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Lit EU Authors: Fairytale/Fantasy vs Science Fiction for Star Wars

Discussion in 'Literature' started by JediAvatar, Mar 31, 2023.

  1. JediAvatar

    JediAvatar Jedi Knight star 1

    Jun 11, 2020
    I was watching a behind-the-scenes documentary for The Empire Strikes Back and Irvin Kershner said some things that stuck out to me.

    To transcribe what Kershner said: "Some people call it science fiction, I don't even consider it science fiction. I consider it a fairy-tale. In science fiction you're very concerned about leaving a spaceship on a planet because they might not have oxygen, or the gravitational force is not the same as on Earth or not what your body is adjusted to, and so you must take all that into consideration or it's considered very poor science fiction.
    It's (Star Wars) fairy-tale, that's the environment, that's the context, that you can literally do anything, and if I believe it while I'm doing it the audience tends to believe it too. So that's a fairy-tale."

    Also from Kershner:
    "Science fiction has certain qualities that you have to respect, all kinds of scientific jargon, we've eliminated all scientific jargon, there's almost none, just a touch like salt and pepper, it's not a science fiction movie."

    These two things that Kershner said got me thinking about how the science fiction vs fantasy/fairytale distinction was treated by EU authors.
    Going off the top of my head, and what I've read so far, I feel that Tom Veitch was the only EU author who embraced this mentality when it came to his Star Wars work. In Tales of the Jedi, he invented the planet Onderon and it's moon the Dxun Moon, which every so often gets so close to the planet that their atmospheres temporarily combine, allowing the beasts from the Dxun Moon that are capable of flight to travel into Onderon.
    Most other EU authors would either have shied away from something like this, or they would approach it from a science fiction perspective and have it be a cataclysmic event that occurred every half-a-century or less or more, and caused volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. Whereas Veitch essentially said in the story, yeah this thing happens and that's that.
    Timothy Zahn disagreed with Veitch on the physics behind a Star Destroyer entering a planet's atmosphere. I also recall Zahn disagreeing with something to do with Luke crash landing a Star Destroyer on Coruscant with no repercussions, but I can't find that.

    Like or dislike Veitch's work, he understood that Star wars is not science fiction, that it's a fairy-tale in space. Or "space fantasy" as Harrison Ford put it.

    Anyway, from what I recall and what I've read so far, most EU authors opted for a 50/50 balance with some leaning slightly more to one side or the other. Although I feel the authors tended to lean a little bit more to the science fiction side, which is understandable given that many of them were science fiction writers before coming on to write for Star Wars. Unlike Veitch who leaned much more predominantly on the fairy-tale/fantasy side. Personally I wish more EU authors had gone with the latter approach, but what does everyone else think? Did the EU have a good balance?

    Just to be clear, I also believe that Star Wars like any other story whether science fiction or fairy-tale or fantasy or superhero or anything else, should have internal logic.
  2. Irredeemable Fanboy

    Irredeemable Fanboy Jedi Master star 4

    Mar 27, 2020
    I think overall it did have a good balance, considering the subject matter the authors touched, it was natural that stories heavily featuring Jedi vs Sith with little of the non-force users being involved to be more fantastical, i think authors like Stover, Keyes, and heck, even Denning, went for a slightly more fantastical route than the rest, but the ones that stuck with it the most were definetly Veitch and Anderson, even though Veitch said that Anderson took TOTJ in a different direction than what he wanted, they still share a very noticeable vision of what Star Wars is at it's core, in Anderson works we have entire Suns being blown away by the Force, Jedi channeling powers from temples to blow away Star Destroyers, really over the top stuff compared to many other writers.

