Lessons from The Last Jedi
Okay, you got me - the last post was a joke (at least in part)! Of course I have more thoughts on The Last Jedi and have learned more lessons than just, "Use cool creatures that inspire wonder to remind your players that they are in a fantasy universe," but I'm sorry: I couldn't not make that post. It was just too good of an idea to pass up, :)
So here's the real post: a set of lessons I learned from The Last Jedi about what to avoid as a roleplayer and a game master, because fair warning: I didn't like this film.
I. Character Progression v. Regression
I've heard a lot of people say, "Man, I didn't expect it, but Luke really progressed as a character in The Last Jedi, and that's what makes it so brilliant."
...No he didn't. He regressed.
Before Luke meets Ben Kenobi, his life can be summed up in a single line that he says to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, "Looks like I'm going nowhere. I'm going to take care of those droids."
He's lost, with no purpose, shutting out the world around him because his dreams of going to the Imperial Academy are being shelved by a power beyond him.
He then meets Obi-Wan, and is trained by Obi-Wan (and later Yoda) in the ways of the Force. And over the course of blowing up a Death Star, failing at the Cave, failing to defeat Vader, and then finally defeating the Emperor, he becomes a Jedi. And he does this by learning to listen to his masters (his big flaw in Empire that is resolved in Return of the Jedi).
So explain to me why cutting yourself off from your masters and choosing to remain on Achtu alone is "progression" of the character? He's reverting back to the pre-Obi-Wan Luke from A New Hope. This is not character progression - it's character regression. In Return of the Jedi Luke learns to seek counsel from his masters: this is what he should have done when Kylo Ren turned to the Dark Side and slaughtered his students. And maybe he did, but we have no evidence that he did.
Instead, we get whiny Luke. Again. All of his progression over the Original Trilogy is gone, and we're back to a guy who is purposeless, blocked out by forces beyond him.
Be watchful of this: don't do this with your character, and don't force/present this on a player character as a game master. If it rubs someone the wrong way when they see this, they're right to think that. And that could cost you players at your table.
II. The Plot Needs to Make Sense
The plot of The Last Jedi can be summed up in one sentence: two fleets crawl across space for no good reason in a "chase" while side quests occur that ultimately result in nothing save the killing of Supreme Leader Snoke (and we later learn that even that is meaningless, but more on that when we look at Rise of Skywalker next week).
That is objectively a poor plot for the Star Wars universe.
One of the things that sets Star Wars apart from other space fandoms (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, etc.) is starfighters: they are the primary means of engagement in a Star Wars movie. Rewatching the Original Trilogy and prequels over the past few months, it's amazing how little the capital ships fire at each other. It's not a massive slugging match between big ships with starfighters playing point defense: the starfighters actually do the brunt of the heavy lifting (while also playing point defense).
So imagine my surprise when the Imperial Rule #1 of fleet engagement (launch the TIEs) isn't used to chase down the Resistance fleet, and instead they just pursue at a snail's pace.
Oh wait - they do launch fighters, which is how Kylo Ren breaches the command bridge to send his mother into space. But then they...just hang back and chase them without sending out TIEs again? Even after it proved effective? I don't understand.
Imagine my greater surprise when they are relatively close to a planet (Krait), because sublight speed gets you basically nowhere in the Star Wars universe, and no First Order officer thinks to scout the planet for a potential base or assume that the Resistance attempt to jettison their crew there.
Your bad guys need to exhibit some level of competency if your players are going to buy into the plot. So take the time to work out a good mindset for your antagonists, and then pursue it to provide a true challenge for them.
You'll notice that I'm not saying you need to work out the plot in advance - don't do that. Your players need to have agency, which means the plot needs to be able to change. Instead, work out a good mindset for your bad guys so that they can react in a reasonable manner to even the most unpredictable actions of the players.
III. No Holdo Maneuvers
This goes back to something we mentioned in our Rogue One post about "The Rule of Cool" and how it can be dangerous in your campaigns. Is the "Holdo Maneuver" of using a hyperspace jump to destroy a ship cool? Yes - I definitely thought so in the theaters when I saw The Last Jedi on opening night.
But the more I think about it the less cool and more dangerous to the canon it becomes. Why didn't the Rebel Alliance use the same tactic to blow up the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, flying a starfighter into the core and then hyperspace jumping into the core? This small decision brings up serious questions about the rest of the canon. All because some guy on the planning team said, "Hey, this would be cool."
The maneuver gets even further complicated when you realize how poorly executed it is. Admiral Holdo allows over a dozen of the transports to be destroyed before she even starts turning around to initiate the maneuver. They could have pulled that maneuver while flying the crew to the other capital ships to aid them in escaping, allowing them to avoid being tracked and still have a small fleet within the first 30 minutes of the film. But instead we got the Holdo Maneuver.
And I won't even get into the fact that if you did want to make a sacrifice play by luring in the First Order fleet and then hyperspace jumping into them, it should have been Ackbar setting up his own trap for the enemy. We won't even discuss this.
So no Holdo Maneuvers. If you want to make a sacrifice play, sacrifice yourself in ways that make sense. Block the door, run toward the enemy with a bomb, start the turn of the spaceship earlier, whatever it may be. If you need ideas for how to do a sacrifice play well, go watch Rogue One. There are seven of them in that movie.
IV. Stay on Target
Now, to be clear, before someone comes after me saying I hate Ms. Tran, I hope she gets some stellar roles in other films and I look forward to seeing her in those. This is not a comment on the actress, it's an indictment of lazy writing and character presentation on the part of the writing and director team for The Last Jedi. She did the best she could with what she was given, and I liked her in Rise of Skywalker.
We had a good thing going in The Force Awakens: the African-American actor that we really liked was interested in the white up-and-coming Force sensitive lead, and they would have made a great couple (and yes, that's what the dialogue and actions in The Force Awakens were definitely hinting at - everyone was in agreement on that in 2015, so don't give me any of this crap about a setup for Reylo in Force Awakens).
The result is that Rose's character was unnecessary, and overcomplicated an element of the plot that didn't need it (in a film that was already in trouble as regards timing) for no good reason. When building a plot, stay on target: don't just add NPCs, side quests, etc. for the heck of it. Stay on target.
And for some campaigns, that may limiting/removing random encounters: if the party needs to get to a given place, and it doesn't make sense to deviate from/run into things on the road, then don't let that happen. Keep the pace moving, keep the story going, and only add complexity where necessary and helpful.
Now, to be clear, I don't hate this movie - that word is far too strong. And yes, the ice foxes might be the primary reason why I don't hate this movie. But I see it as a good warning for us as storytellers (whether we are in the GM chair or a player who is making decisions that affect the plot) of what not to do.
Did the film subvert expectations? Yes. Is it the kind of film that a few people really like and a lot of people really hate (Rian Johnson's definition of a successful movie)? Yes. So you've got to hand it to him: the film was a success in his eyes. But if that's what you want for your roleplay campaigns, beware: you may be the only one that likes it. And friends may leave your group.
Slightly more upbeat post next week as we finish out the series with The Rise of Skywalker - stay tuned! Almost there!
Until next time,