Today I had a discussion with a friend on why many characters in fantasy, science fiction and action movies tend to be orphans, or perhaps more commonly lose their parents within the story itself, usually sometime in the opening sequences. Why is it that there is little room for parents? Why are they are usually dead in epic stories such as “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “The Lion King?” They can also simply be in a far away place, or simply suffering from some sort of illness that makes them hard to take seriously, like Mrs. Everdeen in the Hunger Games, who probably suffered from depression.
The writers of characters that lose their parents such as Harry Potter, Batman and Luke Skywalker would probably say that the status of orphan-hood makes for a more tragic backstory for a character, making it easier for an audience to sympathize with them. I for one believe that there’s a hidden agenda in the all too common trope of the dead/missing parent. Being an orphan, whilst tragic also has a sort of dark appeal to it. Let’s take Luke Skywalker as an example. His caretaker is uncle Owen, who actively keeps him from fulfilling his dreams of joining the rebellion and fighting the Empire. Which, to be fair, is a perfectly understandable view coming from a parent-figure. I mean, who would want their only child to join what the government calls a terrorist organization? It is not only until after Owen is killed by the Empire that Luke can finally embark on his destiny to become a Jedi Knight, free from his ‘oppressive’ uncle.
Yet being orphaned is not the whole story. The orphaned character is almost always taken in by a parental-figure or a mentor. Who more often than not teaches them the art of warfare and fighting. Something that I’m guessing a regular parent would probably not want their kids learning. The young hero dutifully learns the way of the warrior from the old master who can be the complete opposite of their parents, showing them little love and understanding ultimately turning them into whatever it is they need to be. Whether that is a Jedi, an archer that takes on an evil government, or my favorite the goddamn Batman.