I’ve often said that Star Wars is not Science Fiction. And while I would generally use the term “Space Fantasy” as a substitution, that’s not exactly a layman’s term. Sci-Fi and Fantasy have sub-genres upon sub-genres, from as broad as “Hard Science Fiction” to as specific as “Young Adult Urban Fantasy Paranormal Vampire Romance”. Some sub-genres overlap between two main genres; where does Steampunk bridge the gap? Or Space Opera? What about Magical Realism– literary fiction, or authors refusing to say they write Fantasy? There are so many to choose from, but these sub-genres are distinguished by various elements of story all of which make up the whole. Some deal more with aesthetics (the main reason that High Fantasy and Urban Fantasy are different sub-genres), while others deal with content (the reason the Foglios are insistent that Girl Genius is Gaslamp Fantasy). To find these elements, there are five questions you must ask– Who? What? Where? Why? How?
Who? — characters, or, more importantly, the archetypes they conform to. There are genre specific character archetypes– there’s a reason you wouldn’t see a Scotty or Geordi in Middle Earth.
What? — Plot. This is actually very important when determining genre. Shakespeare set at least 13 of his plays in Italy, but that doesn’t make Romeo and Juliet the same kind of story as Much Ado About Nothing.
Where? — as alluded in the past question, setting. Keep in mind, setting is not just place, but time as well, which is why there’s no “When?” question.
Why? — Themes or messages. This is also incredibly important, partially because of its intertwining with the plot, but also because it can help determine sub-genre, especially within Sci-Fi.
How? — This is a part of genre that has recently come into prominence with the rise of the “dramedy”, as it partially deals with tone, but it’s asking how the story is told and that runs through all of the technical aspects of the story-making process. This is what most academics mean when they say “genre” — painting is a “genre”, poetry is a “genre”, prose is a “genre”. For the purposes of this blog, those are mediums, genres are genres.
With that in mind, let’s see how Star Wars stacks up.
What is Worldbuilding?
valeriemclean1919 Arthurian Legend, Fantasy, JRR Tolkien, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Worldbuilding, Writing About Film, About Other Art, About TV, About Writing 0 Comments
So I recently got a Nintendo Switch, and with it the flagship release game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve been playing it a lot lately, but I haven’t really been doing much of the main quest. Or even too many of the side quests, for that matter. Mostly what I’ve been doing is plain exploring– unlocking shrines, activating towers, expanding the map. Breath of the Wild has one of the most free open worlds of the franchise since the original, and one of the largest maps of any game in any franchise. The map doesn’t feel empty, though, which can be a problem with an open world like that. Part of that is due to the sheer amount of stuff in the world, beyond the waypoints and major locations. All of this “extra” stuff that only seems to exist just to exist is a part of a necessary element of fiction and particularly speculative fiction called worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding exists in all kinds of fiction, not just speculative (Sci-Fi and Fantasy) fiction. Because all fiction is made up, the writer has to create a world where this fiction would make sense. Some of the greatest worldbuilders include Jane Austen and Charles Dickens– not because they were creating worlds whole-cloth, but because they captured the worlds that already existed and that they lived in like a time capsule. Some fiction even has that as its goal. Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame du Paris, better known in the Anglophone world as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was originally written to advocate for the restoration and preservation of the Notre Dame cathedral after decades of disuse and abuse. But there’s also the classic cases like J.R.R. Tolkien, the master worldbuilder, who at times seemed to write his Legendarium less to tell the stories of Middle Earth and more to justify all of the work he put in to building the languages of Middle Earth. There’s a reason that all modern Fantasy owes a debt to Tolkien– he practically prefabricated several generations worth of settings already.
But different types of fiction require different types and levels of worldbuilding. Some are more extensive than others, but when done very well, they all require the same level of commitment and effort.