I’ve just discovered that like me Rob Donoghue is reading Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. Over on his LiveJournal Rob offers some of his own inimitable wisdom on an excerpt from the book that I find really interesting. It concerns the climactic choice made by Luke Skywalker at the end of the film Star Wars. The burning question being, as he swoops in to destroy the Death Star, does he use the Force or doesn’t he?
Now, as we all know, Luke chooses to turn off the computer and use the Force, but the really interesting bit is what would have happened if he’d stuck with the computer.
As Rob points out, he’d still blow up the Death Star – because firstly that’s his role and secondly well I guess if he doesn’t the bad guys win – but the big change is that now he would have done so not through his acceptance of the force but through his rejection of it. Rob observes that the resulting story would be fundamentally altered such that Luke would be more or less acting as a Sith Hunter.
A few changes would be required to accommodate this of course – Vader would need Sith minions, and Luke’s story of paralleling his father would be in relation to Vader’s hunt of the Jedi, but there’s still an awesome story to be had there.
Now, as I’m reading Rob’s observations I’m thinking isn’t this exactly what we’re aiming for in roleplaying? – Heroes making choices that define who they are but whatever route they take there’s an awesome story there.
And in this case the trick that was played to achieve an awesome story whatever choice was made was that what was at stake wasn’t what appeared to be at stake. Superficially it appeared that the decision was about how best to destroy the Death Star i.e. to use the force or not to use the force. Hence the consequences of the decision ought to have been that the Death Star was destroyed or wasn’t destoyed. But then if the Death Star wasn’t destroyed the bad guys win, which we don’t want because it buggers up our awesome story – that’s not the direction we want to go in. So what do we do? Well with a little prestidigitation we switch our perspective and find that what’s at stake is no longer the Death Star – that’s going to get blown up either way – what’s at stake is who Luke is, and which path he is going to take.
This reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago. Very similar principles apply I think.
Anyway, most of the above (pretty much all of it except the last bit) is from Rob Donoghue but I wanted to reiterate here because it seemed important.