Scott Derrickson, director of Dr. Strange, recently said that if he were given the task of making his own Star Wars story, he would make a horror film in the vein of The Thing set on Hoth. Something I think about a lot is this question of what genre Star Wars is, exactly, and whether or not that genre has to remain rigid across the varying stories told within the galaxy far, far away.
It’s an interesting question, and one that I think is the core of many fans’ disappointment with whichever cluster of Star Wars content they’re disappointed by, be that Prequels, Sequels, canon books, Legends books, or TV. I think that there is a broad disagreement on what genre Star Wars best fits into, the reason being that it borrows from such a variety of forms, tropes, ideas, and aesthetics, such that one fan may become attached to one particular flavor of Star Wars story so much that it can become difficult for them to embrace the idea that this tapestry is so much bigger than the square of its fabric that they find resonance in.
Star Wars is a rich narrative tapestry woven from the storytelling traditions and aesthetics of fairytale and myth, samurai/Western, action-adventure, epic romance, space opera, war, and science-fiction; infused with Eastern – particularly Buddhist – philosophy. How much or how little each of these genres and ideas impact the larger tapestry of Star Wars’ genre leaning is more or less up to the interpretation of the individual Star Wars fan.
I could argue, for example, that Star Wars is not science-fiction, as science-fiction more often concerns itself with the morality of technology and man’s relationship with it; think Blade Runner’s treatment of androids, or, to use the classic, Frankenstein’s arguments against the bastardization of the natural world through the science of a mad professor. Yet, the technological servants in Star Wars – droids and clones – both technically fulfil this requirement. And though those moral quandaries are only rarely the forefront of a Star Wars story, the fact that the story engine opens itself to it does mean that it must be acknowledged as a component of the larger story. And these ideas about droid or clone servitude have served as parts of Star Wars stories before; L3 in Solo, clone plots in many episodes of The Clone Wars, and so on.
So, I guess I can’t definitively argue that Star Wars is not science-fiction. I could argue that the Skywalker Saga, specifically, is not a science-fiction story, and I could say that the science-fiction square of the overall Star Wars tapestry is not one that resonates with me. I could say that maybe some squares of the tapestry are larger than others, and that the science-fiction square is only a small component of the bigger picture, though, you may disagree with me. And that’s also fine! We all love Star Wars; it doesn’t need to matter which part of the tapestry drew us to it.
Though, genre is often dictated, at least in part, by the audience. On the intended audience of Star Wars, George Lucas often says that Star Wars, at its core, is for kids. A direct quote of his on this topic is: “[t]he movies are for children, but they don’t want to admit that… There is a small group of fans that do not like comic sidekicks. They want the films to be tough like The Terminator, and they get very upset and opinionated about anything that has anything to do with being childlike.”
Now, whether or not this quote mostly serves as deflecting criticism of Jar-Jar Binks, George is definitely right in saying that there is a group of the Star Wars fanbase who wish to see Star Wars get tough, and some who see Star Wars’ persistent catering to kids as ignoring what “the fans” want. See the amount of pining for a “dark, gritty, realistic” Boba Fett, Darth Maul, or Darth Revan movie in the comments section of any announcement for a new Star Wars story, and the initial excitement for the idea that the Game of Thrones showrunners could be doing the Old Republic a la the gritty, punishing, grim-dark horror-fantasy world of Westeros, as examples of this.
Well, in a time when Star Wars can afford to increase the volume and variety of Star Wars stories under Disney with the Lucasfilm Story Group overseeing it all to ensure consistency and coherency, should Star Wars remain rigid in being aimed at children, or could the audience of new Star Wars stories be allowed to branch out? Especially given the volume and variety of Star Wars fans, and their differing expectations for the franchise based on vastly differing sections of the narrative tapestry that resonate with them. Would it not be the better move to embrace all of these varying audiences and give everyone a bunch of different pies that would best cater to each of their tastes, rather than trying to hook everyone with one pie?
I guess the problem then would be brand consistency, but in a world where so many IPs are in the Thunderdome as it stands, with more sure to come as the surviving film studios continue to attempt to stake their claim to the cinematic universe boon, Star Wars’ flexibility in genre and tone makes for a tremendous yet-untapped asset. Personally, I would care far more about canon consistency as opposed to brand consistency – all within reason, of course. One of the weaknesses of the previous canon was the relentless inconsistency, in both brand of story and adherence to the other stories in the canon. I would classify much of Star Wars Legends as far harder, pulpier sci-fi than I think the broader Star Wars tapestry suits. But then again, the original Star Wars drew inspiration from Flash Gordon, and other such campy sci-fi classic serials, such that it arguably does fit together, whether or not I like that it does, or agree that it should.
The new canon’s adherence to Arthurian legend and slant further towards mythic fantasy than sci-fi definitely fits much closer with my own interpretation of the Star Wars mythos, and The Mandalorian has recently shown how the Star Wars mythos can definitely work when it leans more towards the samurai/Western square of the tapestry, making great use of the symbolic and structural motifs of the Campbellian Monomyth from which the narrative foundation of the Skywalker Saga was built. (To learn more about how The Mandalorian adheres to Joseph Campbell’s works, listen to What the Force! Podcast’s excellent episode: Power of Myth & Symbolism: The Mandalorian.)
But is horror just too ‘out there’?
The Rogue One Vader scene is basically a slasher-horror scene. Rey’s Force Vision in The Force Awakens could almost be some kind of art-house, hallucinatory horror, as is Luke going into the cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. The way that the mystery of Exegol is unfolded in The Rise of Skywalker arguably adheres to Lovecraftian horror, complete with the reveal of a secret cult who worship an old, all-powerful being of unfathomable cosmic power.
Horror isn’t entirely new to Star Wars, if only in small doses. Could it be its own square in the tapestry?
Horror, much like romance, comedy, or action, is often not as much a genre in and of itself but a mode through which other, more specific genres can work in tandem with. Horror can pretty much be attached to any other genre and it can be expected to be able to work. Case-in-point: Stephen King’s Carrie has a musical adaptation and it slaps. So, all a Star Wars horror story would have to do, in theory, to work as a part of Star Wars, would be to attach itself to one or more of the many other genres within the narrative tapestry. Horror fairy-tale? Something like Pan’s Labyrinth. Horror war? Something like 1917. Horror action-adventure? Something like The Mummy, or even, arguably, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And so on.
Is it something I want to see?
…If I’m honest, not really. Personally, I’d sooner see an animated musical Star Wars story, in the vein of the classic Disney fairytales.
But that’s okay! Because if the horror part of the tapestry calls to you like the Legacy Saber on Takodana, I won’t be the one to say that you’re reading the tapestry wrong.