How I Am Able to Forgive the Absolutely Appalling Science in the Most Recent (and Indeed Every) Star Wars Film

As explained by me to my wife as we drove home last night from The Force Awakens:

Me: See, the reason the bad science in Star Wars films doesn’t really bother me is because the movies tell you right up front that they’re based on legends, right? “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away.” That’s the film saying “Hey, look, we know that some of what you’re seeing is totally unbelievable, but it’s myth. It’s an exaggerated version of what really happened so long ago that we can’t ever truly know what really happened.” Like, so, the Death Star probably wasn’t really the size of a small moon and Alderaan wasn’t really blown up, it’s was just probably heavily carpetbombed or something. So if you go in knowing it’s all meant to be exaggeration and myth, then all the parts like [SPOILER] and [SPOILER] in this film are totally excusable. Getting mad at Star Wars for getting the science wrong is like getting mad at Clash of the Titans for getting science wrong. You see what I’m saying.

Krissy: So does this mean you’re also willing to forgive “Red Matter” in Star Trek?

Me: OH HELL NO

80 thoughts on “How I Am Able to Forgive the Absolutely Appalling Science in the Most Recent (and Indeed Every) Star Wars Film

  1. That said, the use of the word “parsec” in the Star Wars universe is and always will be complete bullshit.

    NO SPOILERS OF EPISODE VII ON THIS THREAD. I’m about to put up a spoilers thread so people who want to talk freely can. Don’t do it here, I’ll snip it out.

    Update: The spoilers thread is now live. It’s here.

  2. I loved the Red Matter bit, because I thought it was a deliberate reference to Red Mercury, one of the most amazing bits of pseudoscientific 1930s bafflegab to survive to the present day.

  3. In my opinion, Star Wars is Science Fantasy, not Science Fiction, and thus gets more of a pass over dodgy science. There are tropes of science fiction that are routinely employed in Star Trek that would be the equivalent of a needle scratching along the record in Star Wars (Will see Force Awakens this afternoon, but I’m assuming there is no time travel component to the story).

    (And I know I’m risking looking the fool talking to you about such distinctions).

    Star Wars has the equivalent of wizards and mystical powers, wrapped in the trappings of science fiction (just as the original ALIEN was a monster in a haunted house film wrapped in a science fiction setting).

    AS for hinky science, I present episode VI, where the big secret kept from Darth is that Luke has a twin sister. What, they have light sabers and hyper-drive, but they never invented an ultrasound?

  4. Well said! As a Trekkie, I must say, down with the JJVerse! Down with the heretic Justin Lin! Down with the heretical creature JJ Abrams! Down with those incompetents Orci and Kurtzman; and as to whoever thought that hiring the writers of “Revenge of the Fallen” for a Trek movie was a good idea, may that person be damned to the ninth hell and boiled in cheese fondue for eternity!

  5. My bottom line: if it’s entertaining and I can suspend belief, it works. Sometimes this has to do with what tropes people are familiar with and sometimes it has to do with how the story works. For filmmakers this is understandably frustrating. Where’s the line between red matter and “light speed” space ships that cross the galaxy long before your grandkid’s grandkids are born? (Of for that matter making a landing approach at light speed!) I dunno either. But FTL works for the story, and red matter just sticks out like a sore thumb.

  6. This from a guy whose first novel has seamless consciousness transfer and FTL that involves universe hopping? (pokes the bear….)

    Me, I ‘excuse’ the science by not worrying about it. There’s whole reams of SF that are fun reads/views but involve things that, as far as we can tell, utterly violate the rules of physics as we know them. If someone wants to be a hard SF advocate and insist on SF that hews tightly to known physics that’s fine, but it makes entire subgenres almost impossible to create and I’d rather have those fictions than be dogmatic about the science.

  7. Spaceships flying in a gravity well and atmosphere, aerodynamics of a brick with no control surfaces or respect for drag effects……..don’t care, it was sooo much fun. And why does Kylo Ren look exactly like Parker Schnabel from Gold Rush?

  8. @DonBoy: Yeah, but we had to wait MANY years for that nugget of wisdom (and Leah does discuss her early memories of her mother in Ep VI). Also, does Darth know Luke is his son just because he has the same last name and is strong with the Force? He can sense a connection with Luke, even through the vacuum of space (see ending of ep V), but completely wiffs on Leah (even when torturing her in ep IV).

