The notion of a ‘Chosen One’ is hardly a new concept when it comes to fiction. The most popular examples of this trope can be found in movies like Star Wars, The Matrix and Harry Potter. Simply put, it revolves around how a specific individual is predestined to bring about great change, often in the form of saving whatever world that they are based in. Whilst it can be a great storytelling device, it is not without flaw, and there can be examples of when it has failed to deliver. For the sake of argument, I will be comparing two characters, Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars and Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, to show how effectively this device has been employed.
In the original trilogy of Star Wars (which in case you didn’t know, happens to be my favourite film franchise of all time) we are presented with the villain Darth Vader, a Dark Lord of the Sith who used to be a member of the Jedi Order until he betrayed them. In a twist that shocked audiences everywhere, it is revealed that Darth Vader used to go by the name Anakin Skywalker and is the father of the movies’ protagonist, Luke Skywalker. Despite being evil through most of the trilogy, Darth Vader redeems himself at the end, when he throws the evil Emperor to his doom in order to protect his son. Whilst being an incredible moment, it does have repercussions for the overall viewer experience. When George Lucas decided to do a prequel trilogy, one of the main areas of focus was the story of Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi stated to be the Chosen One who would bring balance to the Force. Naturally, those who would have seen the original trilogy will already know of Anakin’s ultimate fate, meaning that from the get go of the prequels, audiences are hoping to see Anakin’s meteoric rise to glory and legendary status, which will ultimately make his fall that much more tragic. The problem however, comes in the way his ascension is portrayed. In my opinion, the prequel trilogy suffers as it relies so much on telling us that Anakin is the Chosen One, rather than showing us why. We do get a brief explanation that Anakin was born with a higher midichlorian count than other Jedis (midichlorians are microscopic life forms that determine an individual’s strength with the Force) and that instead of having a father, his mother was impregnated by the Force itself.
However, once you push the obvious Jesus imagery aside, there isn’t really much in the movies that separates Anakin from the other Jedis. Characters like Obi-Wan, Yoda and Mace Windu are seen talking about how powerful Anakin may be/may become in the future, but very little is shown to demonstrate this fact. The movies seem to rely more on the audience’s prior knowledge that one day Anakin will bring balance to the Force, rather than using the prequels as an opportunity to showcase his potential. Instead, Anakin spends a lot of time complaining about how he isn’t valued by the Jedi and often acts recklessly in spite of the orders and wishes of other, more experienced Jedi. You can argue that this humanises him and brings more elements to his character, but I think that it creates a character that is harder to like. Anakin Skywalker’s journey is essentially the lifeblood of both the original and prequel trilogies. However, there isn’t much motivation to follow it if the character himself isn’t all that likeable. Whilst it is great to make him relatable, the audience is robbed of any real desire to root for him, which is probably the most important factor for a main character to have. For me, the moment that stands out the most for Anakin was when his mother passed away in Attack of The Clones, and he gives in to his rage to kill those responsible. As powerful as that moment was, it only hinted at a dark path that we already knew he was going down. Imagine if you have never watched the original trilogy and that the prequels made no mention to the prophecy of the Chosen One. All you would see are three movies about a Jedi who is reckless, arrogant, and prone to emotional outbursts before finally turning evil. The prequels are supposed to be a story about the ‘fall’ of Anakin Skywalker, but instead it’s a story about the ‘rise’ of Darth Vader. Whilst those two stories in essence sound like the same thing, and are both equally valid stories to tell, they promote different emotional responses from the audience.
I have chosen Jon Snow to compare to Anakin Skywalker as I feel that despite what people may think about how Game of Thrones ended; the journey of Jon Snow’s character was handled better in the beginning. When we are introduced to Jon Snow in season one, he is the bastard son of Ned Stark. He is sent to the Night’s Watch, a group that protects the realm of men from threats beyond The Wall. From the beginning, Jon is positioned as an underdog, often mocked or looked down on by society. During his time in the Watch however, he rises through the ranks to the position of Lord Commander, gaining the respect of his fellow Watchmen through his leadership and battle skills. It is around this time in the show that Melisandre becomes convinced that Jon Snow is ‘The Prince that is Promised’, a figure destined to save the world from a great darkness. She believes in this so much that she brings Jon Snow back to life after he is murdered by traitorous Watchmen. At this point in the story, Jon Snow has more than enough credentials behind him to be a convincing ‘Chosen One’. The audience has watched him grow into a character that can get people behind him, a character that you want to succeed. And whilst some people make the argument that Jon’s actual personality isn’t the most exciting compared to other characters, he at least retains a semblance of likeability that Anakin Skywalker simply does not. Game of Thrones succeeds in showing rather than telling when it comes to portraying Jon Snow as a Chosen One.
He displays a code of honour in his interactions, regardless of whether they are with friend or foe. He is loyal and humble, often casting aside the praise that others place on him. Many within the show often remark that the best person to lead is a person who does not covet the position, a notion highlighted even more after it is revealed that Jon Snow is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. All of these revelations and observations by other characters don’t serve as our reason for liking Jon; they simply reinforce an ideology that we already have in our hearts through getting to know the character. Of course, we have many seasons of Game of Thrones to know Jon’s character, whereas we only had a trilogy to understand Anakin (we also had the animated Clone Wars series that actually contained a more likeable portrayal of the character but that came after the trilogy was already finished) Perhaps the prequels would have worked more if they revolved purely around Anakin’s experience.
There is nothing wrong with prophecies and predetermined fates, but it is important that writers don’t lose sight of the fact that the character has to fit the role, or at least have the potential to do so. The Chosen One shouldn’t be rooted for because of their lineage, or their power, or because they are destined to do so. They should be rooted for because they have earned that right, through choices instead of circumstances!