Wall Street Journal Interview

Posted on: August 8th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

I was interviewed by Don Steinberg for an article about Cowboys and Aliens that appeared on The Wall Street Journal: Hollywood Frontiers: Outer Space and the Wild West. He tracked me down from Space Westerns.com and my article on Strange Horizons: The Emancipation of Bat Durston. Here’s the relevant part of the article that was paraphrased from our interview:

“Avatar,” set on a distant moon in 2154, isn’t obviously a Western—but hold on, says Nathan Lilly, who runs SpaceWesterns.com, a website dedicated to the subgenre. The Na’vi tribe are classic movie Indians. They may be 10 feet tall and blue, but they shoot arrows, wear their long black hair in ponytails and live in harmony with the land. The greedy white mercenaries intent on snatching the land’s precious minerals are familiar characters, as is the one renegade who falls in star-crossed love with a native woman. In “Avatar,” it’s Marine Jake Sully, who inhabits a lab-made body that resembles the natives, under orders to embed with them and gather intelligence. He romances the lovely Neytiri, and as the invading soldiers try to destroy the tribe’s sacred tree and mine the valuable ore beneath it, Sully leads the resistance, with help from an alliance of clans from around the planet.

Falling for the squaw is very “Pocahontas” (1995) and very “Dances With Wolves” (1990), but there are earlier precedents. In “Broken Arrow” (1950) Jimmy Stewart is a former Union Army soldier who befriends Cochise in 1870 to learn Apache ways and stop their attacks. He marries an Apache girl and is seen as a traitor. In “They Died With Their Boots On” (1941), Errol Flynn is General George Custer, leading the 7th Cavalry. Pioneers pushing west want every scrap of Indian land. Anthony Quinn, as Sioux chief Crazy Horse, says his people will give up everything except the sacred Black Hills, where “the spirits of our fathers dwell,” warning that if those hills are infiltrated, all the tribes will unite and fight back. Just as in “Avatar,” greedy bureaucrats direct soldiers to invade the sacred territory, tribes unite, and we know what happened to Custer.

We did speak more about Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Westerns in general, but it seems to have overlapped with other interviews where it may have been more relevant to quote or paraphrase someone else.

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