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Film Club: Star Wars Episode IV (Lucas, 1977)

Chii, da-da-daa, da-da dah-dah-dah dah-dah-dah…. Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there! I was just humming the opening theme from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the film that we will be discussing this April at our Akira Kurosawa film club.

To begin with, let’s start with a quick primer for those who only know the absolute basics about the Star Wars films — just like me still about a week ago. The Episode IV that we have picked for this month was the first film in the series, and originally released in 1977 as a standalone film simply titled Star Wars. The creator, director, writer and father of Star Wars, George Lucas, had been developing the story since sometime around 1973, and during his various rewrites had come up with enough story material for a number of films, hoping that he might later be able to make other films in the universe that he was creating. The enormous success of the 1977 film made these other films possible, and during the production of the first sequel Lucas decided to retroactively call his first film Episode IV and his new one Episode V, with the intention that they would actually be part of a second trilogy, with him later making a prequel trilogy, and possibly also sequels.

As of March 2013, six live action Star Wars films have been released: Episode IV (1977), Episode V (1980), Episode VI (1983), Episode I (1999), Episode II (2002) and Episode III (2005). Although Lucas often employed other writers and did not himself actually direct episodes V and VI, all six films can be said to be his. Additionally, an animated film called The Clone Wars was released in 2008, and there have been numerous other releases including TV series, books and games, some more canonical than others. In late 2012, Lucas sold his company Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars to Disney, with the sales announcement also mentioning the development of a sequel trilogy consisting of episodes VII, VIII and IX, as well as other properties. So, the space saga continues to evolve as we speak.

In fact, the saga has been evolving also in other ways, with the retitling of the first film in 1980 having already been an indicator of what was to come. Although Lucas had already created a fair amount of background material by the time of the first film, the characters and the overall story kept evolving as he worked on the films. A good example of how the story changed is the relationship between the original trilogy’s protagonist, the young Luke Skywalker, and his antagonist, Darth Vader. While in the first film (Episode IV) Darth Vader is mentioned as the man who killed Luke’s father, in the second film (Episode V) he is famously revealed to himself be Luke’s father. Reportedly, this change in the back story was conceived only after the original film’s release.

While this particular addition could in fact be worked into the overall saga without needing to make changes to the earlier film, Lucas was not always entirely happy with what had been filmed. And so, by the time he began working on the prequel films in the late 90s, Lucas decided to make numerous changes to the original films, often with the help of what was then cutting edge CGI technology. These changes, and ones Lucas would continue to make for later DVD and Blu-ray releases, have not always been very popular among fans, although at least some of these changes do succeed in tying the two trilogies closer together both narratively and stylistically.

It is in connection with this constant creative evolution of Star Wars that Akira Kurosawa comes into the picture. It is often pointed out that the first film of the series, Episode IV, which we are watching this month, has clear connections with Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, our last month’s film club title. Some have gone as far to call Star Wars Episode IV a remake of Kurosawa’s film, while others have pointed out that the similarities between the two are really only occasional. Lucas himself has named Kurosawa as a major influence, and the two of course also shared something of a professional relationship as Lucas was the driving force behind re-launching Kurosawa’s career in the late 70s by making it possible for Kurosawa to secure funding for Kagemusha.

When we compare The Hidden Fortress and Star Wars Episode IV, it is clear that calling the latter a remake of the former is a stretch. Yet, the two films certainly share common elements: they are both set at a time of civil war, Lucas’s two robots are clearly based on Kurosawa’s two peasants, both films feature a princess who is central to the story, and the jedi seem to have been modelled after samurai. Stylistically, Lucas also makes use of Kurosawa’s trade mark wipe cuts, although he does so with more gusto and variety than Kurosawa, and there don’t seem to be many other technical similarities between the two film makers’ approaches.

In fact, in order to discover the real Kurosawa in Star Wars, we need to go back to Lucas’s 1973 story synopsis, which was one of the first written treatments of what was to become Star Wars. In Lucas’s synopsis, after a space fortress is destroyed, a general is escorting a princess into safety in a civil war torn 33rd century galactic empire. They are disguised as farmers and in possession of valuable spice. When two bickering bureaucrats discover some of that spice, the general captures them and makes them join the escape. In their journey home, the group has to overcome a number of obstacles. In the end, they successfully arrive at their destination, and the princess’s true nature is revealed to the bureaucrats, who are also rewarded for their help.