    But, still, I was using that joke long before the prequels came along.

  9. I’ve always thought of SF and SciFi as distinct categories: I will accept things in SciFi that I will not accept in a film marketed specifically as SF (for instance Gravity 😕).

  10. Thing is, Science Fiction isn’t really about the science. It needs to stand up to cursory examination and be internally consistent, and deal with the whole FTL issue in a way that isn’t entirely stupid, but it doesn’t need to be actually based in real physics (hence the fiction part). Science fiction is really about the people and how they deal with the conflict and the aliens and the technology that changes the way we live.

    In the end, if you want to have a government and society that stretches to multiple systems you have to have FTL travel, or at least communication. So as long as it isn’t dumb and doesn’t chuck me out of the story, I don’t really care if you do it with hyper space or wormholes or universe hopping. As long as you follow the rules set forth it doesn’t really bother me.

  11. Disbelief is something you have to suspend. You have to deal with it, or you’re reduced to watching incomprehensible French existential movies that make you want to slit your (or maybe the director’s) wrists.

    (Incidentally, Charles Stross has a couple of threads on his blog currently about what makes you stop watching / reading – but I stopped reading after he misquoted Newton’s second law)

    Saw the movie the other day, and enjoyed it. Agree with Mr. Scalzi’s review wholeheartedly though.

  12. Star Trek doesn’t have Jedi, but it does have at least one entire race of no-contact telepaths, the Betazoids. Vulcans, at least, require physical contact close to the brain and it always came across as a type of brain-hack, with the Vulcan in question ‘jacking’ his/her own nervous system into the person they’re melding with. The Betazoids rather seriously undermines the whole “Trek is so much harder as science fiction than Star Wars” argument. It’s why I roll my eyes at the whole thing. Both are far more science fantasy than science fiction, it’s just that Star Trek is slightly less so than Star Wars. Just because Trek tosses out technobabble, doesn’t mean that babble actually means anything (in scientific terms).

    I seem to recall some of the script writers even referring to technobabble as an incantation to make the technology work.

    To me, it’s a silly argument by people who want to feel superior about something. “Well, I enjoy REAL science fiction, and that makes me better than you fantasy-lovers.” Bah.

  13. I care about the science in Star Wars as much as I care about science in Lord of the Rings. It’s Trek that makes me cringe more, because it’s more SFish in tone and plays at being more like actual science speculation, but ultimately it’s nearly as full of magic.

    There is a fun book called Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics. It doesn’t even try to address Star Wars or Star Trek.

  14. Something about “Flying Snowmen” here?

    I trust Floored appreciates the irony in his post?

    Alex, I too noted Charlie Stross’s fail in his list of personal bugaboos.

    I have no problem with bad science in Star Wars, or Star Trek. Nothing about a Federation starship makes sense, time travel isn’t a thing, matter teleportation is quantum mechanically impossible, yet all these things allow writers to place their characters in interesting places to tell interesting stories (even if those stories mostly boil down to mid-20th century naval engagements).

    Similarly, a lightsaber is a magical weapon, you can absolutely build yourself a small moon, or [spoiler]. I’m not sure all of this would pass Scalzi’s “two questions deep” test, but most of it would.

    My issue with the science isn’t about science, but J J Abrams’s sense of scale. I don’t have a problem with [spoiler, I’m erring on the side of caution at the moment]. But why is he willing to show something as implausibly big as that, yet keeps ignoring that a planet around the same star as yours is tough to make out with the naked eye, let alone in daylight, let alone around another star. Dude, if you want your characters to personally witness events, move them to where they can do so. You’ve already got FTL travel, the works half done for you!

  15. @Andrew Hackard I really like the recasting of the TOS characters; they really captured something of each character. And the change to Kirk’s adolescence as well, though I tear up when the ‘Vette spins out, but man, Star Trek TOS (Teh Old Series?) was not so action oriented. I really miss the thinking/quandry episodes, or even the basic message movies like IV. Still, I have hope. Even Shakespeare had Coriolanus and King John.

  16. If your story depends on the science, it’s worthwhile to make the science reasonable and reliable. (It’s fiction, so I don’t demand that the science be perfect.)

    Star Wars stories were never that. Classic Star Trek stories were seldom that, but they could do it if they tried. NextGen Trek they tried too hard and fell into a jargon trap Gene warned about 30 years earlier.

