Owned by Lucasfilm Ltd., Star Wars is an American epic space-opera franchise originally created by George Lucas. The first movie in 1977 of the same name quickly became a worldwide known pop-culture phenomenon. Since then, the franchise has expanded across various media, and it includes other movies, comic books and books, video games, television series, and even themed areas. The franchise is said to currently be the fifth-highest-grossing media franchise of all time. The Star Wars franchise depicts the adventures set in “a galaxy far, far away“, in which the characters are humans, but also many species of various aliens that co-exist with robots (droids). Along with space travel, and the use of hyperspace technology, the fans have started to wonder; is Star Wars sci-fi, or is it actually fantasy?
According to George Lucas, Star Wars is a fantasy film and a space opera, not a science-fiction film. By definition, science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that mostly deals with futuristic concepts such as advanced technology, space exploration, artificial intelligence, and their impact on the human world. A space opera would then be a subgenre of sci-fi. On the other hand, fantasy is another genre of speculative fiction that involves magical and mythological elements, all while being set in a fictional universe. Even though there are multiple science fiction elements in Star Wars, the franchise can definitely be defined as a fantasy film/space opera, especially since the base of the premise is rooted in imaginative stories containing mystical power (the Force).
If you’ve been wondering whether Star Wars belongs to science fiction or a fantasy genre, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re gonna debunk which elements would make the franchise, in fact, lean more towards the fantasy genre. Keep on reading to find out more!
What is science fiction, after all?
According to Isaac Asimov’s definition of science fiction (which dates back to 1951), science fiction is a “branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings“. In other words, science fiction is immensely focused on humans and their world, inevitably ruined by rapidly advancing technology. Most sci-fi movies, especially the first ones ever to be made, contained a sense of dread and dystopia. But, what does that mean regarding the Star Wars franchise?
Well, despite its’ use of high-tech technology and extraterrestrial themes, Star Wars is not dealing with the problems of the future. Even though it is set in space, its’ plot does not concern itself with the future world that’s saturated with human-induced dystopia. Supposedly, the Star Wars story is even set in the past, while one of the key concepts of sci-fi is that it portrays a future world. Basically, science fiction is something that could happen, by the misuse of technology… but also something you wouldn’t want to happen. On the other hand, fantasy is something that could never happen – even if you wished it could. So, by this criteria, Star Wars wouldn’t be classified as science fiction at all.
But (and there is always a but!), older definitions of science fiction might be flawed and hardly relatable to the rapidly evolving filmmaking industry. For example, the Netflix mega-hit Stranger Things is also set in the past. It doesn’t even contain elements of space travel and extraterrestrial beings. Still, it can be defined as a sci-fi/horror show. The reason for that is that the definitions, if not working, can always be tweaked.
Simply put, a genre is a category of similar films – they give us directions of what to expect, and they’re consisting of similar elements among themselves. Most importantly, they rely heavily on the social aspect; no movie is classified before being made. It is always defined by the film critics, later on. Therefore, if the critics and fans loosely agree on a film’s genre, that’s what it will be classified as.
So, why would Star Wars lean more towards the fantasy genre?
As many have concluded, just because a story is set in space and is containing various sorts of technology – it isn’t necessarily science fiction. But, Star Wars does indeed contain some sci-fi elements; it contains space exploration, sentient artificial intelligence, and the use of advanced space technology.
Nevertheless, in an interview with Bill Moyers, George Lucas specifically mentioned that, while making Star Wars, he was “consciously set about to recreate myths and the classic mythological motifs“. As I’ve already said, the fantasy genre is heavily relying on mythology, all while being set in a fictional universe. In other interviews though, he defined Star Wars as a space opera, which is known to be a subgenre of sci-fi. Well, this is confusing, one might think. So which one is it? Is Star Wars sci-fi, fantasy, or are the elements overlapping so much it makes it hard to define?
Simply put, Star Wars is a fairy tale set in space. It is obviously dealing with mysterious magical powers and concepts of destiny. The plot heavily revolves around other transcendental concepts, such as astral projection, all-seeing darkness, and battles between good and bad. Not only that but it is also set in a fictional universe that contains multiple legendary creatures. Their existence is never questioned, as they are a part of the universe that’s portrayed.
Overall, science fiction is usually taken more seriously than the fantasy genre; it contains serious elements of dystopia in a future world, and it’s heavily saturated with feelings of doom. The reason for the said doom is usually the wrong use of advanced technology and human greed.
Therefore, Star Wars is not a quite real science-fiction film. According to Lucas himself, and the criteria of the fantasy genre, the franchise definitely belongs to the fantasy genre, even though it is often defined as sci-fi by some fans and critics. However, we should keep in mind that the elements of both genres are continuously overlapping throughout the whole franchise, which is exactly why it may resist easy classification.