    Zahn and Stackpole definetly fall into the pure science fiction camp, well maybe Stackpole a bit less after all he does have a giant Star Destroyer raising from the ground in X-Wing book 3, with 0 realistic repercussions, but he definetly focuses on the more grounded side of Star Wars, always explaining stuff so it is realistic, Zahn takes it to an extreme, while still containing a lot of campy elements that ground it in an old serial feel, another one of the authors that has this approach is Traviss, she focuses entirely on the grounded aspects at times downgrading the more over the top powerful characters like Jedi and Sith so they are evenly matched with the elite soldiers, which i don't like too much, i rather have the opposite (have non-force users that reach inhuman abilities through unconventional means and pure training if they are to fight Jedi).

    Luceno is a weird one, he focuses a lot in politics and worldbuilding so you'd think he falls more into the science fiction category, but he often introduces a lot of the more metaphysical large-scale aspects of the Force (Oneness, Fate manipulation in Plagueis, the will of the Force), it is all explained in a very specific framework of how it works, but it's definetly fantastical, i'd say Luceno is the type of writer that could make an awesome pure fantasy story with a complex world with almost zero believable elements yet he could still make it feel like a real universe.

    Allston, due to his X-wing work you'd think he falls into the science fiction but honestly he carries the lighthearted space adventure feel of Star Wars and expresses it beautifully, definetly falls into the more fantastical side, like come on, Lord Nyax?

    I think Archie Goodwin is one of the more underrated comic authors, and in general the classic era of Star Wars comics potrays a more fantastical, old serial-like feel to the universe, especially compared to the later comics which are more tame and close to the prequel movies' tone, i think something changed in between where Star Wars went from being a saga of space adventures to a generational myth built around galaxy-changing events, so the rebellion era comics from the 2000's never got as wacky, creative and fantastical as the 80's comics, but that is simply because the EU as a whole became more balanced in the 2000's, not too much in one direction or the other, before 1999 i think in the comics the fantastical side was more prominent while in the novels the science fiction dominated, after TPM it was more even.

    So yeah like i said, while we never got someone who took the fantasy elements to it's upmost limit like Veitch did, but the same could be said for the science fiction, Zahn is unparalleled in this degree, it's kind of interesting how we got those two polar opposites approach to Star Wars to kickstart the EU renaissance of the 90's, probably the reason the 90's era either went to one side or the other, while in the 2000's, probably thanks to the prequels, Luceno's influence, or the NJO to serve as an example, we got a more consistent middle ground.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2023
  3. IG_2000

    IG_2000 Force Ghost star 4

    Aug 5, 2008
    I was in an argument about this on Reddit today, actually:

    I think Star Wars is a gritty sci fi military tale, with fairy tale elements sprinkled in. The context of the original trilogy is a bunch of soldiers holed up in trenches fighting space Nazis, and I’d argue it’s pretty gritty. The fairy tale aspect of the original trilogy comes in the form of Luke’s specific character arc and hero’s journey; he finds this metaphysical world that’s been hidden away. He bumps into some wizards that he couldn’t even believe existed previously, and that’s the only reason why the rebels are able to win in the end.

    The overly fantastical elements of Star Wars aren’t the driving point of the original trilogy, but they stick out more because they exist in the context of a gritty sci fi tale. Everyone thinks Ben is a crazy hermit. Vader is a weird cultist following an arcane religion. To the galaxy at large, Palpatine is just a regular politician.

    I got into that argument on Reddit because I said that the modern Marvel comics do a lot of crazy stuff in between the movies that I can’t really buy, like Vader surfing on Space Cthulhu to reach Exegol and the rebels winning a battle because a giant rock man kaiju beat some Star Destroyers into submission. The craziest thing we saw in the movies was a guy shooting lightning from his hands. Star Wars is neither Lord of the Rings or Star Trek, it’s sort of a soft balance between them.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2023
  4. Darth Invictus

    Darth Invictus Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Aug 8, 2016
    The EU leaned towards the fantastical, though as noted it varied between authors a lot. Zahn and Stackpole and Traviss tended towards military sci fi, with the fantastical elements downplayed(or depending on the story not really present at all).

    Compare that to Veitch and Anderson, and even Denning(though what separates Denning is largely tone and atmosphere) where force users and the more mystical aspects of SW are more center stage. Same for Drew Karpshyn, and I'd argue Luceno. Luceno focuses more I'd argue on the interplay between the mundane world and the metaphysical.

