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New York Times Reams Star Wars as Sci-Fi

Old 05-01-05, 01:19 PM
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New York Times Reams Star Wars as Sci-Fi

Episode VII: Revenge of the Writers
By HENRY FOUNTAIN

Published: May 1, 2005

MILLIONS of "Star Wars" fans are awaiting the release of "Revenge of the Sith" later this month, the sixth and final film in George Lucas's epic series. In it, the young hero Anakin Skywalker is seduced by the dark side and becomes Darth Vader.

Science fiction writers, however, are awaiting the release for a different reason. To them, "Star Wars" is nothing more than a space opera, and if the big guy in the black cloak is finally singing, that means the show is over. The saga continues no longer.

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"That's the past of science fiction you're talking about," said Richard K. Morgan, the British cyberpunk-noir writer whose most recent novel is "Market Forces."

Mr. Morgan is one of a newer breed of science fiction writers who have moved far beyond the whiz-bang technological vision of Mr. Lucas's blockbusters.

"It's just such a huge shame," he said. "Anyone who is a practitioner of science fiction is constantly dogged by the ghettoization of the genre. And a lot of that comes from the very simplistic, 2-D Lucasesque view of what science fiction has to offer."

If truth be told, sci-fi writers say, their work and "Star Wars" never had much in common.

Like science itself, science fiction has evolved since the days of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the end of World War II, the genre has shifted its focus from space and time travel to more complex speculations on how the future, whatever its shape, will affect the individual.

That shift has only accelerated in recent years, as biotech and genetic engineering have moved to center stage in science and captured writers' imaginations, and as the lines between science fiction and other genres begin to blur. "We're starting to look inward, rather than outward," Mr. Morgan said. "There are exciting and scary things going to be happening in our bodies."

One problem with "Star Wars," science fiction writers say, is that it is not, ultimately, concerned with science, but rather with a timeless vision of good and evil. Mr. Lucas has said that his story, especially the journeys of his central characters from innocence through trials by fire to wisdom and acceptance, were rooted in Joseph Campbell's comparative studies of world mythologies, and especially in his popular book, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces."

What Mr. Lucas may have seen as eternal, however, science fiction writers have tended to see as antique.

"It started out 30 years behind," said Ursula K. Le Guin. "Science fiction was doing all sorts of thinking and literary experiments on a totally different plane. 'Star Wars' was just sort of fun."

"It takes these very stock metaphors of empire in space and monstrously bad people and wonderfully good people and plays out a bunch of stock operatic themes in space suits," she said. "You can do it with cowboy suits as well."

Science fiction, on the other hand, "is a set of metaphors," Ms. Le Guin said. "It's useful for thinking about certain things in our lives - if society was different in some way, what would it be like?"

The narrative is not the only thing that feels dated (or archetypal, if you're a fan) in "Star Wars." The science, too, often feels stock.

Larry Niven, the author of the "Ringworld" series and other works, noted that the faster-than-light travel in the films is very familiar. And that's not surprising. "Most writers, if they need to get somebody between two points faster than light, they invent their own hyperdrive," said Mr. Niven, who counts himself among the inventors. As a filmmaker, though, Mr. Lucas had an advantage. "They did special effects and made you believe it," Mr. Niven said.

Those effects were a double-edged light saber, however. The first "Star Wars" film helped usher in an era of highly technical filmmaking where character development sometimes took a back seat.

"We're still stuck with this legacy of - 'Oh yeah, sci-fi, that's when you have a big budget and lots of special effects,' " Mr. Morgan said.

Ray Bradbury said that the end of "Star Wars" was long overdue. Mr. Lucas should have quit while he was ahead, Mr. Bradbury said - perhaps 28 years ago, when the first movie came out to critical acclaim.

"The problem was he made a sequel," Mr. Bradbury said. "People have tried to get me to do a sequel to 'The Martian Chronicles,' but I've never done it. Sequels are a bad idea."

Mr. Lucas, of course, made sequels - and prequels - in spades. As if hyperdrive rendered historical continuity irrelevant, the first "Star Wars" film was actually Episode IV, and the last is Episode III. In the eyes of nonfans, of course, it doesn't really matter where one lands in the saga; after the second film ("The Empire Strikes Back") the whole thing went downhill.

"I fell asleep during the third one, when they brought out the Care Bears," said Mary Doria Russell, author of "The Sparrow" and "Children of God." The third movie, "Return of the Jedi," was the one that had those dancing, furry little creatures called Ewoks.

