Although some might have felt puzzled that George Lucas' little low-budget sci-fi project became a cultural icon for most, and even a way of life for some superfans, mythologist Joseph Campbell wasn't among them. For Campbell, who authored "The Power of Myth," and whom Lucas considered his mentor, the fact that the Star Wars series has always touched something very deep in the American movie-going consciousness, was not a mystery at all. It takes more than clever marketing to keep a franchise going this strong for so many decades. "The Last Jedi," which opened December 15, proved to be an intensely evocative installment of the story.

Like each of its predecessors, "Rogue One" included, this is much more than a fun romp in space. But Star Wars has always been more, always reached to the heart of what it means -- and what it is supposed to mean -- to be human. Lucas has always been interested in the larger questions of life, he said in a 1999 interview with Bill Moyers, so his friendship with Campbell ultimately inspired him to create a myth for our time, a way to make the old stories new again.

Campbell spent his life studying every myth of every culture he could get his hands on, discovering several different patterns that presented themselves consistently from culture to culture.

One of the patterns that Campbell discovered was something he called the hero's journey.

According to Campbell, and subsequently according to Lucas, the story pattern of the hero's journey is so ingrained in our collective consciousness that it strikes a chord whenever we are faced with it – because it mimics what we experience when we face any task that requires us to grow, whether that task is adolescence, or facing a tragedy, or even following a dream.

There are certain elements that tend to exist in every person's experience.

Why Luke Skywalker endures as a hero figure

In the very first Star Wars story, "A New Hope," Luke Skywalker faces situations that, despite exotic location and circumstance, somehow feel familiar. In other words, we can identify with what he's going through.

We "get" him.

For instance, he wants to leave his home planet of Tatooine, but he feels stuck there. Yet, when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gives him everything he needs to follow his dream of leaving home and joining the fight against Palpatine's Empire, he does exactly what we have all done when faced with the answer to our prayers – he resists. He says no. He "can't" leave now: His uncle needs him. He can't go against other people's expectations. He is prepared to remain stuck in a place he says he doesn't want to be, like so many of us have done. Resistance to the call is a typical feature of the hero's journey because it is a typical feature of life. People are afraid of change, and Luke Skywalker was no exception to that rule.

Given that kind of an opening to the Skywalker adventure, is it any wonder audiences identified with our young hero from the very beginning?

Role of the teacher in Star Wars universe

Another feature of the hero's journey is the temporary presence of a teacher – in this case, Luke's first trainer Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is the man who introduces Luke to his new life off-world, to whom he becomes instantly attached. In the absence of the aunt and uncle who raised him, Obi-Wan becomes Luke's parent figure. However, the teacher or parental figure is always a temporary presence in the hero's life. The hero must inevitably cope with the loss of this figure before he feels emotionally ready to do so. The loss of the teacher is always an extremely traumatic event for our hero, and for us in our own personal hero's journey.

The purpose of the story, of the myth, is to teach us how to cope by relying on our own strengths, which this person helped us to develop.

Luke demonstrates to us that it is possible to overcome these experiences, and to continue on our own paths, however imperfectly, because we are now able to use the gifts and the knowledge that our parents and teachers gave us. We are, essentially, becoming them, so that we can pass on that knowledge to yet another generation, yet another hero. Star Wars is such a success story because it reminds us of the cycle of life, and we instinctively respond to that.

But there is another element that is easy – and dangerous – to overlook, both as storytellers and as human beings, and that is the continuous presence of failure.

As any human hero does, Luke fails in his quest as often as he succeeds. He makes mistake after mistake, and pretty much bungles his way toward his end goal, as we all do. He isn't there to teach us how to be perfect, or to make us feel bad for failing to be perfect; he is there to show us that perfection isn't a requirement. All that is necessary, is that we keep going, keep learning, keep becoming. He gives us hope, and hope is strength. Star Wars is one of the many delightful stories that gives us the hope we need to carry on in our own journeys. It does this exceptionally well, and that is why it endures.