God Bless Fans Of Minor Characters

  Because PINK LARS. 

**LOTS OF STEVEN UNIVERSE SPOILERS FOLLOW. I MEAN LOTS AND LOTS. FAIR WARNING AND DON'T COME CRYING TO ME.**

 

  OK, back up: I've always found myself leaning towards loving the villain, the anti-hero, the oddball, whichever character is played not by a sleek, angular love-beast but by someone with a little oddness to their beauty. In other words, Character Actors. When I say I love the villain, it's not because I think villainous acts are cool. Ditto anti-heroes; most of the time they're just off-white knights. They're really heroes with a little tarnish. But what a difference that tarnish makes.

  Standards for *HEROES* are hard to meet, and heroes take a lot of crap when they don't live up to them. But I maintain that a hero isn't necessarily the same thing as a protagonist, because at this time and in this place in storytelling, a hero is an emulative figure, somebody to look up to. Somebody better than the average person. The Greeks didn't seem to care that much about the moral or ethical responsibilities of, say, Hercules or Achilles; they were horrible people on a personal level. Expecting heroes to have no flaws or failings at all makes for tedious storytelling, though. It is the flex between failing and striving that makes characters feel human.

  This is not to say I can't conceive of a true paragon, a hero who holds the banner high. That hero just has to have their feet firmly planted in the muck and know how nasty life can be and still be willing to say 'within the reach of my arm, the world will be better.' That's a hero. You need hero characters. Most of us don't have our feet under us that well.

  That's what makes the ones who have fallen down, and are maybe still falling, and don't know how to pick themselves up so interesting. Sometimes they never make it, and they really are villains. Sometimes their one or two decent acts are not enough to balance their awful ones, and they are failed heroes.  Sometimes they can't believe in themselves as heroes, and their self-loathing is confused with humility; that's a tarnished knight. Redemption's a road we're all on. We've all got something to make up for. 

  Lilo of LILO & STITCH is a hero. She's a weird little nerd-larva with a wild imagination. There's a little scene early in her film that I love. She's leaving the studio where she takes dance lessons. The other girls don't like her, but she's game to keep trying. They all have fashion dolls, and she has a rag doll that she made. While she's introducing her rag doll (with a suitably bizarre backstory about parasite infestation and surgical recovery), the other girls quietly flee. Angry and embarrassed by her failed social attempt, Lilo slams her doll into the dirt and stomps off... for a long moment... then she runs back, grabs up her discarded doll, hugs it fiercely, and carries it away with her. 

  This scene makes me tear up every time. "You GO, little nerdling, don't let anybody tell you who or what you can love!" I'm so proud of Lilo in that moment. Scrump, her doll, didn't get her what she wanted. Lilo loves Scrump anyway. She made Scrump, and Scrump is awkward, but Lilo loves her. Scrump's imperfections are part of her charm. This is not to say that Lilo won't or shouldn't get better at making dolls or whatever else as she grows older, not that she might not attain a high degree of skill later in life. But Scrumpy has a charm all her own that shouldn't be ignored or discarded in favor of more even stitching or skillful stuffing. Grown-up Lilo might choose to give her creations deliberate 'imperfections' to create that charm, the same way Japanese potters practice wabi-sabi in their art. They find beauty in chips, cracks, and other flaws. It's a philosophical point.

  Which brings me to Lars. Lars is a character who is getting his star turn on the TV show STEVEN UNIVERSE. Lars has never really been a villain. He's not big enough for that; he's not a threat. What Lars is is an annoying, awkward, conflicted teenager, one of the masses of ordinary Earth people whom the powerful Crystal Gems protect from annihilation at the hands of their home civilization. 

  He's REALLY annoying, awkward, and conflicted. I mean, not a dashing rogue with a heart of gold. Not a sassy Peter Pan who will always do the right thing after he yells about it a little. He's more of a Snape figure, a genuinely unlikeable person who is always unhappy and treats people around him pretty badly. 

  /Sidebar: If Movie Snape hadn't been played by the mellifluous Alan Rickman, Book Snape would never have become the goth emo hero he was. I loves me some Snape, I truly do, but I know how characters evolve. /Sidebar out.

  Lars is full of fears and doubts and he wants to be cool so badly that he can't admit that he loves the things he loves. He's a mess. He's tied up into a million knots, and hates everything, because he's cut himself off from all the things he's really good at, because he's afraid someone might think they're weird. He can't even admit he has a girlfriend, because Sadie loves the shit out of him, but she doesn't even TRY to be cool. This is because Sadie knows there's a difference between looking cool and actually being cool, which comes from knowing who you are and what you like and what you stand for, whether these things are big or small. Sadie isn't glamorous, so Lars doesn't let anyone know they're dating, least of all himself. In a show that is all about love and acceptance and relationships, his annoying, whiny, why-are-you-like-this presence seemed only to be to provide a foil for the regular kids who DO know what they love and are willing to pursue it.

  Late in the game we find out that Lars is a great baker. Lars has a family recipe that comes from his Filipino or part-Filipino heritage. Lars would gouge out his own eyeballs before he would admit that he really loves making fancy cakes and such... but the Cool Kids (tm) invite him to a pot luck, and he goes for it. 

  Or not. In the end, even though the Cool Kids are not looking for him to prove himself, they just want to hang out, he can't do it; he drops his amazing cake in the trash and slinks away, and we feel worst for Sadie, who is having a fine time hanging out but is heartbroken because she can't untie Lars's knots any more than he can.

  IT GETS BETTER.

  But it gets worse first.

  Actual-Villain Gems come from Homeworld, kidnap all of Steven's human friends, and in the skirmish to free them, only Lars doesn't have the sense to run OFF of the Gem ship. He and Steven are taken to the Gem homeworld. Thrills and escapes and Lars is basically useless and enfuriating-- LIKE ALWAYS-- until he realizes that he can exploit blind spots in the massively sophisticated Gem technology. They don't value organic life. they don't think of it as useful in any way. Presumably there isn't any on Homeworld. So the scary robots that hunt down unwanted Gems (called Off-Colors) can't even see him. He hasn't got a gem, so he doesn't count... so he has a unique ability to hide, to evade, and to protect the little group of outcast Homeworld Gems who are trying to help him and Steven. Lars is valuable! Lars can be a hero! LARS GOES NUTS!

  Lars dies.

  Lars hasn't been training for this all his life like Steven; Lars hasn't got any magic or technology to protect him. Lars just sails in like Tarzan, heart first, all his long-thwarted desire to do good and not be crippled by fear poured out in one big fight... and he gets himself killed.

  This isn't the end for him. I'd need a lot more space to talk about all the other things that come together to save Lars. Suffice it to say he isn't as vulnerable to being hurt anymore, and he has a dimensional portal that connects Homeworld to Earth in his hair, and he's got a cool scar. And he's pink. Hair and all. He's a cotton candy hero. And though other people can get to and from Earth through him, he's currently stuck where he is. And when Sadie finds out about al this, first she's gonna tear Steven limb from limb, and THEN I hope she goes full Jungle Queen and joins Lars in his perpetual, desperate, ass-kicking hide-and-run on Gem Homeworld and they will be SO AMAZING.

  I heart this show with the grew-three-sizes-that-day Grinch heart. I really do. Redeeming a character is HARD. You have to make them terrible. Then you have to make them wonderful. I loves me some Pink Lars. All the fan art from folks who loved Lars BEFORE his Face Turn is great. "See? SEE?? <3<3<3"