Lightyear’s trailer confirms that David Bowie’s music is a sci-fi cinema staple

Lightyear’s trailer’s use of David Bowie’s music speaks to his music’s staying power in science fiction. But what makes him the definitive alien rock star?

With every Light year trailer released, David Bowie’s “Starman” established itself as the film’s theme song. The 49-year-old rock hit might not be an obvious choice for a family sci-fi flick, but a quick look at recent work in the genre shows that his music is unmissable. Bowie’s songs may be decades old, but he’s still the go-to choice for sci-fi. Plus, his status as the singer of choice for aliens and astronauts comes from an incredibly human place.

The late rock star may have peaked in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, but one need only look at any sample of genre fiction to see that his impact has endured. “Life On Mars” was sung by Jessica Lange on american horror story and featured on the soundtrack of The Martian. James Gunn said he was the only artist whose music made the shortlist for both guardians of the galaxy movies during rick and morty“Goodbye Moonmen” was such a faithful parody that some thought it was actually about Bowie. The cynic might say these needle drops are because the creatives behind them grew during the height of Bowie’s popularity. But perhaps there is a deeper kinship with a man who was himself a science fiction storyteller.


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The fallen man

Bowie was a huge science fiction fan and infused major moments of his career with the genre. His 1969 hit “Space Oddity” was not only named after Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi classic, but was timed to coincide with the first moon landing. He rose to fame as “Ziggy Stardust”, portraying himself as an alien rock messenger. Ziggy and his spiders from Mars have filled songs like “Moonage Daydream” with space-age psychedelia. Although Bowie infamously “killed” Ziggy in 1973, he never stopped “loving the alien.” His first film role in The man who fell to earth was an alien who came to Earth to save his planet. He continued his story in a scenic musical suite, Lazarusdo decades after failing to win the rights of a 1984 musical. The musical premiered shortly before his death alongside Black Stara scrapbook filled with allusions to science fiction touchstones such as A clockwork orange.


The genre may have appealed to Bowie because it gave him a way to talk about alienation. Using distant imagery borrowed from his sci-fi favorites, Bowie gave voice to people who felt like they didn’t fit in. It is not surprising that Melody of “Starman” borrowed from The Wizard of Oz“Over The Rainbow”, a beloved anthem for outcasts wishing to escape. Bowie’s taut vocals and experimental instrumentation create a distinct sound that sometimes sounds robotic but is always painfully sincere. That is to say, it is rarely covered on soundtracks. Most use his original versions because they contain a depth that cannot be recreated.


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Photo of Buzz Lightyear in the Disney and Pixar movie Lightyear

Science fiction isn’t the only genre to cling to Bowie. For example, any Licorice Pizza The trailer inevitably features “Life On Mars”. His work remains the perfect complement to any work featuring loners venturing into the unknown. It’s a universal human feeling, whether it’s a space ranger reaching beyond infinity or a youngster struggling to keep his waterbed business afloat.

The target audience for Lightyear may not have heard of David Bowie. Many of the children who see him may not even have been born during his lifetime. But that sense of yearning for a place where homo sapiens can become “homo superior” has not gone away. Bowie’s music continues to appeal to the same audiences as the science fiction stories he composes. As long as Hollywood tells stories about reaching for the stars, there will always be Starman music waiting for them in the big musical sky.


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