Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Harry Potter vs Star Wars, where I finally decide which one of these franchise is better.
Now a year or so ago James Daniel Walsh wrote this infamous statement: â€œStar Wars is the cultural mythos of our generationâ€, to which I argued that while it was true for his generation, my generation’s cultural mythos was Harry Potter. Now, a year of putting it off, I’m finally going to sit down and analyse both of these franchise. So without further ado…
Now I do believe George Lucas has gone on record and admitted that a lot of Star Wars was lifted directly from Joseph Campbell’s â€œA Hero with a Thousand Facesâ€ or, as it’s more commonly known, The Hero’s Journey. Now intentionally or otherwise, Harry Potter follows this exact same plot (no doubt more for the fact of how universal the story is rather than a deliberate ploy to copy it). I mean it’s the tale as old as time, since both Star Wars and Harry Potter take inspiration from the New Testament (more on that in a bit). But what is this Hero’s Journey? And how does it relate to both franchises? Well lets find out:
So, stealing straight from Wikipedia, the Hero’s journey comes in three distinct sections: Separation, Initiation and Return. Each section has 5-6 stages in each. Furthermore, for this to be truly comprehensive, we’ll be looking at all three stories across the entire time-frame. Yes, three: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and Anakin Skywalker. So without further ado:
1.1)The Call to Adventure: â€œThe hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.â€
Luke Skywalker: Luke is living on Tatooine, a restless individual, until he discovers the droids that escaped from Princess’ Leia’s ship and takes them to old â€œBenâ€ Kenobi.
Harry Potter: Harry lives at home with the Dursleys, until he learns he’s a wizard.
Anakin Skywalker: Anakin is a slave on Tatooine, a restless individual, until he’s discovered by Qui-Gon Jinn
1.2)Refusal of the Call: â€œOften when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.â€
Luke Skywalker: Initially he’s hesitant to join old Ben, but decides to go with him after his aunt and uncle is tragically killed off.
Harry Potter: Harry Potter doesn’t initially believe he’s a wizard. So yeah, technical refusal for the win here.
Anakin Skywalker: Initially Anakin is hesitant because he doesn’t want to leave his mother behind (and for some reason the Republic never comes back and frees her, even though they totally could about twenty minutes after the film ends).
1.3)Supernatural Aid: â€œOnce the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid him later in his quest.â€
Luke Skywalker: Luke gets his lightsaber. ‘Nuff said.
Harry Potter: Harry gets his wand. ‘Nuff said.
Anakin Skywalker: I suppose the closest allegory we have in this case is that Anakin learns about the Force.
1.4)Crossing the Threshold: â€œThis is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.â€
Luke Skywalker: He and Ben meet Han Solo and agree to go to Alderaan, meaning Luke is leaving the safety of Tatooine.
Harry Potter: Harry literally crosses a threshold at Platform 9Â¾, entering the wizard world properly and being forever unable to come back to his normal life.
Anakin Skywalker: Anakin leaves Tatooine.
1.5)Belly of the Whale: â€œThe belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.â€
Luke Skywalker: Luke gets aboard the Millennium Falcon.
Harry Potter: Harry gets aboard the Hogwarts Express.
Anakin Skywalker: Likewise, Anakin gets on the spaceship.
2.1)The Road of Trails: â€œThe road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.â€
Luke Skywalker: I suppose the best thing that relates to here is Luke getting onto the Death Star and going to go save Princess Leia.
Harry Potter: From about July to October in Harry’s school year, where Harry learns what to do.
Anakin Skywalker: Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. One could argue that Anakin’s pod-racing scenes are his road of trials, since it fits in better with the flow. So lets say that the order is juggled about a bit here.
2.2)The Meeting with the Goddess: â€œThis is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.â€
Luke Skywalker: He meets Leia.
Harry Potter: Debatable where this comes. I’d pinpoint the scene where Harry becomes friends with Hermione, even if he only views her as a sister by book’s end.
Anakin Skywalker: He meets Amidala. Again, this happens slightly earlier in the film, so once again the film muddles up the story a bit. Or, we could say Anakin’s scenes with the Jedi Council could count, but that’s stretching it a bit.
2.3)Woman as Temptress: â€œIn this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.â€
Luke Skywalker: This one is a bit harder to pin down, since he only risks being seduced by the Dark Side in the Empire Strikes Back. He never really has a scene where he decides not to help Leia or Han. So lets say he gets tempted in the second film instead of his first.
Harry Potter: This one is a bit easier, since Harry is often tempted with forbidden knowledge about the Philosopherâ€™s Stone. However, in this case, the thing that would lead him to abandon this quest is him choosing not to do the research. So basically Harry chooses to have a difficult life.
Anakin Skywalker: His being tempted by the Dark Side perhaps, after being rejected by the council? Again, little bit unclear here.
