We all love a good war film, but thanks to principles, loyalties, and personal darkness, there are some soldiers who stand above the rest.
Take cover; here are five to set the standard.
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, First Blood)
“They drew first blood, not me.”
In his debut, Rambo is portrayed as a shell-shocked drifter, attempting to recover from the horrors of ‘Nam. An encounter with a less-than-friendly sheriff kickstarts a slide towards brutality, but during the film he kills only a handful of people; definitely nothing on the sheer, bloody scale seen during later instalments.
With his wartime friends all dead, Rambo has no-one to talk to about his past. From this, the film casts him as a reluctant killer, abandoned by the country he once served, and fighting simply for his own dignity. As a society, we tend to value people who stand up for their principles, and John Rambo made one hell of a stand.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars)
“It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them!”
The Jedi were not just the best diplomats of the Old Republic, but also the elite ‘special forces’. What made them particularly interesting, however, was the strict moral code they adhered to.
Like Rambo, Obi-Wan was a man of principle. He believed completely in the ways of the Jedi, to the point of blindness to his own apprentice embracing evil.
During his climactic battle with Anakin at the end of Episode III, Obi-Wan is torn between loyalty to his apprentice and to the Republic. Eventually, he recognises that Anakin represents a grave threat to the galaxy and cannot be saved, but this conflict of loyalties is a recurring theme for many of our military heroes, along with an almost unbreakable loyalty to brothers-in-arms.
T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia)
“I pray that I may never see the desert again.”
Not just a Christmas snooze-fest, Lawrence of Arabia shows a remarkable soldier, and the only historical figure on this list. Like Obi-Wan, Lawrence balances allegiances to Britain and to Arabia but, alarmingly, Lawrence admits that he has begun to enjoy the killing involved. Gradually, he’s pulled in three directions at once; between loyalty to his country, to his Arab friends, and also to his own conscience.
Lawrence of Arabia presents a soldier who was warped by war, in much the same way as Rambo, but he recognises his own growing malignancy. By showing him addressing his darker side, we gain insight into the mind of a man who might otherwise have turned into an anti-hero.
Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers)
“You don’t do your job, I’ll shoot you myself.”
Another soldier who toed the line between good and evil, Rasczak was a formidable soldier, but almost as scary to his own men as to the bugs.
Unlike Obi-Wan, Rambo, and Lawrence, Rasczak’s ultimate loyalty lies with the mission. He’s a pragmatic, ‘getting the job done’ kind of man, and when one of his troopers is captured by a flying creature, he personally takes a rifle and shoots the man to end his suffering. The kicker is in his next line: “I’d expect anyone here to do the same for me.”
His resilient drive to complete the mission makes him a good soldier, but his fairness in doing what has to be done, even if it means his own death, is what makes him a great one.
John H. Miller (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan)
“We all have orders, and we have to follow ’em.”
Lastly, we see a man who exhibits all the traits of the other great soldiers above. Like Rambo, Miller is a man of principle. His loyalty to his squad is bound in blood, but he has a healthy respect for the enemy.
Like Obi-Wan’s dilemma, he is torn between completing the mission, and his personal desire to return home to his wife.
Like Lawrence, he’s concerned about his darker side. He admits his fear that his own wife wouldn’t recognise him because of the things he’s done.
Finally, like Rasczak, he is steadfast in his commitment. When Private Ryan expresses a desire to stay at war, Miller puts his foot down and does the job he was given.
In all these ways, John Miller reflects how soldiers should be. He was not just a great military man, but perhaps the greatest soldier in film.
What do you think? Is Miller the greatest soldier ever, or did we miss someone?
License: Creative Commons
Murray is a blogger and writer who loves war films and explosions. He recommends JBI Insurance