Thursday, August 11, 2011

Star Wars: "But it's not science fiction..."

I suppose it isn't.  Not in that Asimov, Clarke kind of way.  
There is a selection of science fiction fans who cringe at the mention of Star Wars.  The name reeks of glitz, special effects (or "fx" as the hip would say), and overall the mainstream of America. One need not have a true appreciation for science fiction in order to enjoy Star Wars, thereby placing it outside of the specialized community.

I will be the first to admit that the phenomenal success of Star Wars had an unintentionally deleterious effect on the genre.   After the film's 1977 release, subsequent science fiction films were expected to be no more than "action movies in space."  What ever you do, don't slow down.  Don't have a character explain the working principles of their X-Wing fighter before flying it.  The film can never be about concept.  Instead, stick with character action.  That is why incredible science fiction films such as 2001 and Planet of the Apes appear as snooze-fests by comparison in terms of pacing.

I get it.  I certainly don't disagree.  Yet on the other hand, I don't really care.  That's saying something if I'm actually the one defending "glitzy" entertainment.
Before Star Wars, I was indistinguishable five year-old.  I liked kicking my inflatable football in the back yard.  I liked Tonka trucks.  I liked learning about animals in the zoo.  But on a fateful summer day in 1977, I sat with my Dad in a movie theater in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  An enormous Star Destroyer crossed the screen.  After that, nothing in my life would ever be the same.  Whatever I had been interested in previous to that point went right out the window.  I wanted anything and everything that had to do with science fiction.  Toys, comic books, other movies, and especially as much Star Wars as I could humanly consume.  More than that, the little boy that I was learned that before anything got pressed to film, George Lucas had to write everything down.  With but a pen and sheets of scrap paper from Dad's job at Saint Joseph's College, I could do the same thing.  Well, no guarantee of similar quality, in fact I can guarantee the reverse, but I learned I could do it.  By acting out scenes with my action figures, I learned that how to place dialogue into a character's head and how to create their "voice."  In other words, I learned how to write.  Pretty much everything I am today is owed in no small part to Star Wars.  I cannot imagine the universe without it.

Nevertheless, however much personal joy this young kid took from seeing the dual suns of Tatooine or swarms of X-Wing fighters attack the Death Star, that does nothing to quell the science fiction objections.  I get that.  But consider this...
Star Wars also inspired me to read other forms of science fiction.  As I matured, I sought out Asimov, Clarke, Ellison, Gibson, and so on and built an appreciation for what certain literary critics term "hardcore science fiction."  Without Star Wars, I'm not certain I would have ever read those books or even become a fan of the genre.
So as the purists bemoan the massive shelf space devoted to Star Wars novels and "media tie-ins" in the science fiction section of libraries and bookstores (what few that are left), please keep my tale in mind.  Somewhere, there may be a ten year-old who is only a year or two away from putting down their Star Wars book and wandering off into the other areas of the shelves to see what he or she can find.

Oh yes...Han shot first.

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