    Thing is, SW is very much in the middle-you don't see Jedi and Sith slamming planets against each other and teleporting across the galaxy in anime esque super saiyan fights (even if such a thing is...maybe possible IU). It doesn't have also detailed descriptions and battles down to the smallest blaster pistol with detailed tactics and loads of made up acronyms-though there is some. Though not to the extent some military sci fi-like say Halo which focuses near exclusively on soldiers and the military minutia in a sci fi context.

    This is probably a partial reason why SW has such a broad appeal. It's not too fantastical in turns off people who can't SOD as well, and its got enough Campbellian mysticism and supernatural elements to satisfy people who would be bored or disinterested in a sci fi "pew pew" story alone.

    Personally I prefer the more mystical and supernatural aspect and wish that had been leaned into more. Though there is definitely a place for military and "harder" sci fi in SW.
  5. AusStig

    AusStig Force Ghost star 5

    Feb 3, 2010
    Star Wars is a fantasy fairy tale in space. It is about a farm boy who saves a princess from an evil wizard. The OT is low fantasy while the EU tended more to high fantasy, but it is still sci-fantasy.
  6. Darth Invictus

    Darth Invictus Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Aug 8, 2016
    You'll note even harder military sci fi stuff didn't focus on the details-what electronic warfare systems do X-Wings have, or what is the destructive potential of a clone commando's blaster rifle fired at 100 yards? 1000 yards? 500 yards? 2500 yards?

    Some military sci fi absolutely loves to lose itself in this sort of thing. Technical minutia, the complexities of uniform insignia, tactics and even logistics get much more attention than any sort of broad narrative set of tropes-such as heroes fighting villains, romance, and coming of age motifs.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2023
  7. Vthuil

    Vthuil Force Ghost star 5

    Jan 3, 2013
    One thing I always thought was interesting was how when the shift from Bantam to Del Rey happened, the source of new authors shifted along these lines. Bantam largely drew from existing sci-fi authors, which is a big part of why some of those books were fairly weird, but Del Rey tended to get fantasy authors and especially ones involved with game tie-ins. Troy Denning particularly stands out to me because while I dislike most everything he's ever done for Star Wars and feel he was a bad fit, I also still enjoy most of the D&D novels of his I got back when I was really into those.

    I dunno if it was a good or bad thing overall - I think there's points in both directions - but it was definitely notable. Meanwhile I haven't really picked up on any pattern for where new 'New EU' writers originate from, FWIW.

    (Interestingly, Stackpole personally actually sorta went the opposite direction - despite being the king of the EU's military sci-fi guys, and also a prominent enough author for BattleTech novels that a fan term was named after him, everything I know of him doing in the 21st century has been fantasy. Albeit fairly military-focused fantasy.)
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2023
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  8. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Chosen One star 9

    Jul 19, 1999
    Generally this is why the term space opera for stories like SW. It covers that mix of science aspects but not linked to the realistic aspects that SF would go with.

    Which allows for stuff like the Death Star approaching Yavin from the wrong direction because that's the story and not the gravity structure of the system determining it. In the case of Yavin though there's an easy fix: Tarkin wanted the Rebels to see their death coming for them.
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  9. AusStig

    AusStig Force Ghost star 5

    Feb 3, 2010
    Yeah and I think you lose something of the magic (literally and figuratively) when they have writers who just write Star Wars as just another military sci-fi story.
  10. Darth Invictus

    Darth Invictus Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Aug 8, 2016
    I think SW works best when it hovers between DBZ style fantasy and harder military sci fi. Depending on the story it can lean in one direction or another. I tend to prefer the former, but there has always been a place for the latter since the first firefight we see on the Tantive IV in ANH.
    Dream-Thinker, Xammer and Sarge like this.
  11. SyndicThrass

    SyndicThrass Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 25, 2016
    It’s not an either or situation for me with this franchise. My ideal Star Wars is when it mixes both the mystical and the mechanical, so to speak. The lore and the war.