That kind of cute, sunny woodsiness seems particularly out of place in current science fiction. For as sci-fi has turned inward, it has also turned darker. "It's a rather quieter and more disturbing kind of science fiction," Mr. Morgan said.

"Star Wars" can hardly be called quiet or disturbing. But there is a film, made around the same time as "The Empire Strikes Back," that does fit that description: "Blade Runner." Many people, including Mr. Morgan, consider the film, directed by Ridley Scott, to be one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, because it was as much about what's inside as what's outside. It, not "Star Wars," was truly ahead of its time.

"You've got the gun battles and all that stuff," Mr. Morgan said, "but the movie is very much about internal factors, like robots yearning to be humans."

"And even now, 20 years later, it still looks like the future," he added. "That's a neat trick."
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Old 05-01-05, 01:35 PM
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Hmm, so once again we have these so-called serious sci-fi writers whining out because Star Wars is more successful and popular than their own work. Nothing new to see here. Sorry folks, Lucas doesn't owe you an explanation. Blame yourself if your work isn't getting the kind of pub you want it to. Besides, Star Wars isn't sci-fi.

If all these so-called serious sci-fi writers want to see serious sci-fi from Lucas, look no further than the excellent THX 1138.

These people should just shut up and mind their own business, and stop being so concerned over what someone else does.

Last edited by Terrell; 05-01-05 at 01:43 PM.
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Old 05-01-05, 01:37 PM
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WTF is wrong with you Terrell. You have to make everything personal because any criticism of Star Wars is somekind of personal insult. I posed a story in the Star Wars forum there is no need to fuckin bash me for posting. Get a life.
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Old 05-01-05, 01:41 PM
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Well, I toned downed my post specifically for you, although I left my comment in.

Sorry chanster, but it's not the criticism. It's the continual whining by the so-called serious sci-fi writers because of Star Wars popularity. They should let it go and do their own thing and stop worrying about what Lucas does. I didn't bash you. I didn't call you a name or anything. I just said you probably loved that article.

EDIT: I removed the offending statement, and I apologize for the comment, even though I'll never understand how you would be offended over such an innocent comment. Either way, my comments on the actual article still stand.

Last edited by Terrell; 05-01-05 at 01:45 PM.
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Old 05-01-05, 01:44 PM
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I didn't call you a name or anything. I just said you probably loved that article.
Actually thats an ad hominem attack, specifically not allowed.

I love the first 3 Star Wars movies, I think the prequels suck ass. I don't think Star Wars is sci-fi, its fantasy. So please take your opinions about what I believe and keep them to yourself.
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Old 05-01-05, 01:47 PM
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Still your not Lucas, why the fuck do you care so much?

You're like the polar opposite of Rivero. Just as annoying in the totally opposite way. It's a damn shame you werent BOTH shown the door. Would have made the Star Wars discussions a lot more enjoyable.
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Old 05-01-05, 01:49 PM
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Actually thats an ad hominem attack
No it's not, but it's been removed!

I think the prequels suck ass.
That's exactly why I said you probably loved that article. But who cares, that's not what the thread is about.

I don't think Star Wars is sci-fi, its fantasy.
I agree, that's exactly why this continual whining from these writers is so ridiculous. Do they really care that much about what someone they don't even know is doing? So Star Wars is extremely popular. Get over it and move on. If they create something compelling enough, it will be popular as well.

Still your not Lucas, why the fuck do you care so much?
You might as well ask that of every person that posts in this section. Because we're huge Star Wars fans. Why else would we care? But that doesn't have a damn thing to do with these writers, who obviously aren't Star Wars fans. If we weren't fans, we wouldn't even give a damn and wouldn't participate in these threads.

Jesus! Who knew a simple comment like saying someone probably loved an article would make people go apeshit.

Last edited by Terrell; 05-01-05 at 01:58 PM.
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Old 05-01-05, 01:56 PM
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I can't blame Lucas for making popular entertainment. That's what the people want to see and it's ridiculous to blame him for providing it. However, it is fair to criticize him, and perhaps more appropriately the fans, when they try to sell SW as intellectual fair.
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Old 05-01-05, 02:01 PM
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it is fair to criticize him, and perhaps more appropriately the fans, when they try to sell SW as intellectual fair.
Sure it's fair to criticize Lucas or any other filmmaker. But Lucas has never tried to sell Star Wars as some intellectual fare. All he has said is that a lot of the myths in the films came from Jospeh Campbell's work. I don't think he's ever tried to pass off Star Wars as some deep, intellectual property. If he did, he wouldn't call it a space opera. That's why the whining from serious sci-fi writers is silly. One, Star Wars isn't sci-fi. Two, popular entertainment doesn't somehow invalidate their work.
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Old 05-01-05, 02:53 PM
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My only comment on the article is that it shows a level of pompousness and self-aggrandizement from many of these authors that is utterly staggering.
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Old 05-01-05, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by chanster
Ray Bradbury said that the end of "Star Wars" was long overdue. Mr. Lucas should have quit while he was ahead, Mr. Bradbury said - perhaps 28 years ago, when the first movie came out to critical acclaim.

