Chewbacca, R2-D2 & C3PO, Puss ‘n Boots & Donkey, Rose Tyler, Artemus Gordon, Samwise Gamgee, Baldric, Lord Bowler & Socrates Poole, I-5YQ & Den Dhur.
What do these names have in common? They are all of that special variety of fictional character known as “the sidekick.” In fact, in some circles these are some of the most beloved sidekicks in entertainment history. I’m sure my regular readers had no trouble with the first three, but d’you know where the rest of them are from and what fictional heroes they’re attached to? If you think you know, post your answers in comments.
The sidekick’s role in the story varies. They are dogsbodies. They are straight men (and women) for the precocious wit of the protagonist, or they are plucky comic relief. They are the “fall guys” or hapless victims that Our Hero is required to rescue, but who sometimes return the favor. They are a foil for the protagonist’s faults (I can just hear Han Solo saying, “What faults? I don’t have faults—I have intriguing eccentricities.”) They are targets for (ahem) exposition. (“As you know, Chewie, being frozen in carbonite may or may not kill ya…”)
Dash Rendar, the protagonist of Holostar, has long been paired with a repair droid named Leebo (LE-BO2D9) who has, through no fault of his own, the personality of the stand-up comic who was his previous owner—a comic who is in hiding from the High Muckety Muck of Rodia due to an unfortunate lip slippage. I can’t say for certain, but I suspect that one reason for this choice is that Dash is not a person of long patience and therefore requires a sidekick who will test that patience at every turn, thereby providing a quick injection of humor where needed.
Yeah, but isn’t that just plucky comic relief, you ask? It can be, but I think it can be much more.
To me, the key role of the sidekick is as a foil for the hero’s qualities and quirks. The sidekick illuminates the character assets and flaws of their protagonist (shut up, Dash) and allows him to show what he’s made of. The sidekick helps round out the protagonist, gives him a “reflective surface” in which you, the reader, will be able to see his personality traits more clearly and yet more subtly.
You see, a good sidekick allows the writer to show rather than tell you things about the main character—that he’s brave, or foolhardy, or has trouble accepting responsibility when things go wrong (zip it, Rendar). He or she can even turn tables on the protagonist and make him the straight man or the fall guy. As part of a sidekick team—as with C3PO and R2-D2, for example—the roll of straight man can fall to the “middle man” on the team such that it often seemed that Luke Skywalker’s sidekick (R2-D2) had a sidekick of his own (C3PO).
Obviously, there are great nuances to sidekickery. While most sidekicks do allow for a certain amount of comic relief, there are also those who are there for the purpose of dying tragically, or offering romantic tension, or serving as Greek chorus. In some cases, the sidekicks rise to a level at which they become a key character in an ensemble cast. I’d argue that I-Five (the sentient droid of Michael Reaves’ Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, and Medstar and Coruscant Nights series) rises to that level.
And that, I think, points out one of the drawbacks of a mechanical sidekick. In order for the reader to really care about them, some level of sentience needs to be there or the reader will laugh when Our Hero’s buddy gets dismantled rather than shed crocodile tears. This may necessitate the presence of a second sidekick of obvious sentience so that the protagonist is not challenged only by a being he can turn off at will.
To that end, Dash Rendar has a second companion about which I can tell you absolutely nothing except that I think this companion is really cool. Dear Reader, will have to wait to find out. (Maniacal laughter, fading slowly into the distance…)
The novel has been turned in, by the way, and is now in the capable hands of our editors.
Visit my bookshelf to read some of my SF stories from Analog…