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Recap / Love, Death & Robots: "Lucky 13"

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"She's my bucket of bolts. And she's always taken care of me."
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A rookie pilot serving on an alien planet is saddled with an unlucky ship.

Samira Wiley plays Cobby Cutter.


Tropes:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Fitting for the thirteenth short of the anthology. Cutter is given a transport numbered "13-02313", which means it not only has the number 13 at the start and end of its registry number, but all of the digits add up to 13 as well. It twice went down, taking all hands with it. Under her stewardship, however, it serves with distinction, getting dubbed Lucky 13.
  • Ace Pilot: For someone explicitly referred as a rookie, Cutter has some insane piloting skills, especially considering she's flying a drop-ship rather than something agile. Just in her first mission, she manages to fight off two fighters with nothing more than her skills, use of terrain and decoy flares.
  • Action Girl: Cutter is primarily a drop-ship pilot, but just as capable of fighting as the grunts she transports.
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  • Aerial Canyon Chase: The first demonstration of Cutter's piloting skills is when she manages to get rid of multiple enemy planes while flying under underground columns.
  • All There in the Script: Major Graham and Coby's teammates Sergeant Howard, Sergeant Pettibone, Private First Class Macdonald, D'Esposito and Bitching Betty.
  • The Alleged Car: An alleged dropship. Lucky 13 is not only an old model that's being currently in the process of being phased out by the military, it is visibly more beat up than the other vehicles presented in the bay and suffers from mechanical failures in combat situations. On top of that, it survived two crashes (further wearing it down) and carries an ominous reputations as a "Flying Coffin".
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Assuming the Lucky 13 was indeed a sentient machine, it's more than fitting that it works so well with Cutter thanks to the rookie treating the ship with nothing but respect.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Cutter is awarded for her bravery and gifted with a Black Hawk ship, but Lucky 13 was destroyed. However, she kept a plate that had the ship's full registry number.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The protagonists' weapons all fire red tracers, the opposing force blue-white. The end result looks vaguely laser-like even though both sides clearly use good ol' projectile weaponry.
  • Cool Helmet: Cutter and Jackal's helmets evoke vipers, with the tops painted to look like snake scales and parts of the faceplates resembling fangs.
  • Cool Starship: Number 13 is outdated and seen as a bucket of bolts by most people, but becomes "Lucky 13" and a symbol of good fortune after Cutter takes over as its pilot.
  • Dirty Coward: One of the transports takes off without its squad, leaving them to get chewed up by gunfire while it makes a clean getaway. This ship is quickly shot down, leaving Cutter to pick up the squad.
  • Improvised Weapon User: Cutter splashes one of the fighters by popping chaff and flares so close that the flares smash into the enemy's cockpit, immolating the crew. As we see earlier in the short, the chaff and flares are normally used as decoys against homing missiles.
  • Ironic Nickname: Lucky 13 is initially dubbed such as it is believed to be cursed. However, once Cutter makes a name for it, people start calling it Lucky 13 more sincerely.
  • Heads-Up Display: Notably, they are directly mounted in the helmets the pilots are wearing, not at any part of the ship's cockpit or control panels.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Mostly averted, although Cutter discards her helmet after it's damaged in the final fight scene.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Number 13 is a very unusual ship, with a reputation for having lost two crews in a row before miraculously becoming an unstoppable ship when flown by Cutter. In the final battle, Cutter is tangled up just long enough to save her from being blown up by a rocket (and then immediately released from the entanglement), and the self-destruct system is mysteriously delayed until all enemy forces are crowded around the downed ship. Several shots are viewed from the perspective of a camera of the ship, giving you the feeling Number 13 is observing Cutter and her crew.
  • Military Science Fiction: It's a story of a drop-ship pilot and her aircraft, fighting in some futuristic war, far away from Earth.
  • New Meat: Cutter is a rookie pilot, and therefore assigned to fly the infamous ship.
  • Nom de Guerre: Colby and Lee go by Cutter and Jackal.
  • Numerological Motif: 13, as the story centers around a ship named Lucky 13 whose full registry number adds up to 13, and has a bad reputation.
  • Punny Name: Colby is also the name of a kind of cheese. Her callsign is thus possibly a fart joke, as in cut the cheese.
  • Red Shirt: In-Universe when Lucky 13 is assigned to be the lead aircraft because that's the most dangerous position, the implication being that the rookie in the oldest (and notoriously unlucky) aircraft is the most expendable.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Justified; it's a thermite charge meant to obliterate military technology to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
  • Sentimental Sacrifice: Lucky 13 clearly means a lot to Cutter. It became heartbreaking to activate the self-destruct sequence and leave with a parting goodbye.
  • Shown Their Work: The team behind this short went to great lengths to not only make the dropship look right, but also to make it *sound* right. If you listen closely, you can hear various alerts from the ships computer warning the pilot of danger, as well as the alarms that sound for the specific warnings. On top of that, the radio calls and tactics employed are accurate to the real world, with the Marines forming a 360 degree defense zone around the ship after exiting in a possible combat zone, as well as the AWACS calling out incoming hostile fighters in accordance to proper AWACS handlingnote . And as if all of that wasn't enough, even the animation of the dropship itself adds a feeling of heavy weight to the ship, far more so than even some animators from big-name studios do.
  • Space Cold War:
    • Although unnamed and unmarked, the enemy forces Cutter goes up against in "Lucky 13" appear to draw their design inspiration from modern Russian & Chinese equipment. On the other hand, Cutter is part of a futuristic US/NATO-allied planetary force (as her uniform's flag patch is American), whose equipment design is based on weaponry and aircraft in use by modern Western-aligned militaries.
    • The Space Marines use assault rifles resembling futuristic TAR-21s, whereas OpFor'snote  rifles resemble the AK series and their T-28 stealth fighters draw heavy inspiration from the Chinese J-20.
  • Space Marine: Cutter's military-like organization appears to be an example, as they're cleaning up conflicts on an alien planet.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Army: The setting of "Lucky 13". Cutter is a VTOL pilot aboard the aircraft "Lucky 13", responsible for inserting Space Marines into planetary operations (such as investigating a sabotaged terraform station).
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The Lucky 13 is an old, beat-up dropship. For all its legacy and eventual fame, this still means it only carries a bare minimum of ammo for self-defense and said gun is viable to misfeeding due to how worn-down the entire thing is. Both of which pop-up in combat situations and causing all sort of trouble.
  • Taking You with Me: Lucky 13 seems to delay her own self-destruct until the enemy combatants are all climbing on her and using her as cover, thus making sure all of them will die with her.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Cutter keeps Lucky 13's registry number plate after the ship is destroyed.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: A lot of unexplained jargon and slang. The audience will either understand it already, or figure it out from context. Or just ignore it and watch the dogfights.

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