Mention politics and immediately many think about political parties. But the subject of politics is more than just party divisions. The Ancient Greece philosopher Aristotle called Man the political animal, and by that he meant to say that all subjects about human and human creation are in the realm of the political. And this includes art.
The word politics is based on the ancient Greek πολιτικός (politikos), which means “relating to/about citizens” (politikos derives from polis, the Greek word for city, which in Ancient Greece was the centre of all their human activity, given they were a people who lived in City-States).
So, on its most broad and original definition, politics is everything about or concerning people in all its dimensions. From this, the political spectrum is roughly divided between two poles: the conservative and the progressives.
In this study, I take the two biggest SF franchises and analyse which side of the spectrum they belong to.
Star Wars is about a group of rebels who fight against a tyrannical evil Galactic Empire. Their goal is to topple the Empire’s new order by bringing back the Republic that once governed the galaxy in order to restore the old order. Paradoxically, or maybe not, the Empire, while created by the deposing of the former Republic and thus imposing a new order, is in itself based on an old dream by the Sith Lord to create a galactic empire of their own, to expand from their once former domains and to dominate the entire galaxy. So both the rebels and the empire are based on ideals from a past that is upheld as referential.
On a meta level, the Star Wars Saga itself is a throwback to a perceived more innocent form of entertainment enjoyed by creator George Lucas in contrast to the more adult type of film entertainment that dominated the cinematic landscape in the 1970s. This nostalgic throwback was not unique to Lucas, as other filmmakers of his generation had done something similar, like Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Saga where he used a 1940s cinematic style mixed with 1970s modern filming technology to give it a period feel in reference to the times the story was set, and Steven Spielberg who filmed his films in the style of Frank Capra, all in contrast to such fellow generation filmmakers like William Friedkin or Hal Ashby, whose style was completely contemporary to the 1970s, often based on documentaries so to create an immediate and realistic feel. Lucas’s Star Wars contrasted with the then current filmmaking American landscape by going backwards for inspiration.
Star Wars itself is a throwback to the Buck Rogers serials of old, often emulating their visual and editing stylistics, like the frame-sweep, which was already out of fashion since the 1960s.
The prologue of every Star Wars movie in itself is throwback looking back style of the saga:
“A long time ago…”
It says it all.
Star Wars is conservative.
Star Trek is (or should I say used to be, given the current incarnation) is made of stories of mankind from a future where national, ideological and ethnic divisions are a thing of the past, and where learning and humanism are upheld as the highest values. A time where mankind’s efforts are devoted to exploration of the unknown and the spread of a future form of advanced democracy in collaboration with other allied alien civilizations.
In Star Trek, all efforts are to improve the present toward building a better future, which the past as a tableau of lessons to be learned and mistakes to be corrected and avoided. What references are from the past are from visionaries who saw beyond the line of the horizon of their own times. Everything is projected for a better future, where the golden age is still ahead, still to come, a project of a future to be.
The human society of Star Trek has neither seated on their own laurels, despite they living in what by the standards of today would be called a Utopia, nor has looked back to a golden age for inspiration and to guide themselves into.
On the contrary, the human society of Star Trek was born from the ashes of an apocalyptic war event that reshaped Earth into something completely new, which created a whole new society and order which cut from the things of the past and created a new world free of the evils, superstitions, small-mindedness, egotism and frailties of the past, toward the stars and the future, based on values born of humanism and reason.
The motto of the exploration endeavour and of Star Trek itself is symptomatic of the attitude that permeates the shows, here in its Original Series version:
“To boldly go where no man has gone before”.
It says it all.
Star Trek is progressive.
As I said before, this dichotomy is not about political parties in today’s countries of the World.
Oh, behave, boys.
No, it’s about the spectrum of broad politics as relating to the human experience and how they chose the way to go about this human condition we call life in society.
Of course, there is more to the conservative/progressive dichotomy. There are nuances between the two positions that are not explored here. There’s also the fact that some people enjoy both Star Wars and Star Trek. Or neither. Some people are conservative and like Star Trek better and vice versa for progressive who enjoy Star Wars more.
What does that tell about them? Simply, that people are people. To quote from the Bard (William Shakespeare to you) from the play Hamlet, what he might have said with irony will be here said with conviction:
“What a piece of work is a Man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world!”
Science Fiction, like all genres, has had authors express their views of politics in their writing. Sometimes the political leanings transpire merely by the way the story plays itself, even if the creative had no desire to do so. It has always been an interesting academic exercise to notice and deconstruct a SF story given the political situation of the time it was created and the leanings of their authors. That can be a subject for the comment section or for some future article. Politics in SF does not merely resume to Star Trek and Star Wars, these are just two of the more well know franchises of the genre. Just a question of visibility, really. To study the politics of SF one would had the whole genre as a study case. And it’s fun.
As always, thank you for reading.
This is AsimovLives signing off. Have a better one.