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Take the Lead: Advice on winning players and influencing parties

Star Wars

by David Bareford
May 16, 2002  

He's the Brains, Sweetheart: Leadership in the Star Wars saga

Part 5 of 4

Start a discussion about leading a party or influencing real-world players and the majority of RPG'ers quickly fall into one of two polar ideologies. One camp will be intrigued by the idea, whether because of the complex social roleplaying involved or simply for the chance to vicariously realize their latent Machiavellian lust for power. The other group will protest that their games get along just fine without a leader, thank you, and stress that roleplaying is not a goal-oriented activity.

Most groups, however, will fall somewhere between the iron-fisted dictator and the perfect-cohesion utopia styles of play; good leadership is often more subtle than would-be leaders think, and more pervasive than democratic groups realize. To demonstrate this point, let's examine some of the leader archetypes in the Star Wars saga; I'll focus mainly on Episodes IV through VI because they provide familiar characters and a longer development arc.

Let's start with the Empire. Essentially a military organization, the Empire has a built-in command structure. Roleplaying groups in a variety of genres could be members of such a hierarchy and one or more characters could be in charge of the others, creating many opportunities for roleplaying. The lieutenant, sergeant, or private are no less interesting to play simply because they are outranked by the captain.

Continuing our journey on the Dark Side, we look at Darth Vader and the Emperor. These guys typify the standard evil villain leader. No one follows them because they inspire loyalty; people obey them to avoid having their throats crushed. Vader and the Emperor brook no second opinions from anyone, and tend to view everyone as resources to be used and discarded. Does this leadership style work? Certainly. We don't see a lot of insubordination among Empire troops, nor do they wander around without direction or discipline. Of course, such a leadership style has its drawbacks: minions with rigidly-disciplined responses which can't adapt to the opposition, a dearth of alternate opinions from other knowledgeable people, and lieutenants who will eventually throw the leader down a bottomless shaft.

Shifting our attention to the Rebellion, we see the classic good-guy organization. Loosely based on a military structure, but with much more input and democracy than the Empire, people join this side voluntarily. This means they enjoy a camaraderie which makes it easy to gain their cooperation, but also a strong sense of independence which can make it difficult to lead them.

One of their leaders is Princess Leia. She is clearly a part of the authority structure, but when it comes to the "PC party" that the movies follow, she exhibits very little power. Leia is a classic example of a character who is a leader on her character sheet, but who can never manage to direct the PCs. In Episode IV, she tries to command by ordering people around, but as it happens in most PC groups, such is largely ignored. In the later episodes she still exercises her NPC authority, but has taken a supporting role to the major characters.

Obi-Wan Kenobi exhibits a much more indirect leadership approach. He encourages young Luke to make his own decisions but leads when the situation is in chaos, hiring a starship and setting out to rescue the princess. His party includes a very strong character, Han Solo, who often disagrees with the Jedi's methodology and tactics, but Obi-Wan does not let solo's independence or jibes about "hokey religions" rattle him. He radiates confident competence and projects an aura of safety in the midst of danger. Though he goes off on his own in the Death Star, he gives Luke and Han a task to focus on, which they invest in as their own. Finally, he demonstrates the ultimate concern for the group over himself, as he allows himself to be cut down so that the others may escape. He is a good model for a PC leader in some game settings.

Obviously, since Obi-Wan doesn't survive Episode IV, it is difficult to chart his further development as a leader. (Certainly he grew from his apprentice role in Episode 1.) Luke acknowledged him as the leader of the group yet Han, although he followed Obi-Wan's orders, would have protested his own independence. However, the smuggler did what Obi-wan directed, and ultimately was brought to grudging respect for the Force by this understated leader.

Luke begins too petulant and naive to lead at the beginning of Episode IV. He becomes a little more world-wise after the rescue of Leia from the Death Star, and demonstrates a high level of competence as a pilot during the subsequent attack on the space station. Luke's real transformation, though, is a result of gaining discipline as a Jedi. Luke leads the rescue of Han from Jabba the Hut, but constantly decides to undertake missions alone, and so removes himself from a leadership role. The Jedi Knight character can be a natural leader much like a paladin, but falls into the role of the inscrutable mystic very easily.

Han Solo first appears as a hireling; an NPC to the grand plotline of the rebellion. He immediately brings many qualities of natural leadership to the table: resources (the Millennium Falcon), competence as a smuggler and pilot, natural confidence and charisma, and even a furry henchman. However, Han has to overcome his mercenary attitude and the concern for self-preservation that defines him in Episode IV. Once he demonstrates true concern for the group despite personal risk, he becomes the de facto leader of the party.

Han's leadership style is another good model for a PC. Unlike Obi-Wan's subtle influence, Han is an up front, take-charge kind of guy. Still, he never bosses people around but simply makes decisions when the situation is in crisis. He acts. People tend to follow someone who is doing something that seems reasonable and active; discussion and deliberation over every issue defines a group of equals. A leader must lead.

There are certainly other characters from the saga from which leadership examples could be drawn (Lando, Jabba, and Yoda come to mind), but that is for another time, another article far, far away.

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What do you think?


All Take the Lead columns by David Bareford
  • Pitfalls and Power Bases April 9, 2002
  • Techniques March 15, 2002
  • Qualities February 22, 2002
  • A Leader Is? January 22, 2002

    Other columns at RPGnet

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