A Review of Star Wars on Trial

Star Wars on Trial: Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All TimeStar Wars on Trial: Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time by Matthew Stover
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not a book for everyone, but it is interesting for the right person. My initial impulse to read it was because of the involvement of David Brin, whom I follow on Google+ and consider a very intelligent observer of society. And the book grew out of an article he wrote some years ago for Slate Magazine that compared Star Wars to Star Trek, and found Start Trek to be the better series for reasons that might not immediately come to mind to a casual observer.

The lens that Brin chose to shine on these was one of what they say about people and society. Star Wars comes from a long tradition of mythic fantasy, as should be well known. George Lucas was pretty open about being influenced by Joseph Campbell in writing these Star Wars stories, and the influence clearly shows. And these kinds of mythic fantasy stories are about heroes, and generally they are special people. Anakin Skywalker is named, among other things, the “Chosen one”, and is revealed to be different in various ways, from birth, from others. (See midichlorians). And in these kinds of stories people who are born special are always the focus. The rest of us are just a backdrop to their story.

Star Trek, by contrast, is about ordinary people. It is just their circumstances that are extraordinary. While none of us could ever by Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi, we could all imagine ourselves joining Starfleet and rising to captain a Starship. The people here are just like us, and we can identify with them.

The reason this kind of thing matters is when you consider that our attitude towards these stories may also say something about our attitude to our own society. And that is where Brin likes to go with this analysis. If you look to special people to solve problems, you are more likely to look for a savior of some kind to come along and solve all of our current problems. And that is antithetical to how a democracy functions. A democratic society should be one where each of us rolls up our sleeves and makes solutions to problems. A subtext to this is the tendency to employ Social Darwinism to exalt those who have had success as naturally better than those who have been less successful. As a scientific view of society it is pretty much useless, but it is being pushed energetically right now by forces that are trying to drag us back to Feudal-type of society where your place in the world is largely settled by birth. I think this is a tendency that should be energetically resisted, as does David Brin.

One last connection that occurred to me is that I support Free Software, which is software made by people and offered for free use. And wherever possible I resist using proprietary software offered by companies that only “license” the use and reserve the right to take away that license any time they feel like it. I think that is an example of preference for democracy in action.

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