Sunday, November 13, 2005

Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, and SciFi

I hated Star Wars before hating Star Wars was cool.

Not just the new movies either. All of them. I should qualify that a little. They're fine, very entertaining movies. They're horrible science fiction though, and they dealt a blow to science fiction that has taken years to recover from. Star Wars made it acceptible, even preferable, for scifi to be stupid. In the Seventies, science fiction in film was reaching a level that only existed in print. It was using the medium to ask fundamental questions about society, the nature of reality and what it means to be human. A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX1138 are some good examples. The only new ground Star Wars broke was in special effects. The story was cliche, the characters stock characters used countless times before. It was essentially pornography with special effects substituted for sex. But it was successful, and every science fiction film that came after it was compared to it. How many, "It's this years Star Wars!!!!" have we seen? As if that is a good thing. So science fiction movies aspired to the lowest common denominator, and most of them still do.

Science fiction on television, however, is striving for greatness. One of the latest success stories, Battlestar Galactica, is no exception. From the creative genius behind Galactica, Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica Blog: "It probably says something about me that I found that very notion to be antithetical to the underpinnings of a decent and democratic society, and I remember the very conscious choice I made in the early stages of this project that while Colonial society was going to be flawed and riddled with problems, that at its base, it was going to be a fundamentally decent and democratic one. It was not going to toss its principles over the side in a time of crisis. It was not going to turn itself into a security-above-all state. There were certain things that mattered more than survival, certain things that mattered more than safety. They were going to hang on to their government and their rights as citizens as best they could under the situation, and would give up those rights and freedoms only grudgingly. "

This is what the best science fiction is all about. It is more than just creating special effects and weird aliens. The best science fiction examines the world in which we live from a perspective that we can only get from sci fi. One could write a column about post 9-11 USA and how, in giving up our freedoms, launching a war of aggression, and accepting the use of torture and so on we become a "security-above-all state," and that there are more important things to hang onto. The people who agree with you already will read it for their personal affirmation, and the rest will ignore it. But Moore shows us a "fictional" society, going through a crisis not completely unlike our own, and shows other possible alternatives for how we might react to the crisis. For all its special effects and melodrama, it still has the "ring of truth." It is a fun house mirror that reflects us. Even if the image is altered, it is still us in the reflection. The best science fiction isn't about a galaxy far, far away. It is about who we are. In the hands of the best creators, like Ron Moore, we only notice this in retrospect.

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