Tag Archive for Space Race

Skyhoppers, Hovertrains, and Landspeeders

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In Star Wars, even something as mundane as simply getting around is a visibly futuristic process. Cars are replaced with landspeeders that glide smoothly over even the roughest terrain without needing a single wheel to touch the nonexistent roads. Their governments must save a fortune on infrastructure upkeep. Skyhoppers and airspeeders are more like flying cars (or what flying cars would be like, if we had them) than planes, complete with being totaled by thrill-seeking young drivers.

A speeder bike is something like a motorcycle, only about a dozen times faster, with no wheels, and an even worse safety record when it comes to crashing headlong into inconvenient obstacles like trees. Crossing the great void between the stars to new worlds is as simple as booking passage on a vessel headed in the right direction, the galaxy’s denizens having long ago circumvented that troublesome little matter of the light barrier that’s been keeping us from our round trip to Alpha Centauri all these years.

With casual interstellar travel being so accessible to the general public, one can safely assume that travel time between cities or continents on the same world would be all but nonexistent in the vast majority of cases. War machines are regularly produced in bipedal and quadrupedal configurations and deployed to great effectiveness, despite the obvious limitations and weaknesses of the design. Clearly, someone has an extreme aversion to wheels and tank treads (to the disappointment of car chase enthusiasts everywhere).

It’s easy to dismiss these things as being nothing more than irrelevant bits of background information and lore; the means by which our heroes hop, skip, and jump between their interstellar adventures. Flavor for something that would be otherwise stale, of interest only to the most overzealous of pedants. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Bacta Basics: Medical Science and Technology in A Galaxy Far, Far Away

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From a few brief scenes with a diapered Luke Skywalker floating in a tank of clear (later established to be blue) liquid came one of the franchise’s most enduring futuristic inventions: that mysterious, miraculous live-saving fluid we call bacta. In go the wounded, out come the hale and hearty. A universal cure for anything and everything that ails you. Incredibly convenient, without question, but also a rare instance in which we’re permitted a glimpse of a technology that is most decidedly not a straightforward science fiction counterpart to something from our own world.

At least not yet, anyways. There are obvious questions that come to mind: where does it come from? How does it work? Who controls the supply? All valid questions at the moment, as their established answers have been washed away in the all-consuming deluge that is the big red button labeled “reboot.” So let’s ask a different question, instead. We’ve seen what bacta is capable of, so what else might they be able to do that we can’t?

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Inelegant Weapons for Less Civilized Ages, or, How to Kill a Jedi

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To quote the eternal wisdom of Han Solo: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Of course, as anyone who has seen the rest of the Original Trilogy can attest, he was ultimately proven quite wrong on that point (among a number of others), but perhaps there is a core of truth to his words that we should not completely reject out of hand.

The lightsaber is a formidable weapon in the hands of one strongly attuned to the Force (and a deadly menace to anyone who isn’t that attempts to wield it), of that there can be no doubt, but it must also be noted that it is ultimately just a sword. A laser sword that can cut through steel and bounce blaster bolts like a baseball bat does balls, yes, but still one that shares many of the limitations that caused its medieval counterpart to fall out of use so many years ago in our own history.

In fact, it’s truly remarkable how long the lightsaber has served the Jedi as their weapon of choice: several thousand years without any significant alterations to the design or crippling countermeasures being developed. Let’s put aside the questionable logic of preferring swords in a universe full of guns for a moment, and just look at the frequency with which they hurl themselves into harm’s way and stand in opposition to well-funded and heavily-armed empires, criminal organizations, and other assorted malcontents. One is compelled to wonder why so few seem to give even the slightest thought to attempting to combat the Jedi with anything other than blasters: the one weapon they’ve proven time and time again that they can reliably render completely and utterly ineffective.

It’s not even a question of the universe not yet having invented the technology to circumvent lightsabers, for it clearly already exists and enjoys widespread use. It’s just that apparently nobody has ever connected the dots and decided to employ it where it would do the most good (or bad, as the case may be). Today, we’re going to take a look at that technology and all the ways in which we might exploit it to imperil our favorite heroes and maximize dramatic tension.

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The Art of Star Wars

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Alas, despite the name, this is not to be an exhibition of the countless fine works that have been produced by this franchise’s artists over the years, though they would undoubtedly be deserving of such a feature. Instead, today we’ll be taking some time to discuss the place of military strategy in Star Wars – or rather, the technological basis that makes it all possible.

As even a cursory study of history will tell you, the methods by which wars are fought have always depended heavily on the tools available at the time. All great advances in weaponry have heralded significant changes in the very nature of how warfare is conducted – consider the evolution in our own history from mounted knight in armor to modern infantryman, or from ancient galley to aircraft carrier.

Despite their somewhat eclectic nature, the standards of warfare in the universe of Star Wars are fairly well established, if not the specifics. Starfighters are more or less analogous to World War II fighter aircraft, infantrymen are still deeply entrenched in trench warfare, and starships map more closely to the great vessels of the Age of Sail than actual spacecraft, lining up alongside each other and blasting away with broadsides.

It is an approach that I, for one, wholeheartedly endorse: while a realistic depiction of space combat might be scientifically interesting, it would make for rather dull watching and reading. However, in a galaxy that often finds itself sundered by war, even such dynamic portrayals of combat will eventually become stale, so it would be of considerable benefit to us to be forward-thinking about what we can do to stir the formula a bit to keep it fresh.

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He’s More Machine Now Than Man

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In our first article in this series, we discussed the possibilities of what might occur should organics and their most trusted and relied upon synthetics come into conflict. Today, we’re going to turn the tables around and reverse that premise: what happens when we fuse man and machine to an even greater degree than ever before? One of the most integral elements of Darth Vader’s character is that he is a cyborg: a sinister and inhuman blend of flesh and metal that serves as the physical representation of his inner corruption by the dark side (not everyone can have glowing yellow eyes like the Emperor, after all).

When Luke Skywalker loses a hand, his is replaced by a pleasantly fleshy quintet of fingers that is, to our knowledge, identical in appearance and function to its predecessor. There’s clearly a galaxy of difference between their prostheses, but how often do we actually think about that contrast, and what it means for the universe?

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