Horror Drive-In: Why I Dislike 'Star Wars'

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Why I Dislike Star Wars

SWPosterI was sixteen years old when Star Wars came out. Sure I saw it. Who didn’t? But allow me to go even farther back in time than that.

Science Fiction was always important to me. I had the advantage of having older siblings. Three brothers, and they all read SF. I was introduced to the genre very early on, and in fact the very first real book I read was Robert A. Heinlein’s Have Space Suit – Will Travel. Despite its unsophisticated title, it is a smart novel that is at once a satire, a rousing adventure story, and a sober look at the mechanics of human life in low or zero gravity.

From Heinlein I went on to others, like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. These guys, and maybe a few others, were about the extent that my brothers delved into the genre. Me, I went on to read it voraciously.

Exciting things were happening in science fiction in the late ’60s and ’70s. I read a lot of it, but I mostly loved the material that came out in the genre’s Golden Age. There are different notions of what time period constitutes The Golden Age of Science Fiction, but for me it is from 1938 to 1960. Before the late ’30s, SF was mostly dressed-up western shoot-em-ups. Often silly, but mostly good, stupid fun. Science Fiction was in its infancy, and it was trying to find itself as a serious field of literature. The man who was most responsible for the maturation of SF was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell is mostly remembered today for writing Who Goes There?, which was the basis for The Thing From Another World, although John Carpenter’s version was more faithful than the original movie.

There were great, amazing things coming out in the genre by the 1950s. The Big Three, of course, which were Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov, but there were so many more. The kaleidoscopic brilliance of Alfred Bester. The literary prowess of Theodore Sturgeon. The earthy warmth of Clifford D. Simak (who was kind of the Rick Hautala of Science Fiction), the taboo-breaking frankness of Philip Jose Farmer, the social satires of Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, the lyrical sweetness of Ray Bradbury. And so on and on.

Stranger-in-a-Strange-LandThe ’60s exploded with wild new talents that shocked and galvanized the world. Though he would deny the label of SF writer, Harlan Ellison published a lot of incredible pieces that fell smack dab in the genre. Norman Spinrad, who might be the best we’ve ever known, turned the field upside down. Michael Moorcock, Brian W. Aldis, Thomas M. Disch, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Philip Wylie, John Wyndham, and others were breaking unexplored ground. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was embraced by the hippie counterculture. Kurt Vonnegut was writing satire in the guise of science fiction. Ellison’s anthologies, Dangerous Visions, and Again, Dangerous Visions, proved that there were no boundaries.

Yeah, much of what Joe Public got in the way of SF was trite, juvenile, cliched, and downright stupid movies and TV. There were exceptions. The original run of Star Trek was not perfect, but it benefited from a passionate lead character, considerable wit, and the network wisely used noted writers like Ellison, Sturgeon, and Bloch.

There were some decent movies. In the midst of the churned out crap that has always littered the cinematic side of Science Fiction, we had Things To Come, back in 1936. Forbidden Planet. The Day The Earth Stood Still. Planet of the Apes. Destination: Moon. 2001: A Space Odyssey.

By the 1970s, intelligent science fiction was becoming fairly commonplace. In 1972 we had the thoughtful and poetic Silent Running. A Boy and His Dog. A Clockwork Orange. Solaris. Westworld. Logan’s Run. Rollerball. There were even smart, funny ones like Sleeper, Dark Star, and Death Race 2000.

And, yes, there was a little movie called THX 1138.

Not that I minded some good old fashioned, foolish science fiction. I read and enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s anthology, Before The Golden Age, which showcased early SF in its humble origins. I recently reread Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Space, and I had a ball. Williamson went on to pen some landmark work in the genre, but Legion prompted some guffaws out of me. Still, I got a lump in my throat when I read the dedication, which I had not seen for a few decades:

To the readers and writers of that new literature called science-fiction, who find mystery, wonder, and high adventure in the expanding universe of knowledge, and who sometimes seek to observe and to forecast the vast impact of science upon the lives and minds of men.

Kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?

Innocence, naivety, inexperience. I look back upon that stuff with infinite fondness.

But by the 1970s, people who loved SF were desperate to make it a respectable field. And it was happening.

Then came 1977. You know what I’m talking about.

I wanted to see Star Wars as badly as anyone did. My oldest brother and his girlfriend took me to see it. We went to the theater, and the showing was sold out. So, instead of going home, we saw a different movie, and then we would see Star Wars.

Slap_shot_movie_posterThe different movie was called Slap Shot. It’s an uproarious picture which stars Paul Newman as the head of a rambunctious hockey team. Slap Shot is bawdy, violent, profane, and, to my way of thinking, a classic.

Then I saw Star Wars.

Honestly,. I didn’t hate Star Wars. I thought it was an idiotic throwback to very early science fiction that had princesses and space pirates. Lots of ‘splosions and fancy laser shootings. A murky elemental space force called, well, The Force. And most unforgivingly, some despicably cutesy and clunky robots thrown in for cheap humor.

But what the hell. I don’t mind a stupid flick now and then. I thought that Slap Shot was a hell of a lot better than Star Wars, and I am not remotely a sports fan, while I most definitely was a Science Fiction fanatic.

A Saturday Morning Serial movie. Easy come, easy go, right? Wrong.

I could never have predicted how influential Star Wars would be. And as far as I was concerned, it emphatically did not influence Science Fiction in a good direction.

I know that people claim that Star Wars is really a Fantasy, but to Joe Average, it defined the genre of Science Fiction. Just as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers defined it for generations past.

The bad thing is how it began to shape the SF genre. Sure, great stuff was still coming out, but producers and publishers knew a good thing when they saw it. Or, I should say, a profitable thing.

empire_strikes_back_style_aIt set the genre back fifty years, as far as I am concerned. The big consolation I have is how Annie Hall beat the living hell out of Star Wars at the Oscars that year. And very rightly so.

I saw the other movies. I consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the best of the bunch, and that is undoubtedly due to the very intelligent decision to bring a real science fiction writer by the name of Leigh Brackett on board.

The others? Eh, low rent escapist entertainment. Not very original, not particularly well done. But, oh, do they make a lot of money.

Now the world is having the biggest nerdgasm since The Avengers, which I never bothered to see. No interest. Nor do I have the slightest interest in seeing The Force Awakens. I might be tempted to see it if George Lucas were actually involved in any way.

I’m sure I am looked upon as a haughty stick-in-the-mud. A killjoy and a soulless dastard. I’m fine with that. Hey, my heart recently melted over a teen movie called Paper Towns that most people I know won’t bother with. I honestly hope everyone has a great time, and that the movie is a success. Me, I’m holding out for the adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s High Rise.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of Terror, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, The Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon Lover, The Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

8 thoughts on “Horror Drive-In: Why I Dislike 'Star Wars'”

  1. I agree with every word, Mark. I go back once in a while to Aldiss, Moorcock, Farmer, and Ellison. I’ll never forget the first time I read Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” It holds up well, and Carpenter’s version is hardcore paranoia and terror…unequaled. I would love to see someone intelligent and artful enough to direct Ballard’s High Rise. Is this actually happening?

    1. You seem to suffer from the same problem as the writer, which is that there used to be great SF in the 60s and 70s, but there hasn’t been any since then; for whatever reason, you’ve attributed that decline in SF quality to Star Wars. You both have some flaws in your arguments, though, or at the very least you haven’t explained your arguments well enough. Although the writer name-checks a few films (some of which seem marginally-SF at best), he seems to be primarily focused on SF books and stories; you seem to do the same. Is Star Wars as good a SF work as the books of Heinlein or Bradybury or Asimov? Maybe not, but I’m not convinced that the comparison is really valid. The other flaw in your thinking, is that when you do mention other movies, they seem to be polar opposites of Star Wars. “Slap Shot” was “bawdy, violent [and] profane” and “The Thing” was “hardcore paranoia and terror.” It’s okay to have opinions (some of my best friends have opinions); it’s okay to not like Star Wars because you think it’s a kids’ movie, or because you like movies that have more sex and gore and language, or because you prefer the written words of some of the greatest writers of all time. My canned response to anyone who dismisses a movie (or book, or whatever) on relativistic grounds, is to ask, “is it better than the Mona Lisa?”

