I doubt anyone involved in the production of Alien meant it this way, but Ripley’s visit to that alien planet and her experiences in the crucible of the Nostromo were the catalyst for her apotheosis. She entered hypersleep as a mortal woman—entombed like a pharaoh with a cat—but she emerged in James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens (1986), as something more. This essay looks not at Ripley, the survivor of Alien, but at Ripley, the heroine of the special-edition cuts of Aliens and Alien 3 (1992).
This Ripley is a mythic figure, a goddess both imperfect and powerful, whose searching and suffering are grounded in human motives and pain but played out on a grand, cosmic stage with the fate of humanity at stake.
The mythology of Ripley’s galaxy is not exactly the same as that of our Earth. Important figures take on different guises and forms in outer space than they did in the classical world, and not every facet of the future is mythic in attitude or scope. Sometimes a pulse rifle is just a pulse rifle.
To be clear, this is a reading of a cinematic universe as it exists in the eyes of one viewer—me—not a speculation on the intentions of the filmmakers. Put another way, this is quasi-academic bullshit. I’m asking you to consider another way of looking at Ripley, not arguing for one “true” interpretation of these films. This way of looking at Aliens takes us back in time, not to the productions of Aliens or Alien, but back past antiquity into the shadowy prehistory of legend, to a story older than the Olympians…