Today, I found occasion to revisit Brin's analysis -- and found it even more brilliant the severalth time around:
How many of us have argued late at night over the philosophical conundrum -- "Would you go back in time and kill Hitler as a boy, if given a chance?" It's a genuine moral puzzler, with many possible ethical answers. Still, most people, however they ultimately respond, would admit being tempted to say yes, if only to save millions of Hitler's victims.Enjoy! ("Star Wars despots vs. Star Trek populists")
And yet, in "The Phantom Menace," Lucas wants us to gush with warm feelings toward a cute blond little boy who will later grow up to murder the population of Earth many times over? While we're at it, why not bring out the Hitler family album, so we may croon over pictures of adorable little Adolf and marvel over his childhood exploits! He, too, was innocent till he turned to the "dark side," so by all means let us adore him.
To his credit, Lucas does not try to excuse this macabre joke by saying, "It's only a movie." Rather, he holds up his saga like an agonized Greek tragedy worthy of "Oedipus" -- an epic tale of a fallen hero, trapped by hubris and fate. But if that were true, wouldn't "Star Wars" by now have given us a better-than-caricature view of the Dark Side? Heroes and villains would not be distinguished by mere prettiness; the moral quandaries would not come from a comic book.
Don't swallow it. The apotheosis of a mass murderer is exactly what it seems. We should find it chilling.
Remember the final scene in "Return of the Jedi," when Luke gazes into a fire to see Obi-Wan, Yoda and Vader, smiling in the flames? I found myself hoping it was Jedi Hell, for the amount of pain those three unleashed on their galaxy, and for all the damned lies they told. But that's me. I'm a rebel against Homer and Achilles and that whole tradition. At heart, some of you are, too.
This isn't just a one-time distinction. It marks the main boundary between real, literate, humanistic science fiction -- or speculative fiction -- and most of the movie "sci-fi" you see nowadays.
The difference isn't really about complexity, childishness, scientific naivet� or haughty prose stylization. I like a good action scene as well as the next guy, and can forgive technical gaffes if the story is way cool! The films of Robert Zemeckis take joy in everything, from rock 'n' roll to some deep scientific paradox, feeding both the child and the adult within. Meanwhile, noir tales like "Gattaca" and "The 13th Floor" relish dark stylization while exploring real ideas. Good SF has range.
No, the underlying difference is that one tradition revels in elites, while the other rebels against them. In the genuine science-fiction worldview, demigods aren't easily forgiven lies and murder. Contempt for the masses is passe. There may be heroes -- even great ones -- but in the long run we'll improve together, or not at all.