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Lit Re-reading Star Wars on Trial (long commentary ahead)

Discussion in 'Literature' started by Lucillalin, Dec 7, 2017.

  1. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 10, 2016
    So I just found the book "Star Wars on Trial" on my shelf and started re-reading it keeping the new Disney-era films in mind. This will be a long commentary as I'll go all its arguments trough, hopefully in an entertaining manner. I have multiple reasons to find it interesting - its debate on speculative fiction writing and reading is interesting as I'm a spefi writer myself (mostly short stories but also one recent novel, all in Finnish!) and David Brin's take on the mentality history surrounding speculative history intrigues me as a history student. I disagree with him vehemently, but at the same time respect him a great deal.

    Star Wars on Trial is also almost an archeological relic, as there authors of all ideological persuasions and from all walks of life debate in a humorous good-natured manner, before the whole US fandom politicised and split in to rival factions. I bet these days some these authors are sadly not even in talking terms. But let's begin!

    Charge 1 - The politics of Star Wars are anti- democratic and elitist
    2- While claiming mythic significance, Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical beliefst
    3 - Star Wars novels are poor substitutes for real science fiction and are driving real SF off the shelves
    4 - Science fiction filmmaking has been reduced by Star Wars to poorly written special effects extravaganzas
    5 - Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of science fictionin the popular imagination
    6 - Star Wars pretends to be science fiction but is really fantasy
    7 - Women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak
    8 - The plot holes and logical caps in Star Wars make it ill-suited for an intelligent viewer
     
  2. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 10, 2016
    In his introduction to the topic David Brin suggests that Star Wars is part of an anti-modern strain in popular culture. Brin's rather simplistic view is that we were all telling feudal-magical-elitists stories about holy rulers, chosen ones and the like supporting absolutism and theocracies until during Enlightenment we started to rebel against this feudal order. Quote: "can you look across the last 4000 years of recorded history and call it good that society remained changeless for the vast majority of that time?" He also thinks that storytellers dealt with these ubermench-demigod stories to flatter their rulers.

    I wonder what the people writing Magna Carta would have made of this theory. Or the folks who set sail to America. The society didn't remain changeless for 4000 years, history really isn't that monolith. And as for stories, Antiquity produced the sort of stories Brin depicts and because of the living legacy of Ancient myths they affected the later culture as well. But most of famous pre-Enlightenment fiction, is not like that. Not Shakespeare. Not Cervantes. Not even all Antiquity, Ovid's Metamorphoses for an example is partly a lament of victimhood on the hands of abusive powers (as this was his personal experience). When European politics were theocratic and absolutist the fiction tended to be snarky commentary on manners as far as censorship let the artist go. The feudal-magical strain of fantastic fiction became fashionable during Romanticism, after the beginning of Enlightenment, when people were living in conditions where aristocracy mattered less and certainly magical elites with superpowers was not something the reading public believed in. Stuff like that became fashionable because it was exciting and different from people's everyday life. Just like Star Wars in our culture.

    Brin is a futurist. Not in the European destroy-everything-war-will-cleanse-the-Earth tradition, but in the more family friendly American way, where technology will solve our problems and where optimism in societal development prevails. He's correct that the American mythology is about rebellion and suspicion of Authority. He's right on his critique that science fiction tends to be all doom and gloom, humanity shouldn't meddle with technology, we shall destroy the Earth, dystopian stuff. In short, his argument is that speculative fiction has taken a turn to be set against the modern project - in the dystopian distrust of humanity in the serious science fiction and in the magical elitism Star Wars and fantasy represents.

    The "Defence" in the book, Matthew Woording Stover is funny and entertaining, but his arguments are less clear (if anyone here gets his style better, feel free to participate). In any case, he argues that the authority and elite in Star Wars is very much in suspect, they give wrong advice, the give advice that Luke ignores and still ends up winning etc. In Stover's opinion, Star Wars is about questioning the authority (be it the Empire or Yoda, whom Brin entertainingly calls "the vicious little oven mitt") and about trusting the Force

    Charge 1- The politics of Star Wars are anti-democratic and elitist are galloped thought fast. Brin pretty much makes his point in his introduction and Stover argues for the opposite. The next author, Keith R.A DeCandido wastes his time on how this all is an allegory to Bush administration of something, which shows how badly these issues always date. He thinks Lucas is making this point and who knows, maybe that's the point of the prequels. It would explain partly why they suck so hard.

