By Joshua A. Johnston
FAIR WARNING: there are spoilers here of various science fiction and fantasy movies and novels. In general, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers from less than 5 years from the time of this post (2012 and later) but if you’ve never watched Star Trek or read Lord of the Rings, expect spoilers.
“Well, look on the bright side. We’ll all have high schools named after us.” – a crew member of the spaceship Messiah in the 1998 film Deep Impact, after the crew realizes they all have to die to save Earth.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, few will disagree with the argument that Jesus Christ is one of the most significant figures in human history, if not the most significant. Christ’s religious, political, and cultural impact has shaped two millennia of history, including the 2+ billion people worldwide who profess to be Christians today.
The central moment of Christ’s story, unquestionably, is his death by crucifixion, followed by his resurrection three days later. His death is, according to the Gospels, a sacrifice to save humanity from its sins. These events are of monumental importance to Christians, of course, but you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate impact of the narrative. It’s one thing for a hero to die in the cause of saving others—that happens all the time in film and literature—but it’s another thing entirely when the hero dies and comes back. It’s a miracle, impossible by the laws of nature that govern us.
Impossible is speculative fiction’s specialty. The characters of Deep Impact didn’t come back (unless you count getting your name on a high school as a form of resurrection) but a few others did. So here’s a list of five well-known spec-fic heroes who came back from the dead:
Gandalf, Lord of the Rings. LOTR author J.R.R. Tolkien was Catholic, so it’s no surprise that one of the central figures of his epic fantasy trilogy (and The Hobbit) takes on the archetype. Known initially as Gandalf the Grey, the wizard dies battling a powerful Balrog in order to protect the Fellowship of the Ring. He returns to life later as Gandalf the White and is instrumental in the War of the Ring.
Harry Potter, the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling grew up in the Church of England and attended the Church of Scotland while writing her famous fantasy novels, and the title character shows it. In the seventh book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry dies willingly at the hands of Lord Voldemort in order to render Voldemort vulnerable to destruction. Harry returns from death in order the defeat Voldemort and save wizards and Muggles alike.
Neo, the Matrix. The Wachowski siblings, who wrote the Matrix trilogy, wove all manner of religious symbolism into the movies, beginning with a hacker named Trinity at the start of the first film. But the primary hero of the films is Neo, revealed to be “the One” that was prophesied to destroy the Matrix and end the war between man and machine. At the end of the first film, The Matrix, Neo is shot and killed by Agent Smith, only to rise again and gain awesome new powers. Later, in the third Matrix film, The Matrix Revolutions, Neo sacrifices himself to end the cycle of the Matrix and bring a peace to the world.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars. Star Wars creator George Lucas was raised Methodist, and both Christian and Eastern philosophies show themselves in the franchise. We see this in the Episode IV, when Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi allows himself to fall to Darth Vader in order to give the Millenium Falcon a chance to escape the Death Star. At the end of the film, we hear Obi-Wan’s voice guiding Luke as he destroys the Death Star, and in Episode V, Obi-Wan returns as a spirit form to help Luke find his way in the Force. While not a full-on bodily resurrection, Obi-Wan persists as a non-corporeal sentient being through Episode VI.
Mr. Spock, Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was an avowed atheist, but after the failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount brought in a man named Harve Bennett to pen the next Trek film, and the Jewish-raised Bennett responded by inserting an unlikely Christ-figure into his franchise. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock, the Vulcan science officer, sacrifices his life to restore power to the U.S.S. Enterprise warp drive and escape destruction at the hands of Khan Noonien Singh and the powerful Genesis device. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, James T. Kirk and some of the Enterprise crew find Spock’s reborn body—which had been jettisoned into the newly created Genesis Planet following his death—and restore his memories.
And one honorable mention:
Data, Star Trek. The android officer of Star Trek: The Next Generation destroyed himself in order to save the Enterprise in the film Star Trek: Nemesis. At the end of Nemesis, however, it is hinted that Data might have survived after having his memories implanted into another android, B-4. And in Star Trek: Countdown, a comic book meant to tie the end of Nemesis to the 2009 Star Trek reboot film, it is revealed that Data has indeed returned in B-4’s body and is now the captain of the Enterprise. Whether the comic is part of the official Star Trek storyline is debatable, but the authors thought so … since they were the same writers who penned the 2009 reboot.
A novelist, writer, and ruminator, Joshua writes on a variety of topics, including science fiction, video games, parenting, and even Aldi. By day, he teaches teach American history and American government. He is the author of the science fiction novel Edge of Oblivion. You can find him online at www.joshuaajohnston.com.