    Agree with Doc about JJ’s sense of scale, though. It’s important that space be big; I think it’s wrong to throw that away. (And he’s done it over and over.) The general audience seems to be on JJ’s side for that, though, so.

  17. Well said. Star Wars has always had an element of fantasy to it so it can be forgiven somewhat in how it breaks the rules of physics. Start Trek on the other hand….

  18. My rule of thumb Star Trek: Narnia, Star Wars: Lord of the Rings – in that the first posits a continuity between our world and the story (you *can* get there, by wardrobe, or living past the eugenics wars), and the latter is discontinuous – LOTR is in some far off long ago time, just like the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

  19. Thing is, Science Fiction isn’t really about the science. It needs to stand up to cursory examination and be internally consistent, and deal with the whole FTL issue in a way that isn’t entirely stupid, but it doesn’t need to be actually based in real physics (hence the fiction part). Science fiction is really about the people and how they deal with the conflict and the aliens and the technology that changes the way we live.

    This statement is true of some science fiction. The Hugo controversy last year was fueled in large part by several people making sweeping generalization about what science fiction is for, and failing to recognize that it’s only part of the picture.

    Some science fiction really is exactly about the science, and speculates about what might be possible. Some SF writers go to considerable trouble to speculate accurately about at least some of the science in their story, though they might gloss over disciplines about which they know little.

    Some science fiction speculates about what life might be like, or what might happen next, if X were true. Sometimes X can happen, sometimes it can’t. A subset of this category is the cautionary tale.

    Some science fiction is alternate history, sometimes played straight, and sometimes with SF tropes thrown in, like WWII interrupted by alien invasion.

    Some science fiction is social commentary about the world as it is today, with the issues mapped onto SF tropes to make it more palatable, (Star Trek anyone?)

    Some science fiction is adventure fiction with SF tropes, sometimes realistic, sometimes not.

    These last two were significantly embroiled in the Hugo dispute last year. Some commenters on this very blog claimed that all SF was really for was social commentary, and the last one has quite a bit to do with the Nutty Mc Nuggets interpretation.

    The truth is that all of these things are what SF is for, and I don’t claim to have identified all of them. Some of the categories obviously overlap, and many stories involve more than one category. The necessary degree of realism varies greatly from story to story, and sometimes within stories. Sometimes stories can have fantasy tropes, and some tropes that are considered SF tropes, really ought to be considered SF tropes. Note that in the ’60s, Psi powers were frequently treated as SF.

    Parts I & II of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves have a different mix of these elements than part III.

  20. Argh I think I forgot to close a block quote and forgot to preview my post. Sorry.The first paragraph is quoted from Lily and the rest is my response.

  21. It is funny… even back in 1977, I always thought that the Kessel run was a shortest path problem kin of like solving a chess problem in the least number of steps…

  22. I’m fully in the Star Wars isn’t science fiction it’s fantasy in space ships so as long as the storytelling is solid then have at her!

    Star Trek is a different beast as it started as fairly straight up science fiction where you have a few things you hand wave in consistent matter to address some interesting concepts and stories. It did get more and more handwavey over the years and with JJ it jumped completely into the fantasy realm.

  23. I still can’t believe Yoda died… And Obi Wan…. so sad.

    On point though, yes. The science in Star Wars has always been a bit tenuous, but you don’t go to Star Wars or Star Trek for the Science nearly as much as the Fiction.

  24. Star Wars is a fairytale set in outer space. Star Trek is a about scientist exploring the universe. Fairytales don’t need to get science right. Exploring scientists do. It’s that simple.

  25. I may be a little hyperbolic, but I’m still carrying a pitchfork for whoever hired Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to write Into Whiteness, because that was a truly dreadful movie. It had plot holes you could fly the Ark from Halo 3 through.

  26. Spindizzy.

    I’m the proud purchaser of a suitcase which Samsonite assures me is an aerodynamic design; are you suggesting that there’s no scientific basis for this? Please don’t, because otherwise I’d have to send it back and buy something else as a gift, and we’re very close to the deadline…

  27. I agree 100%. Star Wars is nostalgic fantasy, and they let us know that right up front. Star Trek is attempting to be Science Fiction – and then the reboot broke the rules the original series had.

    It is interesting that the Bad Guys in Star Wars were WWII Nazis, and Big Brother surveillance hadn’t yet reached that universe. (I find China’s Sesame program to be today’s SF fear).

