Star Wars: Death Star’s: Science fiction films are rarely about the future. Their distant planets and distant periods instead reflect on the concerns and concerns of the contemporary moment. For example, the 1978 invasion of the Body Snatchers played the American public in fear of communism at the height of the Cold War. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is based on concerns of a nuclear apocalypse and fears associated with increased artificial intelligence.
In the 21st century, referred to as The Anthropocene in this era, the fear of environmental disaster appears to them to be eclipsed by a cold war, nuclear apocalypse, or technological eccentricity. Rising temperatures, melting sea ice, ocean acidification, deforestation, soil erosion, overflowing, loss of biodiversity and general erosion of ecosystems around the world are a dangerous threat to the existence of all life on planet Earth. How contemporary scientists then respond to these pressures and demands of living on a dying planet.
Many recent sci-fi films seem to reflect this change in concern. Interstellar, Snowpiercer, After Earth, IO: Last on Earth, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Wall-E, Avatar, Geostorm, Destruction and Okja, a climatic catastrophe or more specific environmental concerns as dystopic impulses drive their Narratives.
This ecological fantasy of disaster can also be seen in sci-fi films that are not about the environment. Star Wars, in particular, stands out here. Changes between the original 1977 Death Star in the Star Wars trilogy for Death Star’s found in 2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the 2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a movement chart from a technical to an ecological fantasy in a nutshell. Disaster in style.
Death Star’s then and now
The potential catastrophe in the original Death Star is similar to a nuclear attack. The device’s advanced technology is front and centre of its representation — there’s plenty of button shots being prodded and levers being pulled before its laser firing. More clearly, the total of this weapon and the immediate destruction of Alderaan home planet Princess Leia neatly connects with the apprehension of the almost unimaginable destructive power of a giant atomic bomb.
In contrast [“New]” Army Awakens Death Star [“Starkiller Base]” is solar powered. This is a planet with a weapon in it, as opposed to the original, a weapon shaped like a planet.
Where the destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star felt like a massive explosion when the lasers of the Starkiller base land on their target planets, it is as if they go through some geological catastrophe, this geological fantasy is echoed when the star’s bloody base itself is destroyed. It does not immediately blow up, as the original Death Star did, but passes through what is referred to as “a collapse.
During this collapse two of the central characters, Kylo Ren and Rey, have time for a climactic lightsaber duel among the tectonic chaos, dodging vast chasms that open in the ground as the snowy forest landscape is slowly engulfed. This drawn-out collapse sits in stark contrast to the instantaneous explosion of the 1977’s Death Star, wherein no such luxury of time was afforded to Grand Moff Tarkin.
The Death Star in Rogue One also draws on a long time scale of environmental imagery and destruction. Rogue One is a prelude to the 1977 Star Wars, and the plot partially revolves around the creation of this iconic warship empire. So it is interesting that despite the need to ensure continuity with the original film – Rag A’s Death Star operated differently from Beauty in 1977 for the first time seen Death Star.
When its laser strikes, the film quickly ignores the technical underpinning of the device. Instead of uncontrolled weather approaches on the target of Jedha City, a Frankenstein stitch: part mudslide, part hurricane, part earthquake, a part pyroclastic flow. What once appeared as dangerous technology now appears as hazardous weather.
Star Wars’ death star’s are not alone in this representation innings. On Independence Day (1996), aliens blew the White House with a laser. Until the Independence Day of 2016: Resurgence, aliens are reinvented as space miners who use this laser to drill into the Earth’s core to extract energy.
At the end of the original planet of the apes, Charlton Heston gets down on his knees and says: “You maniacs! You blew it all -” – meaning humans blew themselves up in close to extinction. By the time the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes came along in 2014, we were in an environmentally situated and self-favouring apes colony, who want to be left alone in the jungle. As with Star Wars, techno seems to give way to ecology in 21st-century iterations of 20th-century franchises.
Susan Sontag’s 1965 article The Imagination of Disaster revolves around her belief that sci-fi films conceive of the imagined story of the time in which they were made. These examples show that the disaster being envisioned today is environmental, with these films describing the ecological concerns of a warming climate above and beyond the nuclear Armageddon.
Such a shift in attention is timely and relevant to the pressures of an increasingly warm climate, and the Amazon rainforest is still burning fiercely at the time of writing.
Through sci-fi cinema and the free environment found in our contemporary moment alike, we are reminded that the worst effects of ecological collapse are continually coming to the fore. And this crisis is happening not only on fictional planets and in distant times, but also here and now on Earth.
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