Used Futures and the Aesthetics of Star Wars

Prequels be damned, Star Wars is one of the most important landmarks of 20th century science fiction. Not only has it inspired generations of fans (whose enthusiasm knows no bounds), but it has become part of the mainstream consciousness the world over and influenced cinematic, literary, and (evidently) architectural and artistic history.

Artist John Powers has written a fascinating essay called “Star Wars: A New Heap, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Death Star.” Complete with visuals, it explores how the aesthetics of Star Wars was informed by everything from abstract expressionism to modern machinery. He calls the Death Star (and its eventual destruction) “an essential work of minimalism…[and] a turning point for modernism.”

Even if you’re not an art critic, I recommend you page through just for the visual comparisons. They’re striking in and of themselves.

Late 60s NASA aeronautical design, corporate office furniture, and Vietnam-era politics are all woven into the great Star Wars fabric.

Powers also touches on the designs of the other SFnal epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which Lucas was indebted (not just artistically or thematically—many members of his team had worked on that film). You’ll never look at the U.N. building the same way again.

He concludes by speculating on the future:

For the first time in fifty-five hundred years of building cities, more of humanity now lives in them than in rural settlements. In the coming years there will be countless master plans for new mega-cities in Africa, Asia, and South America. We can only hope that these plans will be drawn by disciples of Jane Jacobs, students of Robert Morris, admirers of Robert Smithson, and fans of Star Wars.

I hope so, too.

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