When A New Hope hit theatres back in 1977 – yes, folks, nearly forty years ago! – it ushered in a golden age of storytelling on not just the big screen. Sci-fi became the new television western. Gunsmoke and Bonanza gave way to Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers. In later years a TV series by the name of Firefly successfully integrated the two genres. Whereas that wrongly cancelled show was clearly a Space Western, the Star Wars empire (couldn’t resist that pun) of movies, books, and merchandise increasingly fuzzed the line between science fiction and fantasy. Sure, we had weathered blasters and screaming starfighters, lovable droids and loathsome aliens – staple fare of the field. But thrown into the mix was the mystical, all-powerful Force and laser swords brilliantly termed lightsabres, both ably wielded by Jedi Knights (what better name invokes medievalism!).
Star Wars undoubtedly has its roots in fantasy. But could it simply be fantasy masquerading as sci-fi? The same might be said for 1983’s Krull, unashamedly a cheesy favourite of mine. More heroic fantasy than anything else, the ‘science fiction’ constituent was in the guise of the emotionless Slayers who enforced the nefarious will of their hideous master, the planet-conquering Beast. Aside from being an early vehicle for a young Liam Neesom and Robbie Coltrane, both playing riveting minor characters, Krull failed dismally at the box office but has since gained creditable cult film status. Yet like its illustrious predecessor it was a swashbuckling union of magic and imagined science.
In terms of speculative fiction comparable to Frank Herbert’s equally groundbreaking Dune series of books, wonderfully perpetuated by his son Brian and co-writer Kevin J. Anderson, should the multilevel creation of George Lucas be reclassified as Science Fantasy? That bone of contention rests on the individual reader and viewer to decide.
However, think on this: Darth Vader, cybernetic villain, infamously more machine than man, yet a powerful Sith Lord proficient in using the Dark Side of the Force. The corrupted Anakin Skywalker was a blend of elements from both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, much like the Star Wars universe he terrorised.