"The problem was he made a sequel," Mr. Bradbury said. "People have tried to get me to do a sequel to 'The Martian Chronicles,' but I've never done it. Sequels are a bad idea."
Maybe it's just me but I don't see where Mr. Bradbury questions "Star Wars" as being sci-fi. He's just bitching about the sequels.

I think the author of the article was really reaching just to get a highly visible name in the article but it doesn't back-up the gist of the article.
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Old 05-01-05, 03:41 PM
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Hmm, I like Star Wars IV-VI, and yet i agree with a lot of what the article says. I don't think you can consider Star wars "Hard" science fiction at all, it's more of a fable than anything.
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Old 05-01-05, 03:47 PM
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Lucas has never claimed that Star Wars is science fiction. In fact, he has always gone out of his way to label it a "space opera", just like th sci-fi author does in the article. It also is a theme that's been beat to death since 1977, a theme that anyone who has ever read any sci-fi (most people) understand.

So WTF? Why was this article written, let alone published? This is like publishing an article that says "it's going to get dark tonight".
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Old 05-01-05, 03:47 PM
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Maybe it's just me but I don't see where Mr. Bradbury questions "Star Wars" as being sci-fi. He's just bitching about the sequels.
Perhaps, but then the question would be, why do a bunch of sci-fi writers care enough to even comment on Star Wars or even participate in the article. They seem to intimated that they consider it sci-fi by many of their comments.

Science fiction writers, however, are awaiting the release for a different reason. To them, "Star Wars" is nothing more than a space opera, and if the big guy in the black cloak is finally singing, that means the show is over. The saga continues no longer.
Take this quote for instance. It's reeks of jealousy. It almost sounds like the writers are celebrating because Star Wars is over, and now their work can maybe get more publicity and press. That's what it sounds like to me. Robodad just put it better than I did. Succint and to the point.

Just a few more quotes if I may.

"It's just such a huge shame," he said. "Anyone who is a practitioner of science fiction is constantly dogged by the ghettoization of the genre. And a lot of that comes from the very simplistic, 2-D Lucasesque view of what science fiction has to offer."
Pompousness and self-aggrandizement take to an extreme level. Once again for Mr. Morgan, it's not sci-fi, it's fantasy. How is it ghettoization? Is it because it's fun, entertaining, and extremely popular on a mass level. Sounds like someone taking swipes at a work more popular and revered than his own.

One problem with "Star Wars," science fiction writers say, is that it is not, ultimately, concerned with science, but rather with a timeless vision of good and evil.
That is exactly why it's not sci-fi, and why it's fantasy.

But there is a film, made around the same time as "The Empire Strikes Back," that does fit that description: "Blade Runner." Many people, including Mr. Morgan, consider the film, directed by Ridley Scott, to be one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, because it was as much about what's inside as what's outside. It, not "Star Wars," was truly ahead of its time.
I agree. Blade Runner is a great film, and was ahead of it's time. But I've got news, so was Star Wars is many ways. They're just different. I'll give you another film that was even further ahead of it's time than Blade Runner, and that film was THX 1138. This article would have been much better if they had actually discussed that Lucas' film, which is much more serious film and is definitely sci-fi.
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Old 05-01-05, 04:30 PM
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Star Wars is clearly fantasy, and Star Trek is clearly science fiction. I thought this all got settled about 20 years ago. To qualify as science fiction, there has to be at least some plausable science involved in the storytelling...but if Barnes & Noble and Borders still don't know the difference (what are all these fantasy books doing in the sci-fi section?!) I wouldn't expect most people to.
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Old 05-01-05, 04:36 PM
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My guess would be because it has spaceships.
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Old 05-01-05, 04:40 PM
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to 99.9% of the world:

spaceships + laser guns = science fiction


the "sci fi writers" bitching need to deal with it
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Old 05-01-05, 05:27 PM
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Originally Posted by GuessWho
to 99.9% of the world:

spaceships + laser guns = science fiction


the "sci fi writers" bitching need to deal with it

[Yoda] Correct the above poster is.[/Yoda]

