Back in 1999, physics professor, NASA consultant, and science fiction writer David Brin contributed an essay to Salon.com highlighting the logical inconsistencies in the (up until then) four Star Wars films and pointing out what he saw as the darker philosophical and ethical underpinnings of the series - a feudal universe in which elite, super-powered beings control the fate of civilization, a galaxy where might is right, in which the life of the commoner is to be ruled by The Jedi or The Sith.
"'Star Wars' Despots vs. 'Star Trek' Populists" generated a tremendous amount of interest and feedback from Star Wars and science fiction fans and over the years on his own website Brin came back to the topic now and then, (often, he laments as an aside in "Star Wars on Trial," taking time away from his other writing projects). With the release last year of the final chapter in the Star Wars film series, Brin is back to update his arguments and lead the prosecution in "Star Wars on Trial," a book-length collection of critical essays on the six-film cycle and its relationship to film-making and science-fiction. The book is organized conceptually around a trial, with a prosecutor leveling charges and a defense counsel attempting to poke holes in the state's case.
The six charges brought to court are, in order: 1) The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist; 2) While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs; 3) Star Wars Novels Are Poor Substitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves; 4) Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.; 5) Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination; 6) Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy; 7) Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak; 8) The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.
Each charge is argued in separate essays, both for the prosecution and the defense. In between the essays are short chapters in which the prosecutor and the defense cross exam the essayists and address the bench on procedure issues.
Leading the defense and providing opening and closing arguments in this literary trial is three-time Star Wars novelist Matthew Woodring Stover (Traitor, Shatterpoint, Revenge of the Sith), a writer whose books I have enjoyed but for whom I have lost some not small measure of respect after reading his smarmy ripostes to Brin's more reasoned arguments. It's not necessarily that Brin's ideas are better (sometimes they are, sometimes not); it's just that Brin is more erudite. Stover comes off like one of those annoying people you read in usenet forums who, when he can't make a cogent argument, resorts to humor to deflect attention from his lack of a reasoned counter argument, or to avoid having to admit he is wrong.
One the whole, the prosecution makes its best case on textual matters, picking at the obvious inconsistencies within the films and demonstrating what everyone who has seen them has known all along, that George Lucas is a poor writer who suffered moreover from having to force the plot when he found he had to make sequels and later prequels. There's also a devastating argument from real-life attorney John C. Wright demonstrating the lack of religious content in the Star Wars universe, in addition to a well-argued essay from astrophysicist Jeanne Cavelos outlining the evisceration of the two major females in the series, Leia and Padme, who go from being strong, independent characters to stereotypical damsels-in-distress.
For its part, the defense makes its best case on the wider issue of cultural matters, on the effect of Star Wars on science fiction and filmmaking. Novelist Karen Traviss, one of the most popular of the current crop of Star Wars authors, argues convincingly that Star Wars literature can be more than turgid prose hastily churned out for cash by revealing some of the positive changes she was forced to make in her own writing when commissioned to write her first Star Wars novel. And addressing the complaint that Star Wars fiction is driving "real" science fiction off bookstore shelves, novelist Laura Resnick points out that the success of Star Wars fiction has in fact provided publisher Del Rey the financial clout to expand its original science fiction publishing.
There are several other well-written and thought provoking essays in this collection addressing issues wider than Star Wars - such as the nature science fiction, the push and pull between art and entertainment, the economics of publishing and film making - that make this an interesting read for those that might like to delve into some of the issues debated among aficionados of science fiction and Star Wars.
For those interested in pursuing some of the issues raised in Star Wars on Trial, publisher PopSmart has a dedicated online forum ([...]) where you can participate in discussion with other readers and some of the essayists.