"Star Wars is more fairytale than true science fiction." - Mark Hamill
"I have been offered a movie (20th Cent. Fox) which I may accept, if they come up with proper money. London and N. Africa, starting in mid-March. Science fiction – which gives me pause – but is to be directed by Paul [sic] Lucas who did American Graffiti, which makes me feel I should. Big part. Fairy-tale rubbish but could be interesting perhaps." - Alec Guinness
During my undergrad studies I took a course called Philosophy and Science Fiction (which, in case you were wondering, was the most awesome course I ever took), and more than once the whole class got into an argument about "hard" and "soft" science fiction. Star Wars only came up once, and everyone pretty quickly dismissed it as neither hard nor soft, but not even science fiction at all. Nothing more was said about it there other than to say what it isn't, but had we been discussing what it is, I'd argue that Star Wars is, in fact, more fairytale than anything else. Another day I might make a post about space fairytales in general but for today I just want to talk about Star Wars. (cue Oscar Isaac strumming a guitar and singing "Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars..." as that is the only thing in my head lately) (that and other Oscar Isaac-related things) (I digress)
Fairytales very often begin and end with stock phrases. Everyone's familiar with "Once upon a time," but also commonly used are "There was and there was not," "Once on a time," "Beyond seven [mountains/rivers/lands/seas/etc]," and many, may variations on "Long ago," "In ancient times," "Far away," and all sorts of references to this tale taking place a long time ago in a place far, far away. Right from the very beginning, Star Wars lets us know the kind of story we're dealing with. These stock openers signal that our story is taking place in a realm other than our own: not necessarily in a different galaxy, but another country, another place, another time. It takes us out of reality so that the magic and unrealistic happenings are easier to accept.
The Force Awakens spoilers ahead!