Bruce Bethke weighs in yet again on a very old argument: this nutso idea that Star Wars isn’t science fiction:
“Sure, it looks like science fiction. It sounds like science fiction. And based on that guy in the wookiee costume who was ahead of us in the concession line, it even smells like science fiction, or at least like the third day of a furry fandom convention. But Star Wars is not science fiction. It’s a long-winded heroic magical fantasy saga that happens to take place in a world cluttered up with lots of sci-fi props and set dressings. If considered as science fiction, there is not one thing in the entire Star Wars universe that bears close scrutiny, because if you think about it at all seriously, the seams split and all the nonsense comes pouring out.”
The nonsense just comes pouring out, eh? Well hey, hate Star Wars all you like. (I was done the moment I was stunned by just how godawful the theatrical re-release of “A New Hope” was.) I will say this, though: this particular light saber cuts both ways. Talk about throwing stones in glass houses!
Let’s look again at all that “real” science fiction from around 1940 to about 1980. I mean really look at it:
- How much of it was predicated on the idea that only a united One World Earth Government could reach the stars?
- How much of it assumed that the future government of humanity would necessarily be some sort of socialism or communism?
- How much of it was a glorified bully pulpit used to beat down and mock the concept of religion in general?
- How much of it included free love and explicit sex or presented the idea that modesty, fidelity, and marriage were all outmoded, uncool, and unfuturistic– to the point of taking on any and every imaginable taboo up to and including incest and pedophilia?
- Similarly, how much of it went out of the way to present cowardly loser protagonists that are both unheroic and unsuccessful with the opposite sex– in order to be more “realistic”?
I’m one of those people that became a science fiction fan because of Star Wars, and gosh… it really was a chore to find anything to read in that genre when that franchise was first exploding into the wider collective consciousness. For decades, I was convinced that to read anything for fun I would just have to hold my nose and read around all the tacky stuff just to enjoy my favorite genre. But face it, by the late seventies, the science fiction brand was weighed down by a great deal of nonsense. And it had gone on for so long that most people couldn’t imagine it being any other way.
It wasn’t always like that, of course. Just as the Poindexters of today are out in force poo pooing classic Star Wars, so too were the letter columns of classic science fiction magazines filled to the brim with the sneering and heckling of weirdos that were convinced that the genre of science fiction could only work well if it were turned into some sort of freakish tool for smashing the natural forms of economic and social life.
The roots of Star Wars predate all of that, of course. The old works are superior in many ways, but the resonance of the early film franchise with Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom stories, C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, and E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman stories in undeniable. (The first accounts for the definitive space princess, the second a clear antecedent for the Han Solo scoundrel type, and the last provides a template for the “guardians of peace and justice” archetype that the Jedi knights fulfilled.)
Maybe those stories aren’t your cup of tea. Maybe you think Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke are superior in every way and deserved to erase the foundations of the field in order to bring us astonishing tales of alien threesomes, men traveling back in time to have sex with their mothers, and the “real” story behind what happened when the star of Bethlehem lit up the sky. More power to you if “dangerous visions” of the sixties and seventies are what floats your boat!
But like it or not, the original Star Wars movies were science fiction– science fiction of a type that was wildly popular when guys like Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke were still in diapers. If science fiction in the same vein as Star Wars isn’t science fiction, then the generation that laid the foundations of the field never existed. And the people who also inspired all of the best known science fiction grandmasters to pursue careers writing classic tales are erased from history as well.
Get the real story on the history of fantasy and science fiction: Check out my book Appendix N! And lemme tell ya, the hard back looks so slick, it makes a perfect Christmas gift. Don’t miss it!