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This Alien Character Is More Important Than You Realize

With the release of Ridley Scott's "Alien" in 1979, the name Ellen Ripley would not only go on to become synonymous with the franchise, it would also feature prominently in most lists of cinema's top heroes. As we know, the role of Ellen Ripley launched Sigourney Weaver into superstardom, becoming one of the first women to receive top-billing in a major movie franchise — however, Ripley's importance to the film is not evident from the very beginning.

When we first meet Ripley on the tug ship Nostromo, she is part of a seven-person crew tasked with transporting cargo across space. Their mission, of course, takes an ill-fated detour when they answer a distress call originating from the moon, LV-426. The other members of the team include Dallas, the ship's captain (Tom Skerritt) engineers Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto), Ash, the android science officer (Ian Holm), Kane, who becomes a face-hugger host (John Hurt), and Joan Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), the Nostromo's navigator. 

It's a great cast, and while Ripley is certainly the star, one of these supporting characters is far more integral to the film than most viewers realize.

Lambert guides the Alien audience

Lambert's role as the ship's navigator is quite fitting — given that Ridley Scott intended that character to likewise guide the audience. 

In a movie set in space and featuring android scientists and aliens impregnating (and killing) humans, providing a character to whom the audience can relate is incredibly important. While Ripley is our main protagonist, she rises to the sudden and inconceivable threat far better than an average real-life person might, making it a challenge to place ourselves in her shoes. Characters like Kane and Parker fall prey to the xenomorph fairly early in the film, thus they cannot serve as the audience's integration into the movie. Dallas and Parker are similar to Ripley in their reaction to the alien and mostly keep a level-head. And Ash is out because, well, he is synthetic. Thus, we are left with Lambert.

Played by Veronica Cartwright, Lambert outlives her crewmates, surviving until the film's climax when she is killed off-screen by a xenomorph, which means she is with the audience nearly until the end. Given that, she serves as the best vehicle through which the audience can place themselves aboard the Nostromo — which was Scott's intention. As Cartwright herself explained in the documentary "The Beast Within: The Making of Alien," the purpose behind Lambert's character — whom, in fact, she found herself disliking originally, for what she perceived as weakness — was to serve as a surrogate for viewers, to embody their fears, and be "a reflection of what the audience is feeling."

Scott wanted a character that, over the course of the film, would react as realistically as possible under the conditions. As the threat of the alien rises along with its list of victims, the audience watches Lambert become increasingly unhinged. 

Lambert succumbs to her fear of the alien

Upon reaching LV-426, Lambert advised against investigating the downed ship — an investigation which led to the alien impregnation of Kane — due to her fear and unease. With each new death, Lambert slips further into fear and instability. Her breaking point comes with Dallas' death. Watching his movements on a tracker and speaking through his ear comm, Lambert speaks calmly, guiding the captain through the air vents. She becomes more frantic when the equipment temporarily malfunctions, hiding the xenomorph from her screen. When the tracker picks up the alien again — now headed straight for Dallas — Lambert begins to scream for him to escape, repeatedly shouting, "Move, Dallas! Get out of there!"

After Dallas' death, Lambert is shell-shocked. She disagrees with Ripley's suggestion of hunting down the alien, instead insisting the remaining crew escape as quickly as possible — despite their escape shuttle not being equipped to support four lives. When the eventual decision to escape is made, Lambert and Parker are tasked with gathering supplies. The pair meet their end when the alien finds them. Parker, armed with a flamethrower, shouts for Lambert to move so that he can kill it. Paralyzed by her fear, Lambert doesn't move: she cries and screams incoherently. Parker dies attempting to distract the alien and give Lambert time to run, but her insurmountable fear keeps her glued in place. The alien turns back to Lambert, who dies screaming.

Without Lambert, "Alien" might have been a movie where the good guys band together, stiffen their spines, and take down the big bad. But thanks to Ridley Scott and Veronica Cartwright, the audience is given a character they can relate to, a character with a very human response when confronted with unimaginable horror.