Now, this would have been a remake, although even in this story synopsis, once the characters and the world have been established, the actual meat of the story deviates from The Hidden Fortress. It is in fact clear that Lucas had also other influences, as among other things the synopsis also includes a scene fairly directly lifted from Sanjuro.

A year later, by the time Lucas had finished the original 1974 rough draft, much had changed. Crucially, no longer were the heroes transporting a treasure through enemy lines, and no longer could it be said that Lucas was working on a remake. Elements of The Hidden Fortress remained of course, with the bureaucrats of the original story synopsis now replaced with robots, and the general now made part of the samurai like jedi order.

In the years that followed, the story went through a number of other subsequent revisions, and never really returned to its Hidden Fortress origins. Yet, it can be said that Lucas continued to keep Kurosawa at the back of his mind. Some clear influences can in fact be spotted also in the later films. Episode VI for instance has a speeder bike chase similar to the horseback chase in The Hidden Fortress. Meanwhile, Episode I makes use of the idea of the princess having a double who gets sacrificed to save her. Many of the costumes and designs are also heavily inspired by Japanese motives, and supposedly Lucas was even hoping to cast Toshiro Mifune as either Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader.

With Kurosawa influences spread across the two trilogies, one may actually feel compelled to watch the whole saga, not just the Episode IV that is on our list. The question then becomes: what order to watch the films in? Instead of the two obvious choices of episode order (I, II, III, IV, V, VI) and release order (IV, V, VI, I, II, III), an alternative and fairly popular suggestion seems to be to watch the prequel trilogy as inserted between episodes V and VI (IV, V, I, II, III, VI). I actually followed exactly this order this week, and having never seen episodes II, III or V, and remembering almost nothing of the rest, this order worked pretty well. A fourth often suggested possibility is the so-called Machete Order, which drops Episode I entirely, resulting in the order of IV, V, II, III, VI. This suggested omission is due to the general unpopularity of Episode I, although I personally didn’t really consider it worse than the other films in the series.

The other question seems to be: which Star Wars to watch? Many hard core fans seem to prefer the films as originally released, but those may be difficult to come by these days. I watched the latest versions with Lucas’s most up-to-date tinkering, and from the point of view of someone who has no real history with Star Wars, these versions were absolutely ok, despite some of the added CGI occasionally sticking out pretty badly. But then again, the CGI used in the prequel trilogy wasn’t exactly stellar, either.

But with so many different versions of the film available in different configurations, it is difficult for me as a Star Wars layman to recommend which one to watch. However, I suppose that from Lucas’s point of view, the current ultimate and official truth is the 2011 Blu-ray release titled The Complete Saga which collects the six films.

There is, of course, much more to be said about Star Wars, but I believe that this will function as a suitable introduction for our discussions. What is your history with Star Wars? What do you think of the Kurosawa link? Are you shocked by Lucas’s meddling with his films? What else does Star Wars make you think about? And if you are a fan, do you think that I left out something important from this introduction? Let us know!

Next month, our film club will move onto Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well. Information about the available DVDs can be found here. And as always, our full film club schedule is available on the film club page.


Discussion

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Ugetsu

I think Star Wars was the most exciting thing to happen to me until adolescence! I was 11 or maybe 12 when I saw it in the cinema (although I’ve no memory who came with me, probably an older brother) and I was blown away by it. I remember going a second time with my younger cousin and I was disappointed that he was unimpressed with it (looking back, I think he was pretending, he had sensed it was a bit uncool to be too excited about something like that, I was thoroughly uncool so I didn’t know this). I read everything I could about the film, but obviously in pre-internet days it was much harder to be geeky if you didn’t have access to specialist comic-book guy stores, and fortunately I didn’t or I would have spent my meagre pocket money on all sorts of junk.

I was a sci-fi fan, thanks to having access to a mountain of Asimov and Heinlein books left by my older brothers, and the sci-fantasy books my sister liked (even though I read through them all when really too young to understand them). So I was aware that Star Wars was more adventure movie than serious science fiction, although I have a memory of defending Star Wars when an aunt said it was ‘just some Hollywood junk’. But I have to say my interest in it died out rapidly through the first two sequels – I watched and enjoyed them, but I found the backstory very uninteresting. By that time (later teens) I was very interested in folklore and ancient myths, and it all seemed very obvious and lacking any real depth. So, you might say, I grew out of Star Wars. By the time Jar Jar Binks came along, I wasn’t even interested enough in it to take offence. I haven’t seen any of the subsequent films.

