David Brin: "Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists
(From way back in 1999, but I still think Brin's response to Lucas' mythos is relevant to our current situation.)
"Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists: Why is George Lucas peddling an elitist, anti-democratic agenda under the guise of escapist fun?
By David Brin
Well, I boycotted "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" -- for an entire week.
Why? What's to boycott? Isn't "Star Wars" good old fashioned sci-fi? Harmless fun? Some people call it "eye candy" -- a chance to drop back into childhood and punt your adult cares away for two hours, dwelling in a lavish universe where good and evil are vividly drawn, without all the inconvenient counterpoint distinctions that clutter daily life.
Got a problem? Cleave it with a light saber! Wouldn't you love -- just once in your life -- to dive a fast little ship into your worst enemy's stronghold and set off a chain reaction, blowing up the whole megillah from within its rotten core while you streak away to safety at the speed of light? (It's such a nifty notion that it happens in three out of four "Star Wars" flicks.)
Anyway, I make a good living writing science-fiction novels and movies. So "Star Wars" ought to be a great busman's holiday, right?
One of the problems with so-called light entertainment today is that somehow, amid all the gaudy special effects, people tend to lose track of simple things, like story and meaning. They stop noticing the moral lessons the director is trying to push. Yet these things matter.
By now it's grown clear that George Lucas has an agenda, one that he takes very seriously. After four "Star Wars" films, alarm bells should have gone off, even among those who don't look for morals in movies. When the chief feature distinguishing "good" from "evil" is how pretty the characters are, it's a clue that maybe the whole saga deserves a second look.
Just what bill of goods are we being sold, between the frames?
* Elites have an inherent right to arbitrary rule; common citizens needn't be consulted. They may only choose which elite to follow.
* "Good" elites should act on their subjective whims, without evidence, argument or accountability.
* Any amount of sin can be forgiven if you are important enough.
* True leaders are born. It's genetic. The right to rule is inherited.
* Justified human emotions can turn a good person evil.
That is just the beginning of a long list of "moral" lessons relentlessly pushed by "Star Wars." Lessons that starkly differentiate this saga from others that seem superficially similar, like "Star Trek." (We'll take a much closer look at some stark divergences between these two sci-fi universes below.)
Above all, I never cared for the whole Nietzschian Ubermensch thing: the notion -- pervading a great many myths and legends -- that a good yarn has to be about demigods who are bigger, badder and better than normal folk by several orders of magnitude. It's an ancient storytelling tradition based on abiding contempt for the masses -- one that I find odious in the works of A.E. Van Vogt, E.E. Smith, L. Ron Hubbard and wherever you witness slanlike super-beings deciding the fate of billions without ever pausing to consider their wishes.
Wow, you say. If I feel that strongly about this, why just a week-long boycott? Why see the latest "Star Wars" film at all?
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