    I never claimed I'd be neutral here...
     
  3. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 10, 2016
    Charge 2 - While claiming mythic significance, Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical beliefs.

    Author John C. Wright is one of these authors who now immersed in to the immensely annoying Culture Wars, but his point here is pretty good, as it helps my overanalysing brain to enjoy Star Wars. He makes the point, that many others will later make in the book that Star Wars became popular because it stood out from the despairing dystopias so prevalent during the 1970's, most of young people like exciting adventures, not stuff like Soylent Green or the Westfield film (I love Soylent Green btw, but not because of its dystopia). Wright argues that Star Wars doesn't have any ethics or religion, similarly to the Martial Arts wuxia films of China (which I also like) the Force-superpowers are just a plot device, to allow exciting things to happen and create a magical atmosphere. Quote: "Study of the Force is not for learning how to be stoic in the face of adversity, as in the study of philosophy, or for discovering moral truth, as is the study of ethics, or the salvation or enlightenment of the soul, as is the study of religion. It is for doing super-ninja-leaps with Way Cool psychokinetic powers"

    Now, that's how I see the Force in Star Wars as well. Its a plot device and Star Wars is not for me a serious work on ethics or spirituality. You can do so many things with giving a story some supernatural powers - Super hero comics genre, Wuxia, Akira and a host of other manga and anime - If I want speculative fiction with deep philosophy I read Lewis' "Till we have faces". In EU the whole Force issue also seems to work at its best when its all about encountering ancient Sith Lords, mystical amulets, martial arts and the like. Other fans might be in disagreement here, but one of my biggest fears about the new films is that they start taking the whole thing a bit too seriously.

    Author Scott Lynch (unknown to myself) argues against Wright, not on the religions, but about the ethical issues of Star Wars. He admits that ethics-wise the prequels are all over the place and few characters manage to cover themselves in glory, mostly making choices that cause the whole galaxy to suffer. On the other hand the original trilogy has a strong message of sticking with your friends and loved ones and how Luke love and loyalty saves the day, a new type of Jedi, not detached monk, but social and faithful to his friends. According to Lynch, Luke's personal triumph became the saga's ethical vindication.

    Hey, I agree with this guy too! I like Luke and his loyalty and love for his family and friends. Here I'm worried about where the new trilogy will take him and if they are going to break the character just to be all dark and edgy. "Be loyal to your friends" is not perhaps the deepest philosophical message a story can deliver, but the most suitable one for a adventure romp such as Star Wars. Hope Rey keeps this in mind!
     
  4. Danz Borin420

    Danz Borin420 Jedi Youngling

    Registered:
    Oct 26, 2017
    Wow, its been a long time since I've read this (read it probably shortly after it came out) and only recently read Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series (Lies of Locke Lamorra, Red Skies over Red Seas, etc.). Didn't realize he was a part of that (I remember not recognizing him, as well as a few of the other authors at the time of reading SWoT).
     
  5. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 10, 2016
    3 - Star Wars novels are poor substitutes for real science fiction and are driving real SF off the shelves

    First my opinion as a scifi writer and fan: not really. Star Wars novels are hardly substitutes for hard science fiction or whatever is topical and trendy within the fandom at the moment and winning all the wars (I wouldn't know, I'm from the noble pulp tradition myself) - they are different genres. Star Wars novels are character driven adventure stories. And generally people look for things they like. Some might go for the books getting all the literary awards and buzz in the genre magazines. I look for Weird Tales-era anthologies, cyberpunk and Jack Vance. Some look for novels on their favourite TV shows and films. Nothing wrong with that, unless you are some sort of literary elitist.

    Lou Anders, another unknown author to myself (told ya I'm out of touch with my contemporaries) is a witness for the prosecution and points out that printed science fiction and science fiction films have almost nothing in common with each other and that there are virtually no good films that are also good science fiction. Now, I agree here, I've also noticed that science fiction classics from 1950's are much more imaginative and advanced in their ideas than most of recent Hollywood scifi films. As Anders says, Star Wars has more to do with the tradition of fantasy than science fiction. Anders complains that mainstream associates science fiction with Star Wars and nobody says "yes, science fiction. That Samuel R. Delaney is a modern day James Joyce, isn't he"
    Would that be, because neither have as much mainstream appeal as Star Wars, for, say a 12-year old. Just a guess. Anders ends in a way that pretty much reveals why people prefer Star Wars or Star Trek - "Our world is dreaming some dark dreams now. We need to dream better, as if our life depended on it... if tie-in properties could be a gateway drug to the real stuff, wonderful. But if they pass in the mind of the majority for the real stuff, trouble. Because, my friends, the real stuff is important. The future is a very powerful force, if you just tap into it."