So I’m looking forward to watching the film again – its been many years since I’ve seen it.

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Vili Maunula

Being a bit younger (I wasn’t born yet by the time Empire Strikes Back came out), my first memory of Star Wars comes from some point in the late 80s, when the films were shown on TV in Finland. It was a New Year’s Eve and I think that it was the first time that they broadcast the films there, at least back to back.

As always for the New Year’s, we were having a big party with some of our (my parents’) friends. I wasn’t really interested in sitting in front of the TV, but all the other kids were excited about seeing Star Wars, so I joined them. I fell asleep at some point during the first film. The only thing I remember of the actual film is that the guy in the black mask was both scary and silly.

I must have seen Episode VI at some point in the 90s (the furry Ewoks were not scary but they were even sillier than the guy in the black mask), and I played a couple of the Star Wars video games (the X-Wing series), but by and large the series never really interested me. I have always been a big science fiction fan, with Philip K. Dick and Douglas Adams particularly big influences on me, and with other greats of the genre like Heinlein, Clarke, Haldeman and Pohl still important. But I gravitate more towards hard scifi, and in comparison Star Wars felt (and still feels) like a kid’s film. Or at least it’s a fantasy story or a space opera, and I don’t generally like those genres.

When Episode I came out, I was living in Japan, and we got quite excited about the film with my Japanese class mates. We managed to get tickets for our city’s opening screening and really looked forward to seeing it as some of the first people in the world. Unfortunately, the film didn’t deliver what we had expected, leaving us quite disappointed. A few years later, I tried to watch Episode II, mainly for Ewan McGregor, but ejected the DVD about 20 minutes into it. When I watched the films again for this month, I still considered Episode II easily the worst in the series. It’s almost unbearable.

In 2007, I was working abroad and found myself with quite a bit of free time in the evenings and weekends, so I decided to rekindle my interest in video games, which I hadn’t really touched for about ten years. One of the games recommended to me was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and although I was sceptical at first, it (and to a lesser extent also its sequel The Sith Lords) really impressed me and pulled me in. It was not enough to make me watch the films, but enough to make me view the Star Wars universe with more interest. I even ended up buying the massively multiplayer Star Wars: The Old Republic last year, but it was nowhere near as good as the two earlier games.

In fact, for me the name George Lucas has always meant “good games” rather than “good films”. While others may define their childhood by Star Wars films, much of my childhood was spent with adventure games made by Lucas’s game company LucasArts: Zak McKracken, Maniac Mansion, the Indiana Jones adventures (I swear that Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is better than any of the films, and I love the films too), the Monkey Island titles, and many many others. Even if the company hasn’t really developed anything interesting in the past 15 years, the announcement last week that LucasArts had been closed by its new owner Disney, really hurt me.

But it was also Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm last year and the announcement of the new Star Wars films that made me want to watch the original six films in one go, rather than just Episode IV that we have scheduled for our film club.

Although the individual films are not that strong, and there certainly are plot holes the size of a Death Star in there, and even if episodes like II and VI were really quite a struggle to get through, I think that overall Lucas actually did a fairly good job with the Skywalker storyline. So, I’m happy to have finally seen the films, especially as I have been wanting to watch them with an eye on possible Kurosawa influences. My assessment there is that the influences are rather superficial.

If you have the time for it Ugetsu, I would suggest giving the prequel films a try one day. Episode II, as I mentioned, is quite terrible, but maybe you could make a drinking game out of it — take a shot any time you feel embarrassed for any of the characters or actors. In contrast, Episode III is actually quite good, and I think perhaps the best film in the series. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s ok. Your mileage may of course vary, especially as I think that I slightly preferred the prequels over the original trilogy, and I know that it’s not a particularly widely shared view in certain circles. But then again, I also considered Jar Jar Binks a minor nuisance over the real annoyances C-3PO and R2-D2 — and they are in every single film.

