From Luke Skywalker To Darth Vader: The Evolution of Cool

By Shea Bennett
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

When we’re very young, certainly before we hit our teenage years, our favorite characters from our favorite movies and TV shows tend to reflect our nature during this period of our lives. They’re often innocents, like us. Possibly naïve and often untrained in the ways of life, our icons at this time almost have a virginal status about them.

As we mature – certainly as we enter and move through puberty – we tend to look for increasingly darker characters for inspiration. These new icons, while rarely all bad or certainly evil, are significantly less good, clean and wholesome than the folk we used to appreciate. They’re mostly heroic, but have an unsavoury edge that is enormously appealing.

Once we are well into our teenage years, and certainly as we approach adulthood, even those guys aren’t dark enough. They’ll always be somewhat cool, but as we age and the demands of life weigh heavily upon us, we become more cynical and appreciative of darkness. Often we will find ourselves, consciously or otherwise, thinking that the mostly bad or downright evil creations are the epitome of style and sophistication.

I present to you, then, four examples of this evolution of cool.

Star Wars (IV-VI)

Stage 1: Luke Skywalker

Stage 2: Han Solo

Stage 3: Boba Fett

Stage 4: Darth Vader

(Indeed, one can argue that Luke became far more appealing as he himself became a darker character. But he’s no Vader.)

Star Trek (TNG)

Stage 1: Commander Data

Stage 2: Jean Luc Picard

Stage 3: Q

Stage 4: The Borg

(It’s worth observing that Picard himself became significantly cooler when Borgified into Locutus in The Best of Both Worlds.)

Marvel

Stage 1: Spider-Man

Stage 2: Wolverine

Stage 3: Magneto

Stage 4: Venom

(Magneto in the movies is cooler than Magneto in the comics, and vice versa for Venom.)

DC

Stage 1: Superman

Stage 2: Batman

Stage 3: Lex Luthor

Stage 4: The Joker

I’m sure you have your own favorites and your personal order might differ slightly from the above. I urge you to hit the comments and list your own evolutionary cool timelines.

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49 Responses to From Luke Skywalker To Darth Vader: The Evolution of Cool

  1. Remus Lupin – Severus Snape – Lucius Malfoy – Voldemort?

    I'm not sure I followed this particular progression but I know people who have. :) (And along the same lines as yours, I would note that Voldemort got much cooler when Ralph Fiennes er, slithered into his skin.)

  2. Remus Lupin – Severus Snape – Lucius Malfoy – Voldemort?

    I’m not sure I followed this particular progression but I know people who have. :) (And along the same lines as yours, I would note that Voldemort got much cooler when Ralph Fiennes er, slithered into his skin.)

  3. I think if we start with Harry himself you're on to something. I'm not as familiar with the books as most but my expected order (assuming a reader's maturity from child-to-adulthood) would be something like Harry/Sirius Black/Snape/Voldemort, with the last two or three being fairly interchangable. :)

  4. I think if we start with Harry himself you’re on to something. I’m not as familiar with the books as most but my expected order (assuming a reader’s maturity from child-to-adulthood) would be something like Harry/Sirius Black/Snape/Voldemort, with the last two or three being fairly interchangable. :)

  5. You might be on to something – I remember finding Superman the unflappable epitome of cool, but as time progressed I found his sense of justice a major limitation. Not sure I'd gravitate towards Lex Luthor though.

    And Harry Potter…well he suffers from Frodo Syndrome – most of his success is derived from the intervention of his friends.

    • Re: LOTR, I wonder if the natural progression towards coolness is Frodo (or any other one of the Hobbitsiz), on to Gandalf and then Aragorn, with perhaps Sauron scooping in at the last second to take the prize? I mean, come on, in that flashback clip in Fellowship he was totally the man.

      • Well, that's clearly the exception that proves the rule….Gandalf's always been the coolest.

      • Frodo -> Aragorn -> Saruman -> Sauron

        Most innocent -> good-hearted but is still ruthless -> extremely misguided and bad -> all-out evil

        I think that's a much better LOTR progression, myself…

  6. You might be on to something – I remember finding Superman the unflappable epitome of cool, but as time progressed I found his sense of justice a major limitation. Not sure I’d gravitate towards Lex Luthor though.

    And Harry Potter…well he suffers from Frodo Syndrome – most of his success is derived from the intervention of his friends.

    • Re: LOTR, I wonder if the natural progression towards coolness is Frodo (or any other one of the Hobbitsiz), on to Gandalf and then Aragorn, with perhaps Sauron scooping in at the last second to take the prize? I mean, come on, in that flashback clip in Fellowship he was totally the man.

      • Well, that’s clearly the exception that proves the rule….Gandalf’s always been the coolest.

      • Frodo -> Aragorn -> Saruman -> Sauron

        Most innocent -> good-hearted but is still ruthless -> extremely misguided and bad -> all-out evil

        I think that’s a much better LOTR progression, myself…

  7. I guess someone should attempt one for the girls. How about… (although this might be showing my age a bit!)

    Wonder Woman – Wednesday Addams – Catwoman – O-Ren Ishi

    • Is O-Ren cooler than The Bride? Or Gogo? Hmmmmm… dunno. :)

      It's also worth observing how Princess Leia became a lot more appealing when she went all badass and killed Jabba*. Indeed, she got hotter as the OT progressed, from all white and (yes) virginal in A New Hope, to tainted by the filth that was Han Solo in Empire and then Jedi. They never really did that with Amidala; if anything, she kind of became more of a drip.

