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Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Willow: Why Do We Call Our Heroes Failures?

It's been a common reaction in recent years as we see classic movies or television shows get sequels or revivals decades later. It happened with the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and the Willow series. When we see older versions of our favorite classic heroes in these stories, there's a common outcry of people claiming that the revival has "ruined their childhood," that "they made [character] a failure." But if we look within just the stories themselves... are any of these characters failures? And if they aren't, why do we think they are?


While of course it differs from character to character, I really don't think any of these characters are failures- honestly, I think it's really reductive to sum any whole character up as a "failure" when there is always so much going on in their story. Do they fail sometimes? Sure! But they also succeed, and sometimes things just happen that are out of their control.

Let's look at Indiana Jones for example- yes, he and Marion are divorced and yes, his son died while their relationship was still strained. But... why does that make him a failure? It almost seems cruel to say that, even if he's fictional. Even though Indy blames himself, what happened to his son wasn't his fault, and his marriage suffered as a natural consequence of such an unimaginable trauma. It's a terrible tragedy marking his life since we saw him in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull... but it doesn't mean he should be written off as a failure. He's still an accomplished professor, with colleagues who obviously love him and his work is as important as ever. Though he doesn't fully realize it until the end of the movie, he's surrounded by a supportive network of friends that he can call on for help from around the world. He's older and not the one in most of the action anymore, but that's just aging, not failing. And by the end of the movie, he and Marion are brought back together, he's healing from the tragedy and fully realizes he still has people who care about him.


I could go through each character and talk about why I don't think it's fair to write them off as failures, but if we really come down to it, it's just that what they're often called failures for are tragedies that they suffer, things happening out of their control, or just the natural consequences of time. No, none of these characters are perfect heroes- but they never were.


A big part of what I personally appreciate about these stories is that they do the work to remind us that our heroes are still just people. Of course it's fun to enjoy the legends of these characters, especially if they're ones we played as in childhood. I would even say there's nothing wrong with wishing you could keep them the way you saw them as a kid, when everything was so much simpler. But I think breaking the mythology can also be so important, because it gives us new lessons to learn from.

No, perhaps Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi didn't line up with the mythic hero we've all built him up as in our heads. It's natural to, like Rey was, be disappointed that he was a bit grumpy and didn't want anything to do with the conflict we'd been invested in. But if you take in his story as a whole, I think that Luke's arc about reconnecting with yourself and your loved ones after a tragedy, bouncing back from depression and isolation and that it's never to late to rise up and make things right is incredibly impactful and inspirational- much more than just Luke simply saving the day without that arc would have been.


You don't have to like these arcs yourself. Like I said, I don't think there's anything wrong with preferring a story where everything goes well after the credits rolled. And I understand why people react so strongly to this, believe me. These characters and their stories, especially ones that we experienced at a young age, can shape our worldview and inspire us in our darkest times. They give us a lens through which to contextualize our own experiences and understand ourselves and others better. So it's natural to be defensive of something you hold so dear. If you think of Willow as an unstoppable sorceror who got the perfect "happily ever after" when the credits rolled in the movie, I understand jumping to "well why did they make him such a failure" when you see that that isn't the case in the series. You feel like you're protecting the integrity of that original story you love.

I'm not saying to stop caring so much about these characters. I just think that instead of writing off the character as a failure, you should try to think about why the story is being told this way. There's always an angle, and if you consider it in good faith (not "they're just trying to make a woman take over"), I think you'll find that these stories are not about great men who became failures- rather, they're about great men who face struggles harder to overcome than fighting off a monster, and still come out the other side just as great. It looks cool to bravely wield a lightsaber, a staff or a whip in the face of danger, but I find it much more admirable when these characters show us what it means to overcome tragedy and loss.


Whatever classic story gets revisited this way next, I think we'd all do well to approach it with an open mind, and see the characters for what they are, not what they wanted to be.

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