Star Wars and Genre: Science Fiction

Science fiction — you’ll know it by the flying cars

Science fiction is a broad term for a big, big genre. At its core, it is a genre of stories in which science or technology beyond the bounds of what is currently known plays an important role, and tends by default to incorporate any fiction set in the future. This creates a vast continuum embracing space opera, steampunk, tech-oriented hard science fiction, alien-invasion thrillers, and dystopian studies of human society — to name just a few types of science fiction.

Star Wars primarily falls under the label of space opera — pulpy adventure stories set in outer space, a subgenre heavily influenced by fantasy. These stories have the trappings of advanced science and technology — spaceships, laser guns — but aren’t interested in examining the science of the setting, or using it to explore mankind’s relationship with technology or illustrate ideas about society in the way most idea-oriented traditional science fiction does.

In addressing how Star Wars interacts with the science fiction genre, I thus want to focus in on how the space fantasy saga engages with the “harder” elements of traditional science fiction.

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He’s a Main Character, Too: Respecting Lando Calrissian

Don’t you want to see that smile again?

With the official Episode VII cast announcement of a few weeks ago, we now know that so many of the characters we loved from the original trilogy will be returning: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO. From that list is one glaring omission: Lando Calrissian. I’d love to hope that Billy Dee Williams’s portrayal of Lando simply has yet to be announced, but Williams has made it fairly clear that nobody has so much as approached him about the film. It sounds like he’s not in the script at all.

If Lando Calrissian isn’t going to be in Episode VII, I think it’s time we address the level of attention and respect the character receives.

Within the Star Wars fandom, we often speak of the “big three” — Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa. They are seen as the protagonists of the Star Wars films. Certainly they have the three biggest roles, but I don’t think this is the right way to think about the core cast of the Star Wars trilogy. There is really a “big five” that includes both Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca. [1]Though often overlooked as a main character due to his lack of proper dialogue and his position as Han’s sidekick, Chewbacca must nonetheless be acknowledged as a significant figure in the … Continue reading Lando should be considered as much a vital protagonist as Han, Leia, and Luke.

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1 Though often overlooked as a main character due to his lack of proper dialogue and his position as Han’s sidekick, Chewbacca must nonetheless be acknowledged as a significant figure in the films, Han’s partner and an essential, active part of the core team who need not be relegated to a secondary role. To address that particular case of neglect, however, would be a separate article, and as Chewbacca is in Episode VII, the subject is less urgent. I exclude the droids from the count of central protagonists because, though part of the cast, they are more clearly secondary characters who are less vital and independent, less capable of anchoring narratives as protagonists.

Everything Disney Needs to Know, It Can Learn from The New Jedi Order

The Unifying Force, the ultimate novel of The New Jedi Order

With the casting announcement, we now know that the heroes of the original trilogy will be sharing the screen with characters played by younger actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and Domnhall Gleeson, some combination of which will presumably be their successors as primary heroes. If there is one Expanded Universe project that embodies the lessons Disney should take into account when creating a multigenerational sequel trilogy, it’s The New Jedi Order. In our Everything Disney Needs to Know series, Mike and Lisa have suggested lessons to be drawn from standalone Expanded Universe works, but nothing in the Expanded Universe so perfectly parallels the task of the sequel trilogy, nor offers such directly applicable lessons, as The New Jedi Order.

The Thrawn trilogy is often touted as the Expanded Universe’s “sequel trilogy,” and that’s true to the extent that it’s the best of the immediate saga-level followups to Return of the Jedi. If the sequel trilogy were being made in 1990, the Thrawn trilogy might be the best model. The nineteen-book super-series The New Jedi Order, set twenty-five years after the movies, however, not only much better accords with the challenges of the sequels being made now, but it functions better in general as a continuation of the Star Wars saga. By focusing on passing the torch from the heroes of the original trilogy to their children and spiritual heirs, the NJO mirrors the task the sequels must undertake. By constructing meaningful character arcs and creating a bold new narrative, the NJO accomplished something outstanding in the Expanded Universe and set the standard for genuinely continuing the saga.

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Top Shelf: Shatterpoint

Shatterpoint, hailing from the era of prequel Photoshop-collage covers that had actual effort put into them

I can remember when I first read from Shatterpoint. It was a preview, in the back of Force Heretic: Refugee, for the first-ever Clone Wars book. At the time, my enthusiasm for Star Wars was at a low ebb; I’m not sure it was for any particular reason, but I had been sustaining an all-consuming fandom for six years, and The New Jedi Order had been dominating the Expanded Universe for years and changing the universe in ways I wasn’t sure I was ready for and was mired in the particularly dull Force Heretic Trilogy. I was just starting to get a little burnt out and needed a breath of fresh air. That Shatterpoint preview was it.

Immediately, the prose was punchy, atmospheric — it radiated attitude. As I read, Mace Windu — a guy we had seen in the movies but didn’t know that much about — landed on his homeworld, a new planet that leapt from the page with unique character, a jungle world so rancid its cities must live under sterilization fields. Then the action hit. Windu, naked after going through the probiotic showers required after arrival, finds a couple thugs harassing the other naked travelers in the locker room, stealing their valuables. Coldly, indifferent to the vulnerability of his nudity, Windu tough-talks the thugs, a supremely confident badass warning off weaklings he doesn’t want to bother with — but kind of does. When they go for him, he knocks them senseless in a vivid, expert action scene. It turns out they’re the local cops; that’s the kind of world this is. Windu goes on to meet his Republic contact; on the street, they’re caught up in some sort of riot, a fast-expanding street battle, and she’s hit with a blaster bolt. As Windu kneels over her, trying to help her, the local militia come up.

The militia behind him clattered to a stop. “You! Korno! Stand away from that woman!”

He glanced back. Six of them. Firing stance. The lightpole at their backs haloed black shadow across their faces. Plasma-charred muzzles stared at him. “This woman is wounded. Badly. Without medical attention, she will die.”

“You’re no doctor,” one said, and shot him.

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Star Wars and Genre: Superhero Fiction

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, coming soon to theaters near you, unless it's already there
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, coming soon to theaters near you, unless it’s already there

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier coming out tomorrow (in America, the nation that is in the name of the damn movie yet somehow getting it last), it’s timely to address Star Wars’ relationship with the superhero genre. Thanks to the Jedi’s powers and its expansive continuity, it has more than a little in common with superhero universes, but less has been done with those similarities than you might think.

The superhero genre, long restricted primarily to primacy in comics but now becoming the dominant form of movie blockbuster as well, is best understood as stories about outstanding heroes endowed with superhuman or unrealistically optimal abilities who make careers of fighting evil under a distinct identity. The tropes of the genre — secret identities, costumes, supervillain rogue’s galleries, superhero teams, origin stories, interlocking shared universes, fuzzy continuity, sliding timelines, temporary deaths — should be familiar to most of the general public, let alone the geek community.

Star Wars lacks a lot of those tropes. Its heroes operate in the open, not hidden behind masks and nicknames. They tend to face villains sequentially and beat them, rather than constantly matching wits against the same pool of bad guys. Star Wars’ continuity is, in principle and usually in practice, sharp and its timeline immobile, its deaths mostly permanent. But there are similarities worth noting.

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