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" unites well-known "Star Wars" 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" unites well-known "Star Wars" 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
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
>
>>
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
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 0730 GMT (1530 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT