Was thinking about the distressingly popular YA trope of the Chosen One (hereinafter C1).
Now, there have always been C1 stories and there always will. They can be good, and in certain areas like High Fantasy they're practically expected. But that's no reason why you can't have non-C1 fantasy stories or why it should be encouraged to spread to every other genre.
The reason why I care about such a thing is that C1 stories are self-limiting. While they can impart important lessons about living up to your potential, they limit a lot of other concepts such as egalitarianism, self-improvement, and judging people by their actual merits rather than their position, lineage, or what some authority says about them.
Harry Potter gets a lot of blame for re-igniting the C1 trope. As is so often the case with trope-starters, HP's approach really isn't bad (certainly not compared to its imitators). The later books make it clear that Harry's chosen one status is only partly prophetic; it's also the creation of Harry himself and of his nemesis Voldemort (who made the telling choice of assuming half-blooded Harry was the threat rather than equally prophecy-satisfying pure-blooded Neville). And the lesson of the last book is that creating a C1 requires not just good performance by the candidate but also a lot of behind-the-scenes work by the likes of Dumbledore to set up the right situations.
This actually takes me unexpectedly to Dune. While the Adaptations Of Dune make it into a straight C1 work ("He IS the Kwisatz Haderach!") the book itself is much more about the above-mentioned back office work required to make a universe in which a C1 can appear. And with the sequels, arguably the Chosen One chooses not to be Chosen anymore.
(Also in that category could be Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but I have not read the book and the movie severely frustrated me.)
One way in which a C1 narrative can be interesting is as a giant clockwork. If the C1 is truly destined to do some unlikely thing, there can be an intellectual thrill in just seeing how circumstances bring that thing about. The existing Star Wars movies, taken as a whole, could be this. There really isn't a lot of tension about whether Luke is going to go dark (never thought he would) or Anakin is going to stay light (again pretty telegraphed), but it can be interesting to see how, if you think of Anakin as being the C1 destined to bring balance to the forrce, he does it by (twice) prioritizing love over loyalty, first destroying the Jedi (except himself) for Padme, and then the Sith (including himself) for Luke.
Of course, Star Wars is generally accepted to be Space Fantasy rather than science fiction, so a C1 narrative is to be expected if not exactly appreciated. And this is why author David Brin famously critiqued it as elitist, compared to more meritocratic or populist properties such as Star Trek. Now, while I acknowledged Brin's points and let them enrich my way of looking at Star Wars, I didn't really join in his anger. Star Wars, is, after all, a long time ago, not a vision of the future.
But, as with post-Potter YA, once a C1 succeeds it can contaminate other properties if people aren't thinking things through. And that's how we get the new Star Trek movies made by the famously Star Wars-phillic J. J. Abrams and his team. Thanks to them, we know longer assume that James Kirk was just a random Iowa boy who rose through the ranks via hard work and an unconventional approach to tests. No, he's the son of a hero, given repeated boosts and second chances by those who see his father's potential in him and don't really care how many cars he deliberately wrecks along the way. And that no amount of work, brilliance, courage, or experience from any other person should allow them to get in the way of his destiny. This is part of what I & others mean when we say that we ENJOY the JJA Trek films, but feel like they're missing a much greater point.
(In a similar category are the "Amazing" new Spider-Man films, which turn a "this could happen to anyone" origin into a "this was always meant to happen to this guy" one.)
Another way a C1 story can be enriched is by giving the C1 a real choice beyond "save everybody or don't", and it's the exact one Star Wars attempted but didn't quite pull off: given that the C1 is destined to be pivotal, give the C1 a meaningful choice between good and evil, preferably with the outcome in doubt.
The most meticulous working-out of both these choices is in Unbreakable, a film I respect a lot and also enjoy some. Trying to avoid spoilers: one of the characters becomes obsessed with the idea that he has been chosen, and works to uncover another chosen person. The stated reason is in order to make his own chosen status (and the extreme trauma that has gone with it) meaningful, but I see it as also putting them both in a position where they can MAKE a choice, of good or evil, that is even more significant than the choice that was made for them. As in a lot of M.Night works there's some serious stealth-commentary on religion going on.
Another in this category is Brian De Palma's The Fury, which among other things (it's a rich tapestry) is about an adolescent psychic girl aiding in a father's search for his adolescent psychic son. These two characters are repeatedly told they have special gifts (though unlike in Star Wars, new-Trek, and new-Spider-Man they don't run in the family), gifts which might seem to set them on a certain course. But the climax of the film shows that how the teenagers choose to use their gifts is far more important than anyone's idea of what their destiny will be.
I could pile-on many more "typical" examples of C1 films but they all tend to hit me in the same wearying, anti-democratic way, so I've limited it to the ones I've liked or disliked in more varied ways. Would love to see comments about others (or about these).