So there I was, sitting cross-legged on the floor in my basement, toys scattered around me and a hundred different ideas floating around in my head. Being an only child, I was rather spoiled so there was no shortage of action figures at my disposal, everything from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to LEGOS of all kinds. By far my favorite characters to play with, however, were from a series of little-known films entitled Star Wars.
At that point all the movies had come and gone and new action figures were difficult to find in stores so my mom would take me to garage sales to locate used toys, no longer desired by owners. And so my collection grew. Main characters like Luke and Chewbacca remained elusive so I made do with various other characters like Greedo or 4-Lom or even Squid-Head (and yes there was a character named Squid-Head. His face looked like uncooked calamari and he wore a cape, as you do). I loved devising rich back stories and narratives to develop them from mere background characters to fully-formed heroes and villains. One such hero was the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett.
For those unfamiliar Boba Fett was the bounty hunter who delivered Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt in The Empire Strikes Back, a small but pivotal role that would lead to one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars expanded universe. Very little was known about his origins at the time or even what he looked like under that menacing helmet. But none of that mattered to me. He could be anything I wanted him to be: charismatic villain, dark anti-hero, or just a straight up bad-ass who’d kill for money. Or just for fun.
In the years since, Fett’s popularity waned. Whereas comics and video games developed his character, resurrecting him from his apparent demise in Return of the Jedi and making him a formidable enemy to the New Republic, most fans saw him simply as an overrated villain who was taken out by a blind guy with a stick (it’s pretty much true, Google it). However to me, the character was always more than that. He was a conduit by which I could tell my own stories that took place in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t have to worry about continuity or that he was a clone, or that he had gotten eaten by a giant sand worm. I was creating my own adventures for him to take part in, adventures across all genres: action, thrillers, even comedies.
I remember one particularly ridiculous “heist” story in which Fett had to team up with a few other bounty hunters to stop a group of droids from dismantling the Empires’s new Death Star, which rested atop a giant space tree. Before you ask, yes this was around Christmas time and the “Death Star” was indeed the star on top of our Christmas tree. I used everything at my disposal to physically tell the stories in my head. I had no qualms about letting my imagination run wild.
And that’s kinda my whole point with this. Fett’s not just cool because the movies made him out to be (they really didn’t) and it certainly isn’t because other people said he was (nobody I was friends with as a child thought this) but because I made him out to be that way. I imagined he was the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy and came up with ideas and stories to justify that title. The characters we write aren’t interchagable nobodies with different names and appearances; with the right amount of thought and dedication, they can be fully-formed people whose stories are written to serve them, not the other way around. It doesn’t matter how or why a character is conceived; under the right circumstances, any character can thrive and become more than what they were intended to be.
There are no bad characters, just ones who haven’t been written to their potential. But more on that later…