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Is Star Wars Science Fiction?

April 12, 2011 21 comments

It’s a common opinion amongst geeks: Star Wars is fantasy, not science fiction. It’s the sort of statement that appeals to pedants and prescriptivists alike (and geeks are usually both); furthermore, it allows for a convenient defence against claims that the science in Star Wars is poor or non-existent.

I’m not unsympathetic to that point of view. At heart, George Lucas has crafted a modern myth, and mythology relies on metaphor and poetic imagery, not rational explanations and plausible events. If science fiction must necessarily be plausible from a scientific perspective, Star Wars is out the window.

However, if science fiction must necessarily not contradict contemporary scientific understanding, what else gets crossed off the list? Try Star Trek, the Alien films and most other popular entertainment with a technological setting, at least on TV and film. Even Contact, a film based on a book by Carl Sagan, implies that radio waves travel much, much slower than the speed of light. Or what about Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) from 1902, widely considered to be the first science fiction film… and yet we have the classic “man in the moon” as part of the visuals—preposterous even 100 years ago.

What does this mean? Are we going to reduce science fiction cinema to a handful of films? Or should we accept that maybe the genre is broader than us geeks will admit? Read more…