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Ugetsu

I invested in the Blu-ray DVD for the ‘middle’ trilogy yesterday – I watched ‘IV‘ for the first time last night in many, many years – I really can’t remember when I last saw it, it must have been on TV sometime in the 1980’s. It is (I think) the most up to date digital reconstruction, with some rather clumsy CGI insertions, they were very obvious and didn’t do much for me. Although I find it interesting how easily I spotted them – it shows how, in an almost Proustian manner certain things can stick in your memory from childhood and be revived in such a vivid way. Rather than madeleines, for me its definitely ‘oi! that corona around the exploding Death Star wasn’t there before!‘ So I suppose it is a tribute to the mythic status of the film that I can so vividly remember so many scenes in detail.

Having said that, my main feeling having watched the film was deep disappointment. I know I was only young when I first saw it, but why didn’t I notice the excruciatingly awful dialogue? No wonder Guinness and Ford apparently objected so much to the script. Its all the more wonder that Lucas showed he could write very good dialogue with American Graffitti (although I note from imdb that he had two co-writers, maybe they deserve more credit?). The music is horribly obvious (even if it is effective). The story is very linear, with little real subtlety or interest. I know there are legions of Star Wars fans out there who would disagree, but it most definitely is not a film which rewards repeat viewing. Even though Hidden Fortress is just popcorn, its a film which improves with repeat viewing I think – I doubt Star Wars would.

One thing that did strike me about the film is that I’d always unthinkingly thought of it as science fiction. But in reality, there is little of what I would think of as typical science fiction genre elements – only a nod to the need for some way around faster than the speed of light travel would satisfy I think most science fiction nerds. It has more in common I think with the science fantasy genre. It clearly draws on older stories and myths rather than attempting a real vision of a future society. In this sense, I would disagree with some writers (such as Martinez) who argues that Lucas mixed in additional genres on top of the basic Hidden Fortress storyline to create Star Wars. It seems to me to be a pretty much direct transposition of a medieval story into a future (or parallel) invented world, which would be typical of the SciFantasy genre.

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lawless

Finally got my hands on a copy of Episode IV: A New Hope. It turns out that there’s an interminable wait on Netflix for the original version; I watched the version Lucas modified, but it’s been so long since I saw it that I couldn’t tell where he modified it.

I saw this movie for the first and only prior time the summer it came out with my then-boyfriend, my best friend from high school, and her boyfriend. Back in those pre-internet days, I’d heard nothing about the movie before it came out. By the time we went, though, there was a lot of buzz about it; we had to wait in line to get in. I enjoyed it very much but knew it was by no means an avant-garde or heavyweight film; its importance had to do with its effects and how well it conveyed an essentially simple but trope-heavy story. (Not that the word “trope” was even used that way back then.)

Pros:
-R2D2. I love this droid — says little we can understand but in many ways is the hero of the whole thing, or at least the most vital part.
-James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader
-Harrison Ford. On paper, Han Solo is not all that attractive a character — mercenary, snarky, and even a little cowardly — but Ford made him attractive, and not just physically
-Princess Leia’s hairbuns
-The banter between Han Solo and Princess Leia
-Effects that were revolutionary for their time but which look hohum now that we’ve seen them on TV shows as well.
-The space bar and some of the critters there, including Chewbacca.
-The depiction of the various worlds, in this case Tatooine.
-Light sabers.

Cons:
-I don’t know if it’s the film stock of the time or the cinematography of the time, but weird lighting/cinematographic effects I’ve noticed mainly, if not only, in films from the 70s. A hyperrealistic but hokey overly orange look. It’s hard for me to describe otherwise. It’s not as noticeable in the interior shots.
-Mark Hamill. He looks the part, but acting-wise, he’s a lightweight.
-Much of the dialogue. Cheesy, oh so cheesy.
-The story itself. Fun, but not superimaginative. Also, the success of this film probably bears a good share of the blame for the rise of mindless action blockbusters.
-No Yoda! Yoda makes everything better.
-Princess Leia’s hairbuns.
-The representatives of the Empire, most of whom are cannon fodder or Nazi-trope bad guys.
-Some of the costumes, those phallic looking outfits on the storm troopers especially.
-The flatness of most of the characters.
-The sexism and racism bubbling beneath the surface. I realize Lucas was not consciously being either — in fact, he might have been trying not to be — but he didn’t succeed in breaking away from the gendercentric and ethnocentric assumptions he grew up with and that are still with us now. So what might have seemed new or revolutionary at the time (Princess Leia taking a gun and blasting away and ordering the guys around) no longer seems so revolutionary, and seems even less so in light of how the story developed.

