Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Skylark blast off, passing Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, skirting the Forbidden Zone where 2001 imperiously spins--and rattle to a landing in Star Wars, irresistible and silly--but a great reward to those who have ridden the spaceways, all the way to Harlan Ellison's New Wave shores, dangerous visions threatening to toss all space operas into that “tall white fixture in a comfort station”--as Kurt Vonnegut calls science fiction.
And I understand the problem--as Vonnegut pointed out, science fiction is a kind of club (a “lodge,” as he put it), where there is safety and endless discussion of itself--but also love. And I have nothing against that love--I’ve felt it myself in the dark burrows of Weird Tales and heard it in the shiny whizbangs of Astounding--and sometimes my favorite, the hybrids of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science fiction having it all, from werewolves to robots--to Vonnegut himself, fifteen years or so ago.
And so I was simply thankful that George Lucas--who put together a “real” SF movie for his first outing, THX 1138--has found both artificial gizmos and real computers--the first to keep the story going, the second to make it happen on the screen. And it may be enough to say that Star Wars just “gets it right”--if “it” is princesses and mechanical men, young upstarts and space pirates, the plot incidental, the relationships juvenile--but still: Isn’t it cool that Han Solo’s spaceship is a wreck, scarred and beat-up, like one of those hot rods in American Graffiti--because man, they go! no matter how dented the bumpers.
Lucas has opened a door that until now has worked only in my head, where I can fill in embarrassing gaps. And he could care less that the gaps are still there, as long as he pleases the guys back at the lodge--and arranges a little Open House for everyone else to take a peek, not into “childhood’s end” but its hyper-driven beginning.