The biggest battle is never between the hero and the villain. Bad movies make this mistake all the time and think that if the battle between the hero and villain contains more explosions, gunfire, and action, then the ending will be more exciting. That’s rarely the case.
What makes the final battle between the hero and villain exciting is that the hero is not only battling the villain, but he (or she) is also battling themselves.
In “Liar, Liar,” the hero has spent his whole life lying. Then he has to tell the truth. His biggest battle is finding the courage to tell the truth and not lie. Naturally he wants to lie, but he’s torn between lying and telling the truth.
That’s the hero’s dilemma that tortures him or her. Given the final choice between the old way of life (the opposite of the theme) or embracing an uncertain new way of life (the theme), the hero keeps the audience in suspense because we don’t know what the hero will do. We fear that the hero will fall back on his or her old way of life, but we hope that he or she will embrace the new way of life. What helps trigger the hero towards embracing the new way of life is the mentor.
The mentor’s lesson helps the hero overcome his or her reluctance and become a better person by changing. Without the mentor’s influence, the hero would likely fall back on the old way of life and never change and thus never grow.
The ending with the final climactic battle is never a fight between the hero and the villain, but a fight between the hero struggling to change. The villain is never the main obstacle but a way to force the hero into facing his or her internal conflict. Should they change or not?
The villain simply forces the hero to choose. When the hero succeeds by changing, the hero has done more than just overcome a villain but has changed into a new person and that emotional change is what makes the ending so satisfying.
In “Titanic,” Rose escaping with her life and avoiding marriage with her fiancé is interesting, but the real satisfaction of the ending is when she shows how she’d embraced life to its fullest by accomplishing multiple goals.
Before you think of a massive fight scene for your end, think first of your theme. Remember, your hero initially embraces the opposite of your theme, then must embrace the theme in the end. Now the big question is how will your final battle force the hero to choose between the old way of life (the opposite of the theme) and the new way of life (the theme)?
This decision can’t be easy but must involve a hard choice where the old way of life looks more appealing, but something the mentor has taught the hero allows the hero to take a chance and embrace the theme.
The ending in “Star Wars” isn’t just about Luke trying to blow up the Death Star while Darth Vader’s trying to shoot him down. Instead it’s about Luke trying to decide whether to trust the Force or not.
The easy solution is to rely on the targeting computer. The hard solution is to take a chance and trust the Force.
Always make the easy solution towards the old way of life look like the more sensible and logical option. That way the choice to embrace the theme will appear much harder.
By torturing your hero to the very end and forcing him or her to finally commit to the theme, your ending will be far more emotionally satisfying than just a bigger physical battle with the villain.