Friday, December 30, 2011

Star Wars Commentary, Part 3: Storm Troopers versus Battle Droids

Let’s contrast these two Star Wars concepts using the following criteria:
  1. Appearance
  2. Competence
  3. Dramatic usefulness
First of all, the Storm Troopers look cool. People still buy mock-ups of S.T. armour for costumes or collections. The white color with dark highlights is a stark contrast to the black of Darth Vader and the dark purpose to which S.T.’s are typically put. White also stands out very well on most Star Wars sets (with the exclusion of Hoth, of course). Then compare this to a battle droid. I think they are coloured taupe or some similarly institutional colour. Dull. They have an elongated face, almost beak-like, and stick-thin limbs. All in all, they utterly lack in intimidation value. This is only accentuated by their comically high, modulated voices and ridiculous dialogue. We never heard a Storm Trooper say “Roger, roger” for very good reason: something that says “roger, roger” might kill you, but it can’t stop you from laughing at it. A battle droid doesn’t look like you need to be a Jedi in order to cut your way through a swath of them; a stiff breeze would knock them down. (The upgraded battle droids seen later in the trilogy start to look deadlier, but first impressions count for a lot: it’s the battle droids in Phantom Menace that stick with a guy.)
Which is more useful? If we were watching an episode of Deadliest Warrior, which would win in a fight? Certainly S.T.’s get their butts kicked a lot; one could even argue that’s their purpose. Battle droids fare no better, however. They are woefully fragile, falling apart when pushed by someone as useless as Jar Jar. Then again, the S.T.’s get beaten up by Ewoks, so neither side comes out with a great resumé. The question is, I suppose, would you rather tell people you’d been beaten up by a brain-damaged amphibian or an overgrown teddy bear? My instinct is to call this category a tie. Yes, both sides lose (they are the villains), but both get some victories, too. The Troopers crushed Hoth and Leia’s ship, but the battle droids did manage to beat Jar Jar’s extended family.
That leaves dramatic usefulness. By this I mean which is better in terms of plot and writing. The Troopers are humans, so the Jedi get to show off their cool mind tricks with them. “These are not the droids you’re looking for” is a classic Star Wars line that wouldn’t have been possible if the first trilogy was shot with battle droids. Yet in spite of their humanity, they are implacable and incorruptible foes. You can’t just slip one a ten-credit coin and weasel through Imperial blockades. The same could be said of the droids, too. Either side can be tricked, but not cozened, absolutely perfect for displaying the monolithic nature of evil. Villains that can be circumvented with a wink and a nod make for uninspiring enemies. The critical difference, though, lies in the vulnerability Troopers have to Jedi mind tricks. Villains need to have flaws, and what better way to display the funky mystical powers of Jedi than to have them control strong but weak-minded minions? Battle droids have a flaw, too, but it appears to be the uselessness of them as individuals or in small units. The Storm Trooper flaw (human minds) gives us an excellent writing hook. The battle droid flaw (individual weakness) only makes them less scary, since beating up a weak guy sort of makes the heroes seem like bullies. Edge: Storm Troopers.
Our score stands at Storm Trooper 2, battle droids 0, with one tie. This was particularly disappointing for me, too, because I clearly remember being totally jazzed at the concept of battle droids all those years ago. Wow, did they fall short of expectations. “Roger, roger.” Really? That’s the best dialogue you could come up with?
Nothing stings worse than having your high hopes dashed. At least I’ve learned my lesson. Next time (if there is a next time) I’ll go in with Anaconda 2 level expectations. As Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory says, “I prefer to let George Lucas disappoint me in the order he intended.”

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