  28. Agreed. Star Wars is fantasy — written specifically to be a fairy tale/myth — and therefore, whatevs.

    But Red Matter is just bullshit. I didn’t buy it in Trek any more than I bought it in Alias, sorry JJ.

  29. I hate the phrase “Science Fantasy”. Why can’t we just call it “Space Fantasy”, since the key denominators are that it’s basically a fantasy story except with futuristic elements usually associated with science fiction?

    In any case, Star Wars can be surprisingly consistent with itself in terms of technology. We have no idea how they have starships that can easily exit from an atmosphere, fly up to a decent fraction of the speed of light even before jumping into hyperspace, or have energy shields for defense, but they do seem to behave consistently in the setting – and more importantly, Star Wars characters actually feel like they live in that universe.

  30. There was a post on Tor dot com about a year ago that asked the question, “Is the Force a religion?” My position on the Star Wars movies was very similar to John’s: “As Star Wars is ‘modern myth,’ we should not construe the events we see in the movies as historical (fictitious or otherwise). It does not occur to average moviegoers to question what they see on the screen due to willing suspension of disbelief. But just as we know there no Jedi in our world, we need not accept their factual existence in that galaxy far, far away any more than we do the gods of ancient Greece or Mesopotamia. After all, we are explicitly told it all happened a long time ago, just like the events of the Iliad, the Poetic Edda, the Pentateuch or the Epic of Gilgamesh.”

  31. Star Trek is supposed to be science fiction, therefore it should at least try to get the science right. Star Wars, on the other hand, is Fantasy/Fairy Tale (complete with wizards, pirates, princesses, etc.). It gets a pass on such things. Except the part with the parsecs. If you must use a sciencey term like parsec, either use it correctly, or don’t use it atStar all.

  32. I always thought the parsec line was deliberate and meant to show what a bullshit artist Han Solo is. The look Obi-Wan gives him after he says that is one of, “oh, come now, who do you think you’re talking to?”

  33. I really like science in my fiction (written), but can make exceptions, like Dragon Riders of Pern, that turned out to have a solid science behind it in the end. TV & Movies are different for me. Gravity was beautifully shot, but I kept screaming at Bullock about equal & opposite reaction to stop all the spinning. If Trek can wipe out 40 years of its own history in one movie, then what is a little Red Matter between friends. I just love visiting the Star Wars universe & I visit for the characters, not to nitpick the science stuff. Just my suspension of belief.

  34. I buy this argument, but somebody tell JJ Abrams.

    He doesn’t have to technobabble away the inaccuracies, but he tries to anyway, and that’s where I got my nerd rage up. You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s Star Fantasy, and we don’t need the detail, or it’s Sci-Fi and we care about the detail. Either get the detail close enough for a good story, or else tell it like a tall tale. Don’t hand us a too-dumb-to-suspend-disbelief plot item and then try to explain it away.

  35. @Mike gives me an urge to type #NotAllScienceFiction so now I just did.

    I find as I get older that I’m bothered less by the science and more by the psychology and character development. Everyone in Star Wars, it seems to me — all 7 movies — is what somebody that age, experience, and background is like as imagined by an 11 year old who is role playing them.

    And for whatever reason, that bugs me much more than the horse that ran the Kentucky Derby in a quarter of a mile.

    Ditto Star Trek. Started out frustrated as a kid because so much of the science was wrong; later frustrated because it was wrong in such dumb ways; nowadays, I mostly find that I like ThatOldShit best because more of the characters in it than in any of the others appear to be grownups (except Kirk, who seems more like a teenager hoping no one will notice).

  36. @Johnp In 1979 I was at the Worldcon in Brighton, England, and attended a Star Wars panel. I believe one of the panel participants was Gary Kurtz, and someone asked him about the parsec remark. He said, “Watch Obi-wan’s reaction”. It’s a subtle piece of business, but it’s obvious that Obi-wan knows Han is B-Sing him and Luke, thinking they’re provincial rubes. It’s one of those things that’s very easy to miss.

  37. Stevie:

    Spindizzy too!

    I can’t believe nobody has made a ‘Cities In Flight’ movie yet – but it would have a lot to live up to, story-wise… I’m still waiting for the discovery of the Gravity equation in those novels.

