Bill & Ted’s Excellent Hero’s Journey
30 November 2020
“Strange things are afoot at the Circle K” where our heroes Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are about to embark on an excellent adventure throughout history. These two heroes must pass their history presentation and get the babes before time runs out. These unlikely heroes begin the story in San Dimas, California, but before long, Bill and Ted venture into their time-traveling phone booth. The film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure follows the hero’s journey.
Hero’s Journey is a story arch that is present throughout many mythologies and superhero stories. Typically these journeys start with the hero/heroes in their ordinary world. They then either are forced or voluntarily leave the comfort of their home and travel to an unfamiliar world. The hero faces many challenges along the way, but it just makes them stronger. Upon the completion of their journey, the hero learns many life lessons and can start a new life in the new world as a changed person.
Bill and Ted are living in their “ordinary world”. They are two best friends from San Dimas, California. They have a band called “Wyld Stallions” and they want to become rock stars, but they need to make an effective video promoting their band first. They care more about the band than they do about school, and as a result, they are both failing history. This is where the “call to adventure” comes in. Ted’s father explained that if Ted fails history he will send him to a military school in Alaska. Thus putting an end to Bill and Ted’s band. This “call to adventure” forces Bill and Ted to start studying, but have a whole school year’s worth of knowledge to catch up on. While trying to study at Bill’s house, they are both easily distracted. They decide to go to Circle K to get some snacks and try to get more studying in.
Upon the “Call to Adventure”, the heroes are not ready for their adventure yet. They are too inexperienced and might not have the tools to complete their quest. This is when the heroes meet their mentor. The mentor is generally wise and knows more than the heroes do. They can take many forms, anywhere from a goddess to a karate instructor. They might give the heroes advice or a weapon. The role of the mentor is to help the heroes start their journey by providing some form of aid. In Bill and Ted’s case, their mentor is Rufus. He appears out of a phone booth that falls from the sky. Rufus reminds the heroes that they have to get an A on their history report if they want to pass the class if they want to continue with their band. He then offers them his help. But before Rufus can explain anything else, an older version of Bill and Ted appear, a Bill and Ted from the future. This version of Bill and Ted could also be considered the mentors because they let their younger selves know they can trust Rufus and give them some advice. Rufus then can successfully mentor the boys because they now trust him. He welcomes them into the phone booth time machine and they go back to Austria, 1804.
This is when the heroes cross the first threshold. This marks the start of the heroes leaving their ordinary world. It’s where the adventure really starts. From this point forward, there is no turning back. For Bill and Ted, they have now seen time travel, they have traveled to the past, and they brought a part of the past back with them (Napoleon fell through the wormhole with the time machine). Since there is no turning back, the boys decide that they will abduct historical figures, bring them to the present and make them help with their history report. The central conflict has started, a character vs. character conflict. Bill and Ted vs. Ted’s father and his plans to send Ted away, putting an end to the band.
In a typical hero’s journey, the heroes will encounter several allies and enemies at the start of their journey. It is often the longest stage of the hero’s journey. During this phase, the heroes are unfamiliar with the new reality and its rules, and it takes them a while to get used to this new world. This leaves them vulnerable to enemies and tests. The hero usually encounters these tests, enemies, and allies after setting out on their adventure. In The Iliad, for example, this is the part of the story where Achilles’ strength is tested when Agamemnon takes Achilles’ girlfriend). This part of the story shows that Agamemnon could turn out to be Achilles’ enemy.
Bill and Ted don’t have any kind of specific test that they go through or enemies. One could argue that leaving Napoleon with Ted’s younger brother could be finding an ally but he later betrays them when he ditches Napoleon at the bowling alley. However, their whole journey through time is a series of tests where they encounter many enemies and allies.
The first big test they passed was getting Billy the Kid to come with them. They unintentionally start a fight at an old western saloon. They had to learn to work together to defend themselves from their attackers. When picking up Socrates neither Bill nor Ted understand ancient Greek, but they learn to communicate with Socrates through his taught philosophy.