      * The bikini helped.

  8. I guess someone should attempt one for the girls. How about… (although this might be showing my age a bit!)

    Wonder Woman – Wednesday Addams – Catwoman – O-Ren Ishi

    • Is O-Ren cooler than The Bride? Or Gogo? Hmmmmm… dunno. :)

      It’s also worth observing how Princess Leia became a lot more appealing when she went all badass and killed Jabba*. Indeed, she got hotter as the OT progressed, from all white and (yes) virginal in A New Hope, to tainted by the filth that was Han Solo in Empire and then Jedi. They never really did that with Amidala; if anything, she kind of became more of a drip.

      * The bikini helped.

      • Amidala became a COMPLETE drip. She was super cool, but then… I totally understood why Anakin lost it. Hanging around THAT?! God, I'd go insane and try to kill everyone, too.

  9. You think the reverse is true with music?

    You start off liking Slayer and Marylin Manson and then a bit of Tom Waits and Bonnie Prince Billy creep in and before you know where you are you're in the bath with Kenny G…..

  10. You think the reverse is true with music?

    You start off liking Slayer and Marylin Manson and then a bit of Tom Waits and Bonnie Prince Billy creep in and before you know where you are you’re in the bath with Kenny G…..

  11. Shea, evil is not cool. Reading this people might assume that's what you are saying, from superman to the joker? The joker is really high on the cool meter(right now) but that's because of Heath Ledger. The superman started out strong with Christopher Reeve and has remained a favorite for decades. superman, is really archetype as is batman and the joker. I would agree that batman has an edge on superman, he's human and therefor slightly more cool for his deeds but cool is about heroic efforts for good, even if they are misunderstood. Which might apply to the joker, but it's not really his gig. Good article :)

  12. Shea, evil is not cool. Reading this people might assume that’s what you are saying, from superman to the joker? The joker is really high on the cool meter(right now) but that’s because of Heath Ledger. The superman started out strong with Christopher Reeve and has remained a favorite for decades. superman, is really archetype as is batman and the joker. I would agree that batman has an edge on superman, he’s human and therefor slightly more cool for his deeds but cool is about heroic efforts for good, even if they are misunderstood. Which might apply to the joker, but it’s not really his gig. Good article :)

  13. The only one of these that is accurate is Star Wars. Nobody is cooler than Batman…and Venom?! That’s a joke right? Nothing associated with Spiderman is cool.

  14. The only one of these that is accurate is Star Wars. Nobody is cooler than Batman…and Venom?! That's a joke right? Nothing associated with Spiderman is cool.

  15. No, no, no, NO. NO. Data is the epitome of COOL as far as Star Trek TNG goes!! DATA IS SO COOL HE DOESN'T EVEN BELONG ON THIS.

  16. I read this and find myself thinking… "I guess that's just more proof that I'll always be a kid at heart."

    Here I sit, a twenty-four-year-old geek, and I still despise the evil ones. I identify with them, but I tend to identify with them in a way in which I hate the things in them that I find disturbingly buried in myself.

    However, I am also feeling a bit under-represented as a lit. geek, but my progression would be more from universe to universe rather than character to character. Thus:

    Chronicles of Narnia –> Lord of the Rings –> Wheel of Time –> Conan

    Or even:

    Animorphs –> Solar Queen –> Dune –> Out of the Silent Planet Trilogy

  17. I read this and find myself thinking… "I guess that's just more proof that I'll always be a kid at heart."

    Here I sit, a twenty-four-year-old geek, and I still despise the evil ones. I identify with them, but I tend to identify with them in a way in which I hate the things in them that I find disturbingly buried in myself.

    However, I am also feeling a bit under-represented as a lit. geek, but my progression would be more from universe to universe rather than character to character. Thus:

    Chronicles of Narnia –> Lord of the Rings –> Wheel of Time –> Conan

    Or even:

    Animorphs –> Solar Queen –> Dune –> Out of the Silent Planet Trilogy

  18. Marvel:
    Spider-man – Fantastic Four – Wolverine – Loki

    DC:
    The Flash – Batman – Joker – The Joker

    Star Wars:
    Luke Skywalker – Han Solo & Darth Vader – Boba Fett – Darth Vader

    Tv Cartoon:
    Scooby Doo – Transformers – Ren and Stimpy – South Park

  19. Marvel:
    Spider-man – Fantastic Four – Wolverine – Loki

    DC:
    The Flash – Batman – Joker – The Joker

    Star Wars:
    Luke Skywalker – Han Solo & Darth Vader – Boba Fett – Darth Vader

    Tv Cartoon:
    Scooby Doo – Transformers – Ren and Stimpy – South Park

  20. Hmmm, I don't know. I see where the writer is coming from but as soon as the Prequels came out both of those bad-ass star wars characters ended up with lame backstories that take away the allure. In fact the Emperor would be the natural end of this bad-ass progression as he just pure evil but he's not really cool, he's just a creepy old man. I think most people eventually come back to thinking of Han Solo as being the coolest character – no contest.

  21. Spiderman is still the coolest. Always. In other series I understand what you're talking about, but the character of spiderman is too appealing and complex. Plus, it's spiderman.
    #notatallafanboy