Saturday, September 25, 2010

Triumph of the Force

Thers on Eschaton today posts some hilarious and beautifully executed old-graphic propaganda posters for the empire and rebel alliance forces in the 'Star Wars' universe. The symmetry between Empire and Rebel Alliance posters is striking:

I grew up reading every science fiction story I could get my hands on, from the 1950s on up. Very few movies purporting to be science fiction reflected the books' sensibilities: 'Metropolis', the Flash Gordon and 'King of the Rocket Men' serials, 'Forbidden Planet' and not much else come to mind. 'Star Wars' (now ep. 4) wonderfully recreated and embodied many classic SF tropes. I could have pulled maybe five books from my collection which had tramp freighters escaping into hyperdrive. Like Lucas' best film, 'American Graffiti', 'Star Wars' owed much to reference to widely understood external context. The more the films became self-referential, the worse they got; the material simply wasn't up to Lucas pretensions.

The more I think about Lucas' world, the more troubling it is. Both sides depend on an elite, in power because of mastery of the Force, vaguely on a border between supernatural and metachlorion/biological, amounting to inborn ability and an assertion of will over both humans ('These aren't the droids you're looking for'; 'I find your lack of faith disturbing') and the inanimate universe arising out of training and suspension of disbelief. There's no constraint at all on Jedi Knight any more than on Dark Siders, other than internal ones, and a trip to evil an appallingly short and seductive one. The lives of the Forceless and the non-royals have no relevance whatever to the films, and their lack of input into the pre-empire regime, empire, revolution and post-empire event never remarked upon. Clones, machines and troops not much more than machines predominate.

Vincent Canby in the Times, at the time the original film (now ep.4, which, I might add, I saw perhaps 12 times in theatres) was released, noted that the medal ceremony at the end of ep. 4 was a direct quote from Leni Riefenstahl's notorious 'Triumph of the Will' about the Berlin Olympics. There isn't much in Lucas' universe that's incompatible with fascism, or, being charitable, even Ayn Randish virtuous selfishness. True, even more obviously, of such classic science fiction as the space operas of EE Smith, which are revered in the SF community as having created the genre. Anyone who really cares about science fiction, and a pop culture increasingly taken with it, should read Norman Spinrad's vastly underappreciated, underread and troubling 'Iron Dream', which purports to be a pulp science fiction novel, entirely compatible with genre conventions, written in an alternative universe by a failed painter, emigrating to the USA after World War I, named Adolf Hitler. The ease with which Nazi ideology fits in is extraordinary. Harry Harrison's 'Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers' is a biting parody of Smith and his ilk, and worth a look too.

'Star Trek's Federation galaxy does far better, though still underreporting on Federation civilian life to the advantage of the quasimilitary Star Fleet command and undervaluing diplomats compared with ship's captains, though the Fleet has many roles other than military. And much, much better acted and written: q'plah!


Anonymous said...

If you haven't yet, I HIGHLY recommend you see the recent "Battlestar Galactica" remake, truly sci-fi TV for adults. Our Athenae has written many interesting posts about it. There's a spinoff prequel series called "Caprica" that is also great.

Star Wars is nothing but fun and games really, and should be viewed as such. I still enjoy it on that level. I also still love Trek(especially Spock) which should always be viewed in the context of the time it was originally produced and aired(true of all the various Trek shows).

ProfWombat said...

I'm wading through BG on several recommendations, and agree; its contrast with the stupid old show is extraordinary. I find myself increasingly distant from Star Wars: the awful prequels, in the absence of other than visual competence, render my negatives more obvious to me.
It occurs to me to compare 'Trek' to Sherlock Holmes: a canon, pastiches, expansion and restatements reflecting changing times and their preoccupations, popular art varying from the mundane to the excellent, a vociferous fan base deeply committed to minutiae...

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