  38. The “parsec” thing has been sort-of-canonically explained in one of the formerly-canonical books. To get to Kessel one has to create a hyperspace route that winds a circuitous route through a cluster of black holes in order to avoid getting sucked into one. Most routes are ridiculously long, consisting of 12 parsecs or longer of distance traveled, but Han found an incredibly dangerous route that was less than 12. Of course, in reality, George wrote a bad line, nobody caught it, and it became movie history.

    @thecodezone: I don’t get the hatred folks have for “unobtanium.” It seems pretty likely that some scientist with a sense of humor named it that because it was a previously-unknown material that could make previously-impossible-with-known-materials projects possible, her name for it stuck, and there we are.

    There’s an entomologist in the real world who named various insect species all sorts of weird and funny things, including one species named after Carmen Electra, so it’s not without real-world precedent.

    But we geeks, we love to hate. Seems silly to me, but there we are.

  39. Mr. Heinlein wrote a very good piece for some national library association. In it he explains how to recognize good sci-fi. The tl;dr version: bad sci/bad fi=crap, good sci/bad fi=boring, bad sci/good fi=acceptable and good sci/good fi=great works. Now he was a bit of a sci bigot but his major point was a good story is the key to good sci-fi and that seems right to me. I can forgive a little bad science or ‘magic’ as long as it the science remains consistent or doesn’t appear just in time to free the protagonist from a blind alley they had been written into if the story is compelling & well told. The original SW was a fun story that entertained, the science didn’t have to be real world. The rest could have had Feynman levels of science and it would not have helped.

  40. I like your wife’s thinking, but I agree with you on the science in Star Wars. I don’t need the science to be accurate. I just want a scoundrel, a wookie, and a couple of Jedi.

  41. Was there anyone in any of the SW movies who was a scientist of some kind? While ST was full of scientists of various specialties. So ST can be measured on the sci-fi yardstick and SW was straight fantasy. Also ST was funnier, intentionally and inadvertently. (“Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen….and all androgynous creatures…”)

  42. Dear folks,

    Oh, so many worms in that can, but jumping right in…

    Regarding the Kessel run in 12 parsecs:

    There was a discussion of that online that I read. Might it even have been one of Scalzi’s previous columns. It included a link to a photograph of the original shooting script. There is a note in that script to the actors informing them that when Han Solo says “Kessel run in 12 parsecs,” he knows that that is a nonsense string of words and it goes to indicate that he is trying to con the country mice.

    That would seem, to me, to be the final word on the subject. Unless someone has evidence that those photographs were faked.

    So, yeah, Lucas did know what he was saying. The problem is…

    It still doesn’t work.

    If you’re a comedian and you tell a joke and the audience doesn’t laugh, well, that’s YOUR problem. Either you’re a bad performer, it’s a bad joke, or you picked the wrong joke for the wrong audience.

    Lucas told a joke that nobody got. People who didn’t know what a parsec was didn’t get it. People who did assumed that he didn’t.

    As for Cameron and unobtainium, I’m totally on board with that. It’s been known engineering jargon for something that doesn’t exist and is probably impossible for more than half a century. It got picked up in the science fiction community with much the same meaning–– a McGuffin, a bit of impossible nonsense that facilitates the story and you shouldn’t look too closely.

    It’ll be clear to folks who do know the history of the word that Cameron is using it in exactly the right context. It’s an in-joke. Maybe not one that everyone likes, but it will be one that everyone gets. Unlike Lucas and parsec.

    I winced at Star Trek’s “red matter” but what really bothered me in that movie (which I by and large enjoyed… Unlike the second one) is that there’s no way Vulcan seismologists wouldn’t figure out that someone was hacking their planet. Hell, we could figure that out, and it wouldn’t be hard. It was an idiot plot moment.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
    ======================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery http://ctein.com
    — Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
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  43. Really? People are still whinging on about the parsec thing 35 years on? This is the part of the geek community that’s annoying and more than a bit offputting… picking at something like that for decades as if it’s a huge issue. At the worst, it was Lucas making a mistake. Anyone here that’s never made a mistake? No one? OK then.

  44. I am willing to judge a work by it’s own standards.If it’s going to look closely at something, we’d better get some fine detail. If it’s going to stand back, getting that detail would be implausible.