    But, also I’m more than fine when one Star Wars project leans more one way than the other. Tales of the Jedi (the comic) feels like great fantasy yarn that you don’t find too often these days, but alternatively something like Andor and Rogue One with their grounded military/espionage approach are utterly fascinating and dramatic in a more tangible way for me.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2023
  12. Barriss_Coffee

    Barriss_Coffee Chosen One star 6

    Jun 29, 2003
    Yeah, it always struck me as weird making an "either/or" distinction here. This argument comes up all the time (same for the MCU, which I also find weird). A lot of "hard" sci-fi has all kinds of fantasy in it, especially the more existential authors exploring humanity's search of meaning, etc etc. Fantasy and sci-fi are more like a continuum. Or maybe that's not even a good enough analogy -- more like two colors of paint running together. Sometimes they don't overlap, sometimes they mix to the point you can't tell one from the other. Sometimes they just sort of swirl together but remain distinct. Like when Luke struggles to raise the X-Wing from the swamp in ESB, that's a very old-school fantasy learning experience that Yoda gives him with his magic Force trick, but the fact remains that Luke needs a spaceship to get to Bespin. He can't just fly there with the Force.

    Unless he's TLJ Leia, then he can totally just fly there.
  13. Dream-Thinker

    Dream-Thinker Jedi Master star 4

    May 20, 2020
    I'm sure I'm saying nothing new, but Star Wars can be any genre.
    I mean, even just looking at the movies we've got fantasy, science fiction, war/military stories, samurai films, and hints of romance, heists and westerns. Heck, Attack of the Clones even dips into Noir with Obi-Wan trying to track down Jango Fett.

    And while obviously in real life we don't have magic or spaceships, it does remind me of real life to an extent. Someone who is a police officer or a detective lives in a very different genre than a professional athlete. Same with a politician compared to an author. But at the end of the day it's all the same world.

    So, having it lean more one way or the other fits, at least in my mind.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2023
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  14. Ackbar's Fishsticks

    Ackbar's Fishsticks Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Aug 25, 2013
    This. Not only is it fantasy and science-fiction, it's, like, every other genre too.

    I plugged a longstanding hole in my pop culture today and finally watched the second most successful movie from the year the original Star Wars came out. (Smokey and the Bandit). At some point it occurred to me that you could rewrite this as a Han Solo story from the height of his smuggling days with very little change other than setting.

    You don't think of Star Wars as being part of the "bootleggers with fast cars" genre, buuut... that's Han Solo's part of the story right there. ("What if the Bandit picked up a different passenger and suddenly found himself in the middle of a World War Two movie?" "Well, I don't know if a World War Two movie really works as a genre shift..." "Oh, that's fine! There's just one of the genres, there's twenty more mixed in there too!")
  15. AusStig

    AusStig Force Ghost star 5

    Feb 3, 2010
    Yeah Han is like if a 'normal' guy meet a wizard and then had to help stop the nazis in space
  16. Ackbar's Fishsticks

    Ackbar's Fishsticks Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Aug 25, 2013
    "So, hear me out. What if the Bandit... didn't manage to deliver the four hundred Coors. He had to dump it to get away from the sheriff."
    "Uh huh."
    "And now he's in real trouble. Because... what if he wasn't delivering that Coors for Big Enos. What if he was delivering that Coors for Michael Corlone. And Michael Corleone is pissed."
    "Ooo, genre mashup, I like it."
    "YOU WAIT TILL I GET STARTED! ... Where was I?"
    "Michael Corleone."
    "Right. So the Bandit's at a rest stop, wondering how the hell he's going to square his new debt with the Corleones. And all a sudden, whammo! Gandalf from Lord of the Rings breaks out his staff and fries a couple bikers who were trying to start a fight, right there in the Dunkin Donuts line."
    "Gandalf from Lord of the Rings...?"
    "And it turns out Gandalf needs a ride! Only it's not just Gandalf. It's Gandalf and King Arthur. But, y'know, King Arthur from the Disney movie, when he's just starting out in the world."
    "Also, King Arthur's dad is Doctor Doom. Actually, scratch that. We'll save that for the sequel."
    "Doctor Doom...?"
    "Yeah! Doctor Doom's in this, but we don't know that he's King Arthur's father yet. He's still just an enforcer. For the Nazis. Also, the Nazis invented the atomic bomb. But a big atomic bomb that you can actually land on and walk around in."
    "Look - "
    "AND! In that atomic bomb that you can actually land on and walk around in, they're holding Dejah Thoris prisoner!"
    "I was sure that was an aspirin you took this morning."
    "Also, what if the Snowman isn't the Bandit's partner? What if it's just Fred? He growls and barks at anyone dangerous but also helps with the navigation and the radio and the... HEY! Get back here!"
  17. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Chosen One star 9

