It’s Obligatory

Because I’m such an SF fan, people expect me to have something to say about Star Wars. I mean, it’s the final episode, the series is over (let’s hope Lucas really means it), and a chapter on SF movie history is closed, right?

Bullshit. Star Wars was fine and all, at first. It was a noble, heroic, knightly story with some Zen shit thrown in. Cool, weird little aliens and a mechanized monster of a villain. And yeah, a filial connection between the villain and the hero. You have your noble savage (the wookie), your WWII fighter pilot, your Sir Gawain figure, a hottie princess, a few clown-like droids, a few older zen masters, and some funky aliens. Cool, whatever. It’s really more of science fantasy, even before the indtroduction of the ridiculous “midichlorians” into the story.

But Star Wars in its current form is so far from SF it’s not even funny.

Let me put it this way: a society that has faster-than light travel will definitely have figured out a way to prevent things like death in childbirth, or death from a broken heart. I mean, Padme was just depressed. Anakin was burned to a fucking crisp, and they saved him. And don’t give me the Dark Side excuse. The Force isn’t what’s fueling those droids, or the tie-fighters. There’s tech, loads of it, and we’re supposed to believe that a society with the kind of precision systems design and control procedure to keep an individualized urban air-transport infrastructure from clattering to pieces (look at all the ships flying around the city) can’t save a woman from dying in childbirth? If Star Wars were real SF, the whole plot would simply be impossible. The twins would have been removed and implanted into some woman who could bear them to term risk free. Or better yet, Padme’s already reinforced body would be unable to die from something as simple as childbirth.

Why? Because scientists are humans. They have wives who die in childbirth. They want to prevent such things.

Do you know how much energy it takes to break the speed of light?

A flaming hell of a lot less than it takes to universally prevent death-in-childbirthing, is how much.

Even more simply, as Anthony Lane put it in The New Yorker,

What can you say about a civilization where people zip from one solar system to the next as if they were changing their socks but where a woman fails to register for an ultrasound, and thus to realize that she is carrying twins until she is about to give birth? Mind you, how Padm?got pregnant is anybodys guess, although Im prepared to wager that it involved Anakin nipping into a broom closet with a warm glass jar and a copy of Ewok Babes. After all, the Lucasian universe is drained of all reference to bodily functions. Nobody ingests or excretes. Language remains unblue. Smoking and cursing are out of bounds, as is drunkenness, although personally I wouldnt go near the place without a hip flask. Did Lucas learn nothing from Alien?and Blade Runnerfrom the suggestion that other times and places might be no less rusted and septic than ours, and that the creation of a disinfected galaxy, where even the storm troopers wear bright-white outfits, looks not so much fantastical as dated? What Lucas has devised, over six movies, is a terrible puritan dream: a morality tale in which both sides are bent on moral cleansing, and where their differences can be assuaged only by a triumphant circus of violence. Judging from the whoops and crowings that greeted the opening credits, this is the only dream we are good for. We get the films we deserve.

Star Wars was always about a fantastical myth of the interplay of good and evil; this is not science-fictional in the slightest, in my opinion. It uses the trappings of SF as a backdrop for a mythic-styled morality play, and not a very complex or interesting one. I am okay with the first couple of movies, and I can even stomach the third, though I think the wookies we finally say in Episode III would have been much better than the Ewoks in Episode VI. And I’ll give Episode III this much: it’s better than Episodes I and II.

But that’s not saying much. It’s not hard to beat utter crap.

I have to say this. Star Wars was not worth the amount of interest and following it has spawned. Sorry. It’s just not all that clever or interesting. As Wil Wheaton told journalist Stephen Lynch:

The end of ‘Star Wars’ is long overdue. The new movies are an absolute abomination… It’s hard to figure out which sequel to ‘The Matrix’ was worse, and ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ had little in common with ‘Star Trek’ beyond the name. There was an explosion of geeky goodness in the last few years, and now it’s time to step back, and … well, thin the herd, I guess.

Wil’s more of a fan of media SF than me: I didn’t even like Star Trek, first or next generation, all that much. No disrespect to the actors, but it also wasn’t all that SFnal to me.

