Reboots of the Future: Highlander

The original Highlander told us that in the end “there can be only one” but the phenomenon of reboots has proven this maxim universally untrue. While many fans bemoan reboots as a death of originality, one has to admit sometimes a reboot can be fantastic.  On the whole Battlestar Galactica was a breath of fresh space air and the 2009 Star Trek a kick in the space pants. Reboots prove there can be several versions of a beloved fantastic universe, so why not hope for the best?  In this installment of Reboots of the Future, heads will roll and lightening will strike when Highlander returns to TV screens.

Though a re-make of Highlander is currently in the planning stages on the cinematic level, in terms of a large shared universe, Highlander actually worked better as a television series. This is not to say that the quality of the TV series was overall higher than that of the original film, simply that the possibilities for diverse stories revolving around the sword-fighting immortals were multiplied by giving the universe an episodic setting. Because the first film essentially told a self-contained story, every subsequent sequel attempted to undo that story-ending continuity in ways that were less than deft.  Arguably, the Highlander universe achieved aesthetic and continuity peace with Endgame in which it asserted that the biographies of Connor Macleod and Duncan Macleod overlapped and that everything we saw happen to Connor in the first film was real, as was everything in the TV show.  In terms of confident retcon, this was the one time Highlander did it right.  However, in all of its incarnations, this fictional universe has always been struggling with a lot of baggage.

A reboot of Highlander as a TV show would eliminate that baggage. Though a big-budget film is a tempting way to do this concept justice, it’s ultimately a mistake because Highlander is actually more Urban Fantasy than Big Fantasy Epic. If the show were thought of as an urban fantasy show with lower-stakes character stuff taking the lion’s share of the writing, then it would communicate different expectations to its audience. One of the flaws of the TV show was that it always ended with Duncan chopping someone’s head off, as if every plot was simply a reason to get us into a sword fight. In this way, Duncan Macleod became no different than MacGyver, a character defined by a thing he was good at doing. This is wear the TV show undid the solid character work of the original film. Connor was arguably a more complex character than Duncan, owing primarily to the fact that he was more an anti-hero than a traditional protagonist. This would be the right kind of central character you’d want for a Highlander reboot.  A Macleod who was little greyer, a little dangerous.

However, having a main character like this carry a show alone is a little tricky. There needs to be an audience surrogate, or at the very least, someone telling us the story. The initial thought here might be to bring in the Watchers, the group of humans who catalogues the Immortals, but I’m not sure they should be made a regular part of a Highlander reboot. Instead, give the new Macleod a kind of apprentice, sort of how they did with Richie in the old show.  But instead of waiting to reveal that Richie in an immortal, have it happen in the first episode, that way the mythology of being an immortal can be unfurled naturally.  Also, you can still call the character Richie.  Why not?

But, I think the biggest change to the original Highlander would be to make our new Macleod a woman. This was attempted before in Highlander: The Raven with mixed results.  But I think its essential here.  It may seem like an arbitrary decision, but it’s really not when one considers the other thing Highlander has working against it is a sort of boys club swordplay thing, which is polarizing.  If our swashbuckling hero were a woman, it would infuse the flashback stuff with a lot more story opportunities. An immortal sword fighter who is a man wouldn’t have had a lot of problems fighting with a sword thousands of years ago, as a result, there’s less opportunity for drama.  But, if Macleod were woman, we’d have all sorts of fun stuff as to how and why. Naturally, the show would need to walk a fine line as to demonstrating Macleod is a skilled fighter and not simply one who does lot of flips in slow motion. As long as the show had some real sword-fighting experts as consultants for the writers and directors, the kind of “chick kicking-ass” in unrealistic ways could be avoided.

The other dynamic female Macleod would bring to show would be to inform the relationship between her and Richie.  Instead of doing a romantic sort of dynamic, why not have a mother/son relationship?  TV audiences are done with father/son stuff.  It’s dull.  If Macleod were a strong, and yet motherly figure to our audience surrogate, the show would be doubly unique.  Not only would you have heads being cut off in order to gain the power of other immortals, but also a relationship unique to dramatic television.

In the original continuity, all the immortals are fighting for a “prize” which will supply the victor with untold power. In the first film this is revealed to be a kind of telepathic link-up with the whole human race, not dissimilar to the power Professor X has with Cyrebro. While interesting, it would be better if the prize were more simply streamlined to be the power to give and extend life, the source of the immortals immorality itself. Each death of an immoral could feed the prize, and in end when there is “only one” that immortal would have the power to basically control life.  This would make it clear why you wouldn’t want a bad guy in control of the prize.

As long as the characters are e as important as the sword fighting, a reboot of Highlander actually has a lot of potential to be as beloved of an urban-fantasy series as Buffy.  And even if a rebooted Highlander didn’t take any of these suggestions, everyone knows the one thing they would have to keep.  The theme song from Queen.  (Check out original video below featuring Christopher Lambert)


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com

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