Thursday, November 30, 2006

Secondary Characters

The topics of secondary characters in fiction arose a couple times today, so here are some thoughts about them. The topic was first brought up by a conversation about secondary characters in fiction that develop admirers of their own.

"Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" seems to be especially rich in fan favorite secondary characters such as Lieutenant Jek Porkins, Greedo, and a personal hero of mine who happens to be the other survivor of the Death Star, Chief Bast:
When the rebels at Yavin only sent two squadrons of single-pilot starfighters to assault the Death Star, Bast must have immediately suspected that the enemy might indeed have discovered a peculiar vulnerability, as Gernal Tagge had feared. Bast and his staff monitored the battle very closely, so that he was able to identify the critical design fault of the thermal exhaust port immediately after the rebels made their first attack run. Grimly confident of his analysis and fearful of the reaction which it would provoke, Bast carefully attempted to inform Tarkin of the news. Bast asked whether the Grand Moff's ship should be prepared in case an emergency evacuation proved necessary, but Tarkin would hear none of it. Bast retreated.

Within the following minutes, General Bast evidently made what must have been the hardest decision of his life. By Tarkin's direct order, the Grand Moff's ship would not be readied, but neither had Bast been explicitly forbidden from making his own escape. Bast would probably have faced a firing squad for desertion if the danger proved false, but his professional confidence in the analysis was decisive. Bast somehow made a courageous and hasty escape, giving him the distinction of being one of the few Imperials to have survived the Battle of Yavin. Bast was probably the only survivor who understood the precise nature of the design flaw exploited by the rebels.
Of course, promoting bit characters to starring roles is nothing new in fiction. One famous example is Enoch from the Book of Genesis. The attention that different religions have given to this barely described figure illustrates that some of the appeal from secondary characters comes not from who they are, but from the interpretive possibilities that they produce.

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