Saturday, 4 May 2013

Star Wars

OK, stupid pun time of course:

Star Wars is a registered trademark and copyright belongs to Lucasfilm.  No infringement intended.  Click to tweet: .  May The IVth Be With You.  Star Wars is important to me mainly because it provoked me into defining science fiction as "fiction whose plot depends non-trivially upon the setting".  Star Wars expresses universals and timeless truths in a space opera, pulp-like context, partly illustrating that the archetypes and mythology it expresses can be transposed to any setting.  In terms of the story, it could equally well be set in mediaeval times, in Ancient Greece or a host of other situations.  This gives rise to the paradox that in a sense, that makes the plot of Star Wars depend on the setting, which is why i inserted the phrase "non-trivially".

This is a rather surprising definition of SF, i realise, as it doesn't refer to technology, science, the future, space, aliens or anything like that.  Star Wars is set "a long time ago in a galaxy far away", which i understand but that also frustrates me.  I dislike the sound in space, humanoid aliens, one-climate planets and faster-than-light aspects of Star Wars.  However, since it is pulp rather than SF, that makes it rather like Doctor Who in a way, which i do like.  Dr Who is a lot like Star Wars in that respect.

"You" may note various things about this video.  The thumbnail is rubbish and the doobley-do is short.  The reason for this is that i did it at 6:30 am.   It gave me a little cause for concern due to the love many people have for the series, particularly IV-VI.

I'm going to be frank here.  At the time, 'Star Wars' felt like the bane of my life.  I was seriously unimpressed, mainly due to my own devotion to hard SF (although i did also like Doctor Who, which is in a category of its own).  Asimov and Le Guin were both very critical of it.  My feeling now is that it's rather unreconstructed and good as a film, but as i have now harped on about on and off for three dozen years, it is not science fiction (and nor is Who, but in that case it doesn't detract from its quality).  The problem with Star Wars apart from that is of course that since it attempts to express mythic stuff, it's rather old-fashioned, even for the time it was written.  Having said that, it has a few saving graces.  I was too harsh about the single-climate planets for a start.  Single-climate planets do exist, for instance Venus and Jupiter.  Even Earth may have had a single climate at various times in the past.  So that's OK.  I haven't mentioned the droids either of course, and in fact i seriously feel there is no problem with the possibility of robots behaving like humans, although i can't understand the point of Artoo units because they surely don't need to communicate with a series of beeps, do they?  The FTL business is a common trope in science fiction which makes the stories possible, and as i may eventually get round to doing, there are a couple of ways this might happen, notably the rather disconcerting Alcubierre Drive:
Hmm.  High dubium.  Roll on the Yates-Leason device.

At the time, androids got on my wick a lot more than now, although R2s are not android so that's OK.  Sorry to jump about.

However, leaving aside the values there are two things which really bug me a lot, and they're connected.  Firstly, there's no way of placing the setting historically except that it is kind of in the past.  That's actually quite neat as such and of course 'Consider Phlebas' is in the past too and i regard that as neat, even though he says the reason for that is poignancy.  However, what bothers me about this is that it closes off aspiration and optimism for the future and makes it about something else.  We "know" (of course we know anyway, but that's another thing) that no matter what happens, Star Wars is not in our future.  It's in someone else's.  This brings up the second problem - humanoid aliens.  Even the "humans" in Star Wars are not in fact human at all - it's just convergent evolution.  The other humanoid species are as improbable, of course, unless convergent evolution makes a very large number of species humanoid.  Another saving grace here is that not all of them are humanoid after all.

On reflection, i seem to cut the Culture a lot more slack than the Empire.  I think this is to do with politics, but not entirely, particularly considering that at the time i was monarchist and "default Tory", and still disliked Star Wars.  Not sure what to make of that.  So, when i came across 'A Gift From The Culture' in Interzone almost a cycle later, i was blown away by the quality of the writing, the emotional realism, characterisation and most of all the political milieu implied.  So i'm afraid it's not the politics of Star Wars that bothers me but the quality.  I realise it's a difficult comparison because one's a film with no original written version which depends substantially on visuals and the other's an awesome written short story by Iain M Banks which is largely character-based.  My feelings about Wrobik were that he's a perverse idiot who doesn't know how good he's got it, rather similar to my feelings a couple of years later, despite my rejection of Stalinism, that the people of the DDR actually threw away their constitutional rights to food, clothes and shelter in favour of consumerism.  I didn't live there though, did i?  Anyway, the point is, that huge constellation of sympathetic feelings about 'A Gift From The Culture' is a testament to the giant of a man that is Menzies, and i don't feel like that about anyone else i don't know personally.  George Lucas, by contrast, is just warmed over Flash Gordon.  But then i believe in low-budget SF and also this.