Why Star Wars Is Not Science Fiction
A Thought Piece by
I’m sick of people thinking sci-fi is any story involving spaceships and interplanetary travel. I’m tired of no one understanding the distinction between different genres. And I just can’t stand it when everyone goes around spouting falsehoods and never knowing exactly how wrong they are. For anyone who stumbles across this article, please allow me to shine some enlightenment with the three most damning reasons as to why Star Wars is not science fiction, but actually the lesser known genre of science fantasy.
1. Star Wars Is Not Set in the Future
Star Wars is set in a distant galaxy from our own, and all of the events depicted take place in the past. Why does this matter? Well, a sort of “unwritten rule,” if you will, for sci-fi is for the story to be set either on Earth itself or in our solar system. Some stories (such as Star Trek) take place in our Milky Way galaxy, and Star Trek is the granddaddy of all great science fiction. If you’ve ever seen a Star Wars movie, (and if you have, then I pray you’ve seen the good ones) then you should know that each of the movies begins with the line “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...” Now, if you’ve ever been a child (and most, but not all of us have) then that line should sound quite familiar. That’s because it’s a play on the classic opening to nearly every fairy tale ever written, “Once upon a time in a land far, far away...”
The only real science at work here is that due to how long it takes the light from distant stars to reach Earth, every time you look at the night sky you are actually looking at the past, seeing many stars that may no longer exist. That is how the Star Wars galaxy can be populated by “advanced” technology, because their galaxy is much older than ours, and they’ve had more time to invent. Why did I write “advanced” in quotation marks? The answer to that question is...
2. Star Wars Throws the Laws of Science and Physics in the Trash
The exciting opening scene of the original Star Wars movie depicts two spaceships engaged in combat, firing lasers at each other, creating loud explosions, until the larger, Imperial ship immobilizes the smaller, Rebel ship by crippling its engines. If you’re a Physics major, or if you just paid minimal attention in high school, you should notice a few things wrong with the previous sentence. Firstly, simple lasers, that’s Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (bet you didn’t know laser was an acronym, huh?) being used as weapons is perhaps possible someday, but not likely in the fashion depicted in this astro-navel battle. Secondly, the loud explosions aren’t possible in the slightest, as space is a vacuum, and therefore lacks entirely the atmosphere needed to generate the vibrations that are sound waves. Thirdly, because a vacuum is a vacuum, it lacks friction as well, making it impossible to stop a moving object unless said object collides with another object or is pulled by the gravity of a planet or moon.
There are other beautiful examples of how Star Wars simply doesn’t care what is or isn’t possible. Light speed is attainable with the mere press of a button. And then the ship can suddenly “exit” light speed like it ain’t no thing. A space station the size of our moon can generate enough power to decimate an entire planet with only a laser. All planets appear to have breathable atmospheres and appropriate levels of gravity for the human body, despite their relative distance from their parent star or the size of the planet. And perhaps my favorite example of how Star Wars laughs in the face of reality is when spaceships maneuver through the vacuum of space as quickly and as nimbly as fighter jets do here on Earth, which, once again, is not possible without an atmosphere.
(You probably never realized just how vital an atmosphere is, did you? You should thank those precious gasses in your lungs. Go on, thank them.)
Real sci-fi takes great care to concern itself with the realm of actual scientific possibilities and the plausible. The stories are set in the near or distant future so they can show off all of the technological goals real researchers and inventors are working to discover right now. True sci-fi may feature intrepid astronauts colonizing other planets or moons, powering their rockets and highly advanced exoskeleton spacesuits with alternative energies. Often, these astronauts struggle to find their place within these futuristic times as humankind continues to accept their infancy and humility in the face of ever-changing times.
My final talking point is perhaps the most powerful evidence one could cite as to debunk the sci-fi standing of these beloved movies. The greatest reason as to why Star Wars is not at all scientific is...
3. Star Wars Is Set In a Galaxy with the Force
“Use the Force, Luke” is arguably one of the most iconic, famous, and best-known lines in cinematic history. Or, perhaps you’re more acquainted with the equally iconic, “May the Force be with you.” In either case, even if you haven’t seen a Star Wars movie, I’m sure you know one or both of these lines. But why are these lines so ubiquitous? Because the Force is magical, spiritual, and so, well, fantastical, that even nearly forty years later it still resonates as the one of the most original elements of any Hollywood motion picture.
In the movies, the Force is described as an energy created by all living things that connects all living things. The Force is studied, practiced, and revered by figures known as the Jedi Knights, who are, for all intents and purposes, warrior monks. When wielded by the Jedi, the Force can be used for telekinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, superhuman reflexes, increased physical speed, and the ability to sense all life, among other abilities. Villainous users of the Force, known as the Sith, have all of these abilities, as well as darker ones, such as the power to choke a person with thought and to produce bolts of electricity from the fingertips, among others.
These magical powers aren’t too different from the powers one might read in a story about wizards and warlocks, characters reserved for the genre of fantasy (think Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings). Fantasy stories aren’t concerned with technology and abilities that are possible in our world, but what’s possible in their world. Lightsabers, the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, and a floating city in the clouds of a gas giant (all things you’ve probably heard about from certain members of your family and/or your circle of friends) could not exist in our solar system, but they can exist on Tatooine, Endor, Hoth, and every other planet Luke Skywalker and his friends could ever want to visit.
I love the Star Wars movies (three of them, anyway). A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are integral to the person I am today, the person who is writing what I hope will be interpreted as an impassioned attempt to have the rest of the world understand these movies as I do, so that others may give them the respect and the proper designation they so rightfully deserve. It is ever important to combat ignorance, even regarding the classification of movies which are older than some of the people who will read this article.