Brad Johnson is a screenwriter promoting the mantra "Read scripts, watch movies, and write pages." Brad also works as a script consultant for writers of all levels to develop and grow their screenwriting toolbox. Follow Brad on Twitter @RWWFilm.
Of all the standard archetypes you find in modern storytelling, the Mentor is perhaps the most straightforward. They are, as implied by the name, the more experienced character whose role is to train the Hero; to prepare them for their upcoming journey and their final confrontation with whatever antagonist is out there waiting for them.
The Mentor can achieve this goal in a variety of ways, ranging from equipping the Hero with new physical skills (Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid or Morpheus in The Matrix) to offering advice on how to better themselves (Jiminy Cricket in Pinochio) to taking an active role in the adventure for a time in order to protect the Hero (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings). But however they approach their role as Mentor, it’s always a temporary position. The Mentor must eventually relinquish their role, sometimes leaving the story entirely, in order for the Hero to step forward and prove that they are now worthy to complete the journey and face their foe.
The skills taught must now be utilized for them complete their transformation.
So let’s take a quick look at one of the most classic examples of a Mentor in cinematic history…
Archetypes: The Mentor and Star Wars
It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the history of Star Wars and George Lucas’s admittance of the influential role that Joseph Campbell’s work played on the world he created, that Obi-Wan Kenobi is a about as solid a template for a Mentor as you’ll find.
When we first meet Obi-wan, he bestows Luke’s father’s lightsaber upon him, simultaneously beginning Luke’s journey, giving his pieces of wisdom, and establishing himself immediately in a parental role for our young, inexperienced Hero. We also have our requisite training scenes as Luke learns about the Force and how he can control it. Obi-wan also plays an active role in the plot, acting as Luke’s protector in both the Mos Eisley Cantina and on the Death Star where he disables the force field surrounding the immense battle station. Finally, Obi-wan removes himself from the story, in most dramatic fashion, by allowing himself to be killed by Darth Vader, thus forcing Luke to move forward and face the final challenge on his own.
It’s the classic progression for the Hero/Mentor relationship and, this pattern ended up working so well for Lucas, that he basically duplicated it in the Empire Strikes Back with the introduction of Yoda.
If your script involves a Mentor character, take a look at how they are fulfilling that role?
- Do they empower your Hero?
- Do they assist the Hero without rendering them passive in their own story?
- Do they provide necessary guidance and protection for your Hero?
- Do they step aside, allowing your Hero to take charge and complete their journey?
If not, you might want to take a deeper look at this character and their place in your screenplay.
If you would like to catch up, you can find the archetypes already covered here: