Science Fiction or Not?

The phrase "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" reminds people of George Lucas' famous Star Wars saga. Those films show heroes Anakin and Luke Skywalker in fantastic situations, which include unusual types of technology. Several writers described a traveling exhibit on such technology. "The exhibit culminates in two multi-station Engineering Design Labs… where visitors design, build, and test solutions to challenges" (Fischer). In these labs, "graphics, artifacts, and interactive video components will bring visitors up-to-date on the latest real-life research efforts related to each specific technological challenge" (Rodley). "Hands-on interactive exhibits allow visitors to explore scientific phenomena of the real-life 21st century that could lead to a real-life solution to the challenge posed" (Rodley). Is this science fiction technology is possible in this galaxy? "Some of the technologies used in the Star Wars universe are impossible, according to current theory" ("Physics…"). Star Wars technology is not possible, as shown by the unlikelihood of lightsabers, hyperdrive, and repulsorlift.

The "Weapons of Star Wars" article describes the famous lightsaber: "arguably one of the most lusted-after props in film history, various replicas have been released, ranging from essentially a flashlight with a plastic tube attached, to accurate copies of the original film props, complete with motion-sensitive sound effects, and coloured blade" ("Weapons…"). However, lightsabers would not be effective weapons because "laser beams are made of light, and they continue until they hit something… swords made of light would pass right through one another. Instead of having a swordfight, they would slice each other in half" ("Science…"). In an article in Science Scope, teacher Stephanie Thompson described how her students attempted to build their own lightsabers. "Some of the kids used flashlights for their light source; others used a more complicated design, building their own circuitry system" (Thompson). In addition to creating the light source, "students used various materials to create the blade, including clear plastic tubing, PVC pipe, and old toy parts" (Thompson).It may seem that lightsabers may be possible. However, an article on argues that these "homemade" models do not use the same form of technology as the movie props supposedly do. "Reproducing the beam of pure energy boasted by the originals still seems to be some time off, however" ("Weapons…").

Another impossible form of Star Wars technology is the high-speed travel known as hyperdrive, which is made famous by Harrison Ford's character, Han Solo. First of all, paths for spaceships to travel would have to be created: "…The space warp would have to be made before the ship-meaning that a pre-existing passageway, like a subway, would be possible. But a vessel that goes where no one has gone before would not" ("Science…"). Then, the actual high-speed form of travel would have to become part of ships. "In the field of spacecraft propulsion, researchers haven't yet gotten the faster-than-light hyperdrive to work (even Han Solo sometimes had trouble in that department)" (Boyle).

"…Conventional particle thrust engines are required to boost the spacecraft into hyperspace, usually referred to as 'the jump into hyperspace'…" ("Hyperdrive…"). Although advancements in space travel are being made, "NASA scientists don't have a hyperdrive - yet - but they are looking at unusual propulsion concepts, from sails and tethers, to fusion and everyone's favorite, antimatter" (Dooling). George Schmidt of Marshall's Propulsion Research Center is quoted as saying "Achieving the level of technology portrayed in 'Star Wars' is quite a challenge. It will require very powerful fission, fusion, or antimatter-driven rockets for rapid travel within interplanetary space" (NASA-Marshall). "Schmidt said it will also require overcoming the physical limitations of space itself in order to travel faster than the speed of light" (NASA-Marshall).

A third unlikely type of Star Wars technology is known as repulsorlift. An article on this technology states that "a repulsorlift is an antigravity technology in the fictional Star Wars universe, capable of levitating any object to which it is applied" ("Repulsorlift"). Examples of things in the films that use repulsorlift are the chairs belonging to Cleigg Lars (Anakin's stepfather in the 2002 movie Attack of the Clones) and the elderly Jedi master Yoda. Certain types of spacecraft also use repulsorlift. However, "usually the larger the ship, the more repulsorlifts needed, and their size also increases" ("Repulsorlift").

