Maybe it’s something particular to science fiction (or “fiction taking place in space with lots of big blasty sounds” for those who would noisily remind me that Star Wars isn’t real science fiction), but as the Star Wars film saga comes to an end it’s clear to me that one of the faults of both Star Wars and its rival/cousin (depending on who you ask) Star Trek is what I call the “Worf Factor.”
Worf is a badass. Ask anyone. He’s big and growls a lot and he’s got a turtle on his head. He’s a Kling-On and he’s got a big blade thing in his bedroom and that’s all we need to know.
What’s interesting about Worf is that anyone thinks he’s any more threatening than a puppy dog. Check out those old TNG episodes. If there’s anything almost universally true about Worf’s portrayal in the show it’s that he always gets his ass kicked. Always. Whether Data’s evil twin is bitchslapping him in the elevator or some giant toy soldier is running him through with a bayonet, the big dumb shit gets his ass tossed around town more than Brainy Smurf.
It’s not that complicated, really. The writers want us to be scared of the antagonist. What better way to make us fear the bad guy than having him/her choose the biggest good guy badass and beat him down? You’ll notice the same thing with Colossus in those first few stories after the all-important Giant-Size X-men #1. In spite of steel skin and strength that rivals that of any of Marvel’s mightiest strongmen, he rarely adds anything positive to the battle because he’s busy getting the White Russian kicked out of him.
Regardless, many Trek fans still see Worf as a badass, simply because he’s a member of an invincible warrior race...an invincible warrior race that is defeated just about every time it shows up...
Perhaps the most infamous villain of the Next Generation series - The Borg - similarly falls short of its reputation at every turn. The Borg, we are led to believe, is the ultimate machine of evolution. It evolves to meet every strategy, every boundary, and every technology. Shoot two Borg drones, another will show up whose hide you can’t dent. Manage to put a few holes in a Borg ship and it’ll seal up faster than Hugh Jackman’s skin in the X-men films. Try to take them on in Checkers or Risk and they’ll fucking annihilate your ass. Resistance is futile. Don’t fuck with the Borg.
So, what kind unbeatable strategies does the Borg use to defeat the Federation? How does it evolve after the victories the good guys just barely managed to seize from it?
Well, the Borg first assaulted the Federation in the two-part “The Best of Both Worlds.” A lone Borg cube drove its way into Federation space, wreaking havoc as it went. With comparative ease, it breached our star system’s defenses, laid waste to starships, and was just barely stopped through the cunning of the Enterprise crew on the very doorstep of Earth.
Later, in Star Trek: First Contact, once again the Borg sent a cube to Earth. Once again, the cube managed to rip through StarFleet only to be stopped just outside Earth’s orbit.
Now, after “The Best of Both Worlds,” exactly how did the Borg “evolve?” What master strategy did this Darwinist machine concoct to win where it had previously failed? Yeah, there was the whole time-travel thing, but that seemed like a last-minute contingency rather than a Plan A type deal, since they only went forward with it once they blew the fuck up.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a cyborg mind capable of complex calculations in microseconds. I know I’m not that smart. Maybe one day, after a good diet and a minimum of TV, but as of right now I’m just not eligible for that particular Mensa card.
Still, let me ask you. If you wanted to conquer and assimilate the people, technology, and resources of an intergalactic empire, had tried to do it before, failed, but had almost succeeded in spite of the fact that you only sent one ship...
...you think the second time, maybe you might spring for TWO?
I know, I know. I can’t comprehend the wisdom and infallible strategy of a super-intelligent cyborg mind that has conquered and assimilated 234,243,254,324 whatever and planets and lots of death and yeah, blah. But, you know, if Hitler had almost taken Moscow with just one tank, call me Mr. Historical Revisionist, but I bet he would’ve sprung for two tanks on the second try. Budget be damned! Make a few less VW’s that year.
The point being that, in Star Trek, the characters very rarely live up to their press releases. I’m pretty sure I’ve won more fistfights than Worf, and while I’m no Bobby Fischer-level strategist, unlike the Borg I always make sure to bring at least TWO pencils to all my final exams, just in case.
Star Wars also suffers from the Worf Factor, particularly in the cases of the most important characters as well as those characters who represent the ideologies behind the whole thing.
Let’s take the Jedi Masters for example: the pillars of wisdom and knowledge in Star Wars. The Jedi are part samurai, part diplomats, part super-spies, with an impossibly rigid discipline that - along with their connection to the mysterious “Force” - grants them supernatural powers. These powers include, among other things, precognition and a minor form of telepathy.
Let’s take review some of the examples of wisdom sprung from the lips of these psychic bastards:
“Impossible! The Sith have been extinct for a millenium!”
“I do not believe the Sith could have returned without us knowing”
“Our intelligence points to disgruntled miners, on the moons of Naboo (trying to assassinate Amidala)”
“(Dooku) is a political idealist! Not a murderer!”
“You know m’lady, Count Dooku was once a Jedi. He couldn’t assassinate anyone. It’s not in his character.”
“The Chancellor doesn’t appear to be corrupt . . . I think he is a good man.”
“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”
“If you leave now, help them you could. But you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”
“He is more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.”
“I can’t kill my own father.”
“Then the Emperor has already won.”
Forgetting the good guys for a bit, what about the bad guys? How about Vader himself? Now he’s a badass. Scourge of the galaxy. The clones have to change their armor every time he walks by. Big, dark, heavy-breathing bad guy. In fact, all of the drama (cough) of the prequels revolves around what a meany bad mo’fo’ poor li’l Annakin is about to become.
Now let’s look at his score.
Attack of The Clones: Despite the advantage of outnumbering Count Dooku 2-to-1, Vader Jr. gets electrocuted, hurled into a wall, and knocked out. Then, armed with two lightsabers, gets his arm sliced off by the same guy who is subsequently humbled by some reject from Dragonball-Z who bears a striking resemblance to Yoda.
A New Hope: Now fully grown with all the grown up diodes and switches in the right parts, Vader faces a geriatric Obi-Wan. The ensuing battle, compared the CGI-aided duels of the prequels, is choreographed similar to the lawn rake fights between Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau in Grumpier Old Men. In spite of his cybernetic strength and overall scariness, Vader fails to kill his mentor, who kills himself in order to be intangible and cryptic.
Empire Strikes Back: Vader finally gets to kick some ass, the ass in question being his son’s ass who has enjoyed a few weeks of training versus the decades of training Vader was given. Vader fails to kill or capture his whining son, but does take off a hand (a hand, not a whole arm, like the arm the invincible warrior of Gremlins 2 fame took from Annakin). Luke escapes by throwing himself down one of the useless bottomless shafts that are featured in every respectable lightsaber battle.
Return of The Jedi: Vader’s ass is thoroughly kicked, by the guy he failed to kill in the previous movie, and he loses a limb AGAIN. He does manage to kill The Emperor, from behind while he’s not looking. He dies, his corpse is burnt, and presumably is served as an entree’ at the Ewok victory celebration.
Revenge of The Sith: Now, I haven’t managed to catch the movie yet, but considering that a big, black toaster oven with emphysema replaces the handsome dork who starred in Attack of The Clones, I think I might be able to guess who won that battle...
Similarly, I’ve never really understood the Star Wars fan fascination with Boba Fett. He also is considered an absolute badass, despite the fact that he’s killed by a blind man who wasn’t even trying to hit him, and whose best showing in the history of the saga was moments before his death when he attacked Luke Skywalker with...string.