Archetypes in Movies – The Mentor

Characters are the glue that holds the plot together. They are building blocks upon which the story travels coherently. 

As I’ve written in my quick guide to character development, writing good characters with complex layers can be difficult. Archetypes provide a proven formula to forge consistent characters that are not only believable but also consistent and unique. 

They allow writers to add dimension to characters, making them more unpredictable. They serve as staple ingredients in making any Hollywood movie.

Archetypes are examples of various characters honed and developed from the analysis of human behavior.

In other words, an archetype is a typical and consistent format of personality, or even an object. It is the basic form that the writer can use for characters of a particular trait. An archetype entails a proven pattern and values or core traits. 

Our archetype of interest today is the mentor. 

Along his journey, the protagonist may encounter a proven and experienced character, the mentor.

This mentor character offers teachings, advice, and some form of training that readies our hero for the journey ahead. 

Typically, the mentor is wise and breaks down the complex world around the protagonist for easier understanding. Although up-to-the-task, the mentor does not take on the challenge on behalf of the hero. 

They are unable to act for one reason or the other. The mentor is both a voice of guidance and caution and is usually older than the hero. 

Examples of mentor characters in modern cinema

Yoda in 1980 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Yoda became the yardstick of cinematic mentorship in the 20th century. He stands out in film history as one of its best teachers. He is always calm in the face of desperation and immense adversity. When everyone around him panics, he is the one they look upon for reassurance, solutions, and, of course, galactic wisdom. 

His unique manner of speaking and never-moved demeanor made him a loveable character and leader. Although small in stature, his courage and wisdom knew no bounds. Everyone respects and loves master Yoda.

How bad a$$ is Yoda?

Don’t let his reliance on a walking stick and labored movement fool you, Yoda could also more than hold his own in battle. He could knock out imperial soldiers with a mere flick of his hand and was very handy with the lightsaber. 

Yoda bests the masterful swordsman Dooku and gave a good account of himself against the powerful Darth Sidious during their battle in the senate chambers. The latter tucks tail and runs when the fight proves too much to handle.

So Yoda is skilled in not only wisdom but also fighting skills. He is a Jedi grandmaster with vast knowledge, an excellent mastery of the Force, and is well-versed in close-quarter combat as well. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda is a powerful guiding force that Luke Skywalker turns to time and again. 

He offers direction, a good reprimand when needed, and encouragement to keep Luke going. Yoda molds Luke Skywalker into a warrior and shapes him into a formidable Jedi Knight.

Gandalf in The Hobbit

Gandalf is your typical mentor. He fits the stereotype like a shoe, with his impressive huge beard, large magic stick, and calm, fatherly demeanor. So immense and diverse, it is unclear just how powerful his magic is. 

Gandalf served as a powerful and influential figure in the Second Age of Middle-earth:

Gandalf is a force of nature beyond comprehension. His immense power is only surpassed by the similarly vast wisdom that lies under his pointy hat. The master wizard is easy to be around, very warm and fuzzy, and his storytelling expertise knows no equal.

Gandalf’s impact on Middle-earth

He knows everything about everything. When unfamiliar foes are encountered, it is Gandalf who often provides identification and comes up with a way to defeat them. In 2011’s The Hobbit, he kickstarts Frodo and Bilbo’s campaign as the hero. 

He incites both to leave their home and follow him on an adventure. Hesitant and unwillingly, Gandalf forcefully convinces both of them. He nudges Bilbo and Frodo into the protagonist’s path.

Gandalf accompanies the dwarves part of the way. His all-knowing presence and knowledge help them overcome obstacles along the journey. In the second installment, 2014’s The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, he leaves the dwarves for another important mission. 

They are now trained and capable of going out on their own. Gandalf’s teachings have prepared them for the perils ahead. The beloved wizard returns in the final movie of the trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies. 

He plays a crucial role in dissuading Thorin, king under the mountain, against going to war with the elves when a much greater threat is coming, requiring partnerships across the divides.

Mufasa in The Lion King

While the live-action adaptation of The Lion King didn’t live up to expectation because it mirrored everything about the original animation and offered nothing new, it was still a great watch nonetheless. 

Mufasa, the powerful ruler and king of the jungle, maintains his mentorship role in the 2019 version. He prepares his young, carefree son Simba, for the throne and the heavy burden that comes with the king’s crown. 

Of course, like all young sons, ruling isn’t at the top of his mind at this point in the film. Simba values playtime and adventures above all else.

Mufasa molded a king

Mufasa’s teachings and warmings continually go unheeded. This disobedience eventually leads to his father’s death at the hands of his evil uncle, Scar, who wants the throne for himself and would do anything to get it. 

Simba is tricked into the forbidden gorge where Mufasa dies saving him from a wildebeest stampede as a deceitful Scar pushes him to his death. The young lion blames himself, running off and forsaking his kingdom and his people.

Alerted to the tyranny of the new ruler by a chance encounter with childhood sweetheart Nala, Simba is still unwilling to return home, shackled by internal conflict.

With Rafiki’s help, Mufasa appears in the cloud, rallying Simba one last time, urging him to “remember who you are.” 

With newfound conviction and an encouraging conversation with his father’s spirit, Simba embraces his royalty and goes back to save his people.

Mufasa mentors Simba even from beyond the grave.

The Mentor’s role in screenwriting

If you want to write screenplays that sell, you’ll need a strong hero journey to make it an entertaining story.

No one wants to watch a hero that has no flaws or weaknesses. Even Superman had to deal with kryptonite or evil villains like Lex Luthor. A key component of any good Hollywood story is the hero’s transformation.

This change involves growing stronger or overcoming his/her inhibitions to fulfill his/her destiny. And when faced with impossible odds, the mentor steps in with a helping hand.

So thus, Yoda helps Luke become a Jedi, like Mufasa helped little Simba become the king of the African jungle.

Mentors often play the part of the supporting character, but their impact is significant. Imagine Star Wars without Yoda. Or the Lord of the Rings trilogy without Gandalf.

These movies would not be the same without the mentor archetype. Protection Status