Is Star Wars Science Fiction or Fantasy?


Likes Comics and Pudding
Jan 19, 2007
as i write my thesis on the real world's effects on mainstream Science Fiction, i suppose in was inevitable that i was to encounter Star Wars in my research.

However, i am unsure as to whether or not to include Star wars in my thesis. Obviously it contains elements of Sci fi, such as space travel and aliens, but for some reason i feel it is more fantasy then science fiction. i think it is because of the main focus of the films is of the skywalker family and the force as a religion. but i may be horribly wrong!


What does everyone else think? is Star Wars more Science Fiction or is it more Fantasy? i ask this as it may help sway me into writing a segment about Star Wars.

The trouble is that "Star Wars," is a mongrel, a rehash of every story you've ever heard. Look at R2D2 and C3P0, minor characters used for continuity, both Shakespeare and Kurosawa used this technique extensively.

It fits better into science-fiction than to any other genre, but with a determined attempt to humanise the characters.
Star Wars really fits into a sub-genre of SF - Space Opera. The definition wikipedia gives for Space Opera is:

"It is now commonly used to mean a tale of space adventure whose emphasis is on boldly delineated characters, drama, and especially action."

"Below are some of the usual characteristics you might see in a space opera.
1. Setting is outer space or distant planet
2. Spaceship of some kind that can fly almost unlimited distances in a short time with impossible maneuverability and no need to decelerate
3. Aliens speak English, possibly with an accent
4. Machinery -- ray-guns, robots, and flying cars
5. Scientific plausibility -- violations of the laws of physics with faster-than-light travel -- divergences from known physical reality invoking paranormal forces, or vast powers capable of destroying planets, stars or galaxies
6. Depth of character development and description can vary. Some refuse to apply the term ‘space opera’ to a work with well-developed characterization. Both sides of this debate have been expounded at length in the Usenet forum rec.arts.sf.written.
7. Set apart by ultimate good vs. evil and romance. Large scale, planet/galaxy/universe depends on survival of hero’s civilization -- often no shades of gray, good or evil character."

Think you'll find Star Wars fit into that pretty nicely!
Yep, ice.monkey hits it just right. Another term of more recent coinage is "science fantasy". There are some slight differences between the two, depending on who you ask, but they're as near as dammit to the same thing. And certainly, with its popularity, it has had considerable influence on the fieldin some quarters, much like "Buck Rogers", the comic-strip did for so long, breeding films and books of the same model.
Think you'll find Star Wars fit into that pretty nicely!
And at the risk of offending some people, I'd lump Star Trek in there as well, at least until cogent points are made otherwise.
If "space opera" is widely accepted as a subgenre classification, then there can be no doubt. Otherwise, I'd argue that Star Wars is more of a science fantasy than science fiction.

Even with the whole midi-chlorians business to rationalize it, I think supernatural elements like the Force would be rejected by most "hard" scifi folks. There's not much science to speak of and if it wasn't for the popular perception of scifi being "lasers and stuff," you could arguably label it as just fantasy. Of course, as far as the masses are concerned, Star Wars is scifi, which is fine, too.

As for Star Trek, it at least pretends to wrap itself in science, so I feel perfectly comfortable calling it straight scifi. You'd have a hard time convincing me it's a space opera. Not much that's "operatic" to it if you ask me.
I can easily see ST as "space opera", albeit of a sometimes less Wagnerian kind (then again, considering how many Gotterdammerungs we've seen with that show....:rolleyes: )

And thank goodness for someone else who uses the term "science fantasy"! I was beginning to think I was the lone voice in the wilderness here....

(Ummm, it occurs to me that perhaps I'd best stay away from the religious discussion thread for a while......:p)
Well, it only makes sense to have a label for scifi of a more fantastical nature. Precise nomenclature has a lot of value for those of us operating in the field and for the dedicated arm of the fandom.

And, Mr. Worthington, I'd love to hear more on the elements of Star Trek that justify the classification of space opera. I have to admit that I'm somewhat of a casual viewer of the franchise, so I may be missing something.
Star Wars definitely encompasses the space-opera genre as well as science fantasy. It's neither hard core science fiction nor hard core fantasy. It's one of the problems with trying to seperate sf from fantasy, it cannot always be done to everyone's satisfaction. As far as including in an SF thesis, I say sure. If someone wants to argue with you about, send them here to deal with JD ;)
@Onyx, @Jo Zebedee, this seems like a better thread to continue the discussion of the genre of Star Wars, especially as the other thread is a featured thread now.

I contend that Star Wars, is primarily fantasy, as the story elements are more similar to fantasy than SF. Ultimately, the first trilogy is about a farmer who looses his home and becomes an apprentice knight to a wizened old knight, and embarks on a foretold journey to defeat a dark knight and the evil sorcerer emperor behind him. This is a straightforward fantasy storyline. The setting is space, meaning that the incidentals in the story are space related (such as Luke farming moisture. Moisture could be substituted for anything, from cattle to crops to microchips, and the story wouldn't change. This makes it an incidental).