  45. Not even having seen TFA yet (insane waiting lines) but based both on the trailer and on the past good 3 and bad 3 flicks: I agree with SpinDizzy’s earlier comment re “…Spaceships flying in a gravity well and atmosphere, aerodynamics of a brick with no control surfaces or respect for drag effects,” but what seems to me even more incongruous is deep space dogfights shown as if the vehicles _were_ aerodynamic, i.e. banking to orient their lift vector (lift? schmift…) to pull g’s etc. I gather that much of the (admittedly very exciting) footage was originally based on WWII gun camera film, and later on contemporary air-to-air filming, including some staged expressly for the movies…but in exoatmospheric flight, attitude (pitch/roll/yaw) and translation (x/y/z axes) can (should) be completely independent of each other. For instance, if someone is chasing you, just turn your X-wing around and shoot him in the face without changing your velocity vector.

    That said, I can’t wait to see it, even after >50 years / 23,000 flying hours including a sickening (sometimes literally) amount of aerobatic instruction given.

  46. I don’t feel the need to separate myself as much as our humble host has. I don’t need to separate the story from myself by making it a “legend” that happened a long distance/time away and so the details are messed up.

    It’s fiction. It’s someone’s vision told by someone directing a bunch of people to act it out and take photographs of it, and other people to create other fantastical elements of it, and then edit the whole thing into something that’s fun to watch and pretend is a fly-on-the-wall documentary when I know it’s anything but.

    That I care about Han and Leia and Luke and what they do in life and what they accomplish is a testament to that the storytelling is interesting.

    Very little of what happens makes sense. Lightsabers make no sense whatsover. But they look cool, and they carry a visceral menace that calls them out as being unique and cool things, and someone who uses one commands respect. Any faster-than-light travel violates All Of The Physics but it’s a vital storytelling element in many scifi stories.

    What I want is CONSISTENCY. I (mostly) don’t care if the science is weird or hokey, but I want it to be consistent. If something didn’t work in the first act, but does in the third, then the characters should damn well have done something to change the situation or else it’s jarring.

    The irritating thing about the “parsec” remark is that the person who wrote it clearly didn’t understand that it was a unit of distance, and if you know it is, makes that statement fall flat.

    Conversely, in SW epIV:ANH, in the Death Star attack briefing, they bring up the “the shaft is ray shielded, we have to use proton torpedoes” which doesn’t actually make any more sense from a physics sense than “kessel run in less than 12 parsecs”, but it’s vaguely internally consistent and it gives the visual cue to the audience that the shot that the kill shot will look different than all the other shooting that’s going on.

  47. I’m with Ctein on the unobtanium. It’s a perfectly cromulent alloy of McGuffinite that you might want to mine on somebody else’s planet.

    Midichlorians, though? Arrrgh. I’d complain more about them, except that after Episode 1 I never got around to seeing “The JarJar Strikes Back” and “Revenge of the JarJars”, or whatever those two were called.

  48. Abrams will do a great job on Star Wars, -because- it isn’t SF. It’s myth/fantasy with SF props. His Star Trek films were visually appealing but the plot holes were big enough to drive the Death Star through. (I admit, am looking forward to ST Beyond)

  49. Totally relate: I’m a meteorologist and I had to forgive the really appalling science and the bad mistakes of “Twister”.

    I attended a weather conference in 2000 and one of the breakout sessions was on all the bad meteorology in “Twister”!

  50. I have to admit, all the crapping on Abrams seems like a lot ‘don’t you people understand, he’s terrible!’ hand-wringing. I mean, yes, the films have plot holes…but they fall into Hitchcock’s ‘fridge logic’. If the majority of the audience is entertained when watching the movie and only think ‘Hey, wait…’ two hours later, then the film succeeded. If you are entertained and that DOESN’T happen, they the film exceeded. Abrams managed to revive Star Trek at least to the point where we consider it a going concern again, regardless of how I perceive his versions (and while i enjoyed the first one, I found the second disappointing).

    I don’t go to a Star Trek movie for actual science any more than a Star Wars movie and non-SF enthusiasts care even less on such details. I mean, most media SF totally handwaves things like relativistic speeds, intergalactic travel, perfect simulated gravity and any number of concepts that are inconvenient to a short-form visual or serial format (especially if adherence to proper science is expensive or bad for story-telling). Even Babylon 5, which went out of its way for a lot of adherence to some science issues, still featured telepaths, hyperspace and ancient god-beings.

