Could Star Wars Really be Fantasy?
If it looks like science fiction, is that the end of the story? Is the entire genre of sci-fi really only defined by the presence of props like spaceships, robots and laser-gun technology? By intergalactic travel and alien life forms?
The genre of sci-fi is a bit more complicated than you might think and is commonly misinterpreted, even by authors such as Margaret Atwood, who said one of her novels is not science fiction because “It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians." I would like to argue that the elements Atwood is talking about are central to aesthetic, not genre. But why would I call Star Wars fantasy? Here are some good reasons:
1. The definition
Sci-fi and fantasy are so similar that they go under one umbrella genre called Speculative Fiction. (Sadly they can also go under the category of formula fiction, but I digress). Science fiction is future-oriented and presents a world that is speculated to be possible, and is presented as within the realm of scientific possibility, where fantasy presents the purely impossible.
Star Wars takes place “A long, long time ago.” It takes place in the past. You could argue that it’s still the past in our universe, just in a galaxy “far, far away,” but there’s one problem. The Force is not in any way possible in our universe’s past or future.
2. What is The Force?
Magic gets called a lot of things in the world of Fantasy. In The Wheel of Time, it’s the One Power, the source, saidin or saidar (it’s called a lot of things in The Wheel of Time). I’m sure if you look at some of your favourite fantasy tomes, some of them will use the term magic, and others won’t. It’s ‘power’ or ‘energy’ or um ... 'the Force'.
The Force doesn’t even look like technology. The only counter-argument to this that I could think of is that the Force could be considered physics with different rules, which would make it somewhat scientific... but then isn’t that what magic is? Only certain people can use it, some people don’t even believe in it, and it’s a way of manipulating the world around you according to certain rules. And if Star Wars takes place “in a galaxy far, far away...” then it’s supposed to be in our Universe, so how would there be different rules of physics? (and how would there be magic that doesn’t exist in our world... oh shit.)
Star Wars, unlike most science fiction, isn’t about the effects of a new technology on a given society.
Star Wars is a story with a hero on a personal quest, facing a personal battle. It’s about said hero's struggles, relationships and accomplishments. The war here is basically good vs. evil. How is this so different from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?
I can tell you what it’s not similar to. It’s not similar to sci-fi staples such as The Matrix, Terminator, Donnie Darko, or Bladerunner. Is the evil a person or an entity? That’s a pretty good hint as to what genre it belongs to. In Minority Report the antagonist is the software that tries to predict whether someone is going to commit murder. In Terminator, like in A.I. or I Robot, it’s artificial life. Same with Battlestar Galactica. Click the "sci fi" label at the bottom of this post for more examples (including new flicks like In Time, Timer and Limitless). On the other hand, I've heard the same argument I'm making about Star Wars used against Dune by Frank Herbert.
The enemies in Star Wars include the Empire (an organisation of people), Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. Harry Potter has Lord Voldemort and Lord of the Rings has Sauron. Tolkien was very anti-industrial revolution (late as he was to the game), and rampant deforestation was one of the evils Sauron threatened, but it wasn’t the development of chainsaws that Frodo journeyed to Mount Doom to counter. It was a person. Kind of like Darth Vader.