It is the greatest struggle in the known universe. Greater than the War of the Ring. Greater than the battle against Voldemort. Greater than getting through the film version of Eragon sober.
How the hell do we categorize Star Wars?
At first glance, George Lucas’ opus seems like a shoe-in for science fiction. Spaceships. Laser guns. Aliens. All the trappings of your standard science fiction fare.
But what really is science fiction? Dictionary.com defines it as “a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.” A quintessential example of modern sci-fi is Jurassic Park, in which the entire plot revolves around cloning, a scientific process that was mostly speculative at the time of its writing.
Forget everything in the previous paragraph and let me tell you a story. Long ago in a magical kingdom, a young farmboy was raised by his aunt and uncle, not knowing he had a destiny of greatness. He is soon taken under the wing of an old wizard who teaches him to become a gallant knight and to understand his own magical powers. Along the way, he rescues a princess, is almost eaten by a monster, is visited by ghosts, and saves the kingdom from a wicked sorcerer.
Obviously this is the story of the original Star Wars trilogy stripped down to its most basic elements. But from this synopsis we can see that no major plot points hang on science of any kind. In fact, the most iconic weapon in all of Star Wars is not a technological device of any kind, but instead that weapon that screams fantasy: a sword.
So let’s break it down. Magic? Check. Swordfights? Mm-hmm. Wizards and knights and princesses? Yup. The epic battle between good and evil? Oh, you betcha. Hell, if you squint, Jabba the Hutt is pretty much a dragon sitting on a pile of gold (not to mention a rancor!).
But what of the Death Star, you ask? The technologically advanced weapon that gives the villains such vim and power? Pish-posh. The Death Star is a MacGuffin, a simple plot device. You could plug in anything in its place and the plot wouldn’t change a hair.
So, the final verdict is…
Star Wars is pure, old school, sword-from-the-stone high fantasy.
Until you hit the big ol’ brick wall that is the prequel trilogy.
In 1999, George Lucas enraged many a pimply fanboy by unveiling Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, in which he introduced the concept of midichlorions. No longer was the Force a mystical, elemental Power, but rather a genetic mutation on the cellular level.
Whatever, the point is once you’re dragging out microscopes to understand the Force, and explaining to us that it’s caused by micro-organisms living in our cells, you’ve descended into the murky realm of sci-fi. (Or SyFy, if you’re totally lame.)
The next film, Attack of the Clones, continued this trend towards science fiction by having a great deal of its plot revolve around cloning, much like Jurassic Park. It also made its opinion of cloning quite clear by the damn creepy aliens and eerie environment in which the cloning occurred. Would you want to do business there?
As for Revenge of the Sith, the grim finale is the medical reconstruction of Anakin Skywalker and his technological metamorphosis into Darth Vader. This is the exact moment when he becomes more machine than man, twisted and evil, but perhaps the most unsettling is that it’s not impossible, given our current medical abilities, to create such living coffins for people to exist in.
All of this brings us to a different conclusion for Episodes I-III: they are firmly entrenched in the realm of science fiction.
Only time will tell if the upcoming, still-untitled Star Wars live-action TV show (scheduled for 2010) will skew more towards fantasy or sci-fi. Given the recent success of Battlestar Galactica, one might assume it’s the latter. But we fantasy fans haven’t been given a truly great series since Buffy went off the air, so I for one am keeping my fingers crossed.
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