Guardians of the Galaxy is good, right?
I thought so. Seen it twice. Rocket’s my favorite part. So sad and angry and…oddly sweet.
Peter Quill reminds me of John Crichton from Farscape, and for good reason: they’re both pop-culture spewing, Han Solo types. Crichton isn’t a man-child, and Quill isn’t as put-upon, but yeah, same type of character. It’s a method of getting an audience into an inherently unrelatable world.
I had a couple of observations from these two executions on that type of character that you may find useful in your writing adventures.
1. In a Long Enough Timeline, Peter Quill Becomes a Studio Executive
In my fading memory, Farscape’s John Crichton initially comes across as a Man of Our Time, a dude in his 30’s from the 1990’s, flung across the cosmos. To help us adjust to a world of Jim Henson creatures and totally sick Blade Runner homages, he’s gonna drop some TV jokes.
Four seasons later, Crichton continues to make pop culture references. Except now, years in, he’s made such varied and wide-reaching references that he (if you’re paying close attention) maybe starts to sound less like an astronaut, and more like the combined pop culture knowledge of a writer’s room.
Who cares? Well…
2. With Thought Given to the ‘What,’ the Character Comes to Life
Man-child Peter Quill, Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy, also spews numerous pop culture references for comedic effect. But when I dug into specifics, I found something really interesting. Below are the three references I think were the most prominent in the movie:
He calls a dude a ‘Ninja Turtle.’
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the cartoon) had just premiered in late 1987, and was an instant hit, so it’s likely he spent some time watching the show. It fits.
Footloose and Kevin Bacon.
The 1984 movie Footloose is NOT something one would associate with a young boy. Did you watch Footloose at age five and remember it enough to know Kevin Bacon by name? Hell no you didn’t.
But what about his mom? What if that had been something she was excited about? She would have known about Hunks. Hunks like Kevin Bacon. And a kid struggling with his dying mother would have revered offhand comments about Hunks, and movies that young boys wouldn’t really watch.
Interesting, right? It gets better.
John Stamos. The outlaw.
At first glance, John Stamos jokes are always about his role on Full House. But Full House was in a middling first season when Peter Quill went to space. It got crazy popular 2-3 seasons in. Was he really watching Full House? Maybe.
BUT, before Full House, Stamos had played a character on General Hospital, back in 1982-84. Could John Stamos have been another thing Peter’s mom got him on?
It pays not just to be conscious of what your character is referencing, but the context s/he might have originally seen it. If you dig into these references you end up with a picture of a kid deeply influenced by his mom, and all the more hurt by her passing. It might be reaching logic, but for a movie where so many characters clearly deal with so much pain, these little bittersweet hints seem to fit.