Skip to main content

How 'Star Wars' ruined sci-fi

By Lewis Beale
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
The cast of "Star Wars: Episode VII" -- or should we say "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," now that the official title has been released -- unites well-known names with some up-and-coming actors. At least one cast member, Daisy Ridley, is so new she has just a few acting credits to her name. You can see her in the back right of this cast photo, wearing a necklace and talking to "Star Wars" veteran Carrie Fisher. Here's who she'll star with: The cast of "Star Wars: Episode VII" -- or should we say "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," now that the official title has been released -- unites well-known names with some up-and-coming actors. At least one cast member, Daisy Ridley, is so new she has just a few acting credits to her name. You can see her in the back right of this cast photo, wearing a necklace and talking to "Star Wars" veteran Carrie Fisher. Here's who she'll star with:
HIDE CAPTION
Meet the cast of 'Star Wars: Episode VII'
Pip Andersen and Crystal Clarke
Lupita Nyong'o
Gwendoline Christie
John Boyega
Adam Driver
Oscar Isaac
Andy Serkis
Domhnall Gleeson
Mark Hamill
Carrie Fisher
Harrison Ford
Anthony Daniels
Kenny Baker
Peter Mayhew
Max von Sydow
Warwick Davis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lewis Beale: People thrilled about seventh "Star Wars movie" don't get it's bad sci-fi
  • He loved first installments, but franchise evolved into worst thing ever for rich literary genre
  • Hollywood only wants CGI-ready sc-fi plots, skips complex greats like Butler, Asimov
  • Beale: Few real sci-fi movies made. New "Star Wars" promises to be empty of ideas.

Editor's note: Lewis Beale writes about culture and film for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other publications.The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Now that the cast of the seventh "Star Wars" movie has been announced, you can imagine the anticipation among the millions of fans of the film franchise. And why not? The six "Star Wars" films have been enormous successes: they have grossed over $2 billion domestically at the box office, spawned scores of books, comic books and merchandise (how many kids have their own light saber?) and made household names of characters like Darth Vader, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

They've also been the worst thing ever for the science fiction genre.

Lewis Beale
Lewis Beale

I say this as someone who has been a devoted sci-fi reader since childhood. I was so blown away by the first "Star Wars" film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here's the thing: George Lucas' creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).

"Star Wars" has corrupted people's notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that's more than a shame -- it's an obscenity.

Science fiction is in fact one of the most creative literary genres around. The best of sci-fi is filled with meditations on what's "out there," what makes us human, how technology is used and how it is changing us. It takes up issues of race, sexuality and quite literally everything else under the sun. It is essentially about ideas, not action, and that's the problem, as far as Hollywood is concerned.

There are, for example, no light sabers, spaceships or Death Stars in the 1979 novel "Kindred," by Octavia Butler, who won the Hugo and Nebula, sci-fi's top awards, and was also awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

Conan unveils new 'Star Wars' characters
Bar set high for 'Star Wars: Episode VII'
Mark Hamill: King of Comic-Con!

Butler's main themes are race and sex, and in "Kindred" she wrote about a modern black woman who travels back in time to the antebellum South, where she is enslaved. The novel is regularly taught in classrooms and has made at least one list of "Great Books By Women."

But Hollywood has yet to adapt it for the screen. Maybe if the lead character had a Wookiee by her side...

Many of the great works of sci-fi have not been made into films -- The Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov, Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War," William Gibson's "Neuromancer," among others -- partially because they are too smart, too dense and too thoughtful.

Sure, some classics have made the transition, but the track record is spotty: David Lynch's "Dune" was a disaster, for example, and the recent "Ender's Game" was a mixed bag that was not successful at the box office. Francois Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," although stylish and intellectual, was a bit too frigid for a mass audience.

Which means that Hollywood studios, not known for thinking outside the box, opt for the "Star Wars" template -- lots of whiz bang, plenty of quirky alien characters, CGI to the max, plenty of explosions and little thought of any kind.

To be sure, the first "Star Wars" was a breath of fresh air, a fun flick for sci-fi geeks. But the series quickly ossified, a victim of its own success. Only two of the films -- "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" -- show any originality. The rest tread water, give the hardcore fans the same old, same old. I mean, how many light sabre duels can you sit through before you're bored out of your skull? How many outer space dogfights? How many seemingly profound Yoda-esque thoughts?

Me, I'm giving up on the whole thing. I don't care that J.J. Abrams, a director with talent, is helming the new flick. He's hemmed in by audience expectations -- like casting the stars of the original in this film -- and recycling stale material. I'll pass.

Instead, I'll queue up "The Matrix," and enjoy the most original sci-fi movie of the past 25 years. I recommend "Star Wars" fans do the same. They need to be reminded what real creativity is all about.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT