Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I just got home from seeing Star Wars Episode III, and it got me started thinking about a debate that's been raging in the fan community since about 1977. Is the Star Wars saga fantasy or science fiction?

On the one hand, there are spaceships, robots and lasers.

On the other hand, the opening words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" are pretty much the equivalent to "once upon a time." We have rustic boys plucked from obscurity who turn out to be pivotal figures of great power. We have knights and princesses. We have wise old wizards and evil wizards. Sounds like a classic fairy tale to me.

Does a fairy tale have to have a quasi-medieval setting? I suppose the people who started telling these tales were telling contemporary stories (like Jane Austen didn't write Regency romances. She was writing contemporaries), and those stories got frozen in time when they were recorded. Why can't a fairy tale involve space ships and robots? (Then again, I'm the weirdo who writes fantasy set in modern Manhattan.)

So, what do you think? Is Star Wars fantasy or science fiction?


Nonny said...

Star Wars is science fantasy, which is an actual subgenre. Books like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, Lisanne Norman's Sholan Alliance novels, or Anne McCaffrey's Pern books all fall under this category, as well.

In both science fiction and fantasy, implausible things happen, whether they're events, part of the background setting, etcetera. The difference between them is that SF tries to explain why these things happen with scientifically plausible reasons, while fantasy generally accepts these things as "magic" without going into much explanation.

And then you have science fantasy, which is a mixture of the two; usually in a SF-like world setting, but without the emphasis on actual science. In science fantasy, the story is more important than scientific explanations.

Granted, there are exceptions to these rules; that being said, it's what I've generally found to be true.


Shanna Swendson said...

I always considered the Pern books to be straightforward science fiction that happened to have elements we associate with fantasy. Still, there was a scientific reason for all those elements, and the people even were knowingly doing things like calling the native creatures "dragons" because of the associations with fantasy lore. The lines were only blurred because of the "there were dragons and it's a non-industrial society, so it must be fantasy" attitude. The stories were all about surviving in an alien environment, which is a very science fiction concept.

Meanwhile, Star Wars has no actual science in it. You could remove the futuristic settings, stick it in a more traditional fantasy setting and not have to change the basic story much at all (actually, you'd end up with the movie Willow).

It's fun to analyze all this, since I have this tendency to blur genres, myself.

Michele said...

I can't compete with the answers already here. They are valid on many levels. My vote, fantasy with the cover of Sci-Fi, for those that need the justification to enjoy it. Its like a chick flick, guys will like it if its coated in "manly pursuits" or its like taking a Midol - serious medicine coated with a nice substance to make it easier to swallow. OK, I went on a strange bent there, sorry.
Nice to meet another Willow fan. Would Willow have been as good with or without Val Kilmer? I wonder...

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