Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maybe I Am Nitpicking Here

In the past week I've noticed something going on in the Star Wars expanded universe that bugs me just a bit. It's the usage of the term "alien."

I have been working my way through the comic series Star Wars: Legacy, which is set several hundred years after the original trilogy. It features a descendant of the Skywalker line once more trying to find the balance between the light and dark sides of the Force within himself. It is mostly pretty awesome (or I wouldn't have kept reading it past the first volume).

But the other day I noticed a human commander speaking to someone refer to a third party in the room (a non-human) as an "alien." It was jarring to me, and took me right out of the story for a moment. There were maybe two humans in the room in this scene, and several non-humans, all of different species. It seemed odd to me in a galaxy where no one planet seems to be populated entirely by humans that anyone would refer to someone of another species as an alien. Why not "the Twi'lek" or "the Wookie" instead?

Then yesterday I was checking out a video for a newly announced group quest in the forthcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, and there it was again. "Its alien builders called it...." (Emphasis mine.)

In thinking back on the original trilogy, and even the prequels, I can't really remember any instances where a human called another non-human character an alien. Maybe I am imagining that. Though I did just watch the entire original trilogy again over Memorial Day weekend. I hesitate to look it up in case I am proven wrong. It just doesn't make sense to me to have humans referring to non-humans as aliens in this particular universe. At best we are millennia away from when humans, on their own homeworld, wherever that might have been, originally set out to explore the galaxy, even in the games.

Heck, even in the games, which definitely had a humanist point of view (since the stories required you to be playing a specific person, your race was set at human), the only instances I can remember of non-humans being referred to as aliens were to make a point of a very specific group of humans who were out for humanity alone. That was there to make a point about the prejudices of a certain group.

It was never used in the way that we humans on the planet Earth use the term. Using it that way, in the context of the Star Wars universe just seems plain wrong to me. I feel like the only time that phrase would be appropriate in such a setting is in the event of encountering something completely new and unknown, and heretofore not experienced by anyone else in the galaxy. Something, in other words, truly alien to the people encountering it--as would be the case for us modern humans from Earth meeting an individual from another planet of another species. (To be fair, the reference in the Star Wars: The Old Republic clip might be such a case, they may have been stating that the builders were some race outside of the galaxy's collective experience, though it didn't come across that way to me from the brief video.)

I don't know, it just bugs me.

Probably I am reading too much into this. I am one of the first people to roll my eyes at those folk who gripe and complain that the aliens shown in various movies, television shows, or books are too humanoid. There are certainly restrictions to the human imagination (not to mention budgetary restrictions on the people who create our entertainment). No matter how out there we think alien life might look, we are hardwired to think of the basic template for sentient life being closely related to our own (or that of a few other species found here on Earth). Of course, I am also one of the first people to get annoyed when a lone human in a story finds himself (or herself) among a new species and starts calling them aliens, when it is that human, in fact, that is the alien in the story. The creatures being encountered may be alien to the human, but they are not, in that context, actually in and of themselves aliens. If that makes any sense at all. Sigh.

Note to self: When writing science fiction, try to avoid stories about non-human, non-Terran based lifeforms, unless you are willing to grapple and/or play with the definition of the word "alien."


  1. The only time I could dub it appropriate is if the society making the reference were particularly closed off. Then anyone not from that planet could be looked at as alien. Otherwise... it makes no damn sense at all, frankly.

  2. Thank you! I am glad I am not the only one who sees it that way!