In contrast to having a real-life repulsorlift, an article on states that a hoverboard "is basically a vehicle that is supported and propelled by a cushion of air" (Bonsor, "How Hoverboards…"). "The fan underneath the shell of the vehicle provides both a cushion of air and a stream of air that exits through the back of the vehicle to provide thrust" (Bonsor, "How Hoverboards…"). "…The faster you go, the harder it is to maintain the cushion of air underneath the craft" (Bonsor, "How Hoverboards…").

Also in contrast to the repulsorlift, "a few countries are using powerful electromagnets to develop high-speed trains, called maglev trains" (Bonsor, "How Maglev…"). "Maglev is short for magnetic levitation, which means that these trains will float over a guideway using the basic principles of magnets…" (Bonsor, "How Maglev…"). But "unlike conventional diesel- and electric-powered trains, the motor for maglev trains is essentially embedded in the tracks" (Quain). "The track creates a traveling magnetic field beneath the train which lifts the cars and propels them at 300-plus mph… and only the section of track under the train is energized" (Quain). "Between the car and the track is a 1-in. gap that allows the train to operate with zero mechanical friction" (Quain). Using electricity and magnets to power a vehicle can be a potential health hazard. "On August 11, 2006, a maglev train compartment on the Transrapid Shanghai airport line caught fire. There were no injuries, and investigators believe that the fire was caused by an electrical problem" (Bonsor, "How Maglev…").

George Lucas said in an article, "I'm a storyteller, but to enable me to tell my stories, I've had to develop the necessary technology" (Lucas). With that said, lightsabers, hyperdrive, and repulsorlift show that Star Wars technology cannot be created anywhere except for his famous fictional "galaxy far, far away." Pablo Helman is quoted as saying, "George's grasp of technology is crucial in terms of expediency… someone else could eventually create that same vision, but they would spend 10 years working on the film…"(Rodriguez).

Works Cited

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-. "How Maglev Trains Work." . 13 October 2000. HowStuffWorks, Inc. 6 November 2008 .com/.

Boyle, Alan. "Science Facts Catch Up with Movie Sci-Fi." MSNBC Technology & Science. 18 May 2005. MSNBC Interactive. 2 November 2008 ./.

Dooling, Dave. "Star Wars Technology, Coming Soon to a Planet near You." Science at NASA. 19 May 1999. NASA. 2 November 2008 .gov/.

Fischer, John. "Star Wars: Where Magic Meets Imagination at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia." Philadelphia/South Jersey. New York Times Company. 2 November 2008 .com/.

"Hyperdrive (Star Wars)." . . 4 November 2008 .com/.

Lucas, George. "The Future Starts Here." Premiere February 1999: 58+. Sirs Knowledge Source. SIRS Researcher. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 October 2008 .com/.

NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center. "Star Wars Propulsion Drives Soar toward Reality." Science News. 19 May 1999. ScienceDaily. 2 November 2008 .com/.

"Physics and Star Wars." . . 4 November 2008 .com/.

Quain, John. "Super Trains: Plans to Fix U.S. Rail Could End Road & Sky Gridlock." Popular Mechanics December 2007. 6 November 2008 .com/.

"Repulsorlift." . . 4 November 2008 .com/.

Rodley, Ed. "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." Exhibit Files. 19 March 2008. Association of Science Technology Centers. 2 November 2008 .org/.

Rodriguez, Rene. "Will Force Be With 'Clones'? Director Lucas Battles Skeptics." Miami Herald 12 May 2002: 1A+. Sirs Knowledge Source. SIRS Researcher. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 20 October 2008 .com/.

"The Science of Star Wars." . MSNBC. 2 November 2008 .com/.

Thompson, Stephanie. "The Science of Star Wars: Integrating Technology and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy." Science Scope November 2006: 55+. General OneFile. Gale. Hylton High School Library, Woodbridge, VA. 21 October 2008 .com.

"Weapons of Star Wars." . . 4 November 2008 .com/.