Click to viewThe whole time we're watching Star Wars: Clone Wars in theaters and on television, we'll be knowing that Anakin Skywalker is destined for a horrendous end. But the true tragedy of Anakin is that he's kind of a pale reflection of the truly great tragic heroes of science fiction. Seriously, here are like a hundred tragic heroes who are more awesome or terrible than Anakin. Okay, not a hundred. But a lot. Spoilers for old books and movies ahead. Before we launch into our awesome list, let's just cop to something: We're not doing the Aristotelian definition of tragedy. We're just not. Aristotle is for wusses. We're going more with the basic definition: the person who has everything, and then loses it all, or just gets horribly fucked over. In a poetic or meaningful way. Okay? Every scifi hero Charlton Heston played, ever.
The Charlton Heston science fiction oeuvre is splendid in its variety. But there are a few things you can count on in pretty much all of them. Heston will know better than everybody else around him. He'll be the last bastion of civilization, surrounded by dirty hippies or grandiloquent mutants in whiteface or apes or whatever. And in the end, he'll die because nobody ever listens to him when he's telling them how stupid they are. Why? Why won't they listen? Soylent green is people, you damn dirty whiteface cultists! (Okay, so he doesn't die in Planet Of The Apes, but then he does in the sequel.) Sam Lowry In Brazil, the fatal flaw that destroys Sam Lowry is his secret desire to escape the repressive system he's a cog in. (Yeah, okay, we're getting Aristotelean for a sec.) He dreams and fantasizes about being a flying hero in shining armor who fights monsters and soars away, but when he finally gets a chance to escape with the woman (literally) of his dreams, it all goes bad. And he winds up being tortured to death by his former best friend. Dr. Frankenstein
He's obsessed with the idea of bringing inanimate matter to life, to the point where he drops out of school and spends years digging up corpses and sticking them together. But once he's created his monsterpiece (sorry), he rejects it and drives it away. His cruelty to his creation leads to the deaths of several of his friends, so Frankenstein vows to hunt it down. But Frankenstein doesn't even manage to die at the hands of his creation - instead, in the original novel, pneumonia claims his life after he pursues it to the Arctic. He doesn't even manage to die properly! Henry Jekyll
Another guy who messes with science and gets messed with in return. Jekyll wants to separate his good side from his dark side, so he drinks a potion which turns him into the embodiment of his bad side, Edward Hyde. At first, it's all fun and games, until Hyde starts going buck wild and Jekyll is turning into him at night, even without the potion. But when Jekyll tries to repress Hyde, the monstrous side of him only comes back worse than ever, killing an old man. Finally, he becomes Hyde permanently, and decides to kill himself instead of paying for his crimes. Winston Smith He's another cog in the machine, helping to rewrite history in a future totalitarian state where everybody is watched. Because of his doubts about the machine, he gets lured into joining a resistance group - which turns out to be a set-up. He winds up tortured, and gives up his lover and accomplice. In the end, he doesn't die, but he does get utterly broken by the Party.
Jeff Brundle in The Fly Annnd another hero who suffers due to his curiosity. Brundle invents the perfect teleportation machine, but a fly gets stuck in there with him. He and his little travel buddy get merged genetically, and they wind up as a half-human, half fly monster. So he decides the answer is to merge his body with his pregnant girlfriend, to add more human DNA to the mix. Sadly, the selfish girlfriend escapes and he ends up being merged with a machine instead, becoming a mangled heap. Chet Kinsman in Ben Bova's Kinsman series. It's the far-off year of 1999, and the Americans and Russians are sharing a base deep under the surface of the moon. Chet Kinsman is the chief of the American side, and he's got a plan to avert the war back on Earth. And it almost works, except that his best friend, Frank Colt, betrays him and he winds up dying as a result. Mad Max Poor old Max - he just wants to pursue justice as a police officer, but his uprightness gets him in the sights of an evil biker gang. And after they torch his best friend Goose, he becomes embittered and quits being a cop. Only to find that there's no safety in being a civilian, in the crumbling post-apocalyptic Australia. The thugs take out his family, leaving him a bitter loner who has no choice but to kill punks of all sizes, occasionally chaining them to their soon-to-explode bikes and giving them saws. He doesn't die, but he does end up getting smacked around by Tina Turner with really bad hair, and then suffers the indignity of getting rescued by a bunch of kids. Londo Mollari
Lometa at Everything2 has a very passionate argument about why Londo Mollari is the ultimate tragic hero of Babylon 5:
Londo as a tragic hero went through more twists than a bag of pretzels. Born into a noble family Mollari had a good heart, but he was condemned at every turn by his own bad choices. His ascension to the throne as Emperor was bittersweet and in the end he surrendered himself to his greatest fear, death at the hands of a Narn.
Wolverine We were arguing earlier about whether Wolverine is a tragic hero. He does lose his family and his memory, and then his girlfriend gets killed. He struggles with his berzerker nature and his bestial killing instinct, and people are always trying to make him wear a yellow leotard. Plus, if you believe Wolverine: The End, he's destined to end up a bitter, lonely old man in Canada, before dying in a fight with his evil mutant brother, whom he thought dead. Hal Jordan
It's all been undone now, but the greatest Green Lantern had a tragic hero arc in the 1990s. Hal Jordan just couldn't stand to fail, so after the evil Mongul destroyed his home town, Hal went nuts and used his power ring to recreate the wrecked Coast City. Then he went berzerk and attacked the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians. Finally, he renounced his prized Green Lantern-hood and became the villain Parallax. (Later, this was all revealed to be some form of alien possession, but that's a retcon.) Finally, he died, sacrificing himself to save the sun from being eaten. Dr. Edward Morbius from Forbidden Planet His curiosity is his downfall - he's determined to study the artifacts of the long-dead Krell race, so he uses the Krells' "Plastic Educator," not realizing that it shapes items from your mind into reality. The Krell wiped themselves out by unleashing monsters from their own ids, and Morbius wipes out his own expedition the same way, except for his daughter. His id-monster is born of his fatal desire to stay and explore the Krell remains, even after the rest of his expedition votes to go home. Finally, he learns the truth and lets the monster kill him, sparing his daughter's life. Rick Deckard He's a retired Blade Runner who has to come out of retirement to take up, once again, a job which he no longer really believes in, killing the artificial Replicants. (And if you believe director Ridley Scott, Deckard himself is one of the Replicants he's killing.) In the end, he's with Rachael, another Replicant, but their time together is going to be short and probably not all that pleasant. Harvey Dent: Spoilers for the Dark Knight ahead... So stop reading now if you really haven't seen it yet. (Really?) Harvey is another guy there's some debate over. But it's true that in The Dark Knight, he's pretty much one of the good guys, and his insistence on seeing the world in black and white is part of what helps the Joker break him. Even more than losing his fiancee and half his face, it's the realization that the Joker's right and everything is just random chaos that drives him over the edge and leads to his horrible (maybe) demise. Additional reporting by Lauren Davis.