You ask me to enter, then you make me crawl… but the main characters have mismatched power levels

The Sorting Algorithm of Evil is an often criticised concept. Oh, shock. All the easy villains were in the first series, and now — mystery of mysteries — the real villains have shown up. And now the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up. And now the intergalactic queens of the universe who hired the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up…

But it exists for a reason.

Shows where one side clearly out matches the other have a habit of being dull unless you can put on your suspenders of disbelief quickly enough. Matches between Awesome Hero and weakling bad dude (see: Batman versus the street gangs) seem like petty bullying. Matches between Awesome Villian and weakling heroes (see: Star Trek: First Contact) seem wildly implausible when they end.

A worse example of the latter were several of the recent season finales of Doctor Who. The Master is completely wiping the floor with everybody, so the Doctor is granted magical powers by the psychic satellites. Davros has stolen the Earth to make a planetary weapon out of planets, so the Doctor learns how to control his regeneration so he can create a clone and a human-Time Lord hybrid clone… or something.

Good drama requires evenly matched combatants, and it’s poor writing if one of the combatants quickly level grinds in order to get a massive advantage over the other.

Enter: Jedi.

I’ve tried to sit through the ‘Prequels’ and I just really don’t understand why the Jedi don’t do the same thing I do when I’m messing with the Force in the video games: pick up something using the Force, smack everybody else with it.

I’m absolutely horrible with my Force powers. In The Force Unleashed, I roamed around Kashyyyk smashing Wookiees with bits of their own temple. Cultural sensitivity, yo.

They’ve got the whole damn Force there and they’re still all ‘Oh, we’re going to spend three weeks battling incompetent ‘droids.’  The obvious enemy would be the Sith, but far too much narrative baggage had been piled on, so it wasn’t possible (sort of) for more than two Sith to exist at a time.

So a less obvious enemy would be the Dark Jedi. Aayla Secura had already been one. If George Lucas was going for the whole ‘It’s just like the end of the Roman Republic!’, then it would have been wonderful to see the Jedi completely reimagined from the original three as being a group at war with themselves (like the Romans were). Instead of being a group of hippy wizards (as they’re presented through Obi Wan and Yoda), they were deeply divided. The Sith exploit that and bring down the Republic. Awesome trilogy. Rounds of applause. No Jar Jar Binks.

Dragonball GT had a similar problem. In order to keep inventing new plots, moronic things had to happen to the most powerful characters (mostly Goku). It would have been much more interesting to see them all start battling each other (which they sort of did with the Baby Saga).

I feel like I’m being a little bit unfair here. The problem is not new and it’s a frequent hurdle for a lot of fiction.

Take, for example, The Iliad.

On the one side, you have the whole Greek world. They’re wealthy and powerful. They have Athena and Poseidon on their side (mostly), along with most of the pantheon at some point or other. They have an immortal on the field (Achilles).

Then you have Troy.

Troy is rather crap. It’s an out-of-the-way nowhere land and only has minor gods fighting on their side (except for, notably, Apollo and Artermis). They have magic walls (built by gods), but they’re mostly crapola. They only hold out for as long as they do because the Greeks keep pissing off the gods.

This isn’t a match up. The drama is only sustained by repeated instances of ‘And then Domestos, son of Toilet Duck, urinated on the sacred mound of a goddess, who complained to Zeus, who extended the plot by two years.’

It would be nice if we could somehow overcome the mismatching problems in fiction.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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