Science fiction or Science fantasy?

We all know what Star Wars is, right? Swords made of light, a mystical energy field that pervades all life, spaceships, heroic (and not so heroic) good guys and dastardly bad guys – all of these are part of what makes Star Wars. The word science rarely comes up when talking about Star Wars. Star Wars is entertainment. It is not even remotely supposed to be factual in any way. So why do some people insist on calling it science fiction?

First we have to define these, and bear with me as I spout more dictionary stuff again. According to Wikipedia:  Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting.

It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”. Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities.

The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality, but the majority of science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief, which is facilitated in the reader’s mind by potential scientific explanations or solutions to various fictional elements.

So, science fiction is, in a nutshell, writing about something that is plausible. It may be totally improbable, but it is POSSIBLE. Spider Robinson, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, all of these people wrote science fiction. There are two basic categories of science fiction, hard and soft. Hard science fiction is where every single thing a writer writes is not only plausible, but probable. Jules Verne was laughed at by some critics when he wrote ‘20000 Leagues Under the Sea.’ Who is laughing now? Submarines like the Nautilus are science fact now. How about ‘From the Earth to the Moon’? Laughable that a man might get to the moon in a capsule. Right? Um, tell that to Neil Armstrong. Jules Verne wrote science fiction, and many writers have taken up his mantle, with great writers and not so great writers all over the charts. Soft science fiction on the other hand, places less emphasis on science and more on the actual story. Heinlein’s work is a bit out there. Anyone who has read ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ will likely agree. Modern day, most writers mix hard science with story and plot devices when science can’t cover things.

George Lucas did not write science fiction.  What he wrote is best described as space opera or science fantasy. This genre also has its roots in the early twentieth century. Also according to Wikipedia:    Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities.

Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale. Sometimes the term space opera is used in a negative sense, to denote bad quality science fiction, but its meaning can differ, often describing a particular science fiction genre without any value judgment.

So, by that definition, Star Wars is space opera. But is this a bad thing? We see enough real life marvels in our daily lives, cloned sheep, cars that use no gasoline or that can swim or fly, and other things that would totally astonish someone from less than a hundred years in the past. Take cell phones. The whole idea of having a phone in your pocket was ludicrous until the late 1980s. But now phones are not just phones. Now they are cameras, music players, datebooks, miniature computers with internet capacity…indeed some even have word processing functions. What was fantasy fifty years ago is reality today in many ways. We expect more, and many times more than real life can give us, so we look to entertainment.

Back to Star Wars. Star Wars is, to me anyway, a willing suspension of disbelief. I want to travel to ’A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’ I want my bad guys to look and act like bad guys. I don’t want the bad guys to act like good guys until they turn around and kill my family because they can. I don’t want to quibble over what tenets of the Mandalorian Code seem out of place or stupid. I want the Mandalorians to be harsh, brutal and at the same time, somewhat honorable. I want them to be worthy enemies, not wimps. I don’t want to get in a long winded argument with someone about how hyperspace would not look like a long blue tunnel, or how parsecs are a unit of distance not time, or how elite troops are supposed to be able to shoot straight. I want to watch Jedi fight Sith and not have to worry about how the heat from the blades would melt the handles. I want to see starfighters fly and not think ‘Why did that X-wing just make a banking turn in outer space? There is nothing for it to bank against…’.

I want to be entertained. I want to have fun. Reality is good, but a smattering of the illogical, of fantasy, is necessary in today’s world or we get jaded. There is too much bad that is seen in today’s world, we need to relax, we need to have something simple that anyone can understand.

George Lucas gave us a simpler view in 1977. Empire was bad, Rebellion was good. Sith were bad, Jedi were good. Things have changed significantly since then. Some people may call the changes good or bad. Personally, I think they are somewhere in between. The Old Republic will likely turn a bunch of our preconceptions of the roles of Jedi and Sith on their heads, and that will probably be a good thing. We need shaking up every so often or we get complacent. And we all know what happens when the good guys get complacent, right?

In conclusion, some people may say Star Wars is science fiction, but they are in error. Science fiction is plausible. Star Wars is not plausible by our ways of thinking, and according to our knowledge of science. But that doesn’t really matter. It is FUN. And that is all that matters, isn’t it?

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