    What a schoolmarm of a scifi writer here. Children, you are not wise enough to know what's best for you. But let's advance...
     
  6. Charlemagne19

    Charlemagne19 Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Jul 30, 2000
    STAR WARS ON TRIAL is a nice book for framing criticism of the series but I think Brin's deliberate attempts to frame things in the most negative light also shoot him in the foot. Luke is a "Chosen Bloodline" theoretically but his father was a slave and he was a working class farmer.

    I will say I think David Brin was doing it tongue-in-cheek style. Also, any criticism from him is to be taken with a grain of salt since his most famous work is the Postman.
     
  7. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

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    Jan 10, 2016
    The next author, for the defence, Laura Resnick explains the controversy about whether a work-for-hire novels should be eligible for awards. Media tie-in novels, such as Star Wars literature are work-for-hire are some consider it to me inferior quality literature. Booksellers are businesses who cater what readerships wants, so of tie-ins are popular, they get a lot of shelf space. Its not a conspiracy against the great science fiction literature. Resnick points out that tie-ins are a good way to make a living as an author (similarly to how serious non-genre novelists tend to publish romances with another name, for the same reason) and that the tie-in authors like the universe they are writing about.

    Next author for the defence is Karen Traviss, and I have to admit I take personal issue with her as a Star Wars author. I just can't get over her quirks. OK, you write Star Wars and hate the Jedi and think that Mandaloreans are some sort of cool British working class blokes or something. Her point here is that the franchise lets her go as far as she can, but wasn't she fired? In any case, there's a third author defending the same topic, but I have to return to her tomorrow, as my toddler just woke up for some reason...
     
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  8. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

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    Jan 10, 2016
    I prefer Brin to many of the other authors here, at least his more or less serious soapboxing is quite unique. He goes deeper than making everything about current politics, which is refreshing. And his and Stover's dialogue is funny.

    Oh, I just realised this book is part of a series and the series has a similar book on Firefly and another on Stargate. Take my money!
     
  9. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

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    Jan 10, 2016
    Next witness, Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes good points and compels me to look her novels up in the future. She writes that the post 60s scifi is often hard to approach for readership, as you never know when picking up a book whether you are in for a great adventure or hundreds of pages of cold dystopian despair or scientific jargon. Fantasy and other speculative fiction is doing just fine, science fiction is not popular and would actually benefit from Star Wars influences. I agree! According to Rusch science fiction is committing the common sin of a dying literary genre: blaming its problems on the outsiders - tie in novels in this case.

    Rusch writes - and this is my experience too as a reader - that when a Star Wars fan looks for Star Wars novels in the bookshop, afterwards they go trough the erst of the SF shelves, looking for something equally entertaining. But there are mostly the jargon-filled limited access novels and dystopian misery, so after few tentative attempts, the reader gives up and goes back to the tie-ins with heroic heroes, worlds interesting and endings upbeat. Tie-ins are not stealing space from the science fiction, they are the books keeping the genre alive.

    Now, I've published dystopian stories myself and one story which was some twenty pages of a torture scene, but I like this lady and shall look for her novels!
     
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  10. Charlemagne19

    Charlemagne19 Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Jul 30, 2000
    Karen quit, she wasn't fired.

    They overwrote all of her creation so she went to write Gears of War fiction instead. Which is a game series I could never get into because, well, the heroes are monsters.
     
  11. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 19, 1999
    You elitist scumbag Charles, they're clearly misunderstood, working class blokes.
     
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  12. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 10, 2016
    Charge 4 - Science fiction filmmaking has been reduced by Star Wars to poorly written special effects extravaganzas.

    First my opinion - personally, I blame Matrix. After that the dancey martial arts took over. If the original Star Wars inspired derivatives, it doesn't matter as those films are long forgotten. But we still have the martial arts and boring dystopias to this day.

