When I checked out the new Star Wars trailer that the whole Internet is freaking out about, I couldn’t help latching onto one small scene in particular. Toward the end of the trailer, our new villain (I’m assuming a Sith lord) Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has his weird lightsaber out and is advancing on our new Jedi, Finn (John Boyega), who draws his blue lightsaber and staggers backwards. It’s one of the climactic scenes of the trailer, and surely one that fans are most excited about, but what gripped me is the look of terror and uncertainty on Boyega’s face. He looks genuinely terrified to be facing off with Ren, and it made me remember just how hopeless Luke Skywalker was before his training.
In a way, this kind of emotion puts fans on the character’s level. At that moment, Finn presumably isn’t that far ahead as any of us would be if someone handed us a lightsaber and started babbling about the Force. Now the obvious assumption is that Finn will escape that encounter, get some training, and start whooping some Imperial ass—but really, who knows? For now, the scene just got me thinking about some other movie heroes that really aren’t any more spectacular than the average Joe or Jane. These are heroes you could take down at their own skills.
Lisbeth Salander has been portrayed by multiple actresses as the protagonist in the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. And she’s pretty much a badass. The Rejectionist posted some thoughts on Salander a few years ago that sum her up pretty well, both as a powerful heroine in general and as a strong symbol for female fans. It’s hard to disagree with any points therein. But here’s what’s glaring about the summary, which includes eleven distinct points about the character: not one of them speaks to her actual talent, which is basically hacking.
But if you saw the U.S. version of the film, in which Rooney Mara played the role, you might have noticed that it had some of the vaguest cinematic hack scenes of all time. My point is that all Lisbeth Salander seems to be able to do is operate a high-end search engine, presumably with some kind of special access. She types quickly and is intuitive about her research, but at least in the American film Salander is effectively an expert Googler. So really, if you want to be like Salander, Mashable’s got you covered.
You may or may not remember that name, because over the years the character has become better known as “Matt Damon from Rounders.” But yeah, Mike McDermott is Matt Damon’s character in Rounders. And he’s really, really good at poker. He even learns to recognize the amusingly obvious tell of crime boss/poker maestro Teddy KGB, and manages to beat him at his own game. Rounders remains the quintessential modern poker film more than a decade after its release, and it’s credited by many with kicking off the amateur poker craze in America.
But now that the craze has taken over, poker at a McDermott level is really a pretty accessible skill. Anyone can pick up the game and practice hands online at any moment, and in some cases even better options are available. Betfair’s card games page goes so far as to include full demo modes for beginning players to learn the ins and outs before getting into actual games. This is effectively a learning tool designed to get any user confident and capable enough to take on cash games. That, in essence, means that you (or anyone!) can be Mike McDermott. Damon makes for a great hero because he’s easy to root for and pretty much everyone around him in Rounders is scum. But really, McDermott’s main talent is an everyman hobby.
I’m not exactly sure that Dom Cobb qualifies as a hero, but he’s certainly a protagonist. Cobb is the name of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception, and depending on your view of the intentionally ambiguous ending, he may actually be pretty damn heroic. The brighter view of the end of the film is that Cobb achieves his ambitious Inception mission, escapes years of journeys in and out of his own dreams, and earns passage home to the U.S. to be with his children. Not bad, right?
But the dirty little secret is that Cobb is an absolute mess at the one thing he spends all his time doing! Basically a world class specialist at “shared dreaming” and delving into the subconscious, he can barely close his eyes without his own haunted past derailing everything he’s doing, and putting others at risk in the process. Maybe this is pretty standard, and unfortunately I can’t tell you how to be better than Cobb at Inception, because shared dreaming isn’t exactly an accessible concept. However, Cracked’s tips for managing your dreams is a good start, if only so you’re not being tormented by a figure from your past every time you get some shut-eye.
There are a lot of other figures that can be added to this list, but these are a few that stand out. It’s actually kind of fun and oddly empowering to think of how many cinematic heroes are just like us, with one or two small advantages.