    Star Trek is RIFE with ‘equivalent to magic’ science, so I find it funny to see it held up as a paragon of the science end of SF. It pays lip service to it, sure, but it also has Orion slave women, Q, nazi and roman planets, telepaths and much, much more. Its ideas are much more ambitious than Star Wars, but its science is only cursorily better, IMHO.

  51. Floored by Scalzi’s awesomeness says:
    :: … As a Trekkie, I must say, down with the JJVerse! Down with the heretic Justin Lin! Down with ….:: (carries on like this for several more paragraphs)

    I’m Timothy Liebe – and I Support This Message.

  52. wizardru: But I wasn’t entertained. When I first saw Into Whiteness, the three thoughts that dominated my brain were “What a waste of Cumberbatch”, “Man, Kirk’s an idiot, why would he follow these obviously illegal orders that will actively provoke the warlike space bikers that just finished kicking the crap out of the Federation a few years ago”, and “Oh, come on, I can’t even get aroused by her tits because this scene’s so fucking blatant”.

    When attempted fanservice fails so hard that it actually has the opposite effect, you know your movie has a problem.

  53. Star Wars has always harkened back to the old pulpy, sci-fi serials of yesteryear (the old Flash Gordon serials being the most well-known example), and as such, the physics are completely secondary to telling a thrilling story. As the opening crawl happened with Force Awakens, it was so pulpy I squeed, unlike the opening crawl for Episode 1 (which was the only prequel I saw). This is why Star Wars gets a huge pass from me on the whole “realism” front.

  54. Dear danaiii9 and wizardru,

    Look, I agree that if the movie keeps me entertained while I’m watching it and any illogics don’t bother me until the movie’s over, then the movie has succeeded! I like the first Star Trek reboot movie. A lot. The Vulcans not realizing their planet was being hacked didn’t really bother me, because it wasn’t really a major point. I’m sure if I look closely there were plot holes, but I didn’t care or much notice. Mostly I liked the clever way that Abrams managed to restart the series by retconning the whole damn universe.

    The second was an entirely different kettle of fish. I’m not talking about plot holes, I’m talking about things that happen within a movie that make absolutely no sense, in fact they make counter-sense. They kicked me out of the movie while I was watching it four or five times, where my brain went, “but, wait, wha….” Some examples:

    ~ Khan goes to the Klingon home world because… ummm, it advances the evil admiral’s plot to foment war? No, that’s why the admiral wants Khan go to the Klingon home world. Why does Khan want to go?!

    ~ Said evil admiral has a black ops budget large enough to have his own secret space base building warships. He has no way of disposing of a couple of dozen mutant corpsicles other than sticking them in photon torpedoes? Really?

    And just in case it looks like all the stupidity is on the bad guys’ side, we have Spock chasing after the escaped Khan because they need his magic mutant blood to save Kirk. Ummm, guys, you’ve got a couple of other magic mutants laying in your photon torpedoes?

    Those sorts of writer-driven non sequiturs kicked me out of the movie while I was watching it, and that makes it a BAD movie. It gives me no particular incentive to see the next one.

    Stupid, nonsensical plots will ruin a movie whether it’s fantasy, space opera, or science fiction. The story has to make sense within its context and suspend your disbelief. When the characters within the story are doing things that are counter to what makes sense within what’s been established within the story, then it’s bad, period, end stop.

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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  55. I get around all of this–liked Star Wars, liked the first Trek reboot, anticipate liking Force Awakens– by being an English major who reads/writes fantasy and not knowing a parsec from warp five from a hole in the ground. It’s very relaxing. ;P

    But I agree for SW in particular. It’s got shiny blue ghosts and magic powers. Blatantly. Nitpicking the science there is like wanking about how Superman can’t really save anyone by catching them because blah blah terminal velocity blah blah.

  56. Isabel, ever read Larry Niven’s treatise on Superman and Lois? Hysterical!

    Can we all agree that JJ Abrams is better versed in SF -movies- than actual hard SF? Maybe the real pity is that the latter is so seldom found in the former. I just re-watched ‘Destination Moon’ last week ;-)

  57. Doug Daniel writes:
    He said, “Watch Obi-wan’s reaction”.

    But Obi-wan’s reaction also makes sense if the 12 parsec line is perfectly logical but represents an improbable boast, because no one is that good. That is how I interpreted the line. Of course since I was 7, I would have completely missed it if Han meant it to be gibberish, since I hadn’t any idea what a parsec was.