Neutral or mixed:
-Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. He adds some gravitas to the proceedings, but I can’t help but feel he’s mostly wasted here. (I feel that way even more about Ewan McGregor in the same role in the prequels.) Even he can’t save some of the cheesy lines, although I have to admit that they didn’t strike me as cheesy (mostly having to do with the Force) when I first heard them.

All in all, a good but lightweight action movie. The best of The Hidden Fortress is much better than this; the worst of it is worse; overall, this is a more consistent movie than The Hidden Fortress even though overall The Hidden Fortress is a better, and better-made, film. Also, as made, this movie is in no way a remake of The Hidden Fortress, although it’s clearly influenced by, and is in some places a homage to, it.

As for science fiction vs. fantasy, I’ve read discussions of what the distinction is between the genres and I’m still not entirely clear on it myself. While there’s a good theoretical argument to be made that this is fantasy dressed up as science fiction, I classify it as science fiction simply because to me (and, I think, to a lot of people) fantasy is either otherworldly and/or backwards looking — in other words, set either in our past (that is, the earth’s past), vaguely reminiscent of past earth history (which could encompass, say, Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, which is heavily influenced by Tolkien’s philological interests) or includes alternative history, or set in some other universe or dimension that is non-realistic (magical realms or alternate worlds like Middle Earth) — and science fiction is forward looking and set in the future.

To me, Star Wars reads more like it’s set in the future than that it’s set in the past or in a different dimension, even though it’s set in other worlds. Also, most stories with other worlds or planets are in fact classified as science fiction; I’m thinking here, for example, of the worlds Asimov created.

I realize these are not formal or accepted definitions; rather, they are definitions based on the “feel” of a story. But I think they’re what many non-specialists use to distinguish one from the other. Thinking about it some more, I think the issue is both backward vs. forward-looking and plausibility. If it’s backward-looking or implausible, it’s fantasy; if it’s forward-looking or plausible, it’s science fiction.

In that spirit, here’s a question a friend of a friend posed recently: Is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fantasy or sci fi?

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Ugetsu

Lawless

In that spirit, here’s a question a friend of a friend posed recently: Is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fantasy or sci fi?

It had never occurred to me that it could be either! I suppose if you were to trace lineage, it works its way back through traditional Chinese fantasy stories, which in turn owe their origin to older myths and folklore – great warriors who can defy gravity, villains with access to magic and so on. In that case I would say it is a cousin to the ‘traditional’ science fantasy novel, although owing more to the Game of Thrones quasi medieval setting than the ‘deep in outer space where dragons lurk’ genre. I know Ang Lee considered it a to be his interpretation of the traditional Chinese stories and films he grew up with and loved, but I also know the film intensely irritates every Mandarin speaking Chinese person I know. Partly I think its the notion of Cantonese speakers and Taiwanese (who they often consider insufferably patronising) attempting a mandarin language story, and partly the perception (probably correct) that it was written specifically for a non-Chinese audience.

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Vili Maunula

lawless: The best of The Hidden Fortress is much better than this; the worst of it is worse

That’s an interesting statement. It would be interesting to hear what you consider the low points in The Hidden Fortress!

lawless: As for science fiction vs. fantasy, I’ve read discussions of what the distinction is between the genres and I’m still not entirely clear on it myself.

I don’t think that there is any universally accepted definition of science fiction; it means different things to different people. As an example, Margaret Atwood, the author of books like The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, seemed at one time very offended by people labelling those works as “science fiction”, herself considering it the realm of spaceships and light sabres, and preferring the term “speculative fiction” to be used for her works.

My own take is pretty much the opposite — spaceships, light sabres or a futuristic setting alone don’t make anything science fiction. For me, a work of science fiction really needs to deal with science on some level. It can be either hard sciences or social sciences, but somehow the work needs to revolve around or explore scientific topics or theories. Star Wars doesn’t do this, and so I would rather label it something like space fantasy or space opera. But it’s of course just a label.

In any case, I would definitely not classify Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as science fiction.

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lawless

Here‘s the post I referred to. I told the friend who linked to it that I would classify CTHD as fantasy, but with one or two tweaks it could be science fiction. The point is that the setup and wirework are the stuff of fantasy (i.e., it isn’t real and can’t be), but if one believes qi is a scientific principle that we don’t understand yet but which the characters in the movie know how to manipulate, it’s science fiction. (The same could be said about Star Wars and the Force.)

