Similar to our last post, we're taking a look at what I love about the Star Wars movies, going in chronological order, talking about what I've found useful as an RPG creator, player, and game master. Today we are discussing Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
I confess that this post took me a bit longer to write, not only because of my time with family over Christmas, but also because there's a lot to write about, and I do try to keep these posts on the short side to make them easier to read.
In this post we are talking about arguably the weakest of the Lucas movies, a movie that I loved as a kid, have loved as an adult, and will love showing to my kids in the future for four reasons, all of which have deepened my perspective as a game master and player.
I. Use Cool Bad Guys
My favorite villain in all of Star Wars is Jango Fett (love Vader, but I love this guy more). The man is amazing: he goes toe to toe with Obi-Wan and survives, his fight with Obi-Wan is amazing by any metric, he captures Anakin, he fights Jedi on their turf (instead of just flying around shooting at them), a non-Force user who holds his own against Force users - the guy is a legend.
And while he's not one of the main characters (the player characters if you think of the series as an RPG), he's not only a character you would want to build as a player character, he's an excellent challenge to the player characters and someone you don't want to casually meet.
And that is excellent: we want our players not only to face a challenge, but also to be inspired by the people they interact with in-world. So build guys like this: Jango is the jam, not only because he has cool armor (the reason people liked Boba Fett in the films pre-fanboy worship), but also because he's smart, capable, and dangerous.
Just remember: the player characters are the main characters. Keep them the main focus of the campaign, even if your villains are cool. A similar note could be made about allied NPCs: Mace Windu is cool, but he's not one of the main characters, so he gets his cool moments but stays in the background. Obi-Wan, Padme, and Anakin are the ones that get to track down Dooku, have to rescue themselves from the Acklay, Reek, and Nexu, etc.
II. Key Personality Traits
One of the complaints people have about Attack of the Clones is how whiny Anakin is. But as you rewatch A New Hope, you'll find that this is a personality trait that Lucas is mimicking from Luke to show that they are, in fact, related. Similarly, Anakin is constantly put down by Obi-Wan for being impulsive, bucking authority, and being led by his emotions, all of which Luke displays in the original trilogy.
This is critical: it not only makes connections between the two trilogies, but it also helps us to connect related characters. When building a character, or when your group meets a new NPC, think through what their key personality traits are. Is the person brash (and if so, how will that affect the party/the rest of the party)? Is he self-confident (and does he have good reason to be), and what does that do for the plot?
Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme are all very self-assured in this movie, and it leads to both discovering crticial elements of the plot as well as them getting caught by Count Dooku. And it works: they get rewarded for going for it, and they also get what they are due, and have to fight for their lives in an arena as a result. So don't think that as a game master you can't reward the players for being true to the character, or that rewarding them means no consequences. Give them both: watch the movie for ideas as to how.
III. Scope of Conflict
Attack of the Clones had a massive challenge (well, several, but this is one of them): how do you show the scope of a massive battle while keeping the main characters the center of the story? The way Lucas does it is he has the conflict going on around us, but we get constant vignettes looking at the people we know.
There are hundreds of thousands of clones, but we zoom in to a single gunship that has Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme on it. We see scores of troops attacking, but we zoom in on Yoda commanding the artillery battery. And this works: you can do mass scale conflicts in your campaign without rolling hundreds of times for NPCs. Just remember that your focus is on the player characters, and we want to keep them in the spotlight.
Rogue One does this very well too, but more on that when we do the Rogue One review in a few weeks (after Revenge of the Sith and Solo).
IV. On and Off Screen
A critical discussion point for any movie, but also for roleplay campaigns, is what should happen "on-screen" v. "off-screen" for the plot. Do we need to see Anakin and Obi-Wan in the nest of gundarks? No - that can happen off-screen and a quick nod to it is satisfactory. But if Anakin and Padme's relationship had been grown off-screen we would be wanting to see how that happened.
Now of course if it's terribly written/executed (one of the big criticisms of the movie) that will be bad for your movie, but I think that this is actually a bigger issue in an RPG setting. Do critical events, especially if they are only pertinent to one person, have to happen "on-screen" (aka, in person at a session), or should it be handled "off-screen" (aka, between sessions) by the GM and the related character, and then the rest of the group is alerted at a later date when it is pertinent? Because while the topic of player-character separation is a critical one (and while I don't have a problem with people not having this, it is helpful in some cases), it comes to a head with on/off-screen content.
Whatever your criticisms may be in the film, I think Attack of the Clones puts the right scenes in the movie and leaves out stuff that doesn't need to be there. We get to see Chancellor Palpatine ascending to almost-emperorhood. We see the politics that drove that decision to fruition. We get to see what life in the republic is like from the shady bar scene tracking down Zam Wessel juxtaposed to the pastoral atmosphere of Naboo. We see contract work by a bounty hunter who is a truly neutral party amidst a polarized conflict. All of this we need to see to make sense of the Original Trilogy.
You can also use this off-screen development to cover content that may not be good for the group as a whole, especially if it would trigger a member(s) of the group. More on that in a future post.
There is a lot that Attack of the Clones leaves to be desired. I wish that we got to see more camaraderie and friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin to add power to the duel in Revenge of the Sith, and Lucas himself has admitted that he's not much of a romantic dialogue writer. And there's no doubt that the movie doesn't cover enough ground to get us ready for Episode III (which, slight spoiler, I think does a great job of covering ground without rushing the critical scenes).
But it's a fun watch. And as an unofficial fifth reason I enjoy this film, it's just fun to see what the Jedi were like back when they were protecting the galaxy. It's cool going to new worlds like Kamino and Geonosis while revisiting Tatooine and getting a look at tusken culture that we didn't know before. So while not a perfect film there's a lot here to like. More on these ideas in the next post.
Until next time,