Ridley Scott’s "Napoleon" promises to be the highlight of the cinematic season.

Scott has already proven he is a master of the historical epic with "Gladiator." Both the lavish trailers and reviews suggest the new film will have all the ingredients of a blockbuster: cavalry charges, military parades, cannon fire, hand-to-hand conflict and blood-thirsty revolutionary crowds. Who could ask for more during the holidays?

The two-and-half-hour extravaganza also provides us with an excuse to revisit one of the thorniest of all historical questions: What is the role of great men and women in history? Is history made by unique individuals pursuing their dreams? Or is it the product of vast impersonal forces? This is more than just an idle question. The answer we give shapes the sort of history we teach in schools and universities. It also influences our approach to civic life: The more we emphasize the role of human agency, the more we will be inclined to be active citizens.