  58. I’m able to forgive the bad science because I don’t plan to watch it. I hated the first Star Wars when I saw it, and my opinion of it has gone steadily downward ever since. And I’ll go to my grave refusing to believe that Lucas had ANY Campbellism in mind when he wrote it. He had Republic serials and World War II. Cardboard characters and cookie cutter plots. Every one I’ve ever said this to then replies “But the special effects were great!” Yeah. So what? If your plot only exists to stitch together the special effects, that’s a bad movie.

  59. Dear pjcamp,

    I think there is good evidence that you’re correct that Lucas did not have Campbellian archetypes at all in mind when he wrote Star Wars. I think someone could do a very interesting graduate thesis in film criticism by studying all the Lucas interviews from day one and reconstructing the history of how he’s altered his own personal narrative over the years. There is no sin in doing that, folks do so all the time, especially if you’re an artist-type. Still, in the earliest stuff, Lucas made no mention whatsoever of Joseph Campbell in interviews. That showed up later.

    In this case, I think it is safe to say that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. When the whole “I set out to write a Campbellian myth” narrative doesn’t appear until some time afterwards, well…

    I strongly suspect that by now he believes it. It’s common that when someone repeats the same story about themselves often enough, they rewrite their own memories. That doesn’t mean that it was true.

    I’m very confident Lucas didn’t write Star Wars with those archetypal myths in mind. I’d be willing to flip a coin as to whether he even knew of Campbell when he wrote Star Wars; he was known to a certain class of literati then, but he wasn’t entirely the household name he became.

    After all, the whole Campbell archetype structure has credence because it’s what people spontaneously do. Campbell wasn’t prescribing, he was describing. People just write these things. In fact, if you consciously set out to write a Campbellian myth, unless you are VERY good, you’re likely to write a worse story than if you just wrote the story your brain wanted to tell.

    Me, I think THE Star Wars (e.g., Chapter IV) is one of the all-time great movies, somewhere in the top 100 list (not very high on the list). And that nothing since has been that good. Going further out on the limb, I’d be willing to hazard that the conscious-Campbell retcon is why the later movies are worse, that Lucas got the notion in his head that he should write to the Campbellian structure, rather than just write the story that organically followed on what he’d written already.

    One also can’t take such stuff too seriously. The very first movie made it pretty clear that a talent for The Force followed bloodlines (a standard magical trope–– you don’t need to invent idiotic pseudoscience, and I spit on “midichlorians”). In which case, both sensibly and in terms of classic mythos, you want to CONCENTRATE bloodlines; royal bloodlines really mean something. When it’s revealed that Luke and Leia are siblings, well that means they HAVE to get married! They owe it to their society.

    And wouldn’t that have played well in the theaters [grin]!

    pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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  60. “AS for hinky science, I present episode VI, where the big secret kept from Darth is that Luke has a twin sister. What, they have light sabers and hyper-drive, but they never invented an ultrasound?”

    Even though we have ultrasound today, expectant parents sometimes still choose to be surprised and forgo it.

  61. ctein writes:

    There is no sin in doing that, folks do so all the time, especially if you’re an artist-type.

    This reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s assertion that Fahrenheit 451 is about the vast wasteland of television and not censorship.

    It seems to me that it’s likely that Bradbury was bugged about the TV wasteland when he wrote the tale, but as I understand it, his statement that this is what the story was about didn’t materialize for years.

    It strikes me as possible that Lucas knew about Campbell and sort of thought it was cool that he was fulfilling that formula without actually deciding that he was going to write a modern myth. You are probably right, that once he did decide that was what he was doing, that is why things didn’t go so well thereafter.

  62. My thought on the ultrasound issue was that Padme wanted to keep her pregnancy a secret, or at least did not want any official medical record of it. That is a little less sensible as she becomes visibly pregnant, but perhaps technology is such that they would have automatically run some sort of genetic analysis that would have revealed who the father was?

    I don’t think categorizing something as fantasy should mean anything goes. Good fantasy has at least some sort of framework as to which scientific rules can be broken and under what circumstances. For the most part I find the Star Wars series pretty consistent in this area, and my quibbles with it tend to be more about characters. The series that has been frustrating me lately is Dr. Who. I like the show (since I was a little kid) but every now and then they come up with a concept that just blows my suspension of disbelief right out of the space-time continuum. and it really doesn’t help to be told it doesn’t matter because it is all just fantasy anyway.

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