A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #13: Sidekicks—Not Just Plucky Comic Relief

chewbacca-hothChewbacca, 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…”)

le-bo2d9Dash 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).

i-fiveObviously, 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…

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #13: Sidekicks—Not Just Plucky Comic Relief — 10 Comments

  1. Rose Tyler was the companion of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor from the British TV-series “Doctor Who”. Rose is the most favorite and most admired companion of all times … for some fangirls and -boys respectively. ^^

    to the blog:
    “Maniacal laughter, fading slowly into the distance” … You so … so … mean. ;(

  2. I loved Artemis Gordon on the original Wild Wild West. I like him better than pretty boy action hero Jim West.

    Puss & Boots and Donkey are Shrek of course. and Sam Gamgee can only be from Lord Of The Rings.

    Rose Tyler the bouncy blonde on Dr. Who. I’m glad she ended up with a clone of the Dr.

    The others are too new for me.

  3. Lord Bowler & Socrates Poole – Brisco County, Jr.
    I-5YQ & Den Dhur – Mestar Duology and Coruscant Nights series.

  4. And the archetypal sidekick, Dr Watson!

    (What Phyl Said about Artemus Gordon.)

    Illya Kuryakin was a pay grade or several above dogsbody, but he was clearly supposed to be the second banana — yet he was in my opinion much more intriguing than Napoleon Solo.

    Those sidekicks can be risky if they pull the spotlight away from the protagonist, for sure.

    Vonda

  5. I can’t forget Ilya Kuryakin — my first TV crush! I thought Nappy Solo was hideous. But the actor who played him — Robert Vaughn — was hilarious in “Battle Beyond the Stars”.

    Big kudos to Doug for getting my personal faves: Lord Bowler and Socrates Poole. Brisco County Jr. was the only TV show I’ve ever loved so much that I actually missed it for years after it was gone. Oh well, except for the long Dr. Who drought after the adorable Silvester McCoy’s last adventure.

    Vonda makes a darn good point, too. I think there are quite a few instances in which sidekicks overwhelmed the supposed heroes. Mr. Spock comes to mind.

    Hm. I may have to play this sidekick game again with harder entries (more maniacal laughter…)

  6. If you ever get a chance to hear John Sayles speak, don’t miss it — he’s terrific. The reason I mention him is that he wrote the screenplay for Battle Beyond the Stars and his stories about working for Roger Corman are hysterical.

    Sayles premiered his independent movie Brother from Another Planet — one of the best SF movies around, especially considering its budget was about $1.98 — at the Seattle film festival, and his stories about making that movie are great, too.

    Either there aren’t sidekicks in Brother from Another Planet, or the protagonist is the archetypal sidekick, depending on how you look at it.

  7. Hello! I read one or two of your “Padawan’s Journal” entries a while back, but somehow lost it between now and then. Happy to have found this entry, though–and to have taken the time to go back and read all of your entries! This is a very entertaining and useful blog series you have going! Incredibly insight into the Star Wars book-writing process, as well as fiction-writing in general.

    Nice description of sidekicks! I’d never thought of them as foils, but it makes perfect sense. I s’pose that would make Benvolio into Romeo’s sidekick then, wouldn’t it?

    As for Dash Rendar’s sidekick, could he/she/it perhaps be the titular Holostar?

    And, having read all your blog entries at once, I’m also going to predict that Han Solo shows up in [i]Holostar[/i]–he’s certainly made a number of appearances in your entries, after all! 🙂

  8. Re: Han Solo having appeared in my blogs.

    He has, but then so have Darth Vader and C3PO and Chewbacca and even Jax Pavan. Don’t forget, too, that Dash and Han are similar scoundrelly types and that while I can’t talk a lot about what Dash will be doing in Holostar, I CAN talk about Han Solo as an example of that sort of adventurous character.

    And by the by, I’m tickled that you like the blog so much!

  9. …That’s fair, Ms. Bohnhoff, but you also refer to doing background research for “Holostar” by reading Star Wars novels (a practice I greatly respect, by the way), and you’ve made references that make it clear that you’ve read A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy.

    Now, it’s possible you read that trilogy outside of researching “Holostar,” and it’s possible you read it as research for “Holostar” but simply to get a look at the smuggler-type personality… but nevertheless, the Han Solo prediction still stands. 🙂