Star Wars: Science Fiction or Fantasy
September 2, 2011 § 2 Comments
“Does it have to be literature?” my girlfriend, Mary, asked me one day, in response to a discussion about our favorite science fiction stories. I conceded that she could be as broad as she wanted, and she went straight to two popular TV shows: Doctor Who and Firefly. She loved them in part because of the richness of the worlds their authors had created, which explains her obsession with the Lord of the Rings, her favorite piece of literature of all time.This got us started on a discussion on the differences between science fiction and fantasy, because works in the two different genres were precious to her for the same reason: the worlds in which they take place. For her, science fiction bridged the gap between reality and fantasy. I refrained from giving my actual thoughts and took up my favorite position, devil’s advocate. There are many fantasy stories which are close to reality, including Harry Potter and Dragons in Our Midst. Both seemed fairly similar to me, because the first supposes the existence of wizards and witches living among us, and the second supposes the existence of dragons in human form who live among us.
Of course, these particular examples are not all that typical of fantasy novels, which tend to make complete worlds apart from our own. But even those worlds, I argued, are not all that different. A classic example is the arguably best RPG of all time, Final Fantasy VII. In the game, there is magic, but the magic is explained not as something spiritual but as stemming from a strange source of energy, called Mako, which scientists then harnessed to form something which would appear very much to be magic. There’s even a scene of the game which takes place in outer space. Despite the title containing the word “fantasy”, this game seemed very much like a hybrid to me because of the scientific approach to magic.
On the other side of the spectrum, Star Wars is an iconic example of science fiction. The universe created therein is separated from our own by both time and space; after all, the prologue begins with the famous line: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” More importantly, if Mako made FFVII completely different from our universe, then certainly the Force should function the same way. So I reached an apparent contradiction: either one of the most famous fantasy games is science fiction, or one of the famous science fiction movies is fantasy.
Mary set me straight. According to her, science fiction added to the known reality, whereas fantasy changed the known reality. Harry Potter, by inclusion of magic, fundamentally changed reality. Mako energy did the same, because it was discovered to be to the very source of life, and in doing so it altered the basis for much of humanity. The Force, on the other hand, doesn’t affect everyone as much as it affects the people who tap into it. In this way, she conceded, Star Wars is a sort of hybrid, but at the very least the previous two are definitely fantasy. Thus the lines are perhaps blurred, but the fundamental difference still exists.