Warning: SPOILERS for Logan ahead
Nowadays, it’s hard to extricate Sir Patrick Stewart from the character of Professor Charles Xavier. Since he first debuted as the psychic headmaster in 2000’s X-Men, Stewart has reprised the role six more times, putting him just behind his Logan costar, Hugh Jackman, for most appearances in the franchise. Though Stewart had a long career before the film, and many will always remember him as Captain Picard, he’s become synonymous with Professor X.
Still, the Professor has had a long life predating his earliest appearance on the screen. James McAvoy has done a masterful job capturing a young and troubled Xavier throughout the X-Men: First Class trilogy. Though the character may have passed in Logan and Stewart may be done playing him, there are still plenty of areas of Xavier’s life left unexplored. In an effort to understand his journey, let’s take a look back at the character’s ninety-seven years of life across a seventeen-year cinematic history.
The Xavier Institute
Charles Francis Xavier was born in 1932 in London, England to an affluent family. It’s never said just when he discovered his burgeoning psychic abilities, but it seems safe to assume he was well aware of them by the age of 12 when he met a young Raven Darkholme. Recognizing a kinship with the homeless mutant, Charles convinced his parents to take her in and the two grew up together almost as siblings.
Whether tied to his mutant gifts or not, Charles was nothing short of genius. Studying genetics at Oxford University, the future professor did his thesis on genetic mutation and graduated with his doctorate at the age of 30. Still, he was a wayward and rambunctious young man, often vacillating between overconfidence and moments of extreme self-doubt. Following graduation, he and Raven began working with the CIA courtesy of Moira MacTaggert, with whom Charles would form a lifelong bond.
Their efforts to stop the renegade mutant Sebastian Shaw eventually led to them encountering the man who would become Magneto, along with a number of other mutants who would eventually create the early stages of the X-Men and the Brotherhood. Though Charles and Erik Lehnsherr shared a deep friendship, their ideological divide would continue to separate the two men for decades. This split culminated in Charles and his ragtag team stopping a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the resulting fight left Xavier wheelchair-bound.
In 1965, the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters was finally born. Over the next decade, Charles, along with Dr. Hank McCoy, would build up the institute and create the nascent X-Men. Self-doubt, however, plagued the young man and he faced many trials and tribulations. Despite a brief shutdown in the ‘70s, though, Xavier would continue to seek out newly mutated children and bring them under his care, teaching them how to navigate the world and utilize their powers.
As the decades passed, Xavier would encounter many young mutants and come to their aid. He helped a young Scott Summers control his powers and escape a facility along with a number of other mutant children during the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In 1986, he and Erik went to meet a young Jean Grey, unable to master her extraordinary gifts. He would recruit her to be a part of his school, where she’d grow to become a teacher herself. Charles would once again encounter Wolverine, when he took in the stray mutant who couldn’t remember his traumatic past. Joining in with Cyclops, Jean, Storm, and the other X-Men, Logan would become something of a surrogate son to Charles, and vice versa.
Over the next few years, the team embarked on a number of missions, often coming to blows with Magneto and his followers. Still, Charles maintained his belief that humans and mutants could coexist, something he even spoke out publicly about on several occasions. But after so many years of fighting for acceptance, mutantkind was on the brink of disaster.
From politicians and hate groups trying to suppress mutants, to a supposed cure sweeping their ranks, mutantkind looked to be finished. Then, the unthinkable occurred when Jean’s dormant powers began to manifest and break past Charles’ psychic safeguards. The Dark Phoenix grew inside of her, resulting in the death of Cyclops and Jean siding with Magneto. After a massive conflict between the two mutant sides, Charles is obliterated by Jean’s power, forcing Logan to kill her. Miraculously, Xavier’s consciousness transferred to the comatose body of his twin brother, being watched over by Moira MacTaggert.
Though Logan goes his own way, he eventually meets up with a now resurrected Xavier after returning from Japan. He’s not only shocked to see him alive, but working alongside Magneto. The years once again brought the two back together, as Erik’s vision slowly proved to fail him as he realized Charles may have been right all along.
Days of Future Past
Following the original trilogy of films, the timeline of the X-Men films became increasingly erratic. It’s not quite known whether Charles’ two encounters with Wolverine from his solo films are part of the same timeline, and even less known is where the events of Days of Future Past occur.
Opening in a dystopian future where the mutant-hunting Sentinels have wiped out all but a few remaining X-Men, Charles and Erik lead a final resistance. Their Hail Mary comes in the form of sending Logan’s consciousness back to the ‘70s in the hopes of swaying Charles and Erik from their dark paths and stopping the rise of the Sentinels.
Given that this timeline sees both Professor X and Magneto in very different places in their lives and also a world where Sentinels would have existed for decades, it’s safe to assume this is an entirely different timeline from what we’ve seen so far. As such, the reset of the events that occur during the movie may create yet another timeline of events, one where the characters and moments from First Class onward are the new continuity.
It’s within this new reality that we jump to around 2024, to see that the Xavier School is still thriving, and that Jean, Cyclops, and many of the other original mutants are still alive and well. While it serves as a sort of happy ending for Charles’ tumultuous story so far, it’s not quite the end of his journey, and a darkness is creeping into the light.
The Last Days of Charles Xavier
As the events of Logan unfold, it’s unclear which version of Charles or Wolverine we’re seeing. Even something as simple as Moira MacTaggert going from working with the CIA to becoming a doctor (and changing accents along the way) calls into question whether the version of the character played by James McAvoy and the one played by Patrick Stewart were ever part of the same timeline. Even before Days of Future Past, a split seems to have occurred.
Still, Logan seems to find our heroes in a future where the X-Men and Charles have been through a lifetime of successes and failures. The X-Men existed, but given Xavier, Logan and Caliban’s desperate solitude the audience is led to conclude that they are either dead or missing – especially when Xavier, who cannot remember what happened to them, asks Logan, “What did you do?” On top of that, new mutants haven’t emerged since 2004. In the year 2029, Charles is now ninety years old and suffering from a degenerative brain disease. Unable to control his powers, we learn that he’s hurt hundreds of people during psychic seizures, and killed several members of the X-Men at some point following the rosy tag at the end of Days of Future Past.
The film not only provides Stewart with a bittersweet way of sending off the character, but also gives Professor X one last adventure and one final good day. Though he never makes it onto the boat he and Logan were hoping to acquire, the movie brings their familial story full circle as Logan now has to care for Charles. On a number of occasions, they even refer to each other as father and son (with Xavier amusingly given the pseudonym “Chuck”). Though it’s part of their cover, it also highlights the strong bond between them.
Xavier also gets to help a young Laura Kinney (though it’s unclear if that is her last name in the film, given a number of changes to her lore). This not only lets him atone for his past mistakes, but let’s him see that mutant life has found a way to survive. Though his death is far from peaceful, his final words with Logan and the look in his eyes show that he’s led a life of purpose and pain, but one that was meaningful.
After such a powerful ending, it’s hard to imagine Patrick Stewart reprising the role. Though he’s stated that he’d love to play the character in a Deadpool movie, that would seem like a strange follow-up to the swan song that is Logan. As it stands, the movie offers the actor and character a beautiful sendoff. Timeline issues aside, Charles Xavier has led a fascinating and important life, helping to usher mutantkind through many new beginnings and supposed ends.