Star Wars, as a story, can be so deeply ingrained in our minds that we defy to place it in a genre, or rather, simply identify it as itself, confident that all the information is contained in that description. But what is Star Wars? Where does it fit into the genres that are so helpful in identifying other works such as movies or books?
We’re going to take a look at the two closest main genres – science fiction and fantasy – and see how Star Wars matches up. Let’s start with science fiction.
Are Yoda & Star Wars Sci-Fi or Fantasy?
There are a lot of ways to describe science fiction. John W. Campbell Jr. (The Thing and many other works) once famously said “Science fiction is what I say it is,” which means this can get messy. Darko Suvin described science fiction as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” . . . which helps us even less.
The great Isaac Asimov (Foundation series, I, Robot) said: “Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.” Christopher Evans said: “Perhaps the crispest definition is that science fiction is a literature of ‘what if?’ What if we could travel in time? What if we were living on other planets? What if we made contact with alien races? And so on. The starting point is that the writer supposes things that are different from how we know them to be.”
So it’s safe to say that science fiction isn’t the easiest thing to define. It’s almost always in the future, has the do with technology and space and, in the case of hard science fiction, can be grounded in real physics and mathematics. Common top science fiction works include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ender’s Game, Dune, and Neuromancer. Three of the four take place at least partially in space or on other planets, three of the four are in the future, and all of them deal with new technology or information.
One thing absent from many science fiction works is mysticism: religion, magic, and other ideas not quantifiable by science or measurement.
Is Star Wars Science Fiction?
In Star Wars, we have planets, space travel, lasers, aliens, and more, all frequent elements of science fiction, whether hard, soft, or pulp. However, there is also the Force, an eastern-mysticism inspired power behind life in the universe. Struggles of dark verses light, balance of the galaxy, and Star Wars’ ‘Hero’s Journey’ storyline make placing it under the science fiction umbrella seem . . . incorrect. Fantasy is next.
Fantasy is a much easier term to describe. From Wikipedia: “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.” Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wheel of Time, and the Dragonlance series are common and well-known fantasy works. Themes are magic, armies, thematic battles of good versus evil, and a time frame set before the industrial revolution (though not always) are prevalent.
Fantasy tends to stay away from scientific exploration as well as macabre themes more suited for horror. People are present in one world, on one continent or even one single country, different races (Elves, Dwarves) are common but none are presented as aliens, and technology that we today might find useful or even commonplace is taken from magic.
Is Star Wars Fantasy?
Star Wars has good versus evil, armies, and “magic,” but removing the scientific element of the series makes it other than Star Wars. So now we have to recognize that Star Wars is both sci-fi and fantasy, and removing either changes it.
In Episode I, we are told that the Force is represented in the human body as “Midichlorians,” a plot point derided by the fan base at large, and one that tries to remove the fantasy from the story. Similarly, in Episode III, Padme dies of a “broken heart,” something that is presented as a result of Anakin’s betrayal and turn to the dark side, but flies in the face of the advanced science that the series has portrayed since the beginning. Removal of either element brings the story down.
So . . . What is it?
A mix of the two genres, called science-fantasy, was created simply by the juxtapositioning of these two genres. Star Wars becomes a science fantasy work through no conscious effort, but by the mere presence of both science-fiction and fantasy pieces included.
Other science-fantasy works that may sound familiar include the Matrix series, The Dark Tower series, Doctor Who, Final Fantasy (though not every game is a good example), and even anime/manga titan Dragon Ball is a clear example with Gods, demons, ki energy . . . as well as spaceships, aliens, and advanced technology.
Star Wars very clearly fits into this important section of fiction. With perhaps both elements playing just as important a role in the formulation of the series, it can be seen as one of the most well-known and balanced examples.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion. We’ll be back soon with more fun facts and great deals so you can have a happy Halloween!