Why are there so many Princesses and Lords in Epic Science Fiction and Fantasy? The roots of both genres is in the Romances and legends of Europe. Those original stories were written during a time when Kings and Nobles ruled the continent.
As fantasy and early space opera/planetary romance emerged, they picked up these tropes from the earlier legends. It also provided a good handle for readers. If I tell you that character X is a Dark Lord or a Princess, even without a familiarity with the genre, an image comes into mind.
A dark lord is obviously a tyrant or dictator who is evil. You don't need to know anything else to know that. The problem is that a trope can become a cliche easily, and that is a problem with a lot of genre fiction right now.
Getting a handle on Tropes
There are many ways to deal with genre tropes. Dan helped me understand how George R R Martin is using the the tropes of epic fantasy to deconstruct the genre and comment on it. I have to say, his frame made me want to try to read the books again.
I can agree that medievalism should bring with it a historic level of violence. Kings more often than not ruled through terror and oppression. There is a need for more realism, but I would also say that there is a need for some honesty too.
Feudalism didn't end in the dark ages
The promise of the corporation was that it would end feudalism and mercantilism. It promised freedom... In many ways, it ushered in a new tier of the old feudal system.
In the earlier system, nobles ruled serfs. Now, corporations rule politicians who rule citizens. This new system makes more increasingly interested in making this neofeudalism part of the story and setting.
Are Lords and Ladies still relevant?
When I look at celebrity culture and the rise of the plutocracies around the world, I cannot help but believe that their needs to be some titles of nobility in the setting to allow for representation and commentary. They will be part of the setting, but not the majority of the setting.
If I know anything that I do want for sure is an end to "Great Man" fiction. Heroes are groups, and not individuals.