    Jul 19, 1999
    That is superb.
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  18. Watcherwithin

    Watcherwithin Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 9, 2017
    Thats what I was hoping Solo would be like. But of course it had to be another generic action movie
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2023
  19. Sarge

    Sarge Chosen One star 10

    Oct 4, 1998
  20. The Positive Fan

    The Positive Fan Force Ghost star 4

    Jan 19, 2015
    Smokey and the Bandit being one of my favorite movies of all time, I'm quite pleased with the direction this thread has taken. Please carry on.
  21. I feel that in the EU Star Wars is more Military Science Fiction while in Disney Canon is more High Fantasy i know in Disney Canon Shows like Andor exist but i feel like the EU was trying more to make Star Wars to have a more Science Fiction Feel like Star Trek or Warhammer 40k i think the Disney Canon is more focused on Fantasy like Magic that is my interpretation
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 27, 2023
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  22. AusStig

    AusStig Force Ghost star 5

    Feb 3, 2010
    Some novels in the early eu were mil sic-fi, Zahns stuff has been described as 'close to star trek', Rouge Squdron. But the Tales of the Jedi comics, Dark Empire and Jedi Academy were high fantasy.

    Wait you think 40k is Science Fiction? The setting where they trevel through hyperspace through hell?
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  23. Gerak

    Gerak Jedi Knight star 2

    Nov 23, 2019
    A bit of column A a bit of column B, to be honest. That's why I always read Star Wars as more of a science fantasy to begin with, a long the same vein as He-Man or any other "out there" type of setting. I think both perspectives have value as long as they're coming from a position of good faith and creativity when it comes to worldbuilding, or enjoying one aspect of the setting.

    I'm not that experienced in that IP, but isn't humanity in that setting the Catholic church in space (except it's technically atheistic with 99% religious imagery)? I've only ever read The Last Church which was excellent until I read the author's commentary. I thought it was hard fantasy, especially with the warp stuff or how time and space ends up working.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2023
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  24. AusStig

    AusStig Force Ghost star 5

    Feb 3, 2010
    The Imperium in 40k are oft described as "Catholic Space Nazis", with good reason. It also has magic, daemons made from emotion, also robots who use fragments of their Gods as a power source. It is full fantasy, as it is based (lossely) on the Warhammer Fantasy setting.
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  25. Darth Invictus

    Darth Invictus Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Aug 8, 2016
    The difference between how the old EU handled mystical elements(generally vaguely, through implication, and very rarely influencing the characters over an entire arc or story) versus Disney’s world between the worlds and the Ones(which are technically also EU but I digress) is something that should be considered more deeply.

    The old EU didn’t lack for what people called “power creep” but it also never left at least one foot in the realm of political and military conflict, as opposed to dream worlds end visions. Though that did exist in the EU, it just wasn’t as emphasized.

    That may be imply a difference in authors, or general cultural taste. Military and political sci fi/fantasy is very much a 90s to early 2010s staple, with the increased “edginess”, general cynicism and avoidance of the sort of pollyannish or phantasmagorical aesthetics of earlier times(and which may be returning).
    AusStig likes this.