Star Wars, the worldwide phenomenon that started with the 1977 film, is often thought of as a great example of science fiction, but some people don’t like it being referred to that way. So is Star Wars science fiction or fantasy?
Star Wars is referred to as a space opera, which is a subgenre of science fiction. It has many of the common tropes of science fiction of space travel and technology, but also contains heavy use of the Force, a type of magic and therefore is also fantasy.
Let’s explore this question by looking at the respective genres to see how they get defined, as well as what Star Wars is composed of to see whether it’s science fiction or fantasy.
What Is Science Fiction?
One of the better definitions for science fiction is that it is a genre in which the plot or background is influenced by scientific discoveries, advancements, or speculative future changes.
You can generally expect science fiction to include topics such as space travel, travel to alternate universes or worlds, and some type of advanced technology.
Generally science fiction is set in the future, with these scientific advances being accepted as fact and the reality of the world is based upon or heavily relies on. Instead of being set in the future, it may be set in a totally different non-Earth location.
Does Star Wars Fall into the Science Fiction Category?
The big issue with Star Wars falling squarely into the science fiction category is the presence of the Force. The Force is much closer to being magic than a creation of science or technology.
The Force takes several forms over the movies and other media, and manifests differently depending on who is using it, for what purposes they use it for, and ultimately how proficient they are at using it.
The Force can be described as a mysterious, invisible energy field that seems to be formed from living things. However, the Force also has a type of sentience or awareness of itself, meaning it can influence actions and seems to have a will of its own.
It is even channeled to do superhuman feats such as blocking barrages of laser fire or react to things unseen.
Certain actors such as Jedi, the Sith, and others with latent sensitivity to the Force, get extraordinary abilities through the Force.
This can be abilities such as levitating oneself or objects and moving them remotely, implantation of false thoughts or mind control, a type of premonition, general sensing of other’s life force, and the Force also seems to be able to put people in the afterlife.
In the end, it does not seem to be a technological creation but rather something that has always existed, similar to how magic exists.
As much as it pains to say, Midi-chlorians are canon now, and are said to be microscopic, intelligent life forms that originated in the center of the galaxy during the life starting event, which we might refer to as the Big Bang.
Midi-chlorians are now to be found in the cells of all living organisms, where they can be detected and seem to directly correlate with a person’s Force power.
What is Fantasy?
Fantasy often relies heavily on magical and supernatural elements, which cannot or do not exist in the form that they do in the world of humans on Earth.
This doesn’t prevent a fantasy-based story taking place on Earth, take for example the Harry Potter franchise, but it also means authors have the option to create an entirely imaginary universe, with its own physical laws, logic and even inhabitants of imaginary races.
Sharing some common elements with science fiction, such as being speculative in nature, fantasy does not fundamentally rely on using science or technology as its basis, and indeed may not be tied to reality or scientific fact at all.
Another common element to fantasy is a mythos or legend that permeates the world, with ancient origins of magic or supernatural events coming from the gods or other unknown source.
What Genre is Star Wars?
Given the large role that science, technology and space play in Star Wars (I mean, just consider the name of it) many would have no issues putting Star Wars into the science fiction category.
But, given the huge role that the Force plays, many have pointed out that if Star Wars is science fiction, it must have a lot of crossover with the fantasy genre, given the Force’s similarity to magic.
The presence of alien races and worlds is a common science fiction trope, but is equally as related to fantasy as well.
There is also a lot of apparently faster than light travel, extremely advanced weaponry and technology, as well as aspects such as cloning and healing technology that seems to bring people basically from the dead and have their basis in science.
You’ve got massive space fleets that wage huge wars, with objects like the Death Star being built to completely destroy a planet in one hit. Robots, androids and cyborgs abound, seemingly seamlessly integrating into greater society.
George Lucas, the writer and director behind the original movies, often refers to Star Wars as a space opera.
Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction, generally being epic in scale and including certain tropes including space fights, space adventures, melodramatic relationships and certain technological advancements.