What are the specific qualities that embody a hero or villain? Traditionally, they are viewed as opposing forces — good against evil, light against darkness. However, a generic lawful-good hero is often predictable. Complexity and flaws are much more interesting and identifiable.
Some of our most beloved characters walk the morally gray path. The Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain are so iconic because they are relatable. We find ourselves more emotionally invested in these characters since they are not so different from us on a human level. Explore an intriguing dichotomy on what it means to be a hero.
“Every Villain is a hero of their own story.” -Christopher Vogler
Geralt of Rivia (otherwise known as The Witcher) is not your typical hero. He’s outwardly rough around the edges, to say the least. For starters, his best friend, whom he endearingly refers to as Roach, is a horse. The Witcher is a loner, part mercenary, part vigilante, who answers only to himself. Although his lifestyle may be somewhat unorthodox, Geralt becomes a protagonist despite his unconventional methods.
This Anti-Hero uses his supernatural abilities as an experienced monster hunter to make a living while helping those in need as a result. The Witcher never seeks out fame or glory, nor does he take sides. Geralt does not claim to be good by any means. However, he is opposed to corruption. When given an ultimatum, he infamously states:
“If I have to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.” -Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher, Season 1)
Against his better judgment, Geralt eventually falls in love. Despite the tough exterior and facade-like lack of empathy, he allows himself to care for others. A solitary man of few words unintentionally emerges as an Anti-Hero through his courageous actions and noble deeds of compassion.
Once upon a time in a faraway galaxy, Darth Vader started out full of potential as a promising young hero. Anakin Skywalker had honorable goals and intentions, but unfortunately, he made some poor life-altering decisions. He allowed himself to be consumed by fear and hatred — as Master Yoda had forewarned. This is what ultimately drove Anakin to the dark side. Our beloved young Jedi hero had tragically turned into a Sith Anti-Villain.
How could this happen? Anakin was incredibly gifted and audacious — yet naive. The young Jedi Knight was too blinded by his own passion and ambition to realize that he was being manipulated by forces of evil. His perspective had been skewed. Anakin assumed the people he loved had forsaken him when in reality, he had betrayed himself.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” -Darth Vader (Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope)
However, in the end, Darth Vader demonstrated actions worthy of redemption by saving his own son from a similar fate. Selflessness and sacrifice are the most admirable qualities that define any hero. This notion resonates on many levels, especially when displayed by the antagonist. Our iconic hero turned Anti-Villain became a hero once again in his final moments. Genuine heroic acts are not only brave and kind — they are selfless and pure.
As human beings, we are capable of both terrible and wonderful deeds. Good and evil are not always absolute. They often appear in varying shades of gray. Just because someone commits a bad deed does not mean that they are an evil person. Similarly, if someone performs a good deed it does not automatically make them a good person. Intentions and actions will speak multitudes over time — illustrating one’s true character.
The lines between protagonist and antagonist begin to blur when each opposing individual believes they are doing the right thing. Perhaps they have similar goals in mind, but their means to an end vary drastically. What is right becomes subjective. Observe and learn objectively. Look at the methods that the hero used to achieve the end result, or if along the way their vision changes altogether. Are they self-serving or altruistic? Do they still display the qualities of a hero, a villain, or has their identity changed?
Life represents an equilibrium, much like the force. We are far from perfect. Yet, we can be mindful of our choices. If we fail to maintain a balance, our lives are more susceptible to spiral out of control. Similar to characters in a story, we have the ability to reassess our goals and evolve our way of thinking. Sometimes this requires unlearning what we have previously believed to be true. Reflect on what has been successful along with what has fallen by the wayside. Redefine your idea of what it means to be a hero.