So the buzz around the internets is that Gore Verbinski will be remaking The Lone Ranger, with Johnny Depp playing Tonto. Let us leave aside the fact that despite Depp being generally pretty cool he is still bleach for the purposes of whitewashing a character, because every other site talking about this seems to have forgotten that Johnny Depp, despite some purported Cherokee ancestry, is still basically a white guy.
No, let us instead discuss the merits of a Lone Ranger remake, which has not received entirely kind press from the movie blogging community, mostly because the Lone Ranger seems sort of corny. Which is ridiculous, of course, because the guy has the finale of the William Tell Overture – one of the most exciting bits of classical music ever – as his theme, and no trailer with a lot of explosions and horse ridin’ and shootin’ set to the William Tell Overture is going to be boring.
If they asked me to write it, I’d go to the Mask of Zorro well and make it generational. Have the original Lone Ranger emerge out of the Bleeding Kansas period – Texas Rangers were known to occasionally cross into Kansas, and the possibility that a group of Texas Rangers could have been involved in something horrific involving escaped slaves – or at least allowed it to happen – and disillusion the Lone Ranger so much so that he would abandon his unit and become, well, the Lone Ranger? That seems entirely reasonable.
Now, if the Lone Ranger gets his start in northern Texas and Kansas, that means he’s not very far off from the historic stomping grounds of several of the Apache tribes. So let’s say Tonto is an Apache. The Apache were, frankly, some of the baddest asses of the southwest native tribes of the time – a lot of other tribes thought, not unfairly, that they were kind of crazy. And they didn’t like anybody.
So why the Lone Ranger/Tonto partnership? Well, in Apache legend, there’s a pair of heroes/demigods/myths (their exact status is unclear) named Child-Born-of-Water and Killer-of-Enemies. These two always work as a pair. Were the Lone Ranger – not yet the Lone Ranger yet, not really – to stumble into an Apache camp, half-dead from exhaustion and thirst, in such a way as to resemble many of the legends surrounding the beginning/birth/genesis of Child-Born-of-Water, perhaps the medicine men of the camp would suggest that he not be killed off in the usual way but watched closely, to make sure this was indeed a child of Usen. Sticking Tonto – antisocial even among his own, but with the Power that very few Apache have, to leave no tracks and know men’s thoughts – with him to make sure he didn’t die of eating the wrong snake. Eventually sending the two of them off together to defeat the enemies of mankind, as the legends demand that Child-Born-of-Water and Killer-of-Enemies do. And thus begins a partnership that lasts twenty years.
Twenty years later, with the Ranger and Tonto in their late forties, it’s a new era: the peak of the Wild West, and not coincidentally the sunset of the Apache nations. Mangas Coloradas was killed in 1863. Cochise is jailed in 1872, dies in 1874. His son Taza dies in 1876. Geronimo lasts until 1886, but by the 1870s he’s reduced to small-scale guerilla raids and escaping from the whites on a regular basis.
This is when the Lone Ranger dies, in the course of protecting innocents (as you might expect). Tonto tries to go home, but by this point there’s not really any home left for him to which he might return. And one of those people is a young man whose family was murdered by a rail baron relentlessly expanding west, who only wants revenge – but, as Tonto sees, for a second time a white man satisfies the legends of Child-Born-of-Water’s birth…
See? You’d go see that.