Think about it — the generation that grew up on the Disney animation classics of the post-War era — “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), “Peter Pan” (1953), and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) — has been replaced by a generation that grew up with “Star Wars” and all the other classic science fiction films of the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1977, the blockbuster film “Star Wars” launched an amazing cult franchise that shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
That’s one reason why Disney spent $4.05 billion to acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. back in 2012 — the bottom-line realization is that science fiction has come a long way from its early roots as a nerdy niche and is now a platform for future growth. It’s also at the leading edge of creating immersive new experiences. At this weekend’s D23 Expo, Disney chief executive Bob Iger told fans that, “We are creating a jaw-dropping new world” in which “guests will truly become part of a Star Wars story.”
Science fiction is now a family affair, and a very lucrative one at that — while kids may outgrow their Cinderella dolls by adolescence, there’s growing proof that they never really outgrow their love of “Star Wars.” Science fiction is the gift that keeps on giving, especially if you’re a huge corporation able to license product after product. There’s enough demand, in fact, to support the creation of sprawling new “Star Wars” theme worlds within already sprawling theme parks.
As science fiction continues to eat the world, that has important implications for how future generations think about science, creativity and innovation.
First and most importantly, think about the new gender roles that science fiction opens up. In the classic Disney fairy tale, what are the roles played by women and girls? They are princesses who spend their whole lives pining for a kiss from Prince Charming. The reason why “Frozen” has been such a phenomenal success for Disney, some have argued, is because it brought forward a new type of heroine – Elsa – who’s okay with her magical ice powers and just wants to be left alone.
Now, contrast that to the roles played by the likes of another princess — the “Star Wars” princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. She’s talented, driven, forceful, a leader and a fighter – and she’s also beautiful and a style icon, by the way. This explosion of possible roles for women, one could argue, has been one of the factors behind the phenomenal success of events such as Comic-Con. The wonderful variety of science fiction roles for women has inspired girls to dress up like their favorite heroines. At this year’s Comic-Con, the male/female ratio was almost exactly 50-50.
Then, think about the technological innovations in your classic Disney fairy tale — you have magic kisses, magic wands and magic abilities such as the ability to fly. You could argue that “Star Wars” offers high-tech updates on these themes — think of the “Star Wars” light saber as the ultimate magic wand, the Millennium Falcon as a way cooler version of a flying elephant, and all the assorted droids, gadgets and intergalactic villains as high-tech versions of the all plot elements in a Disney fairy tale.
There’s a whole sub-genre of innovation that might be characterized as Star Wars innovations — all the amazing innovations that people are trying to bring to fruition because of having watched “Star Wars.” A short list of amazing innovations inspired by “Star Wars” would include laser technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, alternative energy, holograms, prosthetics, genetic engineering and, yes, force field technology.
The reason why science fiction is so powerful as an innovation stimulus is because it creates the need for high-end special effects to create ever more realistic worlds within a science fiction narrative framework. That’s where Lucasfilm plays such an important role — all of those special effects help to push along the narrative in ways that excite the mind. All the great Disney films have a complex narrative filled with great costumes, curses, grudges and family intrigues — but when they’re combined with intergalactic empires and cosmic enemies, science fiction films have much greater ability to win over impressionable hearts and minds.
Still not convinced that science fiction is eating the world? Just wait until Halloween this year. Check out how many people make “Star Wars” a family affair. For every Cinderella and Prince Charming, you’re bound to encounter a Princess Leia and Han Solo. It used to be you needed to go to an event such as Comic-Con to dress up as your favorite science fiction character, soon you’ll be able to do it any day of the year at Disneyland or Disney World.