A short time ago, at a convention not so far away, psychology professor and prolific geek culture author Travis Langley asked a question with a thought-to-be well known response — “Is Star Wars science fiction?”
“The answer is yes,” responded Charles Liu, to the surprise of the jam-packed “Star Wars: The Science Awakens” panel at New York Comic Con 2016, who clearly expected the usual response that the sweeping quest is actually fantasy. “It really has created its own physics,” Liu said.
Of course, maybe Liu had to say that to justify the panel of seven of the biggest Star Wars and science nerds in the galaxy. But like any good scientist, Liu had some empirical evidence to back him up, pointing to Qui-Gon Jinn’s use of a meter and blood samples to measure the Force.
“That makes it scientific,” Liu said.
“The science was more a framework to hang the story off of,” zoologist and cosplayer Monique Renée disagreed, as opposed to Star Trek, where the science is more central. Visual effects artist Eliot Sirota crystallized the issue when he said, “Star Wars is the hero’s journey [and] Star Trek is the human journey,” to awed murmurs from the audience.
“Why has their science advanced so little in a thousand years?” Langley asked of the Star Wars universe. Liu noted that there was also little progress during our own medieval times, and wondered if the existence of the Force made technology superfluous. Why bother with machines when the all-powerful, universal energy can just take care of it?
The Star Wars universe can be medieval with their treatment of droids, too, who for all practical purposes, appear to be sentient beings. “I can’t tell them apart,” Liu said, comparing C3P0 to his 8-year-old daughter. Yet, as Sirota pointed out, “In the galaxy at at large, these are tools. They’re microwave ovens, essentially.”
And somehow, despite their technological lull, the Jedi brandish lightsabers, which Liu said must have enough energy to level entire cities (about 100 times the energy density of a cell phone, outerplaces.com writer Christopher Mahon figured). “That’s why only Jedi can use them!” Liu concluded.
Langley then asked the obvious follow-up question, what piece of Star Wars technology would you most want for yourself? While Mahon and Outer Places managing editor Janey Tracey went for smaller choices, with Rey’s blaster and a Z6 riot baton, respectively, Sirota went grand, with the entirety of Cloud City. Renée was most demanding of all, asking for the Force itself. “So I can turn the lights off” from bed, she said.
What about the ultimate Star Wars tech? Langley asked if planet destroyers make sense.
“No,” Liu said. “Next question.” Liu did elaborate, with some fascinating insights into physics. Just detonating a planet wouldn’t make it fly apart like in the movies — instead, the enormous gravitational force would simply pull the debris back together again. And really, if you hit a planet with that much energy? It would just turn into a star itself.
Langley concluded the panel by bringing it back to his own specialty and asking, “What does psychology have to do with Star Wars?” School psychologist and Talking Comics podcast contributor Mara Wood compared it to Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s myth,” in which an adventurer journeys from home and encounters fantastic forces on his way toward triumphing over adversity. Wood was quick to point out that Star Wars could be seen as slightly more progressive than that, with Leia taking a more inwardly-focused “heroine’s journey,” too.
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