WARNING! SPOILERS FOR STRANGER THINGS AND STAR WARS!
Non-Spoiler Review of Stranger Things is here: http://www.supermassivefilmstuff.com/?p=99
Before I watched Stranger Things, I kept on hearing about a character named Barb. I saw all the memes: “What Would Barb Do?” or “Barb, President of Everything!” to name a few. Played by Shannon Purser, Barb was the nerdy but level-headed friend to Nancy, one of the central characters in the show.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Barb had only a bit of screen time. In the end, I was a bit disappointed. She was fun to watch, but ultimately…
She didn’t really do anything.
Now, before all you Barb fans find out where I live and try to pelt me with Trapper Keepers, let me explain. I didn’t hate her character. She was actually one of the few teen characters on the show I liked (I go into this in more detail in my review of Stranger Things, linked above…won’t you read?). Purser was great in the role. She was smart and funny, but I didn’t get it.
The cult following didn’t make sense to me. Then I remembered something.
I had a friend who had never seen a Star Wars film, prequel or otherwise. This was in the days before The Force Awakens came out, so I took the opportunity to bestow the awesomeness that was the Original Trilogy onto my friend. I was especially excited to introduce my friend to one of my favorite characters of ALL TIME…Boba Fett.
I was shocked…absolutely SHOCKED…when my friend came away from Boba Fett, the most bad ass dude of all time, unimpressed. I demanded an answer. How could she not absolutely love the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter?
My friend’s words?
“But he doesn’t do anything…”
One man’s cult hero was someone else’s nobody.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. The Duffer Brothers had yet another tribute to a great 80s film: The Empire Strikes Back. Whether purposely or not, they created their own Boba Fett with Barb.
I know what you’re saying: What could the loyal Barb have in common with the heartless Boba Fett? It’s simple really…
Both had limited screen time, but made the most out of it. Both had amazing looks that stood out in already strikingly visual stories. Both played important roles in the overall plot of their stories. And ultimately both shared the same fate.
Barb appeared in five episodes of Stranger Things, but was rarely the main focus. Boba Fett appeared in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but he only had a literal handful of lines over both films. But they made the most of it.
Barb had a certain confidence about her. That stood out in a cast full of teens doubting or questioning who they were. She was witty, smart and aware of the surroundings. But most importantly, Barb was loyal to Nancy, even when you could argue she didn’t deserve it. Barb tried to keep Nancy from doing something she would regret with Steve, but to no avail.
Boba Fett had confidence as well, walking into a room believing he was the most dangerous person there. And he may have been. The fact that he rarely spoke made him mysteriously compelling.
And Fett’s look…it played into that already mysterious aura he had. A face hidden behind a helmet…was he scarred? An alien? What was going on under there? I believe my own obsession with masked characters partly started with him.
Barb’s look was striking as well. Her sweaters, big glasses and binder hugged close to her chest…it all screamed 80s in a show that was already steeped in nostalgia. She was the hipster before anyone even thought of the term.
Barb’s major contribution to the plot of Stranger Things was her disappearance. It drove Nancy and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) together. This was not a minor detail. Without her disappearance, Nancy’s story would have stalled. She would have been just another 80s teen pinning for her jerkish boyfriend. God, what a waste…
Hmm…I’m beginning to think I didn’t like Nancy that much.
And Boba Fett captured Han Solo, starting the events of Return of the Jedi. The Jedi would have literally not returned without Mr. Fett…think about that Luke Skywalker fans.
And unfortunately for the legions of fans both Boba and Barb (Hmmm…sounds like the name of a restaurant) met the same fate: A disappointing death. Boba Fett was accidentally killed by a blind Han Solo…not the end many, including me, expected for him. And Barb’s disappearance is stretched throughout the series only to find out she had been dead for a while. Again, not the fate her fans would have wanted.
In the end, both characters were somewhat underappreciated by their own film/series. This is not a condemnation of either story…just a minor but unfortunate flaw.
These two have one more thing in common: Fans want more of them. Boba Fett is constantly rumored to be in one of the new Star Wars spin offs and Barb fans constantly point out that Stranger Things is science fiction and anything can happen in that genre, such as resurrecting a dead character.
In science fiction or fantasy, there is always the possibility for a cult hero to emerge for a baffling number of reasons. Figwit from The Lord of the Rings, Wedge Antilles from Star Wars, Podrick from Game of Thrones…and that’s just a few.
So welcome Barb of Stranger Things to the Cult of the Minor Character.
What are some of your favorite minor characters?