There was a time when heroes were heroes, and villains were villains. You could look at a character, and know if they were someone you were supposed to root for or not. However, some interesting things have happened with storytelling over the past couple decades. The villain redemption. These are characters who, at one point in the story go against the protagonist, through cruelty and evil deeds. However, at some point, they see the error in their ways, and work to become a better person, and work with the hero of our stories instead.
I’ve noticed this pattern a lot recently. First with Kylo Ren in the Rise of Skywalker movie, then with Avatar: The Last Airbender being added to Netflix, everyone is talking about Zuko. Lastly, Disney+ released the Artemis Fowl movie today, which the story is largely about a redemption arc.
Zuko ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’
A:tLA is known for a lot of things, and I love it for so many of those. In fact, just recently I wrote a whole article about why I love the show.
The show follows a young boy, Aang, who’s job it is to save the world as The Avatar. Before he can do that, he must master magical manipulation of the four elements, Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. However, two things stand in his way. One, is the Big Bad Evil Guy (Fire Lord Ozai) who will reach his most powerful point within months, and if Aang cannot master the elements and defeat him in battle before this deadline, then the villain will win.
The other obstacle that Aang must face, is Fire Lord Ozai’s dishonored son, Zuko, who has been banished from his home, unless he can capture the Avatar, to ensure his father’s victory. Zuko believes he is the hero of his story. He sees the Avatar as his ticket to happiness, and success for his people.
Then a point comes where Zuko realizes he is on the wrong side of the story, and works, actively, to help The Avatar.
There are entire articles on the web on why Zuko has one of, if not the, greatest redemption arcs of all time. If you’re not familiar with the show though, I would suggest watching it. It’s short, great, and on Netflix.
Released on Disney+ today, the story is based on a series of books that follow the titular character as he himself goes through a redemption arc.
The following written by Emmaline Sanders of EmmalineMusic.com
The greatest thing about Artemis Fowl is that it starts you out from the villain’s point of view – Artemis is a self-proclaimed juvenile criminal mastermind, and he’s out to steal as much gold as he possibly can from the fairy folk. At first, he’s this dastardly criminal, but he’s also a kid and the main protagonist of the story, so you’re immediately intrigued.
Then you find out that he’s only stealing the gold as a desperate last bid attempt to fund another search party for his missing father, and you’re sucked into another layer of his fascinating character. All throughout the series, you see him struggle between his self-serving nature and his gentler emotions that come from being a kid with a broken home. Then of course you throw in the fact that he’s a genius with an ego to match, and he’s just a fantastic character. The series has a ton of fantastic characters, memorable comedic moments, and exciting heists (like one in the third book where the author makes you think Artemis and his team have lost, but then you realize he’s been hiding crucial parts of their point of view and they turn around and shanghai the actual villain of the story in this incredible twist the reader didn’t see coming, even though you’ve been in Artemis’s POV the whole time. It’s amazing.).
I would have the say that the overarching purpose of the entire series is seeing Artemis’s character development. He goes from being a self-absorbed and broken kid to sacrificing his life to save his friends in the last book.
Everyone and everything that happens in the story supports this massive change – he instigated new relationships with the fairy folk. None of the story would have happened if it weren’t for his villainy in the first book, and it resolves beautifully with loving friends and family in the last book.
Kylo Ren ‘Star Wars’
Kylo Ren’s story is so hugely tied to Rey’s story throughout the Sequel Trilogy, or the Age of Resistance as it’s known canonically. It’s interesting as the movies continue, you see this tug-of-war between Kylo and Rey, each trying to follow their paths down the dark and light sides of the Force, respectively, while also feeling pulled towards the other side.
It is because we see Kylo’s journey, from Jedi Padawan, to Sith Lord, to regretful Jedi once more, that it is a great redemption story. We see the effort and the struggle he goes through.
A commonly mentioned redemption arc in Star Wars would be that of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. We see his turn to the Dark Side, and we see his evil villainous ways, and we see him die a regretful Jedi once more. However, we don’t see the struggle to find his way back to the light. Instead, we see him watch as Palpatine slowly kills Luke, and Vader realizes that he has to save his son, and does so, then immediately dies. This isn’t a redemption arc, as it’s not an arc. It’s a moment. We see a single moment of regret, and Anakin earns Jedi Ghost powers, and that’s it.
With Kylo Ren, we see the moments where he wants to prove that he is Sith, then he becomes weak as he is frought with compassion. He kills his father, then is unable to kill his mother. We see several moments, spread over three movies, of his struggle with where he belongs, and that is what makes it a good arc.
Loki’s story is not done, and it’s therefore hard to talk about his redemption arc, because we don’t know what’s to happen.
In the first Thor movie, Loki likes to pull pranks, but he supports his father, and loves his brother. He believes in the throne, and respects that it goes to the firstborn son, if he be worthy. Well, Thor is decided by Odin to be unworthy, which unfortunately means that Loki should be the one to inherit the throne. Then Loki learns the truth, that he could never sit on the throne, because he was lied to his entire life about who he is.
This fills him with rage, sadness, and a litany of other emotions. He was never power-hungry, he was just hurt that he was not given what he thought was promised to him. When he invades Earth with the Chitauri in The Avengers, it’s not to take control and rule with an iron fist, but prove that he is worthy of rule, and that he can be the man he wants his father to think he is. He is only trying to prove himself.
In The Dark World, he is angry and confused. He thought that his father and brother would be proud, for he was only doing what Odin once did, take control of another world to rule it. He was not cruel, or unjust, he was simply following his father’s footsteps. And now he sits imprisoned for his crimes.
By the time we get to Infinity War, Loki is unsure of his place in the universe, but still loyal to Thor, attempts to stop Thanos, and loses his life for it. His redemption arc is only from our point of view. Loki never saw himself as the villain. He saw himself as the hero, as all the best villains do. His story is one of struggle with his identity, and though it brought him to some dark places, he started, and ended, a hero.
The reason his story is not over, is because in an alternate timeline, caused by Endgame, we see that post-Avengers Loki, who is only halfway through his arc, has control of the Tesseract, and has escaped. This will (probably) be the premise of the new Disney+ show Loki.
Steve Harrington ‘Stranger Things’
This is much less of an intense character arc, but a fun, wholesome one. Steve Harrington starts as a bro, jerk, cool guy who the cute nerdy girl likes in the ’80s. He’s known for his luxurious hair, his car, and his suave act with the ladies. He’s a bit of a jerk, but he has a bit of heart and defends the nerdy girl, and gets beat up because of it.
By the time the third season starts, his best friend is a 12 year old who plays D&D and loves ham radios. He has a job wearing a goofy outfit, and has learned that being “cool” is less important than having friends you actually like, and going on adventures you enjoy.
There are so many redemption arcs we see in stories lately. These are just the ones I’ve noticed and enjoyed.