Star Wars: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Yes, I realize that it is silly and somewhat trivial to debate over science fiction and fantasy, seeing as how they are quite similar. I suppose mostly what I’m wondering is, “what is the first thing that comes to your mind, genre-wise, when it comes to Star Wars?” I should note that this post pertains only to the original trilogy of films and not the prequels or any of the expanded universe literature.

Personally, I believe Star Wars to be strictly fantasy. I see it as a re-skinning of a classic fantasy tale with the only science fiction elements being the space setting. One reason for this is that there isn’t ever — to my knowledge — the faintest attempt to rationalize any of the spectacular things in Star Wars from a science perspective. I’m not looking for textbook style explanations here, any attempt at all would do. But no, everything just works magically. The force is magic. Ships fly around shooting lasers at each other in outer space and somehow explode when hit (as far as I know things can’t explode in space due to lack of oxygen but I could be wrong, please correct me). Obi-Wan can disable the tractor beam for a massive all-powerful space station by simply turning some weird handle things. Basically, I believe that Star Wars makes the decision to fall on the fantasy side by using mysterious magical forces rather than science to explain it’s unrealistic elements.

Obi-Wan Kenobi moonights as an engineer.

Also, the characters in the films fall more into fantasy archetypes than science fiction ones. Mainly with the Jedi basically being wizards and Princess Leia being, well, a princess.

I’m not bashing Star Wars, I love those movies, and I don’t think that they are inferior to other films simply because they favour fantasy elements over science fiction. I think that the movies are exactly what they want to be and succeed as what they are. These are just things that I can’t help but think of when I hear the original Star Wars trilogy referred to as science fiction movies. What’s your take on them? Are they science fiction? Fantasy? Can they be both, or does it not even matter?

4 thoughts on “Star Wars: Science Fiction or Fantasy?”

  1. I tend to call Star Wars “fantasy in space” as it does have the fantastical elements, but not the right setting, for fantasy. But generally, I think Star Wars counts as both science fiction and fantasy because elements are described with both science and magic, a key distinction between the two. The force is a mystical power, but it is eventually given a “scientific” explanation (midichlorians).
    On a more superficial level, Star Wars has those elements that you simply don’t find in fantasy–there aren’t any space ships, blasters, or aliens in Lord of the Rings. For a general audience this is probably enough to call it science fiction.

  2. Yes it does follow the archetypes of fantasm, but the prologue does insist that the story happened in a galaxy far far away. I’m not saying that this is meant to be true, for the wizard part is unjustified. A wizard does have mystic powers but the force is the speculation of a mental capacity that humanity in this galaxy hasen’t evolved to. The spaceships are coming, we just use lasers to change the weather. Hail VALIS!

  3. I’ve got to agree with you. The only thing science fiction in the films are the settings. I think that there needs to be some form of explanation, some form of discussed speculation, to constitute science fiction. The aliens are akin to the goblins and trolls more than a riff off of a discernible SF element, the technologies are kind of ‘just because’. I like the idea of jedis as wizards, enough to rewatch with that in mind; Luke as a struggling mage’s apprentice, trained by an aged master mage. Though, this comes from a perspective entirely based around the movies and the video games. There are a staggering amount of Star Wars novels out there, and I haven’t even the slightest what is discussed in any of them.

  4. I think you could easily call this Science Fantasy, a great combination of Science Fiction and Fantasy. There is some Fantasy that is so detailed in its’ explanation of the magic that it could really be called Science Fiction. Star Wars is just a combination of Science Fiction in apearance and Fantasy in its’ story line. Though this might just be an example of sending Fantasy into space, which is like most genres and popular culture in that we enjoy shooting it out into space. If it persists long enough we will find a way to put it into space, as space is now one of our favorite settings. I can think of a few things Firefly (space western), Halloween (not sure which one), Buddies in space (thats right we shoot the golden retriever puppies into space), Hellraiser (again unsure of which one), the list can go one.

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