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Star Wars



Best/Worst of '98



news, magazines, webzines

SF in film and TV
June 1999

Thinking About Star Wars

§ The New Republic June 14
Famed film critic Stanley Kauffmann, reviewing The Phantom Menace and Trekkies, recalls his past...

In the decade I spent as an editor in book publishing--the 1950s--three of those years included considerable work on science fiction. The authors I dealt with were, among others, Ray Bradbury, Frederik Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, hardly a grungy bunch of hacks. What impressed me most about them was that they looked on science fiction not as a commercial genre but as a way to liberate the imagination. The scientific quotient (insofar as I could understand it, anyway) varied from author to author, but the pleasure in free-flying imagination was common to all the good ones. They took their writing as seriously as any writer ever did, thought of SF as a territory whose borders were wide but whose discipline was stringent, and cherished the license and energy it gave to imaginings about the near or distant future. I came in time to agree with Kingsley Amis, who said in New Maps of Hell, his book about the field: "One is grateful that we have a form of writing ... which is set on tackling those large, general, speculative questions that ordinary fiction so often avoids."
Those books were written for people who could really read, while most of the films [in those days] were stitched together for kids.
Concluding his reviews:
I put aside all attempts at large-scale observation, all sighs about deterioration of standards through the Star Wars/Trek mania. I will allow myself only a single sigh: I still haven't seen an SF film as good as the best science fiction that I've read.
(Fri 18 Jun 1999)

§ Salon June 15
David Brin's cover feature examines the attraction of George Lucas' elitist, authoritarian Empire, contrasting its Joseph Campbell-inspired formulas with real SF --

It is essential to understand the radical departure taken by genuine science fiction, which comes from a diametrically opposite literary tradition -- a new kind of storytelling that often rebels against those very same archetypes Campbell venerated. An upstart belief in progress, egalitarianism, positive-sum games -- and the slim but real possibility of decent human institutions.

And a compulsive questioning of rules! Authors like Greg Bear, John Brunner, Alice Sheldon, Frederik Pohl and Philip K. Dick always looked on any prescriptive storytelling formula as a direct challenge -- a dare. This explains why science fiction has never been much welcomed at either extreme of the literary spectrum -- comic books and "high literature."

-- and the Star Wars universe with the optimistic, egalitarian world of Star Trek.
"Star Wars" belongs to our dark past. A long, tyrannical epoch of fear, illogic, despotism and demagoguery that our ancestors struggled desperately to overcome, and that we are at last starting to emerge from, aided by the scientific and egalitarian spirit that Lucas openly despises. A spirit we must encourage in our children, if they are to have any chance at all.
There are also two sidebar articles, including an extensive catalog of the film's cliches, self-indulgences, illogicalities, pseudo-scientific gimmicks -- and a few originalities.

§ New York Review of Books June 24
Louis Menand considers The Phantom Menace not so much as a movie (''entertainment for eight-year-old boys''; Titanic was a movie ''for ten-year-old girls'') but for what it says about the trends in Hollywood film-making that have caused critics to come down on it so hard:

It also may be that The Phantom Menace drove home a little too pointedly the fact that the big Hollywood movies today are mostly pitched at an audience of preteens. Movie critics who got into the business in the days of Godard and Altman and the early Scorsese now find themselves chained to a life of appraising the cinematic qualities of pictures designed for kids, and promoted in advance of their release in ways that make reviewers, when they finally do get to cast their votes, almost irrelevant. If critics hold Lucas responsible for this state of affairs, they are not wrong. For whatever else its cultural meaning may be, Star Wars did change the movie business.

§ Village Voice June 9-15
The latest spin on popular hatred for Jar Jar Binks: heterosexual insecurity.

(Tue 15 Jun 1999)

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