Most people lump Star Trek and Star Wars lovers into the same crowd, even though both are distinctly different. I myself have never seen Star Wars as a serious form of sci-fi, nor Star Trek for that matter. If someone wants to see something that is true science fiction, they need something like 2001 or maybe Solaris (either version). In all honesty, what many consider "real" sci-fi might be thought provoking, but it is also pretty boring at times.
That said, I agree that the article reaks of jealousy from the true sci-fi authors. Do I think it's justified? Not at all. GL is making something highly entertaining and reaping the rewards. The fact that most of their stuff is thought provoking but bores most people out of their gourd is their own problem. Deal with it!
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Old 05-01-05, 05:44 PM
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Can someone reply to my post and rip me apart semantically by explaining the whole scifi vs fantasy debate. For my taste, if it doesnt take place on Earth I consider it either/or, I never cared to categorize one or the other.

As for the article, I could see the exact same thing with Runner interchanged with Star Wars, if Blade Runner was sequelized or rereleased, and writers commented on it being an overvisualized setting, racist, with a noirish detective story stuck in the past, and if you want to see robots wanting to be human check the Matrix movies."

I see what they're saying about having a set of metaphors, but it seems out of place to criticize something because it has good and evil instead of crying robots. But I see what they're saying about scifi being much more than basic drama. I myself would rather have 6 THX films rather than 6 Star Wars.
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Old 05-01-05, 05:46 PM
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Why don't they bitch about I-Robot?? I guess GL didn't contribute to the NY Times Democratic fund
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Old 05-01-05, 06:07 PM
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Funny. I always liked Star Wars because it reminded me of Arthurian Legend in space. Prequels need not apply. However, for real brainiac sci-fi I place Gattaca as the best movie of that genre. I think there's different types of Sci-Fi. Like the guys that were trying to tell us that Anime is not just a genre I feel the same about sci-fi.
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Old 05-02-05, 07:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Shannon Nutt
Star Wars is clearly fantasy, and Star Trek is clearly science fiction. I thought this all got settled about 20 years ago.
This is my position as well. I am very disappointed to read that Ursula LeGuin and one of my literary heroes, Larry Niven, seem to have missed the distinction. I rather expected it from that derivative hack Morgan, though.
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Old 05-02-05, 05:55 PM
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While I like reading Bradbury, the interviews I have seen with him make him look like a pompous ass.
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Old 05-02-05, 09:51 PM
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"I fell asleep during the third one, when they brought out the Care Bears," said Mary Doria Russell, author of "The Sparrow" and "Children of God." The third movie, "Return of the Jedi," was the one that had those dancing, furry little creatures called Ewoks.

That kind of cute, sunny woodsiness seems particularly out of place in current science fiction. For as sci-fi has turned inward, it has also turned darker. "It's a rather quieter and more disturbing kind of science fiction," Mr. Morgan said.

Please see here wrt "nihlistic punks"

I gotta go with Terrel here. BladeRunner is a fantastic film, one of only a handful of true "science fiction" films. But Star Wars is still an incredible saga no matter what section of the bookstore you put it in. Sounds to me like an awful lot of sour grapes in that article.


uhftv, I'm thinking of something orange..., no wait, you were asking about scifi vs fantasy. Well....I'm not sure either, and I'm not certain I care. The Dragons of Pern is another series I enjoy. It's about a group of people living on a planet with dragons that they are empathically bonded to at hatching. They have a feudal system and wear armor so it's fantasy. But then the reason they use the dragons is to destroy a spore that comes from a rogue planet in their solar system they didn't know about when their colony spaceship crashed their millenia ago. So it's scifi.

I think you have to make the distinction along the lines of just how far out the ideas are. The Pern stories could possibly still be under scifi as the dragons are created by genetic manipulation, and I still hold out hope for human telepathy. But then again, the dragons have the ability to teleport, which I can't really put my finger on either way.

I don't think I'm making a point, but I think that's the point. There are inclinations the stories can take, but I don't feel it's necessary to forcefully pigeonhole them one way or the other.
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Old 05-02-05, 10:51 PM
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Sounds to me like an awful lot of sour grapes in that article.
That was my sentiments as well, sour grapes and/or jealousy. Either way, Star Wars doesn't take away from true sci-fi. So I say again, the article would have been far more interesting had they discussed Lucas' true sci-fi film THX 1138, or some other sci-fi film, than ranting about how Star Wars ghettoized sci-fi. For a film to ghettoize sci-fi, it would actually have to be sci-fi, rather than fantasy.
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