ron Man and Superman and most of the other superheroes with film deals are even older than Star Wars; compared to Batman, Han Solo is a fresh-faced whipper-snapper who has not yet been turned into a commodity. Still, whatever the exact age of the antihero, the takeaway is the same: progress presented in timeless vacuum. American capitalism is dedicated to the cult of growth, expansion, and the new boss ever bigger, better, and cooler than the old. It’s an ideology of eternal improvement, and pop sci-fi fits that presumption neatly. Technology advances and humans mutate into X-Men without ever prompting a consideration of ” alternatives to how we live now.” The future, outside of time, brings empowerment but no change.

Some fans argue that Star Wars is not sci-fi but fantasy, complete with force-wielding wizards. I don’t think that’s quite right, though. Fantasy has its own tropes and its own timelessness, but a changeless dream of the past is different than a changeless dream of the future. Harry Potter is nostalgic for a world of quills and noblesse oblige, where magic takes the place of modern technology and the folks with the power are clearly separated from the folks without. Star Wars is nostalgic too, but, like with superheroes, that nostalgia is directed not toward the past, but toward an ongoing future of awesome gadgets and self-actualized New Age ninjas.

Tomorrow isn’t a potential where things might be better, or even different; it’s just a place to rearrange the robots on a Titanic that never sinks. Progress has conquered the present so thoroughly it doesn’t even need to push forward anymore. In pop sci-fi, we’re all always already picking up the shiny new old lightsaber; there is no other future, and no other dream.