Science fiction is filled with heroes and heroines. They defeat the bad guys, and keep us entertained in the process. However, many of them do not fall in line with our more traditional idea of what it means to be a hero. In our culture, we see heroes as being courageous, selfless, virtuous, and idealistic. They aren’t plagued by vices.
Instead, science fiction is populated by what we would call anti-heroes. They may be the protagonists of the story, and they may defeat the enemy, but they don’t usually do it in the clean way that a more traditional hero would. Anti-heroes might drink too much, or gamble. They may say crude things and generally be rough around the edges. They may in fact be wanted criminals.
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Han Solo from Star Wars (as if I even need to clarify this) and Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly are two good examples of anti-heroes. They might have their own code that they operate by, but it certainly doesn’t take into consideration what society would like them to be. They may do some less-than-noble things, but we find ourselves rooting for them. Why? And why are there so many anti-heroes?
Space is vast. There is always a frontier, and where there is a frontier, there’s an element of lawlessness. When you’re away from a centralized authority, you may have to be a little rough to get things done and win the day. Or perhaps we have anti-heroes because we recognize that human beings are imperfect. Sometimes we’re selfish. Sometimes we bend or break the rules because it suits us to do so. Sometimes we lie. The anti-hero reflects our own imperfections. We want to see them win, because if the little guy who’s made mistakes in the past can triumph, then we can too. We can relate to them more than we can to the hero who’s never done a dishonest thing, who puts the needs of others ahead of their own at all times. The traditional heroes are perhaps good role models, but they’re not always realistic ones.
What kind of heroes do you like to see? Do you prefer heroes or anti-heroes? Why do we need heroes in the first place?