Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Michael Lind comes out swinging:

In Salon:
If there was a moment when the culture of enlightened modernity in the United States gave way to the sickly culture of romantic primitivism, it was when the movie “Star Wars” premiered in 1977. A child of the 1960s, I had grown up with the optimistic vision symbolized by “Star Trek,” according to which planets, as they developed technologically and politically, graduated to membership in the United Federation of Planets, a sort of galactic League of Nations or UN. When I first watched “Star Wars,” I was deeply shocked. The representatives of the advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization were now the bad guys, and the heroes were positively medieval -- hereditary princes and princesses, wizards and ape-men. Aristocracy and tribalism were superior to bureaucracy. Technology was bad. Magic was good.
I agree with that observation.


I wonder how Michael Lind could have gotten through the first half of the 1970s without noticing the increasingly dystopic world of science fiction cinema:

1968 Planet of the Apes (4 sequels)
1970 Colossus: The Forbin Project
1971 THX 1138
1971 The Andromeda Strain
1973 Soylent Green
1973 Westworld
1975 Death Race 2000
1975 A Boy And His Dog
1976 Logan's Run

Then along comes Star Wars, which is really fantasy disguised as science fiction. But I take exception with this part of Lind's analysis. In Star Wars, the "representatives of the advanced, scientific galaxy-spanning organization" were clearly the Imperial Senate, but in the beginning of the film, we learn that:

"The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away."

We learn that the Old Republic was a representative galactic organization that had ambassadors and rule of diplomatic law:

"This is a consular ship… we're on a diplomatic mission…"

"If this is a consular ship, where is the Ambassador?"

Darth Vader and his minions are a pure military dictatorship. They are no U.N. They are a proper villain in a pure heroic quest fantasy, which is what Star Wars is.

So I don't think that Lind is representing the movie correctly, although he is right that Star Wars wed medieval fantasy into science fiction. It's one of the reasons for its great success, but the rot in the "Star Trek" bureaucratic UN model of science fiction had set in long before, as evidenced by the tepid reception of the first Star Trek movie, which embodied the "UN" model of science fiction, and the success of the second Star Trek movie, with the medieval Khan as the villain.

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