A long time ago, in a courtroom far far away…..

Well, it’s done. The sci-fi legend of our generation is now complete. Our parents had Dr. Strangeglove and 1984. Their parents were transfixed by H. G. Wells. The generation before that had Jules Verne. And we got Star Wars….

Title: Star Wars on Trial: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time
Editors: David Brin, Matthew Woodring Stover
Year: 2006
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Love it or hate it, most people would have to agree that the Star Wars saga is undoubtedly one of the greatest phenomena of modern pop culture. Of course, with popularity comes criticism, and Star Wars is no exception. Is it mythically rooted drama with something to say, or merely brainless eye candy? Is it science fiction or fantasy? Are the spinoff novels a good thing or an abomination? What about the politics, philosophy, and ethics of that galaxy far far away? These and many other questions have been discussed by fans and critics for years, and are discussed yet again in the present volume. Part of the Smart Pop book series from BenBella Books, Star Wars on Trial looks at this cinematic juggernaut from every possible angle (including a few unexpected ones). The book is laid out as a courtroom drama, with David Brin as the prosecutor, Matthew Woodring Stover as the defense, and a droid judge to maintain order. There are also essays or “briefs” submitted by many other SF/F authors on both sides of the debate (see the tags for a full list). This courtroom format comes across as silly sometimes (all right, most of the time), but the book does a good job of bringing a wide variety of opinions to bear on the subject.

The main topics for debate are presented as a series of charges, with each charge then being addressed by both prosecution and defense. The charges are as follows:

1. The politics of Star Wars are anti-democratic and elitist.
2. While claiming mythic significance, Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical belies.
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 exravaganzas.
5. Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of science fiction in 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 gaps in Star Wars make it ill-suited for an intelligent viewer.

If those accusations sound overly negative, let me put your mind at ease by saying this book is not merely an exercise in Star Wars bashing. Brin and his supporters do come on strong and put the screws to George Lucas and his creation (and rightly so, I think). But on the other hand, Stover and his defense team manage to hold their ground quite admirably. In fact, I would venture to say that most readers who begin reading this book with a preconceived bias, either for or against these movies, will likely come away with the feeling that things aren’t quite as simple or clear-cut as they thought. Many good points are made on both sides of the debate, some that I had never considered before. I, for one, now have a better view of both the flaws and the strengths of this film series (I think there are many of both), and for that reason it was well worth reading.

6 responses to “A long time ago, in a courtroom far far away…..

  1. I figured at one point that this book would be perfect for the Law & SF Page, if only my blood did not boil at the very thought of that pandering hack Lucas. I decided it may kill me to read this thing, so I moved on.

    Personally I have read a few of the novels, and I thought they were trash. My boy loves Clone Wars, so I do watch that with him. The things I hate about Lucas’ movies in general I also hate about Clone Wars. But it takes all my fortitude to keep from cursing Lucas while he’s in the room.

    • I liked it, but Nick Mamatas just came across as a giant douchebag. He bitched about how star wars ruined modern cinema (seriously, terminator, alien, aliens, blade runner, and countless others were inspired by wars.) and he makes arguements about inconsistnecy that are flawed and which crumble under the slightest examination. When Stover pointed out flaws in his arguements, he completely changed the point to avoid admitting errors, and he actively insulted anyone who liked star wars. Dude, you don’t have to like the novels, but don’t act like a dick to people who do. Overall I liked it, but I wish that Mamatas wasn’t in it. He’s permanently alienated me he was so rude and smarmy.

  2. Fortunately for us, in the future there are no trials by jury and no courts of last appeal: you piss off the powers that be and its out back and up against the wall! And btw, who’s paying for the bullets – you or your family!

    Mythic my aching forehead! First (PR-wise) it was an homage to Flash Gordon (only because rights couldn’t be obtained; had they been, it would have BEEN Flash Gordon.

    Then, much later (after enough dollars had accumulated to endow some schools of higher learning) it suddenly was transformed into a loose presentation of Joseph Campbell..