What has been SFnal to me? Films like Gattaca. Like the first episode of The Matrix. Like Abre Los Ojos and the American remake Vanilla Sky. The first few episodes of Alien and that beautiful adaptation of the story Enemy Mine to the big screen. Some of the things Hal Harley has been doing at least gesture at SF, though they’re often more like translucent social commentary… still, I liked The Girl From Friday.

Is this the end of geek entertainment? I have to agree with Wil Wheaton, again from the article linked above:

I actually think rather than witnessing the end of what you might call a ‘geek Renaissance,’ we’re seeing the beginning… The sun is only setting on the prologue.

This is the time to look forward to new SF, real SF films. I don’t know about this new Battlestar Galactica, but I sure am on the edge of my seat waiting to find out about this new Linklater version of the PK Dick novel A Scanner Darkly, and if The Watchmen ever gets made, it stands a decent chance of being damned fine, too.

What I am far more concerned about is another trend to do with SF, and fantasy, and what a lot of SF writers are doing these days. I won’t get too deep into it today, but I’ll note that basically, they seem to be setting everything in the immediate past, or present, or else sometime in history. There’s a lot less forward-looking in SF now, and it’s definitely becoming a trend, with William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and Connie Willis all on board. I am not necessarily complaining—most of these people are doing fine work in their chosen stories, and who are their SF fans to box them up in expectations?—but I do wonder if the genre is on the way out, in some ways, displaced by an increasingly SF-like reality.

China Mieville thinks fantasy’s on the way in, I recall reading. And Stepehnson suggested SF is fact becoming irrelevant. Hmm, and something comes to me from an interview with John Zerzan by Derek Jensen. Zerzan said,

I think people are really starting to understand how hollow the progress myth has been. Maybe thats too sanguine. But the fruits of it are too hard to miss. In fact the system doesnt talk so much about progress anymore.

Could it be that SF has been just propaganda for the idea of progress? Well, certainly a branch of it was, but all of it?

No. But it’s interesting what we’re looking into now. Philip K. Dick and his nightmarish lapses in reality are taking over Hollywood, and those films aren’t even being mentioned in the SF-geek-Hollywood articles I’ve looked at. They don’t spawn fannish costume parties, they spawn cynicism and distrust. Cyberpunk is finally in, because, well, it’s the new Reagan Era—after all, William Gibson wrote on his blog (you’ll have to search for reagan on this page, the permalink isn’t working when I try it, anyway):

If I were to put together a truly essential thank-you list for the people who most made it possible for me to write my first six novels, I’d certainly owe as much to Ronald Reagan as to Bill Gates or Lou Reed. Reagan’s presidency put the grit in my dystopia. His presidency was the fresh kitty litter I spread for utterly crucial traction on the icey driveway of uncharted futurity. His smile was the nightmare in my back pocket.

There’s certainly no shortage of nightmares in the back pockets of America now. The smile of your neighbour might well even do.

Ah well, I could go on—on to why Brit SF is different now, why non-series SF makes more sense now, and so on… but I’d rather get some sleep. So hey. That’s it for now.

UPDATE: Oh yeah. For another opinion, check out Kevin’s exclusive where Gollum reviews the last Star Wars movie ever. (Let’s hope.)

UPDATE #2: Oh yeah: the other thing I forgot was this: how the hell is it that one powerful Jedi, Yoda, can sense the deaths of millions of Jedi he’s never met, yet Anakin, after his “resurrection”, cannot even sense that his offspring have survived his wife’s death?

And how is it that hiding the children with people so closely associated with Anakin in the past is a good idea? “Uh, let’s see… why don’t we hide him with the Skywalkers on Anakin’s homeworld? Yeah, that’s a great idea!” Because, you know, nobody would ever think to check there. Which is why, when cops search for fugitives, the first place they routinely check is the home of close relatives, because it’s an obvious place to look and scratch off the list.

And as if there wouldn’t be some kind of genetic census in the afterburn of the Jedi massacre, registering all children and checking their blood for midichlorians. Because, you know, if you’re going to exterminate a gene line, the dumbest thing to do is to go about it half-assedly.

Oh, and spoilers? It’s impossible to spoil this movie, you already know everything that will happen. Don’t read websites about it if you don’t want details. And it’s been out for days. If you really cared, you’d have seen it by now.

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