The original Star Wars movie is considered a classic of sci-fi cinema, kicking off a franchise that would gross billions of dollars and entertain millions. It takes a brave individual to point out some of the flaws in George Lucas’ masterpiece, and back in 1978, one such individual was Carl Sagan.
Appearing on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, Sagan was unimpressed, calling the film unscientific. As an astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, and much more besides, he should know!
One of Sagan’s points was that it’s improbable that evolution on other worlds would ever produce a race of beings that look and act exactly like humans.
Star Wars starts out saying it’s in some other galaxy, and then you see there’s people. Starting in scene one, there’s a problem because human beings are a result of a unique evolutionary sequence based on so many individual and, likely, random events on the Earth.
This, of course, is an issue that could be said to exist throughout science fiction: the genre pretty much always gives readers or viewers a human point of reference. Yet this link to our own time irked Sagan, with the scientist stating that the film mirrored the white-dominated culture of humanity rather than exploring the infinite possibilities of a whole galaxy. “They’re all white,” Sagan said of the cast. “The skin of all humans in Star Wars is, oddly enough, like [mine].”
Carson counters that there are many species in the Star Wars universe, but Sagan points out that none of those other races seem to have much power. “None of them seemed to be in charge of the galaxy. Everybody in charge of the galaxy seemed to look like us. I thought there was a large amount of human chauvinism.”
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The human-centric narrative extended right until the film’s closing scenes, with Sagan taking offense at the closing medal ceremony.
“All the people got medals, and the Wookie, who had been in there fighting all the time, he didn’t get any medal.” Sagan joked that the scene “was an example of anti-Wookie discrimination.”
Despite his misgivings, Sagan admitted that the “11-year-old” in him enjoyed the film, but reemphasized that Star Wars being more scientifically accurate didn’t have to compromise the movie’s entertainment value. The scientist joked that all the production team needed to do was to “hire one impoverished graduate student to get all the facts right.”