The mentor is the character who helps your hero learn how to defeat the villain. Typically the mentor has a painful history that he or she needs to confront and overcome, and this process of striving for this goal gives the mentor the chance to teach the hero.
The most important character in any movie is the villain because your villain defines the environment for your hero to achieve his or her dreams. Your villain shapes your story. Think of a weak story and chances are good it lacked a strong villain such as the villain in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” who seems to have no goal of his own and poses no serious threat to the villain. In case you haven’t seen “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” the reason is because the movie wasn’t that popular and it wasn’t that popular because its villain does nothing important with potentially horrible consequences to the hero. Without a strong villain, your hero’s actions seem meaningless.
After your hero, your next important character is your hero. Your hero initially just wants to achieve an emotional goal, such as Luke wanting to leave his uncle’s boring farm in “Star Wars.” When battling the villain, your hero suddenly has a physical goal to achieve, which will help achieve the emotional goal.
Of course, your hero can’t battle your villain alone, so the third most important character in your screenplay is your mentor. The mentor character is the person who teaches your hero a new skill or lesson that allows the hero to finally defeat the villain once and for all. Without a mentor, your hero would never know how to ultimately succeed.
The mentor character always has a goal of his or her own, which almost always involves fixing something painful in the past. In “Star Wars,” Obi-wan needs to confront his student, Darth Vader. In “Finding Nemo,” Dory (the mentor) needs to deal with her memory problems that keep her from having friendships with others. In “Die Hard,” the black police officer needs to overcome his trauma of shooting a kid who had a toy gun.
The mentor is almost always trying to correct something painful in his past that has put him in a dead-end life like the hero. The mentor has a clear goal and must correct this problem from the past, while also teaching and inspiring the hero near the end.
The mentor is the wise old man (or woman) who has been through a similar situation as the hero, but has come back to help the hero succeed. In your own screenplay, you must first identify your hero’s weakness that is keeping her stuck in her dead end life. Second, you must figure out how your mentor can help your hero. Third, you must figure out how your mentor can achieve his goal at the same time.
Your story isn’t over until both your hero and mentor achieve their goals. In “Die Hard,” the hero (Bruce Willis) achieves his goal first of saving his wife, then the black police officer (the mentor) achieves his goal by gunning down the last terrorist.
In “Star Wars,” Obi-wan achieves his goal of facing Darth Vader first, then Luke achieves his goal of blowing up the Death Star with Obi-wan’s help. It doesn’t matter if the hero or mentor achieve their goals first, just as long as both of them do.
In your own screenplay, identify your mentor and your mentor’s goal. Then make sure your mentor achieves that goal before your movie ends. This helps provide a sense of completion and satisfaction for your audience.