The space opera blockbuster Star Wars borrows many real-life scientific and technological concepts in its settings. In return, Star Wars—the latest installment of which premiered on Friday—has depicted and inspired/influenced several futuristic technologies in existence and under development. While many of these technologies are in existence and in use today, they are not nearly as complex as seen in the movie franchise. Some of these technologies are not even considered possible in modern times. However, many of the technologies depicted by the series parallel modern real-life technologies, though with significant differences, but still using the same concepts.
Here are some of the most notable attempts…
Prosthetics was first seen in Star Wars in the fifth film of the saga (though produced second by date) Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The technology seen in the films bears an almost absolute resemblance to natural limbs in terms of size, shape and movement as well as other body parts save for the distinctive material they are made of compared to the organic material of the natural limbs and other organs they replace. Such precision is not considered possible by current technological means, however the ability for prosthetics to produce feeling has become closer to reality as per recent research and development conducted at the US-based Case Western University, which produced prosthetic limbs similar to the ones seen in Star Wars.
Central to the plot of Star Wars is the existence of a vast number of planets, all connected by a galaxy-wide trade network. But it wasn’t until 1995, nearly 20 years after the 1977 release of the first movie, that the first exoplanet—a planet located outside Earth’s solar system— was definitively detected. More than 2,000 exoplanets have now been found, and in 2011, Nasa’s Kepler space telescope discovered the first planet orbiting around two suns, just like Luke Skywalker’s fictional home planet Tatooine.
The use of laser technology in Star Wars is almost entirely in the form of weapons as seen in the movies, though there are some side-story books written that mention the use of laser cannon vehicles for the purpose of burning/melting through ice and snow. The laser weapons in Star Wars use the same principle concepts of a laser being a light source. Light sources produce light in a series of waves. The waves spread in all directions, unless controlled. This concentration of energy in one direction gives it strong and sometimes powerful intensity. Lasers have different uses for military purposes, many of which strongly differ from what is seen in Star Wars, but still follow the same concepts of concentrating energy and/or material within a limited magnetic range.
In the films, spaceships like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon are able to jet between solar systems that are light years apart. As per Star Wars canon, these “hyperdrive” propulsion systems let intergalactic travelers jump into a shadow dimension called “hyperspace”, which provides shortcuts between points in real space. While it’s impossible to travel faster than light, the curved nature of space-time proposed by Albert Einstein suggests space could be distorted to shorten the distance between two points. One way of doing this would be a warp drive that contracts space in front of a ship and expands it behind the vessel. Another would be to create a wormhole, or a section of space that curves in on itself to create a shortcut between distant locations. Earlier this year, a lab called Eagleworks, based at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, claimed to have created a warp drive that appears to exploit this effect to create spatial distortions in a vacuum. But, sadly for sci-fi fans, the lab’s unpublished findings have been met with scepticism.
Rocket and missile technology
The use of rockets and missiles is mentioned frequently throughout the Star Wars story canon including comics, novels and, more recently, on the films. It was first seen on film in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones launched by Jango Fett in a failed attempt to target Obi-Wan Kenobi. The rockets in Star Wars use the same technological concepts as in modern times, also launched as rocket-propelled grenades.