Developing a great character can add to… and in some cases save a story. However in almost every movie or book, certain characters always fall into different archetypal roles. How many of us have gone to the movies, seen one particular character and been like ‘Oh yeah, that guy’s not surviving this movie!’
Well, there’s a reason for that and it is because that character fits into one of many molds that movie goer’s and readers are all too familiar with. I’ve developed my own names for each of them over time with some of the more famous and/or notorious examples. Let’s explore them one at a time, shall we?

The Obi Wann Kenobi complex
Star Wars certainly didn’t invent this one, but it’s definitely the most well-known example. This complex belongs to a character, usually of advanced age who is the moral “right” in the story. S/he usually takes on the mentor role and provides words of wisdom to our main hero. This person can be incredibly powerful or incredibly feeble, it usually works either way. It also doesn’t matter if this mentor uses kind nurturing or tough love.
The main problem with this character is that he or she is actually a hindrance to the main hero. This is because the hero cannot truly grow and become strong and independent as long as he is still under the mentor’s wing. As long as the mentor is still around to protect the hero, the villain is usually kept at bay and the hero remains unchallenged. Thus this character will almost always be the sacrificial… (for lack of a better term) lamb to help the hero development.
Other examples include:
Dumbledore (Harry Potter)
Mufasa (Lion King)
Qui Gon Jinn (… Episode 1)
Captain Pike (Star Trek/Darkness)
Whistler (Blade)
Bambi’s Mother (Bambi)
Yoda (ROTJ)
Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Highlander)
One could argue that Gandalf from LOTRs also had this complex as Frodo thinks he’s dead, but he actually survives, so I kept him off the list.

The Conflicted Villain Complex
I’m not going to lie, I love this one. Arguably the best characters I’ve ever read/wrote about or seen in a movie, suffer from this. A character who falls into this category doesn’t always start off as evil. Often they are exposed to horrors during their lives that twist them into what they have become. Others take up a cause or try to alter their destiny and go to extremes to make what they desire most happen. Ironically, in most cases, the exact opposite of what they wanted happens and they are left broken and having to face the decisions that they made.
In most cases they are teetering on the edge of insanity and/or are dealing with an internal conflict where their previous good selves are still fighting to come back. Often times, they can come back and are successfully saved. Many become the true heroes of the story by realizing their error at the last possible moment and come forward to save the day, often sacrificing themselves in the process.
Unlike the one-dimensional villains that we are all used to, it’s often hard to tell where characters who suffer from this stand. It is also much harder for people to not relate to these characters and sympathize with them, often more so than the hero of the story. Characters like Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) or Scar (Lion King) while well done, really don’t have a whole lot to them.
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
The Dark Phoenix (X-Men)
Artimesia (Rise of an Empire)
Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight)
Gollum (LOTR)
Javert (Les Miserables)
Frollo (The Huntchback of Notre Dame)
The Ra’s Al Ghul Complex
Okay, you could argue that this is the same thing as the Obi Wan Kenobi… which is why I was hesitant to mention this. It’s basically the Obi Wan Kenobi complex with a single provision; the mentor is either a dark character, or one with an opposing viewpoint and s/he is someone that the hero will eventually need to confront and/or kill in order to grow and succeed. In some of the better stories where this complex appears, the mentor turns out to be the actual villain.
Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic 2)
Tolwyn (Wing Commander)
Palpatine (Revenge of the Sith)
The Greek Tragedy Complex.
I name this one as such because, too often in Greek mythology, we see characters get their fate revealed to them which then sets them on a quest to prevent said fate. In every case, we see those trying to cheat fate actually directly causing it to happen through their own actions. Oedipus is a perfect example of this; it is foretold that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He leaves his family, runs off, and then kills someone who crashed into him. He then marries that man’s wife… come to find out that those were his real parents.
Basically a character that falls into this category is desperately trying to do good, he wants to save someone or something, but every time he tries to do good, his actions cause more evil. The character who has this is usually not a strong character. It’s someone who either has tunnel vision, is single-minded,  and/or has no dynamic qualities at all.
A Character afflicted with this problem is cursed with knowing the outcome of a situation and/or his own fate or that of a loved one. Like Oedipus himself, when these character’s learn of what is to happen, they do everything they can to escape what is to happen.
The problem is that these characters are willing to do anything, and I mean anything to change the outcome. They often become so blinded by desperation that they don’t see what effect’s their actions are having. In the end, their actions are what causes the foreshadow to come true.
A perfect example of this is Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. He has a revelation that his wife is going to die during childbirth. It’s unclear whether his friend Palpatine planted this image there to drive him down the dark path, but I always suspected that this was the case, especially since he begins to temp Anakin with the promise of a power great enough to prevent people from dying.
Anakin is desperate and willing to do anything to prevent the death of his wife. He goes to the point of sacrificing his own soul to keep her alive and safe. The problem is that she becomes so overwhelmed with sadness over what he has done, that she looses the will to live and dies anyway.
Though we can’t say for certain she would have survived had Anakin not fallen to the dark side, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption. At the very least, her chances would have been better.
Oddly enough, despite these characters being weak, they are actually easy to relate to. How many of us wouldn’t go to extreme lengths to save someone we care about or change a fate we find undesirable?
Now keep in mind, not all characters fall into these categories, but in my opinion, some of the best do. You have the quintessential good guys and the one-dimensional villains as well as a plethora of other characters, but these were the ones that have always stood out the most to me.

1 Comment on “Character Complexes

  1. Pingback: The Traitorous Main Character | The Creative Works of James Harrington

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