As such, I think the best designation is that of space fantasy.
I am going to go ahead and quote your posts here, because, quite honestly, the title of this thread doesn't assume an answer.

Since there was a suggestion to start a thread about this topic, I thought I would share why I don't Star Wars qualifies as fantasy.

First, movies tell visual stories. What a novel would have to explain about, a movie can demonstrate. There is no doubt that Star Wars deals with advanced humans and non-terrestrial beings with technological jobs (vapor farmer, interstellar freighter captain). The most common weapon fires a bolt of energy. Most man-made objects are made of highly processed materials like plastic and metal alloys.

The setting is not a quasi-Medieval place. The standard of living is relatively high - characters are not shown to be physically laboring or hungry. There is no local political structure in place collecting taxes or suppressing the masses. There are no castles or fortifications. There are no roving bands of armed men. The Storm Troopers are initially shown to be acting most like UN Peacekeepers or cops.

While classic titles like "Lord", "Emperor" and "Princess" are used, they are used alongside contemporary titles like "General", "Commander" and "Administrator".

There are no magical or sacred objects or animals. Luke never regrets the loss of his or Ben's lightsabers. The loss of ships, installations, weapons, tauntauns, speeders are never spoken of in reverent tones. Stuff is deemed as disposable and treating that way.

Luke is not a peasant. He is the affluent heir to a farmer. He has the disposable income to own his own speeder and have access to light fighter craft. He and his friends aspire to attend a military academy to continue his education. He is sure of himself, expected to be self sufficient in the dangerous wastes, brave, able to fix advanced technology. In other words, unlike any Medieval fantasy young man in that he has property and choices without being part of a social caste.

Luke is not "chosen" to go on a "quest". Luke, who happens to be the son of Jedi, decides to accompany Ben on his mission to deliver a droid to Alderaan as much to get away from Tatoonine as to have an adventure. No calling, no prophesy. He's just homeless and fancy free. He doesn't go to rescue a princess, her faithful droid tells them of the coincidence of her incarceration on a space station that they have to infiltrate anyway. Luke does it for fun and Han does it for reward money while Ben shuts off the tractor beams. After safely escaping, Luke then Han choose to go on the next mission against the Death Star out of loyalty to other characters and the justness of the cause. Luke had lost a father, aunt uncle and friend to the Empire and has every reason to want to bring it down.

Luke is not "the One". Luke has an innate feel for the Force, as one might expect of a Jedi's son. HIs sister has it as well, and at one time hundreds of people were known to be able to use the Force. He accidentally becomes involved and the abilities he subsequently develops through study and training make him of interest to the Emperor as a youthful replacement for his aging Sith. There is no prophesy about his future at work. He becomes involved by the accident of the droid's escape pod.

The Force is understood to be akin to a belief system, probably more like the Chinese "Chi" than an energy system like magic. The force does not confer the ability to control nature, but appears to be primarily used like clairvoyance and telekinesis - powers that are commonplace in SF but are less common in fantasy (see Star Trek, Dune). Jedi might be best compared to the elusive powers of ninjas or Shao Lin monks rather than wizards.

The major conflict in Star Wars is political. The Empire isn't completely evil, it is totalitarian in its governance. The Empire has no desire to transform the galaxy into a dark place, it just seeks political power over its territory. There is no Mordor-like transformation in the works. Like the Emperor of Dune, power is the only motivation for wrongdoing.

While fitting most of the basic bones of Campbell's Hero's Journey, many normal elements are completely missing:
1. There is no particular Call to Adventure
2. There is no Refusal of the Call.
3. There is no temptress.
4. There is no point when Luke despairs and loses faith.
5. There is no return to home.

Star Wars was marketed as a "Space fantasy" at a time when SF was largely dystopian, so this is arguably a move to differentiate it from things like Logan's Run or drier stories like 2001 or Star Trek. Aside from that, the main motivation for people labeling it fantasy comes from the inclusion of the Spock-like powers of the force, which I can only conclude are deemed magic because the characters understand the use of the Force in a semi-mystical way. But attaching spiritual belief to martial or other physical powers is normal in many Eastern traditions - Yoga, Kung Fu, Bushido. So I think it is either the adventuresome spirit of SW that throws people off, or a desire to be contrarian.
I would also like to point out that Luke is a one man, self motivated death machine. He has no doubts, no fears and his only motivation seems to be having an adventure and doing right by his friends. He barely wavers across three films, has no compunctions about killing and isn't traumatized after three near death monster attacks. Superman is crippled with self doubt and regret in contrast. Truly a unique figure in fiction.
I will work on a response realistically sometime tomorrow.

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