Happy Veterans Day! Today is a day that we honor those men and women who have joined the military and chosen to commit their life to serving their nation. To commemorate the date, we have chosen to highlight characters that to us, exemplify the spirit of fighting the good fight, and who serve their fictional nations in the way that our country’s veterans serve and protect us at home.
Join us in the comments or on your own blog–we’ve even provided a graphic for you, which you can either save to your own space or link from tinypic using the following HTML code: <a href=”http://avengingforce.com”><img src=”http://i59.tinypic.com/2d9318w.jpg”><*/a> Just remove the asterisks, and you’re all set!
There are so many amazing fictional soldiers I love (Steven Hiller, Karl Agathon, Eomer, and Tauriel, y’all juuuust missed the cut) but when push comes to shove, I realize that the soldier characters who can wring the most affection and loyalty from me are the underdogs. The soldiers who push back against a monstrous force when it would be easier to just run away. The ones who keep fighting long after most would have quit.
And… it doesn’t hurt if they can make me laugh while they’re doing it.
5. Finn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
From Finn’s very first scene in The Force Awakens (well, his first scene with more than 2 lines), I knew I loved him. Here was a Stormtrooper (can we just pause for a sec on how much I adore that the writers of The Force Awakens decided to make a Stormtrooper a central character?) throwing off his programming because he didn’t want to participate in what the First Order was doing, something we have never seen before in this universe. And it only got better from there. I laughed and cried so many times at John Boyega’s honest portrayal of Finn, and in one movie, he became one of my favorite parts of the entire Star Wars franchise.
4. Mako Mori, Pacific Rim
I love so much about Pacific Rim, but one of its biggest selling points is its female lead, Mako Mori. Mako is smart, strong, confident, and brave, while simultaneously being vulnerable and kind. It’s not a combination we often get to see in female action heroes (on the rare occasions we actually get female action heroes). Plus she’s one of the rare Asian female characters in a Hollywood movie who eschews the common tropes: she’s quiet but not submissive, she’s smart but not nerdy, she’s skilled in combat but not a ninja, she speaks with an accent but it’s natural, not exaggerated (it’s worth pointing out, so do half the characters in this movie, because Pacific Rim is all about characters from all over the world coming together to fight monsters), and she is never once fetishized or viewed as “exotic” by any other character. Considering I am a biracial Asian American woman raising biracial Asian American daughters, Mako’s character really spoke to both me and my kids, and I will love her forever.
3. Steve Rogers/Captain America, Marvel Comics
I’ll admit, I was one of those people who, when Captain America: The First Avenger was announced by Marvel, was like “Captain America? Yawn.” Oh, how wrong I was. While I was never very interested in the character before the Chris Evans version (a sentiment that I think a lot of people can relate to), he is now one of my absolute favorite parts of the MCU. I think one of the things I love most about him is how, even before he became a super soldier, back when he was so small and weak he got repeatedly rejected from the army, his heart was still unbelievably strong. He stood up to bullies, he persevered through boot camp even though he couldn’t possibly keep up, he threw himself on what he thought was a live grenade to protect others. His body and his skills may have been enhanced by the super soldier serum, but on the inside, Steve was already beyond super.
2. Zoe Washburne, Firefly
There is no wrong answer for favorite Firefly character. This show had one of the strongest ensembles I’ve ever seen, and each and every main cast member brought something amazing to the table. But if I had to pick a favorite, Zoe gets my vote. For whatever reason, I’ve always had a thing for seconds-in-command. While I have a great fondness for strong, noble, decisive captains, my eyes always tend to glance off of them to the person standing to their right. Something about the unwavering loyalty it takes to trust and follow someone like that, balanced with the leadership skills and bravery necessary to hold that rank, hits me just right. It helped that Firefly did something I haven’t seen very often, allowing its female first mate to have a close, trusting relationship with her captain while also leaving absolutely no question that she was completely devoted to her husband. I loved that dynamic, I loved how strong and brave and loving and tender Zoe was, and how none of that was a contradiction in the slightest. I also just love Gina Torres, which probably helped.
1. Madmartigan, Willow
Willow is one of those formative childhood movies for me. I watched it when it first came out (I was eight), and then countless times after that. More than any other story — yes, even more than Lord of the Rings — Willow has shaped my love of fantasy and what sorts of fantasy characters and storylines appeal to me. And it should come as no surprise that my favorite character (maybe everyone’s favorite character?) in Willow is Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan, The Greatest Swordsman Who Ever Lived. While I guess he’s not technically a soldier anymore by the time we meet him, having been tossed out of the army in disgrace and left to rot in a crow’s cage, considering the path his story follows for the rest of the movie, I’d be willing to bet he’s earned his knighthood back by the end. I love everything about this roguish, reluctantly valiant swordsman, and to this day consider him one of my favorite characters of all time.
There are so many incredible soldiers in popular culture, and even going after Lauren made her list (taking Captain America, Finn, and Madmartigan off the table) I had a difficult time narrowing it down to only five. I decided to focus on characters who I felt had the most heart, were the bravest under the hardest of circumstances, and who I felt had the right kid of spirit.
To those who missed the cut (Sam Wilson, James Rhodes, Alex Danvers, and Admiral Fitzwallace) I salute you.
5) Karl (Helo) Agathon, Battlestar Galactica
Helo was hands down my favorite character on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. He is incredibly smart and resourceful, he possess such a strong sense of right and wrong, and he’s willing to stand up for the the things he believes are right, no matter the consequences. He falls for Eight while stranded on Caprica, and their relationship is one of the only solid ones in the entire show. Despite the others disgust at him for being with a Cylon, Helo refuses to let Sharon be shamed by the crew and he never stands down from his decision to remain by her side.
