Warning: Spoiler alert for Guardians of the Galaxy.
At The Sidekick Collective, we use superheroes as a metaphor* to better explain the kind of young people we’re searching for - the amazing human beings we want to celebrate and invest in. With its latest blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel unknowingly delivered the ultimate comic book illustration of our mission.
So ultimate, in fact, that we would like to bestow an honorary Cosmic Hero award - the annual recognition we award to extraordinary young people - to Peter Quill (also known as Star-Lord), the film’s protagonist. Real-life Cosmic Hero status is not something we throw around lightly (there have been only two). So here are 7 reasons Star-Lord should be dubbed an honorary Cosmic Hero... and the greatest superhero to ever grace the big screen:
Star-Lord is not your typical overachiever. Like our Cosmic Heroes, Peter Quill is not exceptional in the ways you would expect a superhero to be. To put it in high school terms, Star-Lord is not the universe’s valedictorian (Iron Man, Batman) or the star quarterback (Superman, Thor). As far as traditional superheroes go, he is relatively unimpressive. Even in comparison to his fellow Guardians his superpowers seem, well, not so super: he's not as strong as Groot or Drax; he's not a universe-class assassin like Gamora; and he doesn't have Rocket's brain. (Rocket Raccoon... sounds almost like a Beatles song, right?) But he is exceptional in ways we would not expect: He can dance (and under pressure, too!). He can inspire others with tales of Kevin Bacon. And his audacity toes the line between extraordinary courage and (as so eloquently pointed out by Drax) imbecility.
Peter Quill has an origin story we can relate to. In the first few minutes of the film, we see 8-year old Quill at his mother’s death bed. She is presumably at the end of a battle with cancer, and reaches out to her son. "Take my hand, Peter," she cries. He doesn't. And then it's too late. She's gone. There's nothing fantastical about this moment, no radioactive accident or dying planets. (Although in the next scene he is abducted by space ravagers.) We all have moments in life when we're too scared or too sad to do the brave thing. But Cosmic Heroes learn from these moments. And for Quill, this terrible moment pays off later in the film.
He's kind of a loser. But a loser using Quill's own definition of the word: "Like folks who have lost stuff, you know." He lost his mother, his home and a chance at a normal life, and yet he doesn’t use this as an excuse. Faced with impending doom, Star-Lord tells his fellow 'losers', “Life usually takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it’s given us a chance… To give a sh**. For once.” At that moment, the Guardians each make a choice to put others' (er, the entire galaxy’s) survival ahead of themselves and they do so, as The Princess Bride’s Vizzini might point out, when death is on the line.
Quill is selfless. But in a very human way. When he sacrifices his own life to save Gamora, he is genuinely surprised by the act - so much so, he fumbles the romantic moment by verbally analyzing and applauding his own heroism. What other superhero has ever seem surprised at his or her own courage and selflessness? I think if we (humans) were all to be completely honest, we would be equally shocked by our own bravery. We love that Star-Lord is honest enough to admit this - which makes it all the more heroic when he puts others first.
Star-Lord doesn’t consider himself a hero. This makes him different from 99% of superheroes, even those without superpowers. Think Batman. There’s no way that guy doesn’t think himself a hero. Star-Lord would probably be surprised to learn he is receiving recognition for his actions, as our own real Cosmic Heroes always are.
He turns the superhero cliche on its head. At some point, all superheroes make a choice to be the “good guys”. You know, the classic “with great power, comes great responsibility” scene. What we love about Star-Lord is that he haphazardly takes on great responsibility without first having great power. Whether through a spider bite, alien birth, or extraordinary wealth, the majority of superheroes suddenly find themselves with great power. It’s only after this realization that they decide they have a responsibility to save the world. By contrast, Star-Lord is just himself when the galaxy’s survival is threatened. Despite the overwhelming might of his enemy (Ronan), despite only having 12% of a plan, despite being an outlaw shunned (and scoffed at) by society, and despite being surrounded by equally unlikely heroes, Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy make the choice to make things better.
Star-Lord’s stellar dance moves save the day. Cosmic Heroes think a little differently, as does Quill. Like any superhero movie, there's a scene towards the end of Guardians of the Galaxy when the enraged enemy looks like he might be successful. But rather than 15 minutes of shoot 'em up action, Star-Lord turns to an acapella O-O-H Child by The Five Stairsteps. His dance moves are, well, unspeakably awesome. Ronan, the unstoppable terrorist a moment away from destroying the universe as we know it, is thrown off guard. "What are you doing?" he demands. "Distracting you, turd-blossom," Star-Lord responds. Now that's what we'd call innovation in superhero tactics.
Without mask or cape, much slower than a speeding bullet, and without super strength (okay, some super strength), Star-Lord and his Guardians of the Galaxy are a new generation of heroes for the 21st century. They've reaffirmed our belief that superheroes are not only a source of hilariously good entertainment, but also a call to action for us real-worlders to give a sh**. For once. And that's really what being a Cosmic Hero is all about.
So who knows? Maybe one day, if we're lucky, Star-Lord will take a return trip to his Terra to accept an honorary induction into the Cosmic Hero fold. We can dream, right?
In any case, if you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy, that needs to change. Like now. Look up showtimes. Grab your car, bike, scooter, hovercraft, whatever. And go. Seriously. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll leave the theater dancing to Awesome Mix #1 (heck, we're still dancing). And we think you’ll be inspired to join us in our search for real-world Guardians of the Galaxy.
*Sorry, Drax the Destroyer. We know this is over your head. No, not literally.
Founder of The Sidekick Collective. - Email