Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Worth reading

I really, really enjoyed John Scalzi's long essay/rant on The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment at his blog, the Whatever. In addition to being an excellent novelist, he has also written a book on science fiction in films, The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, which I have been trying to find through my library system for months, thus far without success. That essay is truly a pleasure to read, and so too is its comments thread. A few comments and quotations...

I'm amused by his definition of mythology-building.
What's interesting about mythology is that it's the residue of a teleological system that's dead; it's what you get after everyone who believed in something has croaked and nothing is left but stories. Building a mythology is necrophilic storytelling; one that implicitly kills off an entire culture and plays with its corpse (or corpus, as the case may be). It's one better than being a God, really. Gods have to deal with the universes they create; mythmakers merely have to say what happened. When Lucas started Star Wars with the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." he was implicitly serving notice to the audience that they weren't participants, they were at best witnesses to events that had already happened, through participants who were long dead.

Toward the end, Scalzi issues this little challenge to readers to support his thesis that Star Wars does not qualify as "entertainment":

Look, here's a test for you. I want you to go out and find this movie: Battle Beyond the Stars. It's a piece of crap 1980 B-movie, produced by Roger Corman, that's clearly cashing in on the Star Wars phenomenon. Hell, it's even a pastiche of the same things Star Wars is a pastiche of (it even has a planet Akir, named for Akira Kurosawa), and it was made for $2 million, which is nothing money, even back in 1980. Thing is, its screenplay was written by John Sayles (later twice nominated for the Best Screenplay Academy Award), and it's funny and smart, and the whole movie, rather incredibly, keeps pace. Watch it and then tell me, honestly, that it's not more entertaining than Star Wars Episodes I, II, III and VI. Unless you're so distracted by the cheesy special effects and the fact that John Boy Walton is the star that you simply can't go on, I expect you'll admit you were more entertained by this little flick than all that Star Wars mythology.

The reason: It wants to entertain you. Corman and Sayles, bless their little hearts, probably didn't give a crap about mythology, except to the extent that it served to help them entertain you, the viewer. They cared about giving you 90 minutes of fun so they could make their money back, and that would let them do it again. I'm not suggesting that there should be more SF like Battle Beyond the Stars (though I can think of worse things). I am suggesting that if we're going to talk about the Star Wars series as entertainment, we should note that as entertainment, it gets its ass resolutely kicked by a $2 million piece of crap Roger Corman flick. So let's not pretend that the Star Wars series is this great piece of entertainment.

Battle Beyond the Stars sounds like it could be fun, and as such, it now resides at the top of my NetFlix queue.