Sunday, August 11, 2013

There's no paper in Star Wars, and 4 other things I am glad Star Wars lacks

Image from the datapad entry on Wookieepedia
Star Wars fans know that one of the rules of the setting is that there is no paper in Star Wars. Star Wars may take place "a long time ago," but it's full of spaceships and blasters, so it makes sense that people wouldn't still rely on chopping down trees, mashing them up, pressing the paste flat, and smearing ink over it to convey messages. Instead, characters in Star Wars use datapads to record and transmit information. If characters absolutely have to jot something down, they use flimsiplast, which is basically "space paper."

Though the lack of paper in Star Wars is hardly vital to the setting, it got me thinking about the other things that I am glad Star Wars doesn't have. As it turns out, most of the things on my list exist in Star Trek but not in Star Wars. I love Star Trek, too, but these differences help the two great franchises "feel" different, with Star Trek being more science fiction and Star Wars being more space fantasy.

No time travel
Image taken from Memory Alpha

In sci-fi, time travel tends to be confusing at best and gimmicky at worst. The thing that bothers me most about time travel is its tendency to undo the work of the heroes and invalidate all their triumphs and sacrifices. Time travel can also be a lazy way to refresh an overly convoluted plot or, even worse, bring back heroes and/or villains who were dramatically dispatched earlier in order to maintain the status quo.

Some stories in the Star Wars expanded universe do include time travel, but even these tend to be occasions of people from the past coming forward to the present, which does not have the same plot-destroying potential of traveling back in time.

No planet Earth

Perhaps it says a lot about me that I take my escapism very seriously. That is one reason why I dislike stories where characters from the real, modern world find themselves magically transported to a fantasy world to inevitably become its champions. In some weird way, I find that this taints the fantasy world with the mundanity of the heroes.

While there are humans in Star Wars, they do not come from any specific planet, and no reference is ever made to historical events from the real world. When characters speak "Basic" it sounds like English, but we can assume that is for the audience's benefit, and of course because we can't expect the actors to learn a made-up language.

There was once a Star Wars book planned that combined both time travel and Earth to explain how humans came to the Star Wars universe from the real world. I thank the Force that Alien Exodus never got written.

No organized religion or gods

A D&D elf pantheon, from

Speaking of thanking the Force, I love that, in Star Wars, the Force is something that everyone in the galaxy can choose to believe in without any cultural bias or baggage. In fantasy settings like Dungeons and Dragons, religions and gods tend to be divisive elements. Dwarves have different gods than elves do, and humans often get several pantheons to choose from, depending on their alignment and location. This underscores the differences between these groups and encourages characters to side with their own kind.

The main philosophy in Star Wars is the Force. Characters in Star Wars are united in their option to believe in the Force or not. Belief in the Force isn't something that originated on any world or with any species. No colonists brought the Force to the universe through conquest or trade. The Force is of everyone and for everyone. (Well, that's not technically true, but the Force was discovered long ago and has spread across the galaxy. so basically nobody remembers where it came from.)

The few gods and religions that do exist in Star Wars tend to be limited to exotic, exclusive groups. The Trandoshans, for instance, believe in the Scorekeeper, who tallies the number of creatures each Trandoshan kills in its life. As a result, other races are uncomfortable around Trandoshans. Most races in Star Wars have no such religion, which I think explains why they can intermingle so easily.

No universal translator

The Babel fish, from the Hitchhiker Wiki

On the topic of aliens intermingling, one of the iconic locations in the Original Trilogy is the Mos Eisley cantina. We see aliens of all shapes and sizes sitting around enjoying drinks, speaking in an assortment of languages, and nobody treats it as strange. Chewbacca speaks the Wookiee language (Shyriiwook), Greedo speaks Huttese, and other characters have no trouble understanding them and responding in Basic.

This mix of languages makes the Star Wars universe feel diverse and cosmopolitan, where the abundance of languages implies an abundance of cultures and backgrounds. If there were a universal translator, locations like the Mos Eisley cantina and Jabba's palace would feel homogeneous and bland.

...until the new movies?

I hope that these trends continue and that the new movies do not include any of these elements, or, to me, they will feel less like Star Wars films.

Is there anything you are glad Star Wars does not include? What are you hoping the writers of the new Star Wars movies keep out of the plot? Or, do you disagree with some of the things I listed and think they could work well in a Star Wars movie?

1 comment:

  1. Also: no mirror universe, no easy access to teleporters, and the robots work more like people than computers. I love Star Wars!