My 12 year old has been in major Star Wars mode this month, which means we recently watched the original trilogy in all of its original theatrical release glory. (Tonight we get the special release of the first film, complete with all its extras…longer Death Star run! Greedo shot first! Slithery CGI Jabba! It will be her first time to see Episode IV with all of Lucas’ changes.)
Watching these films has gotten us thinking about heroes and villains. Her fascination with Luke and Darth got me pondering, and I decided to pop over to the American Film Institute’s Hero and Villains list to see where they showed up. AFI, in case you don’t know, presents a list of the top 50 American film heroes and villains (along with lists of many other things connected to American film).
Here’s the interesting thing: Darth Vader shows up at #3 on the all-time villain list. And Luke Skywalker…doesn’t make the cut.
I was not surprised to see Han Solo come in at #14 on the hero list – we love scoundrels-turned-heroes. But Obi-Wan Kenobi at #37? Really? I mean, I love Alec Guinness and the gravitas he brings to the role, which ups the whole tone of the first film especially. I’m not sure anyone else could have brought the weight needed to lines like “You must learn the ways of the Force…”
And yes, of course he sacrifices himself in battle, another mark of heroism. But his role in really more of mentor-to-hero than hero; it’s his exit from the land of the living (though he continues to show up in ghostly form in the next movies) that allows Luke the room he needs to grow and come to grips with his destiny.
Luke is the one who has the classic hero journey. He not only ends up besting the #3 movie villain of all time in battle, but that villain is his father, and his continued reaching out in love and forgiveness to that villainous wreck of a father is what eventually enables Darth to do the right thing and find redemption. And he blew up the Death Star! How much more heroic can Luke be?
Of course, he doesn’t get the girl (primarily since the only girl for miles around in this galaxy turns out to be his twin sister, hidden from their dastardly father at birth) and one wonders if that factors in. Of course, it’s also a teensy bit frustrating to consider that Leia herself does not make it to the hero list (there are women on the list) since she seems to be at least as heroic as Han, both of them in supporting role kind of ways.
So what do you think? Should Luke have made the list?
In case you’re curious, here’s how AFI defines hero:
“For voting purposes, a "hero" was defined as a character(s) who prevails in extreme circumstances and dramatizes a sense of morality, courage and purpose. Though they may be ambiguous or flawed, they often sacrifice themselves to show humanity at its best.”