    2. Hello, De Lysle Ferree Cass. I know it’s futile to take issue with others’ comments, but I will if I think I’ve been misrepresented. Nowhere in my response to Mark’s article did I claim there hasn’t been any great science fiction published since the 60s and 70s. In fact, I recently wrote for BookRags a nearly 100-page college-level study guide (akin to CliffsNotes) for Neal Stephenson’s brilliant SEVENEVES. Too, I thoroughly devour work by William Gibson (branching off into his own mind-blowing continuum these days), Karen Joy Fowler, Bruce Sterling, Gregory Benford, and Canadian Peter Watts—perhaps best of them all. While I agree with most of Mark’s feelings and thoughts on STAR WARS, I didn’t once mention the movie nor declare that it tarnished the shine of SF. Switch to a decaf, my friend.

  2. Your Star Wars essay seemed as if you were plucking the words and thoughts directly from my mind. I’m glad I’m not alone on this. (But from now on, stay out of my brain.)

  3. Totally agree with you, Mark. I’m much more excited about the upcoming Blade Runner sequel than I am about Star Wars. And High-Rise looks promising!

  4. So basically, you hate Star Wars because it wasn’t up to par with more cerebral, highbrow offerings in the genre you enjoyed more, and because of the public collectively embracing it as the world’s default Sci Fi franchise, while simultaneously acknowledging its roots as a throwback to 1930’s serialized, Saturday matinee films.

    Somehow I picture you discussing the writing of this “article” in some smoky mid-20’s Wall Street gentleman’s club lounge puffing on a cigarette stem and guffawing with JP Morgan about how “common” the masses are.

  5. Thank you for the excellent write-up, much of which I agree with and some of which I need to know more about before offering an opinion.

    I emphatically disagree on one point. The only reason I will eventually give the new movie a chance, when the fervor has died down, is that George Lucas was NOT involved. This man managed to make a trilogy of iconic movies because he had a lot of talented people working with him who were willing to disagree with him, influencing and improving the final product, and he managed to completely destroy the prequel series because at that point he was THE George Lucas with no detractor or voice of reason in sight.

    I’ve heard Lucas actually approached Disney with some ‘ideas’ for the new trilogy when it was in development and they told him to take a hike, they’ve got this.

    Good move.

  6. Doctor Smith said it best: “Have no fear, intelligence is hear!” “But with regards to how ‘Lost in Space’ Hollywood’s acumen is in today’s Science Fiction market?” It remains to be seen. Mark, I think with futuristic drama, you’re looking for movies like Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine.” A Sci-Fi movie which had good acting, a good plot, some real science—not just pseudo science—quality special effects, and most importantly, a real Satanic villain who we just can’t wait to see destroyed at the end of the film. Also, sprinkle in some thought provoking nebulous metaphysics—as in the last fifteen minutes of “2001 A Space Odyssey,” and presto. A literary juggernaut is spawned. I think the greatest enemy to cutting edge Science Fiction are young adults. Kids! Being honest, Star Wars was a family movie. A motion picture parents use to captivate children with. I enjoyed George Lucas’s Star Wars, and the Empire Strikes Back. If I have a choice, however, I’m going to watch TV series like UFO: which should be made into a movie. A big mistake for them not to develop. And other shows like: the Invaders, the X-files, the Night Stalker, Fringe, or movies like Event Horizon and Total Recall. Let’s face it, we can’t do “Silent Running” from our youth. Star Wars still has a place in our literary development, and I know it certainly earned a sentimental spot in my heart. Overall, this was a good critical review of the original “Star Wars” series. May the force of childhood be with you all!

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