While in England during the fifteenth century, Bill and Ted get themselves in trouble and encounter their biggest test so far. They become infatuated by the princesses, which angers their father, the king, and they are sentenced to be publicly beheaded. They are rescued by Billy and Socrates but have to leave the princesses behind.
The “test, allies, and enemies” phase often leaves the heroes behind with some sort of consequence for their actions during the test. In The Odyssey, for example, Odysseus successfully escaped Polyphemus’ trap, but because of his pridefulness, Poseidon is now Odysseus’ enemy and will give him a hard time returning home. This is no different for Bill and Ted. Because of their carelessness, the king became angry with them and sentenced them to death and as a result, they did not get to rescue the princesses.
The next phase heroes go through is “approaching the innermost cave”. This is the point in the story where the heroes get a step closer to their goal. This is the most dangerous point in the heroes’ journey. It is often the location of where the ultimate goal will be accomplished. In The Iliad, this is when Achilius enters battle, sealing his fate of certain death. In the film, Bill and Ted’s “innermost cave” was returning to the present with the historical figures. This is the location of where the ultimate goal of acing their history report takes place. Now that Bill and Ted have abducted all the historical figures they need, they just have a few more steps to go before they are ready to accomplish their quest and complete the hero’s journey.
The following stage in the hero’s journey is titled “ordeal”. This is the phase where the heroes face the biggest test of their journey. It is sometimes considered the “rock bottom” for the heroes. Odysseus, for example, in The Odyssey, is sent to the underworld to seek information, but he nearly dies. Oftentimes in this phase, the heroes must face their greatest fear, for Odysseus, this was that he would never see his family again, and if he died, he definitely wouldn’t see his family again.
For Bill and Ted, this is the part of their journey when Ted needs to face his father. Because all of the historical figures Bill and Ted kidnapped were arrested, Ted is forced to face his father in order to get them freed (his father is a cop). The heroes’ actions during this phase will dictate every decision the heroes make in the future. This is true in Bill and Ted’s case. During the sequence of events that take place while they are breaking out the historical figures from jail, they play with time travel. They say that once they finish their report they will go back in time, two days prior, and steal Ted’s father’s keys, among other things they will do in the future/past.
In a classic hero’s journey, upon facing the ordeal, the heroes get rewarded, they “see the light at the end of the tunnel” this is the point in the story when the heroes can finally “cash in” everything they have worked so hard for. For Achilles, this was killing Hector. He uses the battle skills he has learned and the new armor his mother gave to him and he is finally able to face Hector and kill him.
The reward Bill and Ted get is completing their history report. They have traveled through time and at each stop picked up an important historical figure. These historical figures got to explorer San Dimas and can now say what they thought of it. The last stage of the hero’s journey is that the hero gets to return with the “elixir”. This is the ending of the story where the heroes get to make a triumphant homecoming. They have learned many life lessons and can now view the world differently.
Odysseus, in The Odyssey, has killed all his wife’s suitors, proved himself to be who he says he is, and bonded with his son. He can now return to his normal world, but with the knowledge that his pridefulness can be a deadly thing and to always give credit to the gods. Bill and Ted send all the historical figures back to their time period and have aced their history report, thus passing the class. This means Ted’s father will not send him to an Alaskan military school and the boys can continue with their band.
The hero’s journey is a story arch that many modern films follow. Some are more obvious than others, the Star Wars, Marvel films, and Lord of the Rings are some films that clearly follow the hero’s journey to a tee. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a film that does not follow the hero’s journey too closely, but the main story arc largely follows the narrative structure of a hero’s journey. This proves that ancient mythologies still have an impact on today’s culture.
Herek, Stephen, director. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. performances by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, Amazon, 1989.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Publishing Group, 1998.
Homer, and Robert Fitzgerald. The Odyssey. 7 ed., New York, Vintage Books, 1990.