The Existential Questions of the Star Wars Stories

Two questions pulse within the heart of the Star Wars universe.

The very first words of the trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens are: Who are you?

The very last words of the teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are: What will you become?

Both are questions directed at the story’s Protagonists:

“Who are you?”
“What will you become?”

This is more than just an interesting coincidence as these are existential questions which speak to very essence of the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell asserted that the entire point of the heroine’s adventures is to facilitate their transformation. They begin in an incomplete state, what I call Disunity, and end up in having changed toward a more actualized, authentic state, approaching what I call Unity.

Indeed on a psychological level, the entire point of the Light Side and the Dark Side of The Force is precisely about these questions: Who are you? What will you become?

In Episodes IV-VII, Luke Skywalker confronts these questions, most pointedly in my favorite movie in the series The Empire Strikes Back, wherein he is faced with the stark possibility that he may turn to the Dark Side.

Even Darth Vader, as I have detailed here, goes through his own metamorphosis over the span of Episodes IV-VI, ultimately finding a vestige of paternal humanity and thereby saving his son in a final sacrificial act.

So as Rogue One sets sail, we should remember that beyond all the spectacle and pyrotechnics, at these stories psychological core lie the most profound existential questions:

Who are you?
What will you become?

I would argue these questions are in play in nearly every movie. Their power is grounded in their universality in that each of us must confront these questions in our own lives.

Takeaway: Pose these questions to your story’s Protagonist. See what you learn as you delve deep into their psyche. And as you go there, may the Force be with you!

UPDATE: Add to these existential questions, here’s another one from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Luke asks Rey this: “Why are you here?”

When she starts to respond, explaining the reason in seeking out Luke, he stops her and asks again with a notable change in his emphasis: “Why are YOU here?”

“Why are YOU here?”

One could interpret this line of questioning merely at the text level: Luke inquiring about the reason Rey is interrupting his solitude. But why the second question? And why the specific emphasis on the word “you”?

I think it’s fair to look at Luke’s question at a more subtextual level, especially in light of other existential questions in the series (as noted in the original post), compelling Rey to consider her larger purpose in life.

Interestingly, I wonder if this question — Why are YOU here? — is actually something Luke is subconsciously posing for himself. Given the choice he makes at the end of the movie, fully embracing his Jedi nature before presumably vanishing into the Great Void, after he has spent a good portion of the movie cynically dismissing the Force and the Jedi, it’s clear Luke ends up having a significant existential moment as well.

Who are you?
What will you become?
Why are you here?

The existential questions of the Star Wars universe.

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