    John G. Hemry is for the prosecution. He claims that the original Star Wars inspired bad science fiction such as original Battlestar Galactica (I like neither the old or new one, so don't argue with him here) and that the lousily written prequels inspired Sci Fi channel to push out bad films. I don't think I've seen any of these films, but straight-to-tv-films tend to suck (my experience being horror) so probably yes.

    Bruce Bethke writes for the defence. He says that the idea of Star Wars revitalised the genre is not true, as there were important, good and popular science fiction films made throughout 50's and 60's (and that not all the 50's films were the b-grade "attack of giant this-and-that-monster flicks). Star Wars became so popular because of the 70's films and fiction in general. It was nihilistic and depressing and dystopian and hardly entertaining. Quoth Bethke on Silent Running: "painfully overwrought ecological message script that's about as subtle as spending ninety minutes getting clubbed over the head with a five-pound organically grown heirloom zucchini. By the time Silent Running grinds down to its final, depressing, hopeless ending, you're left with very slight feeling of sympathy for the surviving robot and a profound sense of relief that at least its over and you won't have to sit trough that again." Star Wars gave a sense of hope and offered adventure in the middle of a cultural misery fest. Lucas reintroduced the hero - and keeping the 70's films in mind - that was something people needed. The legacy of Star Wars is not bad scifi but heroic stories such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

    Well, Amen to that! And I do hope that the current writers working for the Mouse will bloody well keep that in mind. A lot of the culture right now is also dystopian, overtly dark and edgy and antiheroic. Turning Star Wars that way might make some insular fan community happy, but will never excite the same way as Big Damn Heroes can.
     
  13. Dr. Steve Brule

    Dr. Steve Brule Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Sep 7, 2012
    The idea that the Sci-Fi Channel put out its bad direct-to-TV movies directly because of The Phantom Menace is really funny.

    I also like Silent Running a lot. And I think it's hard to argue its robots didn't play something of an influence on R2-D2.
     
  14. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

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    Jan 10, 2016
    I like the other depressing 70's dystopias mentioned - Westworld and Soylent Green. I love Soylent Green. It creates a speculative society and has characters who are of that society and culture and behave within that framework. Thats very very rare, usually every speculative story has people with our sensibilities running around in weird settings. But I can't understand its hardly exciting adventure for a 12 year old just getting in to speculative fiction...

    I've actually never seen any of these Sci-Fi Channel direct-to-tv-films. Getting a bit curious here...
     
    Dr. Steve Brule likes this.
  15. Charlemagne19

    Charlemagne19 Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Jul 30, 2000
    Yes, the breeding farms and conquest of all other races and master race stuff is just flavor text.

    WEAPONS MANUFACTURERS ARE THE REAL EVIL

    (Karens books are kind of weird and fun in the fact they always have SOMETHING weird that is completely against normal canon no matter the franchise)
     
  16. Lucillalin

    Lucillalin Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Jan 10, 2016
    Charge 5- Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of science fiction in the popular imagination

    For the Prosecution -Tanya Huff. Her beef seems to be that Star Wars is the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Science Fiction (I doubt that) and that before SF was associated with things weird and dangerous. I actually think that "normies" just see all genre literature as one big lump and maybe that's for the best, taken in to consideration that SF culture is also the roots of UFO scene and various cults. In any case, Huff mostly rehashes the arguments of the previous folks - this whole question is almost the same as the previous one!

    For the defence - Richard Garfinkle. His argument is something I haven't thought about myself, that Star Wars with its iconographic terminology has given us a shorthand on how to describe things in Science Fiction without having to explain too much. Because of Star Wars, reader is not confused if you write "The ship jumped in ti hyperspace", "hologram showed the their battle tactics" etc. Although Star Wars has brought certain uniformity to the genre, that uniformity allows us to go forth writing-wise to a greater diversity of Science Fiction.

    I can relate as a writer, though for me Star Wars is not a very great inspiration (even that I'm a big fan) - but I use Jack Vance in a similar manner stealing everything he didn't nail down using his world building as a spring board to a totally different way or writing.

    I don't write in English so the Star Wars terminology translates really clumsily in my language.

    Garfinkle also points out that as literature cannot compete visually with special effects extravaganzas, we have no choice than to concentrate on something else in writing - thought processes, ideas etc. This might well be the case, but for me the best literature is the type that is written so visually I feel I can see it.