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Star Wars and Genre

A New Hope: Fantasy . . .

Star Wars is a space opera; that’s the most accurate single label for the genre in which the films, the majority of the stories, and the Star Wars universe in general fall. Yet space opera is itself a syncretic genre, drawing from a wide variety of pulpy story elements and templates to tell adventure stories in space. The term that “space opera” has largely displaced, “science fantasy,” is even more telling of the genre’s natural hybrid status. The trappings of science fiction are used, but not to examine the relationship between man and technology, or to illustrate truths about humankind in the way traditional science fiction attempts. Instead, they are used in the service of fantastic adventures in synthetic settings that can incorporate influences from a wide mixture of genres.

A New Hope serves as a solid example of the complex mix of genre elements present in the Star Wars setting. Luke Skywalker is a farm boy called upon to take up a mystic destiny among an order of knights who wield both swords and magic powers. This is unmistakably the stuff of fantasy. Yet he is also a farm boy living in the middle of a desert with his hardscrabble aunt and uncle, surrounded by hostile natives. His journey to his fantasy destiny involves going into town after the farm is burned down, striding into a cantina, getting in a bar fight with a couple belligerent outlaws, and taking up with a quick-drawing, bounty-hunter-dodging maverick with a heart of gold who is only a ten-gallon hat away from looking like a Wild West cowboy. It could be the start to a classic Western. Luke’s social life — going into town to bum around with his friends, tinker with hot rods, and race them — is taken straight out of the 1950s/60s teen flick genre, films like Lucas’s own nostalgia piece American Graffiti. The climax of the film is directly based on World War II war movies. The overarching storyline and setting are classic space opera, but by nature the genre enfolds other settings, both as influences to the core components of setting and story and as a sort of spice flavoring the story around the edges or influencing the way certain elements are depicted.

. . . meets Western. In space.

The films demonstrated that the space opera genre was broad enough to encompass other styles of storytelling. The Expanded Universe has run with that breadth, drawing from all kinds of genres. It has even openly dabbled in genre crossovers that more directly and completely place genre stories into the Star Wars setting, such as Joe Schreiber’s zombie horror novels, the “Star Wars Goosebumps” series Galaxy of Fear, and the tragically-canceled “James Bond meets Star Wars” Agent of the Empire series. Since the very beginning of the Expanded Universe, when Han Solo and Chewbacca reenacted the plot of The Magnificent Seven on Aduba-3, only for the climax to involve fighting a giant monster alongside a Don Quixote stand-in, the EU has incorporated a stunning range of other genres into the Star Wars universe.

My goal is to use this post as a launchpad for a series of posts examining Star Wars’ relationship with various genres, both in the ways genre has been used in the past and the potential I see for future stories. My primary interest is in ways the Expanded Universe can tell more kinds of stories, but with the news that “spinoff” Star Wars films are in the works, there is also potential for the films to approach different storytelling genres as well. I hope that you’ll join me on this ongoing look at Star Wars’ genre complexity.

Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

(Editor’s note: what follows is a “reprint” of a piece that was originally posted on TheForce.net’s Literature forum in 2012. As such, it may occasionally come across as a conversation-starter more than a standalone work. Comments are welcome both here and in the original discussion thread, where the conversation continues—116 pages and counting as of this writing. – Mike Cooper, 7/8/13)

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This won’t be new information for many of you, but now that the new forums are up, I thought the launching of Diversity 2.0, so to speak, would be a good opportunity to sum up the conversation thus far, in particular all of the great statistical work done on the temp boards.

The foundation of this essay, and the ensuing discussion, is the belief that the Star Wars Expanded Universe has a responsibility to present a diverse galaxy of characters, and that with some notable exceptions, this responsibility has been largely neglected.

Following from that are a few more precise assertions:

  • There are too many white human men. While passionate and fair arguments can be made for any number of specific “minority” groups being given a larger role–aliens, people of color, women, LGBTQ, the disabled, and so on–the one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that more white human men (hereafter referred to as WHMs), of standard body type and orientation in particular, are helpful to no one, and only by making their long-held “default” status painfully obvious can anyone else hope for a fair shake.
  • Ignorance is bias. Which is to say, when presented with a divisive issue, choosing to disregard it still constitutes taking a stand. To ignore race and orientation is itself a biased act, not a neutral one. The images above are of the Jedi Council from Episode I and the leadership of the New Jedi Order as of the early Legacy Era. It is my position that no clearer evidence of a problem exists than in these two images, wherein the WHM ratio is essentially inverted.
  • Lastly, it should be understood that this situation stems from the accumulation of numerous decisions, policies, and cultural trends–over a period of decades–and cannnot be laid at the feet of any specific author, editor, or even publisher.

The primary goal of this manifesto is for you, the reader, to look at those two images and see a problem. The goal of this as a discussion thread, then, is to break down the can of worms that follows from that.

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The nexus of fandom and logic

“Nexus” – get it?? –>

Heh. Anyway…

Introduction

I should start, of course, with the famous caveat that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. In the nebulous world of polling, people’s feelings are one of the hardest things to quantify, and even if that were not the case, the fact remains that I am by no means a statistician. There are always mitigating factors – one or two of which became apparent to me as this experiment went forth – that could, and do, prohibit me from making any absolute declarations as the result of my survey. My goal, then, was simply to probe an area of fandom I felt could stand some probing, in the hopes of starting up a conversation I felt was worth having. I’ve been wrong in the past (once or twice), and I could be wrong now.

To recap, requests were posted on both TheForce.Net’s Books and Comics pages and the Jedi Council forums for Expanded Universe fans to complete a survey that involved rating certain books and comics, as well as certain plot elements, on a 1 to 10 scale. The order of these ratings was random, but the selection was very careful and very specific – aside from a handful of red herrings, the vast majority of the plot items were “paired” with their respective book/comic, and vice-versa. The idea for this was as follows: I’ve always sensed, from extensive conversations with other fans, as well as fan news articles and reviews, a degree of variation between how much we like the events depicted in a Star Wars book and how much we like the book itself. While I’ve been keeping an eye on other related factors, like how long ago a book came out, and the amount of people who’ve actually read the item versus the amount familiar with the plot, the central question has always been “do we like the books more than we like the plots, and if so, what does that mean?”
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Mike’s 20 Most Memorable EU Moments

Back in August, Star Wars Insider published the definitive Top 20 memorable moments in all of the Expanded Universe.

At least, how they saw it.

The article was accompanied by more than one request for readers to send in their own top moments, so I started up this blog in order to do just that. It may have taken me another two months or so to actually do it, but what can I say – this baby clocks in at almost 4,700 words! I have a sneaking suspicion that even the official article isn’t this long. In any event, here goes…

20. “The Empire will always strike back.” – Force Heretic I: Remnant

Sometimes it takes nothing more than a good talking-to to make a moment great. Readers have loved Gilad Pellaeon longer than almost any other EU character, but what is perhaps his greatest moment was not given to us until a couple years ago, near the end of the New Jedi Order series. Vong commander B’shith Vorrik scores a resounding victory at Bastion against Pellaeon, now Supreme Commander of the Imperial Remnant’s forces, then moves on to Borosk, snapping at Pellaeon’s heels. Thanks to added support from the Galactic Alliance, Pellaeon calls Vorrik’s bluff, and – while directing the battle from a bacta tank, it should be noted – picks up a transmission from the Vong command ship for the sole purpose of gloating. Taunting the disgraced commander as he flees the system, Pellaeon utters a line twenty-three years in the making: “You may win the occasional battle against us, Vorrik, but the Empire will always strike back.”
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