How JJ Abrams and George Lucas hurt Science Fiction

It seemed an uninspired but safe choice when Disney picked J.J. Abrams to direct the first installment of the new Star Wars movies. He has had solid success at the box office and on television with science fiction shows. Star Trek made $385 million and Lost dominated the water cooler for six seasons. At the same time, the Star Wars property itself is an amazing cultural milestone. George Lucas created a genre classic that was instrumental in moving science fiction into the mainstream of popular culture.

Yet, something has been lost, and the mash-up of J.J. Abrams and George Lucas, Star Trek and Star Wars, seems emblematic of this sad trend. Science Fiction, or speculative fiction, can have enormous power. It has shown to have a unique place within fiction. The very best of it is deep and meaningful. Through its ability to create distance between the reader and modern reality, or even historic reality, it allows us to probe some of the most complex and difficult questions that face humanity.

This goes back to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (a biting political satire) and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (How do we look at history?). This exploration of ideas is Science Fictions core genius. It is the most important aspect of speculative literature. It includes George Orwell’s 1984 (Fascism), Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 (Censorship and knowledge), Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars (life, immortality), William Gibson’s oeuvre (Corporatization, the role of Mass Media, merging of humanity and technology), and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (Religion, What is god?).

Science Fiction at its best challenges our very beliefs. It can flip our social mores and provide a perspective void of historical, cultural and societal biases. It can ask the deepest of questions without the burden of the expected realities that dominate our existence. It not only has the ability to ask such questions but also explore the possible answers. It can lift us into the heavens and fling us to the farthest reaches of space, and in doing so it can create a mediating barrier between our small, personal and human existence and the deep, seemingly unknowable questions of life, existence, god, death, gender, sex, race, family, community, love and friendship. It can break down our expectations and make us evaluate our own beliefs.

But where is this in today’s science fiction movies?  What did J.J. Abrams Start Trek have to say?  Did it answer any moral, ethical or humanistic question? Did it even ask such a question?  Thinking back, did George Lucas use his massively successful science fiction franchise to ask any of these questions?  Did it challenge us in any way?

I suppose it is no surprise, but it is disappointing that directors and producers like Lukas and Abrams don’t use their massive popularity to do anything more than create big budget action movies. The two really are a perfect fit. The new Star Wars movies will be enormous hits and make billions of dollars for a small hand full of people.  And the public will climb all over itself to go and see a few more explosions, lots of gun fire (and phaser fire and sword fights) and a villain trop we have surely all seen before. It will also be male dominated, with women placed in secondary roles at best.

None of this needs to happen. It is time for these directors to start using their power to create more stories like District 9, Children of Men, Minority Report, Contact, and Gattaca. There are stories to be told and they can be successful. Star Trek made $385 million on a $150m budget, netting $235m while District 9 made $210m and only cost $30m, netting a strong $180 million.

I’m just not sure that people like Abrams, Lucas, Nolan, Bay and all the other big name directors (and studios) really care at all about their stories or their art. All they care about are ticket stubs, 3D-glasses and the bottom line. 


What Happened To The Star Wars I Used To Know?


This has been floating around for about a month, but I figured it was fun enough for a quick share. It is a parody of the insanely popular (287 million views!) Gotye single Somebody That I Used to Know, sung by Darth Vader and George Lucas.

Now and then I think of when I was in power
Like choking people with the Force until they died
But then you told them all my history
And took away my masculinity
And had my character portrayed by subpar actors.

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