Is speculative fiction science fiction by another name, or is it a broader category? If it is broader, does it encompass what we call fantasy at all, and to what extent? I understand (sort of) why Atwood objected to calling her work science fiction, but it also seems rather elitist of her. Not only that, there are Sad Old White Men (maybe some of them aren’t so old, either) whom calling her work science fiction would tick off. It might be worth it just for that. (There have been some ugly, ugly fights within the world of SFF (sci fi and fantasy) lately over race and gender inclusion.)

A large proportion, although maybe not a majority, of the books I read as a child were what would now be classified as fantasy of one sort or another (mostly urban fantasy), but it’s a genre I hardly ever read anymore. I would also have said that I don’t read or even like much science fiction, but then I realized that dystopian fiction is considered science fiction. I love good dystopias like 1984, Fahrenheit 415, and A Clockwork Orange, and the like. (I like the concept behind Brave New World, but I’mt not that nuts about the story.)

As for The Hidden Fortress: It’s about fifteen minutes too long (mostly in the first part, before they leave the hideout); the bickering between the two peasants gets tiresome — I might actually prefer C3PO and R2D2; for one thing, they have characteristics that distinguish them from each other, unlike the peasants, who are both greedy, and for another, one of them beeps and doesn’t speak; despite it being culturally appropriate, I still dislike all the shouting the princess does and find it difficult to listen to; and I still have mixed feelings about the Fire Festival. I suppose my reaction could be summed up as “it’s hokey and I don’t always believe it.”

Part of it is that I expect more from Kurosawa, even from a Saturday afternoon matinee popcorn fest, whereas all I expect from Lucas here is an entertaining action movie. With a little judicious pruning and better acting (mostly from the actress playing the princess), Kurosawa could have (imo) made more out of the story.

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Ugetsu

I know there is a ‘travelling’ thread somewhere but I can’t find it right now.

I’m just posting this to say I’m catching a flight early tomorrow to Vietnam, I’ll be spending a few weeks in SE Asia and then cycling/hiking up in Bhutan in the Himalaya. And I haven’t had a chance to look at ‘Last Man Standing’ 🙄 So it’ll be a bit quite from me for a few weeks – I’m back on November 4th.

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Vili Maunula

lawless: but if one believes qi is a scientific principle that we don’t understand yet but which the characters in the movie know how to manipulate, it’s science fiction

I get where you are coming from, but for me that’s a little like saying that if we consider love a scientific principle (which it of course is), Sleepless in Seattle is science fiction. 😉

For me, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would be science fiction if it actually explored qi, suggested how it works, and considered what its impact on the characters and the larger society is. It’s been a decade since I saw it, but based on my memory the film doesn’t really do that, so I don’t consider it science fiction.

The same goes with the force in Star Wars. It’s just magic that largely exists in a vacuum, popping up only to serve the story.

But that’s just my definition of science fiction.

lawless: Is speculative fiction science fiction by another name, or is it a broader category?

I think it depends on whom you ask. In an interview with The Progressive, which is undated but probably from 2010, Atwood put it like this:

Q: You call your work not science fiction, but speculative fiction. What’s the distinction you’re drawing?

Atwood: The distinction has to do with lineages. It has to do with ancestries, and what family books belong to because books do belong in families. The ancestor of science fiction is H. G. Wells with books like The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Those books involved things that are very unlikely to happen or are actually impossible, but they are ways of exploring possibilities and human nature and the way people react to certain things. And if you go to another planet, you get to build the whole society and you can draw blueprints and have fun with talking vegetation and other such things.

The lineage of speculative fiction traces back to Jules Verne, who wrote about things that he could see coming to pass that were possible on the Earth—this wasn’t about outer space or space invasions—but things that we could actually do.

lawless: As for The Hidden Fortress … I suppose my reaction could be summed up as “it’s hokey and I don’t always believe it.”

Thanks! I share many of your frustrations, although for me the low points are still higher than the corresponding low points in Star Wars.

Ugetsu: I know there is a ‘travelling’ thread somewhere but I can’t find it right now.

New threads don’t actually cost anyone anything. 😉 But have a great trip!

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