Emily Blake explains why being picked by destiny is an inferior story choice.
I don’t believe in destiny or soul mates or any kind of predetermined fate of any kind. I’m willing to accept that maybe the force is real. Maybe karma. But free will is my jam, so movies about “The Chosen One” are always a bit problematic in my mind. Here’s a person who never earned anything being protected by all the people who are doing the real labor, on the promise that this person will live up to some vague premonition they’ve all decided to risk their lives for. It’s not a great lesson about life, even if it is a nice fantasy to imagine that the Powers That Be have given us someone to save us all with their magical gifts.
I love when being The Chosen One is earned. I hate when it’s a birthright. And now, some examples:
for Iron Fist, Moana, The Matrix, and Star Wars
I thought about this a lot after watching the most recent season of Iron Fist – which is a great improvement over season one and I mostly enjoyed it – where there’s a lot of discussion over who deserves the fist.
Danny earned the fist not because he was born with a magical halo around his head, but because he worked his ass off and fought for it against someone who felt he deserved it because it was his birthright. Then they kind of ruin that with a monologue about fate and destiny, and who is “meant” to have the fist. I like the idea of Colleen getting the fist because she’s the better person and warrior (and she is), not because she was just “meant” to have it because of who her mother may have been. The idea that it was always supposed to go to her because of her family line cheapens her own accomplishments.
I greatly prefer the way the Chosen One turns up in Moana. I LOVE Moana. The movie opens with Moana expressing a desire to go into the ocean, and we watch her grow up, always trying to be the best princess on the island while secretly dreaming of becoming a voyager. The ocean notices, and that’s why it chooses her. She wasn’t born to be the girl who saves the island. She was chosen because she had all the necessary skills. She earned it. It’s a great lesson for kids: If you want to be chosen for great things, earn it by working hard and pursuing what you believe is right. And also disobey your parents and steal a boat.
Obviously, Hermione should have been the Chosen One, but Harry had the famous parents.
The first time we see Neo, he’s furiously Googling. He wants to know what the Matrix is, and I’ve always assumed that’s how Morpheus finds him. When he climbs out on the window ledge of his office building, he drops a phone – and for just a second it hangs in the air while he tries to catch it. I’ve always interpreted that moment to mean that Neo had the ability within him already and just didn’t know how to harness it. His story is all about believing he is capable of great things. He doesn’t ever even believe he’s the Chosen One – he just works on being a badass until he earns that title. Then they ruin all of that beautiful character work in the next movie by telling him that he was planted in the Matrix with that express purpose, so thank you, trilogy, for taking away his agency and making him a boring computer program.
Which leads me to all my favorite Jedi boos. In each of our Star Wars trilogies, we have a force sensitive person. The Force makes choices about who our hero is, but each one has a different relationship with The Force and the idea of fate that reflect the conflicting ideas of what, exactly, The Force represents.
ANAKIN – The Force made him out of midichlorians. He knew he was special from the day he was born and was super resentful about everything because he was quite obviously Chosen then stuck on this dumb dirty planet. You don’t get much more Chosen than a virgin birth. And I think we can all agree that Anakin sucks, because people who feel super entitled to being a superhero are not fun to root for. He has every right to be angry about what happens to his mom, but he was already angry about constantly knowing he was better than everyone else around him and that he had some kind of destiny in front of him.
LUKE – Luke was Chosen because he was the only option available. There may have been other force sensitives alive, but Luke and Obi-wan were both there, hanging out on the same planet, waiting to be found. But Luke didn’t know he was special. He didn’t even know his dad was the biggest, baddest, most entitled villain in the galaxy, and that allowed him to grow up into a normal teenage boy instead of the aforementioned entitled shitbird. Still – Luke was handed a fate he didn’t really earn until after he was forced to. But in this case, putting that kind of destiny onto someone who wasn’t prepared for it paid off in a rewarding, if tragic, character trajectory. I actually think Luke’s story in The Last Jedi makes him MORE interesting as a Chosen One, but that deserves its own post which I will write about next time.
REY – which brings us to Rey, who, in my opinion, is the best of the three. Yeah I said it. Come at me, fanboys.
In The Last Jedi, we learn that Rey isn’t all that special, actually. She was born force sensitive, but so were several other kids. She didn’t have fancy Jedi parents. She was just a girl who raised herself in the desert under harsh conditions, learning all the skills necessary for survival in a world that constantly tried to oppress and kill her. The Force didn’t seek her out because she was the only person in the galaxy who could possibly stand up to the Empire. It sought her out because she was the best force sensitive badass on that planet. That’s why I find it weird when fanboys go on about Rey being a “Mary Sue” (she’s not). Rey is the only one of these three people who wasn’t doted on by her family. She wasn’t Chosen because of who her parents were or because the Force made her out of tiny particles of Force juice. She was Chosen because she taught herself to be awesome. She earned that title. She deserves it.
I could go on, but I’m starting to go long. Lego Movie. Terminator 2. Buffy. Lord of the Rings (all stories I love, BTW). The list goes on. Don’t get me started on magical destiny babies.
There are nuances in these stories that are worth thinking about. What does it mean to be Chosen? How do you earn that choice? How much of your position as a hero is just because some power from above plucked you out of thin air, how much is about who your parents are, and how much is what you’ve earned with hard work and determination or personality traits that lend themselves to the task at hand? And do you ever question why you were handed this gift/burden despite what you may have done or not done to earn it? Not all Chosen Ones are the same. Bring me more heroes who deserve that title, or GTFO.
Emily Blake writes screenplays with lots of fight scenes. She is a vocal advocate for feminism, polyamory, kink, and sex positivity. She makes most of her money as a script supervisor for film and television, but she also makes cosplays for clients out of her little apartment in Los Angeles.