fights and struggles may even be centered around one omnipresent leader, in the end “hope” is always bigger than one single individual.
And that is why, in the real world, as in the world of Star Wars, after those you love die; After you are left alone to strive to the end; After you think you can go no further to accomplish your dream; It is hope that propels you forward to fight the good fight.
Hope. Hope alone for a better world.
Now in truth, Rogue One left me sad. I enjoy my fantasy where good prevails, which includes long life and happiness. Heck, even in the latest Star Wars chapter, The Force Awakens, the story arc destroyed every fantasy I had created where the main characters were concerned.
Did Han and Leia really have to break apart? Couldn’t they have found a way to work out their differences? Did Ben really have to turn to the dark side, and kill his father? Yes, in the extended universe one of the Solo children turns to the dark side, and his sister kills him. Yet for some reason siblings making the choice of saving humanity over the life of their brother is not so hard to understand. And brother killing brother, one of the first stories of the Bible, does seem to lend itself to reality. Whether you think the Bible is truth of fantasy, the lessons are clear. Fratricide has and is part of human society.
Sadly though, what seems to be missing from our fantasy, our Star Wars, this Rogue One universe, is that there no amount of payment for sacrifice, for honesty, for goodness and for seeking justice. Do our children not deserve the right to live good and happy lives, if we sacrifice everything that is required of us? Are we not allowed to grow old together, be happy together, and be content after all is spent and accomplished?
It is make believe after all. Perhaps to some the overlapping of realism and science fiction, adds some truth to the story. But fantasy is more than dragons, or alternative universes. It is rewards for a good life, for proper choices, for having lived a life pure of heart. So when we infuse our dreams with reality, are they any longer dreams? When we infuse our dreams with the grittiness of life, do we not destroy “hope.”
Life and reality challenges our ability to hope. But it is with hope and determination that the hero continues. It is with an understanding that they are fighting for something greater than themselves that gives the hero hope. And the hero above all knows that, and does what needs to be done despite the unexpected promise of personal reward.
The truth of the matter, heroes are very special people. We know this and so we honor the sacrifice of the hero. Special ceremonies, holiday, memorials and remembrances. We, as a collective society, respect that sacrifice. We understand that this is a person who put duty and honor above their own safety, and stood for a universal cause.
What we must remember is that heroes are not simply made in war. Our first responders, those that died on 9/11, police who run into the mayhem, firefighters that charge into a burning building, doctors and nurses who fight to keep people alive in an ER, and those people that stand their ground in their struggle trying to make this a better world, all exemplify the definition of hero.
Heroes comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is the simplest little act of saying “No,” I won’t be bullied anymore, and standing up for yourself, that takes the greatest courage of all.
Heroes are generally made not born. Most do not have a predisposition to greatness or heroism. They merely have the wherewithal to do the right thing when the moment arises. Or they finally find the inner strength to decide that they are entitled to every basic human right.
It is important to remember that an act of heroism doesn’t need to be a grand gesture of saving the universe, or freeing mankind from oppression. It doesn’t need to be any more than opening the door for a little old lady, or hugging a small crying child. And while you may think that these actions do not have a huge effect, in real life and since we are meshing real life and fantasy, the littlest kindness means more to the average person than any death defying event.
Simple things, are life’s greatest gifts.
The Talmud teaches us that to save a single life is as to have saved an entire world. Heroism need not be more than within the world around you. The rabbis understood that we as human beings only have the reach of our own social apparatus. That it is the rare opportunity to do more than live outside of your own sphere. So while we might want to make characters with grand constructs, sometimes the smallest hero is the one that is best appreciated.
So no, heroes don’t all have to end up in Star Wars, Game of Thrones or Hunger Games. Most of the time heroes are the unnamed, the unknown, and the overlooked. The hero can be the person who does what is right simply because it is right, without thought of reward. Or the hero is someone who stands their ground, who believes in the universal ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice, despite the dire consequences of their actions.
In the end, sometimes a hero can also simply be the one who is different, and willing to show the world how different they are.