4)Aragon, The Lord of the Rings
When I first read Lord of the Rings almost two decades ago, there were the characters who instantly captured my heart (Sam, Pippin, Gimli) and then there was Aragorn. He took a while to grow on me, it took almost two full books before I realized how much I adored him and his character. He was such a strong presence in the fellowship, he cared for those around him, and he fought so hard for what he believed in. And by the time he led the armies of both Gondor and Rohan against the Black Gate of Mordor as a distraction in order to allow Frodo and Sam the chance to destroy the One Ring, I was on hundred percent in his corner.
3) James Buchanan Barnes, Marvel: Captain America
Before Captain America: The First Avenger hit theaters, I’d read my fair share of Captain America comics, and for a while the only thing I really knew of Bucky was that he was Cap’s younger sidekick and that according to comic book history, “The only people who stay dead in comics are Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben.” Well, at least until 2005. At that point Bucky was revived as the Winter Solider and a character who was once simply an obnoxious sidekick became a fascinating and deeply flawed leading man in his own right. So while I was interested to see how the movies would portray Cap, I was more excited to see how the Bucky Barnes storyline would play out on the big screen. And so far, I have not been disappointed.
2) Leia Organa Solo, Star Wars
Leia is by far one of the most complex and interesting characters in the Star Wars universe. When we first see her in A New Hope at 18, she’s the youngest Senator ever of the Galactic Senate and a member of the Royal Family of Alderaan. She has all the makings of a spoiled royal brat, yet she circumvents the stereotype by joining the rebellion and rising through the ranks to become one of its strongest leaders. Leia is fearless and often stubborn, yet she possess a strong tactical mind (with some suspecting this has to do with her force sensitivity) that allow her to step back and assess a situation before running in with guns blazing. By the time we see her in The Force Awakens, she’s risen to the role of General, a title well earned.
1) Mara Jade, Star Wars: Legacies
Is it really any surprise that Mara Jade would top my list of favorite fictional soldiers? She has been towards the top of my list of favorite fictional characters for more than twenty years. Mara’s story is painful and sad, but she is so strong and she manages to get through anything. She spent many years as the Emperor’s Hand, carrying out his orders, killing the people he wished to see dead, and inciting his violence. It was only after many years that she was finally able to overcome that programming and make her own life, do things her own way, and decide for herself what was right and what was wrong. And it’s incredible that instead of letting what she did break her, she let it make her stronger and a better person.
This turns out to have been a relatively easy list to compile for me, because it turns out that quite a few of my favorite characters of all time are soldiers of one kind or another. The hard part was not coming up with choices, but rather, deciding on who to put in slot #5. The first four people on this list are near and dear to my heart not only as soldiers, but as characters in general. I will give a heads-up to Kara “Starbuck” Thrace of Battlestar Galactica and Samantha Carter of Stargate: SG-1. You can be sure they were near-additions to this list.
5) Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, The West Wing
A recurring character on The West Wing, Fitzwallace quickly establishes himself as a sharp, no-nonsense asset and an invaluable advisor to President Bartlet. He appears often just as the president needs someone to talk back from a poor military decision or to serve as a voice of reason when Bartlet is in one of his righteous rages. His character had a commanding presence, demanded respect, and certainly earned it over the course of the show’s run, and he left an indelible mark on all who got to know him, fellow characters and viewers alike.
4) Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), Marvel Comics
It should come as no shock to you, dear reader, that I am Captain Marvel’s biggest fan. While being a part-Kree superhero, she is also a full-bird colonel, ranking higher than Captain America and commanding the respect of her fellow hero soldiers. She is a calculating, reasoned powerhouse, and she more than deserves her spot here on my list. I can only hope that the upcoming Captain Marvel film lives up to her comic canon, because she’s already well-established as one of the most formidable members of the Avengers.
3) Agent Peggy Carter, Marvel Comics
Ah, Peggy. She’s an odd bird on this list, as it’s actually up for question whether she’s officially a ranking member of the military or a civilian actor. Going by the title of “Agent” throughout the course of her tenure as an SSR agent, it’s absolutely possible that she was never actually enlisted. However, her dedication, actions, and authority are doubtless in line with the things that make a good soldier, and her efforts during and after WWII are formidable. As far as I’m concerned, she’s proven her place here on my list.
2) Faramir, Lord of the Rings
It’s starting to feel like I’m rehashing my list of favorite captains, and I’m not even sorry. I have waxed poetic about Faramir once before on this blog, and I will try not to reiterate myself too much as I justify his position on this list as well. Faramir is one of the leaders of the forces protecting Minas Tirith and its surrounding territory from the forces of Mordor, and he puts his life on the line repeatedly in the fight against Sauron in Middle Earth. Showing stealth, cunning, and exceptional leadership skills, he nearly loses his life fighting to protect his home and its citizens. That’s some serious dedication.
1) Commander Shepard, Mass Effect
What, are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. Commander Shepard actually did die in the line of duty, only to come back thanks to the efforts of Cerberus. Thankfully her time with the shadowy organization was short-lived, and most of her career was spent in the elite ranks of the Alliance military, where she led the charge to save the galaxy from a Reaper invasion. Not only is she an exceptional soldier, proving herself to be one of the most effective soldiers in the galaxy (she is the first human Spectre), but she is also the one who coordinated the armies of multiple species to fight together, navigating politics as adeptly as she navigates combat. Commander Shepard is the best there is. There is no doubt about it.