Chief Hopper from Stranger Things has gotten plenty of comparisons (here, here, and here) to one of the biggest heroes in film history: Indiana Jones. However, Jim Hopper’s relatability and his moral dilemmas actually make him a better hero, if we can just agree that what makes a good hero is someone who helps the audience understand more about themselves, the world around them, and good moral values.
Now, that is a broad definition of a good hero, but being more specific may clear up some confusions and show why this definition is helpful. I’m not speaking about a person who saves the most people in the coolest ways—Indiana Jones easily has Hopper beat on that. Nor am I speaking about people who make us smile the most when we watch them—again, Jones seems superior to the Chief there. But I am speaking about heroes that either help us better understand important experiences or help us lead better lives. The best hero is the one who helps the audience become the best people.
Of course, Hopper and Jones do share some similarities. Both have a thick layer of confidence that makes them reassuring and endearing. Both even seem to have a similar style of clothing and an equally destructive right hook. Each of these traits combine into a sort of swaggering, confident hero, which, I’ve argued before, makes a character much more enjoyable to watch.
For all the similarity in their lovability, however, Hopper adds a whole different dimension to his character than Indiana Jones ever could. One article analyzing Jones’ popularity notes that Jones’ franchise offers elements of wonder and adventure that we wish we could experience, but several facets of Hopper—from the loss of a loved one to the misuse of different crutches—reminds us of emotions that we have experienced. Many of us may not know the feeling of traveling through a dozen different countries, but most of us have already felt the terrors, mistakes, and self-doubts that come with grief. We don’t just laugh with and applaud Hopper like we do Indie—we can experience fear, guilt, and heartache with him, too. The spectrum of emotions we feel for this out-of-shape police chief, from admiration to grief, means the difference between an idolized acquaintance you could cheer on and a close friend you could weep with.
Hopper’s character is further set apart from Jones, however, because this relatability is used to make the audience consider a few of their own experiences and dilemmas. While Jones is undoubtedly a morally good character, his actions don’t provide moral lessons more nuanced than showing how to combat totalitarian regimes. With Hopper, however, many situations could offer more hidden insights and lessons: this man of few words, who feels like he’s lost everything but his life—though he may soon lose that too—still manages to call someone he’s estranged from and explain how much they really meant to him. He wholly risks himself for his town and for a child, even though he can experience heartache and terror in a way that Indiana never shows.
(SPOILERS for Stranger Things: Season 1 ahead)
Hopper also grows throughout the season, from a man who’ll breeze over a missing child to a leader who can push past his own horrors to save others from them. This dynamic shift in character—which is larger for Hopper in a single season than Jones’ growth over four movies— helps the audience connect with his mistakes in the beginning and hope to replicate his progressions by the end. Again and again, Hopper prods the audience to consider not just how they’d get through a temple of doom, but if and why they’d even do it in the first place.
Indiana Jones is a high bar to clear. He’s often rated as one of the best characters of all time, and there are full articles explaining why he’s so loved. He’s still an incredible character that’s more humorous, vulnerable, and entertaining than most others. Yet Hopper seems to clear him as a hero, not only by displaying his own brand of endearing confidence but also by relating to the audience on a much deeper emotional level and helping them consider his own moral character. Maybe the fifth Indiana Jones film will develop a stronger emotional connection with audiences. And hopefully the Chief can be an even better hero in his second season as the actor who portrays him, David Harbour, continues fulfilling the self-prescribed purpose of his craft: “to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken, and afraid, and tired, they are not alone.”