Is Star Wars Scientifically Possible?
The interior of the Millennium Falcon cockpit in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980. Photograph by LFI/Photoshot
How what happened a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away might be shaping the world a lot closer to you in the near future.
With Rogue One: The Star Wars Story, the eighth film in the franchise hitting our screens this week; we asked two Star Wars experts – Ms Jeanne Cavelos (author of The Science Of Star Wars, 1999) and Mr Mark Brake (author of The Science Of Star Wars, 2016) – whether anything in the galaxy far, far away could be reality rather than fiction. Here’s what they had to say on topics ranging from the Force to lightsabers.
LIFEFORMS SUCH AS JABBA THE HUT AND JAR JAR BINKS
Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, 1983. Photograph by Photoshot
The existence of the likes of Yoda and Bantha may seem far-fetched, but both experts suggest that to assume we are the only intelligent life in the universe is short-sighted. “There are two trillion galaxies,” says Mr Brake. “And the equivalent of 200 stars to every grain of sand on Earth. Many of those stars will have planets around them. It seems mad that there wouldn’t be life out there.”
Ms Cavelos agrees. “The most likely type of alien life we will find is single celled-like bacteria. But on some planets and moons, more complex life will have evolved,” she says. “Evolution involves a lot of chance circumstances… Other planets won’t have the same chance circumstances that Earth did, so life may look significantly different there. That means strange Star Wars creatures like Wookiees, Gungans, and Jawas seem within the range of possibility.”
Being able to levitate objects with your mind might seem like something for science fiction only. But with a bit of creative thinking, The Force could be, technically, possible. “The most likely way… is to replace midi-chlorians, the fictional microscopic creatures that live inside people and connect them to the Force, with a brain implant or cap,” says Ms Cavelos. “We’ve been able to use such implants to allow paralyzed people to manipulate a robot arm… In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker levitates his X-wing out of the swamps of Dagobah. Perhaps he simply had an implant in his brain that allowed him to connect to the X-wing and order it to take off.”
Mr Brake argues that we already master certain “Forces”, albeit more primitively. “There are forces that scientists know about – the four forces of nature. In some ways we have mastered different forces, in being able to get people to the Moon, for example. Gravitational forces, etc. The Force is simply what may prevail in another part of the universe.”
UNDISCOVERED INHABITED PLANETS
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977. Photograph by Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox/REX Shutterstock
“Scientists used to believe that planets, other than those in our solar system, were very rare. But since the discovery of the first planet orbiting another star in 1988, 3,545 such planets have been discovered,” says Ms Cavelos. Indeed, in imagining the likes of Hoth and Tatooine, Star Wars was ahead of the scientists it would seem. “That’s something that Star Wars got right – suggesting there are many other planets outside the solar system – what we call exoplanets,” says Mr Brake. “And there is a planet that has just been discovered that is thought to be as cold as Hoth.”
“As for which ones might be able to sustain human-like life such as Han Solo or Jyn Erso, our best estimate now is that there are more than 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in our galaxy,” says Ms Cavelos. “Definitely enough to form a galactic empire.”
PERSONABLE, HYPER-INTELLIGENT DROIDS
Mr Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Mr Kenny Baker as R2-D2 in Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, 1983. Photograph by Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox/REX Shutterstock
As we make increasingly sophisticated technological advancements, one might argue that droids, or robots, are already becoming a reality in everyday life. “For Britain, the next decade is supposed to see the rise of the robot,” says Mr Brake. “About 75 per cent of freight on British roads will be driverless. I also read that 75 per cent of low-level accountants will be replaced.” But can we conceive of droids with the same capabilities, and personalities, as, say, C-3PO and R2-D2? Ms Cavelos seems to think so. “If you want your robot to be autonomous and to be able to make complex decisions, then it needs to be intelligent. But it also needs emotions. Emotions motivate us, set priorities, guide our reasoning, and help us cope with adversity… So robots who need to make decisions would need both intellect and emotion.”
If you have seen Star Wars, you have probably dreamt of wielding a lightsaber. Although there is theory on how it could be done, don’t hold your breath. “I think that might be a long way in the future,” says Mr Brake. “At the moment, they are trying to find the material for a saber blade – perhaps with lasers. But there are difficulties with lasers, and others are thinking about working with plasmas.”
“We’d have a better chance of making a light saber out of plasma,” agrees Ms Cavelos. “A plasma is a gas that’s been heated to extremely high temperatures. The sun, lightning, and fluorescent lights all contain plasma. Plasmas… glow, like light sabers, and can come in different colours… We can contain a plasma in a cylindrical shape using electric and magnetic fields. But creating an end to the saber would require some creativity. The confining electromagnetic fields of each beam could repel each other, preventing one beam from cutting through another, so that would allow us to have some nice light saber battles. If we want the light saber to be able to cut… [like] in the movies, we’d need a plasma 10 million times more dense than any we’ve created on Earth, and it would need to be 10 times hotter, around 200 million degrees. The biggest challenge would be putting all of the technology necessary to generate the plasma and the fields to contain it into a small handle about the size of a flashlight… We’d need a building full of equipment.”