The Best Background Characters: The Praetorian Guard With Questionable Judgement

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

The Character:

A Praetorian Guard who doesn’t exactly think things through

The Scene:

(The guard in question appears at 3:07)

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

All of Snoke’s Praetorian guards – who have no special abilities – deserve recognition for taking on two very powerful Force users. Granted, they all die, but they still put in a comendable effort to avenge their… Well, their master who we didn’t get to know too well, but I’m sure they liked him.

Today’s background character, though, is the guard at 3:07 (let’s call him Bob), who, in the most important battle of his life, attacks Dark Side user Kylo Ren by… ramming his armored forearms against Kylo’s lightsaber blade and immediately dies.

Why point out this guy? As the elite guard to the leader of the First Order, it’s logical that these guards are at the peak of physical conditioning, masters with their weapons of choice, and have been trained for countless hours in all manner of hand-to-hand combat so they can take on any threat that might attack their leader. So why on earth does Bob perform such a silly act against a lightsaber user? (A question that others have pointed out) He doesn’t have any weapons, and leaves himself open for a fatal counter attack. Perhaps he was trying to distract Kylo so one of his buddies could take him out, but I like to imagine that it was a momentary lapse of judgement, showing that, while highly trained, Bob can still make mistakes or not think clearly when fighting for his life against someone he has no chance of defeating, humanizing someone who would otherwise be just a nameless, faceless dude who’s killed off in a few seconds and has a $250 Sideshow Collectables figure made after him to appease the Star Wars fan who will buy anything based off of any character, no matter how short their appearance.

But best of all, I like to have fun imagining what Bob was thinking in those final seconds of his life:

‘Okay, this is it! I’m gonna charge this emo punk and ram his lightsaber with my forearms! Yeah, that’ll show him! Okay, here I go! Wheee! I did it! I did it! I… Wait; wait, what do I do now?! Oh shit, I didn’t think think this thruooourrararrrrrrgghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!’

Mothers, Daughters, and Loss: A New Way to Watch the Alien Saga

Back in 2015, it was revealed that Neill Blomkamp was working on ‘Alien 5’, a new installment in Fox’s ‘Alien’ franchise that would be a direct sequel to ‘Aliens,’ ignoring both ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection.’ As time passed, news came that both Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn would come back as both Ripley and Hicks, along with a now-grown up Newt and, presumably, Lance Henriksen as Bishop.

As a fan of the series, this was one of the most exciting movie news I had seen in years; the thought of seeing Ellen Ripley on the big screen again for the first time since 1997 was a dream come true, and I eagerly followed every scrap of news, every piece of concept art, and even makeup tests. My dream sequel was finally coming together!

And then the movie was canceled.

While there’s still the faintest hope that the movie could be resurrected (if James Cameron’s words are any indication), it seems that, for now, Ellen Ripley’s story still ends with her sacrifice on Fiorina 161.

But what if it doesn’t?

Back in 2011, writer Rod Hilton proposed watching the Star Wars saga (which, at the time, was still only six movies) in what he called, ‘machete order.’ While his post explains it best, the basic gist is that you watch episodes 4 and 5, then 2 and 3, and then 6, which starts with the best film, includes (two) prequels, while also preserving the twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad. While musing if ‘Alien 5’ will ever be made, it recently dawned on me that the Alien franchise could be viewed in a similar manner; one of the biggest draws of ‘Alien 5’ was the idea that Ellen could get a happier ending than she did in the canon timeline, but thanks to this new viewing order, which takes the stories that work and – in keeping with current Hollywood trends – pretending that the ones that don’t never happened, she does.

So, what is this new viewing experience? It has two of the films and one of the videogames, experienced in this order:

  1. Alien

  2. Alien: Isolation

  3. Aliens.

For those who don’t know, ‘Alien: Isolation’ is a 2014 video game that follows Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, as she goes in search of the Nostromo’s flight recorder to find out what happened to her mother, only to be trapped aboard a space station that’s been decimated by a single Xenomorph, turning her quest into a fight for survival. It’s a tense, frightening experience, and after playing through it over a dozen times, I’ve come to regard it as a sequel to ‘Alien,’ hence its inclusion in this list. Thus, the saga begins with the first film, continues with the video game (which can be further enhanced by reading the novelization, which adds more history to Amanda and Ellen’s history together) and ends with the second film, pretending that ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ never happened.

