Somewhere I Belong: Finding Meaning in a Star Wars story

The twin suns sit there, on the horizon like a crooked pair of eyes gazing back at Luke Skywalker. He peers back, hoping that somewhere along that horizon is where his true story begin. He gazes looking, hoping, that somewhere out there is his belonging.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love and belonging are the most critical factors of personal development after physiological well being and safety. Belonging leads to an individual being able to have a sense of esteem and eventual reach a stage of self-actualization, wherein said person knows and is able to live as his or her truest self.

Author and social scientist Brene Brown adds that “the greatest barrier to belonging is fitting in.” This distinction must be made clear, especially when looking at a fictional galaxy such as Star Wars. When someone is trying to fit in, that person is changing based on the situation and people around them, molding themselves until they are like others instead of their best selves. “It’s not a real connection,” Brown adds.

When looking at characters such as Luke Skywalker, Rey, and even Ahsoka, this distinction must be made clear if we are to understand the full arc of their individual hero’s journeys.

“As it turns out, men and women who have the deepest sense of true belonging are people who also have the courage to stand alone when called to do that,” Brown says. This is Luke turning of his targeting computer, Rey going to Ach-To, and Ahsoka walking away from the Jedi Order. None of those decisions was made lightly, and each choice promised to indelibly alter the future of said character.

Standing alone itself, however, does not equal belonging. Just ask a teenager. Nonetheless, being your true self is the only way to know that the relationships that you are in are true and meaningful. It is about the journey, as the old adage goes, not the destination. The hero’s journey upholds this idea in having the hero go through challenges, death (literal and/or metaphorical) that will lead to a transformation and eventual atonement.

But wait, wouldn’t that be a straight line with a clear beginning and an even more defined ending? Yes and no. Looked at in isolation, certain points in a characters journey may be pretty straightforward. Luke starts his journey as a boy looking for adventure, and ends his journey as a man who know exactly who he is. That, however, is but the story of the original trilogy, whereas a hero’s journey is lifelong. This is a critical factor that most who fall into the “not my Luke Skywalker” camp missed regarding The Last Jedi. While critiquing Luke for not being the idealistic, self-actualized person who we see at the end of Return of the Jedi is a fair assessment it misses the fact that there was no real way he could be. Not only is the hero’s journey not simply a straight line, it is not even a straight circle. Albeit the diagrams of the hero’s journey may not show this, hero’s fall back into temptations, cross new thresholds, and have new calls to adventure. Like life itself, the hero’s journey is messy.

Ahsoka falls back into her attachments to Anakin when she sees him on Malachor. Although walking away from the Jedi was her rebirth, and her taking her role as Fulcrum was her atonement and eventually the spark for her return, once Ahsoka has an inkling that Darth Vader and Anakin are connected, she is once again called on an adventure. Her journey starts anew, just like Luke’s does.

Rey is still looking for that belonging. It would seem that she has found it in the Finn, Leia, and the Resistance, but stories tell us that things are not that simple. The young Jedi to be still has to deal with the challenges and temptations facing her in the forms of parents, her connection with Kylo Ren, and her relationship with the Force. But at the end, there is the promise of self-actualization, which is the top tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. It is the piece that falls in place once all other things have been secured, but it is not the finish line. As we grow, we move up and down the hierarchy. We move forward, back, and around on the hero’s journey. We learn new forms of self-actualization.

And like Luke, Ahsoka, and soon Rey, we learn our place in “all of this.”

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