    Make up all the excuses and after the fact explanations you want to. It remains that about the only good thing you can say about Star Wars is that Cameron beat it’s illegitimate roots with Avatar. But hey, there’s plenty of room along the wall….

  3. L-K! L-K! Wherefore art thou, L-K!

  4. I was nine years old when I saw it when it first came out. 1978 in NZ if I remember correctly. I still vividly remember how I felt when I walked out of the cinema. It just blew my little mind. It was the most unbelievably amazing experience I had ever had in my entire life. And it remains to this day one of my favorite movies. Not because of the story or acting or possible lack of these things, but because I still feel as I did back in ’78 every single time I see it. In it’s original form that is, and I’ve seen it God knows how many times. It’s a fairytale. It’s simple. Politics doesn’t matter to a kid. Who cares?

    It’s a movie that has to be respected. It took a genre that was either hokey or too serious (in the cinema, at least), put it squarely into entertainment for everybody and as a result paved the way for other great movies some of which have already been mentioned. It shouldn’t be held accountable for what has happened to SF (in general) at the cinema since.

    The effects were light years ahead (at least to my nine year old mind) of what had been up until then. One notable exception being 2001 which was far ahead of it’s time in that department anyway.

    What has happened to the thing since The Empire Strikes Back is indeed unfortunate, but the original shouldn’t be tarred with that brush.

    Another interesting aspect is that it came out in the days (in NZ at least) before saturation marketing techniques were employed. All I knew of the movie was a couple of pictures in magazines and the rumors that were going around school. Needless to say, Star Wars gained epic, mythic proportions before I saw it. It was this huge and exciting unseen thing just over the horizon that I knew precious little about, and I was primed ready to explode when I got into the theater. I had only seen bare glimpses of Darth Vader, and when he strode into the rebel ship at the beginning it was the most awesome… folks, I don’t even have words to describe it adequately. Stark contrast to the past 10 or fifteen years where, unless you live in a cave, no, even if you live in a cave, you know practically everything about a movie, and the main characters are broken under the kid’s beds months before it hits the big screen.

    I don’t give a rat’s a** about the ‘prequels’ or the novels or whatever other mutant children are churned out as a result of the original. My 1978 experience trumps all of that into insignificance and that will never be taken away from me.

  5. I take a rather different view of Lucas’s work. In the early 1970s, George Lucas was this erratic angry young genius who gave us mind-blowing films like “American Graffiti.” And then he started doing science fiction. I view Star Wars as a technically gorgeous–especially for the time–but otherwise not particularly imaginative or original space-opera that, despite all the gushing by latter-day critics, seems to me to be far closer kin to the 1930s adventure serials we are now taught to regard as forgettable and corny than anything from Kurosawa, much less anything “mythic” or “Campbellian.”

    And then, God help us all, because the original made so much money at the theaters, he made a sequel. And a sequel of a sequel. And trilogy sequels of trilogies, every film less substantial than the last. The angry young visionary who gave us “American Graffiti” turned into a tired old hack who pumps out an endless stream of self-parody, mind-numbing escapist crap drizzled with watered-down Hollywood Zen Buddhism and really unfortunate implications about the heroes being members of some kind of natural genetic aristocracy of Aryan Übermenschen, in between all the explosions of course, and, of course, all the merch, from toys to t-shirts to video games.

    The irony here is that Lucas is, or used to be, a very imaginative producer and screenwriter, but as a director he’s uneven at best, and, frankly, everything he’s touched in forty years that isn’t Star Wars or Indiana Jones has turned to shit–box office bomb after box office bomb after box office bomb, from Howard the Duck to Ishtar to Tucker, the man has the inverse Midas Touch. But never mind that, let’s put Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford on hand-trucks and wheel them out in front of the cameras again, with lots of big CGI explosions and chortling cartoon villains to kill bloodlessly off-camera. Bullwhips or death-rays, which will it be today? You’ll excuse me if I take a nap.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s