While this fan-version of the saga is shorter, and ends with Ellen still alive, there’s a more subtle change that I didn’t realize until I had gone through these three tales again one after another: The ‘Alien’ saga has been about Ellen and her adventures with phallic aliens from beyond the furthest stars, but it’s also a parable about the dangers of greed, corrupt corporations, and those corporations doing anything and everything to increase their profits, no matter the cost in human suffering. The original four film saga was about Weyland-Yutani (and the military) trying and failing to get the Alien for their own purposes, and Ellen foiling them time and time again. In this new trilogy, the story arc is about Weyland-Yutani tearing a family apart in a blind pursuit of profit, and then that family successfully denying said corporation what it so desperately wants while healing and moving on with their lives: Amanda learns what happened to her mother and gets closure, while Ellen, having lost Amanda to cancer before waking up from stasis, manages to stop Weyland-Yutani for good, and saves a little girl from having to grow up without a mother, as Amanda did.

Of course, this isn’t official in any way; it’s just one fan’s version of the Alien saga that has a more hopeful, upbeat ending that lets us imagine all the good times ahead for Ellen. If Alien 5 is never made, this is a way for fans to still have a happy ending, free to decide for themselves what happens next. In my headcanon, Ellen officially adopts Newt, marries Hicks, Bishop is repaired and becomes the family’s robot-butler, Jones continues to be a little s*** head, and they all live happily ever after! Of course, there’s still Weyland-Yutani to deal with, but they’re soon bought out by Disney. And, in my opinion, that’s a far happier ending than seeing one of sci-fi’s greatest heroes being burnt to a crisp.

Great Quotes About Writing: The Mundane and Everyday Things

There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.

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‘I’ve always liked how in Star Wars, they’d just show you the mundane, everyday things peppered in with the fantastic. It just gave it a believability that most sci-fi movies never can get across.’

-Phraggle, from this picture (emphasis mine)

Before reading this quote, I mainly thought about the things in Star Wars that most fans do: The lightsabers, the battles, the wars, and the Force. But thanks to this insight, I realized that, for all the futuristic things we see in Star Wars, we also see a lot of ordinary, everyday things:

*Political struggles of a struggling democracy

*50’s style diners

*Ordinary, boring jobs (moisture farmers, bartenders, and the like)

*Recreation (podracing, Colosseum fights, holographic chess, etc.)

*Repairing old, beat-up, spacefaring technology that, contrary to most science fiction, does indeed wear down and break.

All these things, while minor, and background details for the most part, give the Star Wars universe a feel of being lived in, of existing beyond the main conflict, and that the characters who inhabit this world have the same issues we face, as well as enjoyments. When applied to other stories, whether they’re set in the reality, the future, the past, or in alternate dimensions, it lets writers create a living, breathing place that invites the audience to imagine what’s happening beyond what’s presented to us.

What’s your charachter’s bedroom like?

When it comes to fleshing out characters, there are countless exercises to try: What does your character want? What’s their outlook on life? Their favorite foods? The one thing they’d change in their life if they could go back in time, and the like. But there’s one exercise that, in my opinion, is much more fun:

What is your character’s bedroom like?

This question was born after browsing an article on Wookipedia (the fan-run wiki for the Star Wars franchise), which covers – of all things – pajamas. While short (consisting of just one line), it features a picture of Count Dooku – the tyrannical Sith lord from Attack of the Clones – wearing a simple set of grey pajamas.

At first glance, there’s nothing too exciting about this. What’s so extraordinary about Count Dooku wearing pajamas? Nothing, really, except the mental image of an evil Sith lord, one hellbent on conquering the galaxy, enslaving billions, and ruling with an iron fist, wearing pajamas to bed is hilarious. Does he also have a Sith teddy bear to sleep with? A Sith nightlight that glows red to keep the nightmares at bay? (Or encourage them?) Curious, I looked around to see if Dooku happened to have a bedroom, and it turns out that he does, one that’s glimpsed in the Clone Wars cartoon series.

All of this was fascinating to me; Star Wars, being a franchise about two factions battling it out for the control of a galaxy, rarely has the time to delve into the sleeping habits and personal quarters of its characters. And it was then that I realized that exploring a character’s bedroom is a unique way to get to know them. If a bedroom is a sanctuary that the occupant can decorate however they wish, then it stands that such decorations can give us an insight into what a character is like:

*A sorcerer, wizard, or other magical type, wanting a break from their studies, fills their room with video game consoles and puts anti-sound magic in the walls so he can play as loud as he likes, while also casting spells to repel evil forces who may try to sneak up on him while he’s relaxing.

