What I Love: A New Hope
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! As we work through our Star Wars series looking at what I love about each of the films, we have finally arrived at the Original Trilogy. We set out today to discuss the OG, the movie that built the house we know as Star Wars, and that changed movie-making forever.
Like most of these posts, there is more that I could discuss, but I am going to try to keep my thoughts to only some of the more salient points for the sake of brevity. Perhaps when the YouTube channel goes live we'll do a full movie review of useful tips, but for now I just want to focus on four things.
I. The Force and Explanation of New Things
First off, we see Force Healing as the first use of the Force in all of Star Wars, and George Lucas confirms for us that this is what he's doing. So let's put the argument from The Rise of Skywalker to rest: it's not a new Force power. And per the fact that Vader says to Obi-Wan, "Your powers are weak, old man," we know that power has left Obi-Wan, verifying how Force Healing works (as age does not necessitate getting weaker in the Force, as Yoda exemplifies).
So there. That's settled. Not a crazy new power from the sequels. Moving on.
We also see a host of other powers over the course of the movie, most notably the Jedi Mind Trick used to get through Mos Eisley and then again on the Death Star to distract the stormtroopers while he reduces the power level on the Death Star console. All of this comes after he gives his explanations of the Force, illustrating something important for grasping new elements of any universe: show and tell.
Some say, "Show, don't tell," and they make a good point. I hold to that too on many occasions. But in some cases it helps to both show and tell. Show the power or use of something so the players have some idea of what's possible, and then tell them with exposition the basis for why it works the way it does.
Does gravity work differently in your fictional world? Show them how it works, and then have a local tell them why it is the way it is and how they can use that to their advantage. Does magic work differently (maybe it is harnessed by dance and not words of power)? If the players are likely to take certain things for granted that are not true, considering showing and telling them how it works in this world.
II. The Trick to Good Characters
Good characters require two things: being good at specific things (but not everything), and good interactions with other characters. In A New Hope we are drawn to R2 and C-3PO because of their interactions with each other at first, and then their interactions with Luke. This then draws us to Obi-Wan, and from there to Han and Chewie. This then brings us to Leia, and now we have a gang of heroes.
All of them are good at different things. We learn that Han is a good shot, and a good pilot, but not necessarily good at talking his way out of things. We learn that Luke is a good pilot, and the son of one of the best star pilots in the galaxy, which helps to explain why he's good at what he does.
We know that C-3PO is a good interpreter because he is fluent in 6,000,000 forms of communication, and R2 is good at fixing things because that's his programming. Whatever the reason, we know what people are good at and why.
This is part of the key to avoiding the "Mary Sue" complex in characters (more on why I think that is overblown in the sequels next month): if we know in advance that they have skill in something, it makes sense when they succeed, mystical Force or no mystical Force assisting them.
Equally important is that they are not good at everything. If they can do everything well, they don't need other main characters. This becomes particularly essential in a roleplay environment, where in the vast majority of cases you have a party of people, not just one player on a personal quest. But even in a single player campaign, the main character should have weaknesses that non-player characters (NPCs) can fill, as it builds bridges and points of connection in the story.
So encourage your players to make characters who are good at a few things, and then encourage them to rely on the party to cover their weaknesses.
III. Make Really Bad Antagonists
Do you know what makes Darth Vader so terrifying? It's not just the all black look (though that definitely is a part of it). It's not just James Earl Jones's really deep voice (though that's definitely part of it). It's not just his use of a floating ball with a big needle to extract information from Princess Leia (though that's a part of it), nor is it his willingness to choke an officer from a distance. It's all of these together: it's a consistent picture of him in every scene he is in. He's a bad man, and he's powerful, so who is going to tell him to stop?
We don't get a "god-mode Vader" scene in A New Hope like we did in Rogue One. And yet for almost 40 years before Rogue One and even for the three years before Empire Strikes Back (which we will examine next week), everyone feared Vader. Why? Because he's well-made as a villain: he exudes that danger, fear, and competency that makes us fear him.
That's part of the trick to a good antagonist: he has to look impossible to defeat. Then, when they have a chance to, they know that there is a high risk with a high reward. The stakes are set, and we have what every good encounter needs: drama.
So are your players afraid of needles? Have the bad guy bring in a bunch of needles. Don't use them "on-screen" so to speak (we're not here to traumatize our players): anything involving them can happen off-screen (aka, out of session). The impact has already sunk in for them: this is a bad guy. And we want to kill him. Now we've got buy-in from the players against the villain.
IV. Energy Level
Do you know what makes A New Hope so good? There's no bad spots in the film. I know, someone is going to mention the scene where Aunt Beru is making stew, but hear me out: we learn a lot about the characters, world, and plot of Star Wars in two hours without being bored because it is well-paced and the energy modulates.
When action is slow, we are learning about the world, who the characters are, and we set the stakes (Han and Chewie sitting down with Obi-Wan and Luke discussing pay is a great example of this). When action is high, there's a lot of moving parts with no clear sign of how it will end.
If the high-energy Death Star Trench Run was going on for two hours, it would not be a good film, and your campaigns shouldn't be like that either. You need swings: some high-energy sequences and some low-energy sequences, allowing the players to take a breath as a means of gearing up for the next drop. And A New Hope does that really well.
I'll be honest, A New Hope is not my favorite Star Wars film, but it's in my top five. There is a lot going for it, and it does a great job of showing that excellent balance that a film should have in developing the world, moving a cohesive, properly-sized plot, and endearing you to characters. And that is a good template for what your game sessions should do.
Until next time,