Is Star Wars Science-Fiction? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Is Star Wars Science-Fiction?

Go to any science-fiction convention and there will be a healthy Star Wars presence: comics, toys, figurines, apparel, etc. Some of its motion picture installments constantly appear on lists of the best science-fiction films ever made. This, of course, will never change, because Star Wars looks like science fiction. It sounds like science fiction.

But it isn’t science fiction. Not really.

Merriam-Webster defines science fiction as “dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.”

For a story to qualify as science fiction, then, it must feature not just a twist of reality, but also an illustration of the impact of that twist on the characters, the society, or both. For example, in Total Recall we ponder a world in which memories can be implanted into the human mind and seem perfectly real. We wonder about the distinction between reality and dream, and about what constitutes identity. Is an implanted memory any less real than one based on true events? Is a person who is based on an entire life’s worth of implanted memories any less a person than one whose memories are records of true events? In Minority Report we’re forced to grapple with the concept of pre-crime — a psychic’s vision that someone will commit a crime in the future — and whether it’s ethically and morally sound to punish someone for a crime they’ve not yet committed.

These philosophical conundrums about the implications, the impact, of the differences between these worlds and ours are what make science fiction. It doesn’t exist without them. Star Wars does.
Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings
To illustrate, let’s compare Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as we do in casino reviews. Both sagas tell a traditional good-vs.-evil story. The bad guys are menacing and they’re doing evil things. The good guys — among them an unlikely hero who rises to greatness — do whatever they can to defeat the bad guys so the world can live in peace.

Star Wars uses a futuristic backdrop decorated with lightsabers, lasers, non-humans such as aliens and droids, etc. Lord of the Rings is decorated with medieval equivalents: swords, archery, non-humans such as elves and dwarves. And neither saga uses the differences between its world and ours to create a philosophical conundrum. The focus is what’s going to happen next instead of the psychological or societal or cultural implications of magic or laser beams.

Further, Star Wars could be told using the backdrop of a medieval world. Star destroyers, TIE fighters, X-wings? Barges, sloops-of-war, horseback. Blasters? Crossbows. The Force? Magic. Luke can battle Vader in a medieval world; we would be robbed merely of the awesome glowing, humming, and crackling of their lightsabers.

In the same way, even many Star Trek stories don’t qualify as science fiction. Pondering whether a self-aware holographic image is a person? Yes. War between Klingons and the Federation? No.
Science fiction, unnoticed
Flipping the misconception, there are many great stories that hardly ever appear in discussions about science fiction but which inarguably fall into the genre. A good example is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which tells the story of bitter ex-lovers who each decide to erase all memories of the other. The scientific ability to selectively erase memory and its implications for the characters’ behavior are fundamental to the story. They are the story.

Science fiction doesn’t even have to be futuristic or involve what we usually think of as hard science: technological breakthroughs and inventions. For example, Groundhog Day, the story of a miserable weatherman trapped in a time loop in which he’s forced to relive the same day over and over, relies on this twist of reality to eventually force the weatherman to improve himself, to grow.

Star Wars’ reality twists — awesome space ships, weapons, and creatures — play a surface, superficial role. They aren’t essential to the core story. This isn’t to suggest that someone couldn’t write a true science-fiction tale about the galaxy far, far away. A writer could explore, for example, the biological and perhaps psychological impact of chronic faster-than-light-speed travel (which would require a much more accurate portrayal of astrophysics, but I digress). Or one could closely explore the ethical and moral quandaries of The Force.

But Star Wars isn’t about all that. It isn’t science fiction. It’s fantasy set in a futuristic world. And that’s okay. Because futuristic fantasy, like science fiction, and like Star Wars itself, is still and always will be awesome.
Science Fiction Is About Politics
Readers who don't enjoy science fiction often dismiss it because they consider it simply a frivolous fantasy of robots and spaceships. While it is highly entertaining to imagine what it would be like to explore far-away worlds and see races exotic beyond our imaginings, there are actual, real-world applications for the science fiction genre. Science fiction – as well as its not-so-distant cousin, fantasy – is one of the most political of all literary genres.

It is easy to spend hours speculating about why this is so. Perhaps it is because science fiction works as a clever disguise for broaching subjects and planting messages in the public psyche that would otherwise be ignored. After all it is a lot more fun to watch Doctor Who's Davros attempt to take over the cosmos with his master race, the Daleks, than to watch a documentary about Hitler. It is no secret, after all, that many of the master races that sprung up in science fiction after World War II were inspired by Hitler and the Nazis. Whether they were all conscious parallels or not is another matter for speculation but, nevertheless, it is there.

Or, perhaps it is necessary to consider politics when writing about how different races and classes of people get along. Many science fiction stories are, after all, more sociologically than psychologically based. They tend to look at the big picture and attempt to answer big questions, such as, “What if the human race had star ships?” which is the big question of Star Trek. The answers, according to Star Trek writers is, “They would be used by the military as part of a benign exploration program – but of course war would erupt through no fault of our own.”

Science fiction, though a great getaway tool for escapists, does not tend to be terribly frivolous, heavy reliance on shiny materials and neat-looking aliens notwithstanding.

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