*A monk doesn’t decorate his room (so as to encourage not having attachments), but does have a luxurious bed, both as his one indulgence in life and to ensure that he can get the best night’s sleep he can so he can help his community with a refreshed mind and body.

*The emperor of a planet fills his bedroom not with gold, jeweled statues, or other expensive trinkets, but with photos of his family, his children’s crayon drawings, and other personal treasures to remind him that he’s doing his job to ensure his family – and other families everywhere – can live in peace and safety.

*A serial killer purposefully decorates her room to be warm and inviting, so as to put victims at ease when she lures them in. Knowing that the police may come by at one point or another, she never saves any mementos of her kills.

While these details may never appear in a story, they can shed light on what a character is like when he/she/it is relaxing and not out saving the world, solving crimes, or otherwise involving themselves in the conflict of a story. While we may rightfully assume that the bedroom is only used for sleep and sex, I think exploring how a character uses it – for both recreation and sleep – can help us gain more insights into how they think, and see a side of them we’d otherwise never consider.

Fun Fact: Those Count Dooku pajamas? You can equip them in the video game, ‘Star Wars: Battlefront 2’ and have Dooku run around the battlefields of the galaxy in his sleepwear.

Favorite Moments: What if Anakin Liked Sand?

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

‘What if Anakin Liked Sand?’

Why it’s great

One of my favorite storytelling tropes in fiction is the classic, ‘What if?’, where a an already told story is told again, but with different changes:

*What if the protagonist was evil, and the antagonist good?

*What if the protagonist died before the first act?

*What if the bad guy won?

While comics have been playing with this idea for years, Star Wars has done it only sporadically, with a series of comics that re-imagines the original trilogy with some considerable changes, and an adaptation of George Lucas’ original script. But while all of them are straightforward ‘What if?’ ideas, the video above takes a more comedic approach by playing with what is arguably the goofiest line of dialogue in any Star Wars media:

and turning it into a fairly in-depth discussion about how the Star Wars saga would unfold if Anakin liked… no, loved sand.

What I like about this video is the concept. It’s one thing to do a what-if story based on a serious idea, but rarely do we see one done as a joke around how the most feared Sith Lord in the universe hates sand, and it’s even rarer to see one that’s not only funny (Anakin’s love of sand prevents the Empire from ever coming to power), but somewhat plausible… in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course.

Favorite Moments: Hey guys, what’s going… uhh, nevermind, I’m out of here.

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The movie:

‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’

The scene:

Why it’s great:

Years before ‘The Matrix’ blew up a government lobby, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement day’ had Arnold storming a lobby and taking on armed guards as well (but without killing anyone, which is something Neo and Trinity can’t say). It’s a great scene that oozes 90’s nostalgia for me (blue, silver, and black color schemes, 90’s architecture, synth music, etc.), but I only just learned something about it that’s been hiding in plain sight for decades that only a few people have noticed, which makes me like this scene even more.

At 1:36 in the video, the SWAT team start shooting at the Terminator. But if you look closely in the background, you’ll see a random guy casually walk to the outside windows and peer inside, then turn to walk away. It’s a goof, something that’s easily missed because our focus is on the SWAT team firing away. But I love the idea that in the middle of this big, corporate espionage operation, where the police have barricaded the building and sealed it off, one bored officer decides to take a peek inside, only to see the shooting start and decide that maybe it’s a good idea to turn around and walk away.

It’s little details like this that remind us that, in the world this movie inhabits, there are ordinary people just going about their lives, and, like us, they can be overcome with boredom or curiosity. It’s fascinating to imagine what the events of this movie are like from the perspective of this random guy who has nothing to do with John, Sarah, the Terminator, Skynet, or Judgement Day. I like to think his name is Daryl, and he’s a career cop who really would rather be back at home watching a football game, and is so jaded from his years on the force that not even the sight of a SWAT team blasting away at a guy wearing leather is enough to faze him anymore.

SUPER FUN BONUS FACT: When I was preparing this post, one of the Youtube comments on the video pointed out that there is, in fact, a second random guy in the video, this time at the right of the lobby at 1:47, apparently wearing 90’s oversized headphones. Who is he? Why is he there? Does he even see all the destruction taking place? We’ll never know.

Favorite Moments: To Infinity and Beyond!

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

Buzz Lightyear’s catchprhase is one of those sayings that so catchy and memorable, but falls apart when you apply logic to it. Robot Chicken takes that logic to show what would happen if Buzz really tried to go beyond infinity, proving that applying reality to inspirational or motivational catchphrases can result in some really funny moments.