I still remember the first time I ever watched Star Wars as a young boy. The Fox fanfare blared from the small Mitsubishi television, and those famous words appeared on the screen before me, promising me an adventure in a time and place I had never been: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”. As the John Williams score swelled, the opening scrawl faded into the stars, and the camera descended upon a large desert planet, I shivered in anticipation. The sound of blaster fire roared as a small, white ship dashed across the horizon, pursued by a massive steel monstrosity, relentlessly firing in its pursuit. This was my introduction to a Star Destroyer, and the great evil of the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars galaxy heralded by the pounding and menacing brass of the London Symphony Orchestra. I was awestruck.
To this day, the opening shot of the original Star Wars film gives me chills, filling me with a sense of awe and wonder that encapsulates the simplest and perhaps most appealing aspect of science fiction: the imaginative wonder of stories beyond our own reality, a child-like wonder perhaps, that our modern world seems to be losing sight of. As our world is more and more explored and revealed to us, as technology lulls us into complacency and a false sense of security and arrogance within our environment, the “final frontier” may be the one place where our inflated sense of knowledge and control does not intrude. Stories of space and alien worlds can reignite that sense of just how small we are in the grand scheme of creation and inspire us to wonder at marvels beyond our own comprehension.
Think of the exotic planets and locales of the definitive science fiction universes: Star Wars and Star Trek. Though both approach the final frontier with quite different philosophies (Star Wars embracing an emotional romanticism, and Star Trek utilizing a far more rationalistic approach), each takes special care to draw attention to the wondrous beauty and exotic nature of space, and the mysteries it may hold. Isaac Asimov as well, in his masterful Foundation series, draws the reader to marvel at the worlds and institutions he creates to populate those worlds. For example, the Imperial capital planet of Trantor; a planet-wide city, built entirely by man, choking out the natural for the sake of artificial control, a technological marvel doomed to disaster. And what young child can forget the images of the RLS Legacy moving majestically through the nebula and stars of outer space in Treasure Planet, as young Jim Hawkins dreams of a life far greater than the one he has known?
Science fiction reminds us that there are things greater and more marvelous than ourselves; especially as mankind becomes increasingly arrogant and confident in our control over this world. Science fiction brings our attention to those things that are larger and greater than us, reminding us of our rather small place in a massive universe, but also allowing us to be content with that, to allow ourselves to be dwarfed by the majesty of that which is truly wonderful.