2.4)Atonement with the Father: â€œIn this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power.â€
Luke Skywalker: The death of â€œBenâ€ Kenobi and Luke’s acceptance of it is probably the best fit, but one could also make the same argument for his acceptance that Darth Vader is his dad.
Harry Potter: This one is a bit harder to pin down, since there are few people that could fill this role. We could argue it’s Harry revolting against Snape’s influence, but that’s not the best fit. But then again we’ll never really fit it all one-to-one.
Anakin Skywalker: Anakin confronting the Jedi Council and learning that they won’t train him, which leads into…
2.5)Apotheosis: â€œWhen someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfilment before the hero begins the return.â€
Luke Skywalker: Again, â€œBenâ€ Kenobi’s death.
Harry Potter: At a stretch I’d say it’s Harry getting caught and losing all those house points for Gryffindor. That’s a death of reputation in some sense.
Anakin Skywalker: His losing his chance to not join the Jedi Council I suppose.
2.6)The Ultimate Boon: â€œThe ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.â€
Luke Skywalker: Arriving on Yavin IV.
Harry Potter: Finding the chocolate frog card that tells them who Nicolas Flamel is.
Anakin Skywalker: Qui-Gon Jinn saying that he’s willing to train Anakin Skywalker.
3.1)Refusal of the Return: â€œHaving found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.â€
Luke Skywalker: Luke chooses not to leave with Han, but instead help the rebels fight against the Empire.
Harry Potter: Harry chooses to keep investigating what is going on, rather than going back to being a normal student.
Anakin Skywalker: Anakin chooses to go with Qui-Gon Jinn to Naboo.
3.2)The Magic Flight: â€œSometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.â€
Luke Skywalker: Bit hard to decide here what it would be aside from the aforementioned joining of the Rebellion.
Harry Potter: Harry going to his teachers about the dangers of the stone being stolen perhaps? Sorta fits.
Anakin Skywalker: Anakin has to take cover during the fight.
3.3)Rescue from Without: â€œJust as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience.â€
Luke Skywalker: He joins with the Rebellion to fight against the Death Star, being attacked by Darth Vader and being saved by Han Solo.
Harry Potter: Harry and his friends go into the third floor corridor to go rescue the stone for themselves.
Anakin Skywalker: Harry flies towards the droid’s main spaceship with the help of R2-D2.
3.4)The Crossing of the Return Threshold: â€œThe trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world.â€
Luke Skywalker: â€œUse the Force, Lukeâ€
Harry Potter: Harry works out how to get the stone from the mirror.
Anakin Skywalker: Thanks to his pod-racing experience, he can fly the spaceship and accidentally blow up the main ship.
3.5)Master of Two Worlds: â€œThis step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Gautama Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.â€
Luke Skywalker: Luke manages to make the winning shot without using the main computer, blowing up the Death Star and killing millions of innocent workers.
Harry Potter: Harry uses his mother’s protection to fight against Quirrell and Voldermort and save the day.
Anakin Skywalker: Anakin saves the day and returns back to Naboo.
3.6)Freedom to Live: â€œMastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.â€
Luke Skywalker: Luke gets his medal for helping the Rebellion (though why they have medals and ceremonies at all is something that’s always left me curious).
Harry Potter: Harry wins the House Cup (though, hilariously, the movie screws up the maths horribly, showing that even big-budget movies can totally and utterly fail at times).
Anakin Skywalker: Another giant ceremony. It’s almost as if there’s an intentional parallel between the two.
Well that was an exhaustive 2,000 words that I won’t begrudged if you skipped over. But why do I bring all of this up? Well because it’s what lies at the heart of the matter: At the end of the day, there’s very little difference narratively between Harry Potter and both versions of Star Wars. Both follow the same basic story when it comes to having the main character go through character development. Both feature side characters that fulfil the incidental roles, whether they be mentors, partners, or enemies. Both have the character change drastically by the end. But, neither is particularly original about it. Now I mentioned the New Testament at the start of this, and I bring it up for a very good reason. The story of Jesus Christ is, in a nutshell, THE hero story. He’s the one that pretty much codified what had become before. Even then, if you wanted to get technical, Gilgamesh might have done it first (don’t know enough about it to comment). But the story of either franchise is by no means original. They are both grounded within the oldest tale. Now is this a bad thing? No, of course not. Both Star Wars and Harry Potter pretty much perfected this story, although admittedly in slightly different ways. Star Wars delivers a more laconic version of the tale, while Harry Potter fleshes its world out a bit more. But, since we’re comparing a film to a book, that’s hardly the best link to make. However, at the end of the day, both stories are narratively the same. To say Star Wars is the better story than Harry Potter is a bit unjustified, since there is little difference in the actual narrative. But what about the characters? The world-building? The writing? Well I’ll address that at the end of this massive event. Suffice it to say that, as of right now, I cannot say which narrative of the two is better. Nor that one can be said to be better than the other.
So there you have it. My look at the basic story of both franchises and why they’re near identical. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.