If you’re a film fan, you might be wondering how realistic the scientific concepts explored in space operas like Star Wars really are. Is Star Wars based on science? Could it really exist? Is the Death Star scientifically possible?
While the Star Wars movie franchise has some plausible science elements, it’s highly fictionalised. In fact, many aspects depicted in the films are either scientifically unlikely or questionable. For instance, the space ‘dogfights’ are depicted to be producing sounds from blasters and explosions. In reality, it’s impossible to produce sound waves in the vacuum of space because there’s no medium to carry them.
Despite this, it’s important to remember that scientific accuracy isn’t the primary focus of Hollywood sci-fi films like Star Wars. Aside from the fact that it’s difficult to maintain scientific accuracy at all times, doing so can lessen the impact of action scenes, such as in the case of a soundless space dogfight. And let’s be honest, most people don’t watch Star Wars to learn about the wonders of science – they simply want to enjoy a few hours of escapism in a galaxy far, far away.
In this post:
What is the most scientifically accurate part of the Star Wars universe?
Just like in many other science fiction and fantasy films, the Star Wars universe has its own set of rules and physical laws. Many of its storylines, physical laws, and cosmic events aren’t scientific if you compare them to our universe. That being said, it’s also plausible that there are many other universes that exist with different sets of fundamental physical laws.
The most scientifically accurate part of the Star Wars universe (based on our understanding of the physics of our own universe) is the notion that many planets are habitable. Most of the planets that are depicted in the film franchise are home to intelligent life and have developed their own civilisations.
Although we are yet to discover life on other planets, there are planets in other star systems that can support life as we know it. The plausibility of life on other planets depends on several key features such as the distance from the parent star, the presence of liquid water on the surface, and the composition of the atmosphere.
As of January 2023, some 5,241 confirmed exoplanets have been discovered by astronomers. A few of them are Earth-like planets in terms of size and atmospheric composition. One interesting exoplanet discovered is Kepler 452-b, which is found within the Goldilocks or habitable zone of its parent star. The planet is estimated to be 1.5 times larger than Earth. The planetary surface has about the right temperature to hold liquid water, although scientists are still unsure whether its atmospheric composition is breathable for humans.
Physics in Star Wars
The physics in Star Wars is somewhat mystical because of the presence of the all-encompassing energy field called the Force. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the Force can be used by beings like Jedi Knights in several ways, such as controlling objects through telekinesis and precognition.
In the Star Wars franchise, the capacity of beings to use the Force is scientifically explained by the presence of midi-chlorians that reside in the cells of all living things. These midi-clorians are microscopic sentient organisms that can access the Force. Beings that have high amounts of these microscopic organisms in their bodies have greater control of the Force.
Gravity is also different in the Star Wars movies, as depicted within spacecrafts and space stations like the Death Star. These spacecrafts and space stations are capable of generating artificial gravity that is independent of the inertial frame of movement.
Relativistic time dilation also does not exist in the Star Wars universe. Even when spaceships like the Millenium Falcon travel faster than light, they don’t experience time dilation.
What chemical elements are in Star Wars?
Some of the chemical elements and substances that are referenced in the Star Wars movies do not exist in the real world. For example, the kyber crystal, an element needed to build a lightsaber (more on those below), is a combination of both inorganic and organic matter.
All of the chemical elements in our universe follow specific rules and patterns in terms of determining their identities. The 92 naturally-occurring elements have chemical and physical properties that are based on their respective number of protons.
Although there’s no detailed reference to the periodic table of elements in the Star Wars movies, it’s very likely and logical to assume that all the chemical elements in our universe are also found in the Star Wars universe.
On the other hand, the films do mention exotic elements like regvis, bospridium, and graxitium. Although they have different names, these elements may well be identical to other chemical elements in our own universe.
The science of lightsabers
In the Star Wars movies, lightsabers are the weapon of choice used by the Jedi Knights. The knights fashion their own individual lightsabers using kyber crystals (the colour of the lightsaber “blades” vary depending on the colour of the crystal).
Is the Death Star scientifically possible?
Given our current scientific and engineering knowledge and skills, constructing a space station is scientifically possible – it’s simply a matter of scaling up. We could, in theory, use asteroids to construct large space structures for instance. However, there are many other factors, including economic considerations, that may limit or prevent us from constructing a space station to rival the Death Star…
The Death Star is 160 km in diameter at the equator, which is 4.7% of the size of our moon. However, it’s gigantic when compared to the current size of the International Space Station (ISS), which is only 109 metres end to end. At its current configuration, the ISS is estimated to have a price tag of at least US$150 billion. About US$1.3 billion are spent annually on ISS operations and maintenance.
In comparison, the Death Star is estimated to cost US$852 quadrillion. That is around 11,000 times greater than the gross world product! Indeed, only a galactic empire could afford such a gargantuan project. Logistically and financially speaking, a giant project like the Death Star is not feasible given our current economic, political, and technological capabilities.
As a fictional space opera, we shouldn’t really expect the Star Wars movies to be scientifically accurate in all aspects. In this case, the story and aesthetics are more important. However, there are some aspects of the movies that are interesting to examine under the scientific lens. These include the physics of the Star Wars universe, the lightsaber, and the viability of the Death Star.
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