Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Is 'Star Wars' Sci-fi?

I assure you I'm not just arguing semantics when I ask: "is 'Star Wars' a science fiction film?" For years I have argued that it isn't (and I know I'm not alone here, just check on google) and that it is instead primarily a fantasy film.

Science fiction is usually allegorical and always involves some sort of genuine theory on where science may take us. 'Star Wars' does neither thing at all (unless you see it as a bland allegory for "good versus evil"). It doesn't try to make any points, instead it is about some heroic knights rescuing a princess from an evil (dare I say Hidden) fortress. Yes, there are laser guns and spaceships and robots, but I would argue this setting is not necessarily sci-fi. On the other hand, 'Star Trek' is sci-fi. Gene Roddenberry used his 60's TV series to make points about issues of the day, such as racism, as well as taking a look at where humanity may go ('Star Wars' with it's "Galaxy far, far away" disclaimer isn't even proposing that). In 'Star Trek' gadgets are always explained using pseudo-scientific terms, often at great length. 'Star Wars' doesn't care about this kind of thing at all. Sure, since 1977 books have been written that tell you how the Millennium Falcon works etc etc. But the films themselves never concerned themselves with science. In 'Star Wars' it is all about escapism and suspension of disbelief (and for my money this makes 'Star Wars' far better than 'Star Trek' too).

But the reason I get into this discussion is because the genre term of "sci-fi" has become more readily associated with a spacey, futuristic setting than with genuine science fiction. So a film like 'Jurassic Park' (featuring "Mr. DNA", above), which is both about the future of science and a morality tale about the potential perils of man playing god, gets labelled up as something else instead. Maybe that's fine. Maybe this just an acceptable evolution of language and something for etymologists to discuss rather than film critics. But I can't help but feel that the genre is being diluted with the meaning it has appropriated, as sci-fi used to be more complicated then that. Most 1950's science fiction used tales of aliens and spacecraft to talk about the cold war and the spectre of communism, for example.

Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I agree with you that Star Wars isn't sc-fi unless you reduce the meaning of the genre to include anything that depicts advanced technology.

    However I wonder what your thoughts are on whether many of the 1950's science fiction films were strictly sc-fi themselves. Were the 50’s films written as sc-fi or rather were they written using an acceptable escapist story device to smuggle in views that at the time might have got the writers in trouble? Are the authors sc-fi writers or screen writers who aren't using the conventions of sc-fi to explore pitfalls in future societies or technologies but simply to comment upon current society while appearing to just be an entertainment?

    Authors like Philip K Dick or Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke wrote sc-fi. Their works comment upon the moral issues that may arise with advancements in science, or use what-if scientific stories to comment upon current society by representing a possible future extreme as an exercise in exploring a philosophical view. A film like AI for example uses the notion of advanced artificial intelligence to discuss what constitutes a sentient life – it may appear that the future presents this problem but in truth it is just magnifying the issue by saying ‘what-if’ such AI existed in order to explore the issue of what makes us tick.

    I'm not sure that the 50's movies were interested in hypothesis but were rather holding up a mirror to current conventionally accepted norms and showing how warped our view of them often is. Or do you think any allegorical story with advanced technology is sc-fi, even if the story is not concerned with exploring a philosophy or the affects of technological advancements on society?

    What truly makes a sc-fi a sc-fi?