Canon, Innovation and Fandom in Refashioned Franchises

Heather Urbanski



230pp/$40.00/February 2013

The Science Fiction Reboot

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Academic Heather Urbanski has taken his interest in science fiction film and television and applied it to the phenomenon of the reboot in her monograph The Science Fiction Reboot: Canon, Innovation and Fandom in Refashioned Franchises. In this book length work, she focuses her attention on the worlds of Star Trek, V, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Wars, with occasional forays into other films and television shows, such as Stargate.

Despite the pop culture topic, Urbanski is writing for an academic audience and her text is not always as easy to follow as its source material. Urbanski makes heavy use of literary theory, mapping the re-envisioning of the various television shows against the writings of Brian McHale, Jason Mittell, Mieke Bal, and other academics who explore the narrative processes that underline the surface story that is most attractive to the casual viewer and even the fan.

Urbanski's interest is in the reimagining itself, not in the business or artistic decisions that cause a studio, producer, or director to tackle a reboot. She does not worry about the story-telling possibilities, but rather looks at the way those possibilities are carried out by the creators, writers, and actors. The question is how does a different actor/character in the same role change the story, especially when the original character winds up showing up in a different role within the narrative (as with Anna, the leader of the Visitors in the reboot of V and Diana, the leaser in the original, and Anna's mother in the reboot).

The inclusion of the Star Wars prequel films forms a large part of Urbanski's discussion, and as I am more familiar with the Star Wars universe, I found the discussion of the films very interesting. However, Urbanski never fully made the case for them as reboots or refashioned franchises. The continued the story begin in 1977's Star Wars, unlike the recent Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek reboots which actually did re-imagine the series. However, Urbanski's focus on Star Wars ins a focus on the different ways the films tell their story if watching in the internal chronological order or the order of release and how the viewer's experience changes the films. It is only too bad that Urbanski didn't include a comparison of those two viewing orders with the so-called Machete order.1

There are other reboots which receive short shrift in Urbanski's study, and, too be fair, there have been so many reboots recently, there is no way she could have grappled with all of them. Most obviously missing is the Russell T. Davies reboot of Doctor Who, which is a continuation of the original series in much the way the Star Wars prequels were a continuation of the original series, but Davies really did reimagine the Time Lord's adventures, casting the show in a much darker light than the earlier incarnation. Reboots of the less-than-successful Bionic Woman or Joss Whedon's reimagining of his own Buffy, the Vampire Slayer from the 1992 film to the 1997 television series are barely discussed.

Although Science Fiction Reboot is a relatively short book, Urbanski packs a lot of theory and analysis of several television shows and films into those 200 pages. Primarily an academic look at narrative and the manner in which common tropes can be reused to tell variations on old stories and use old stories to tell new ones.

1.Which is the order I first showed them to my younger daughter.

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