There has been a great disturbance in the force.
As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in anticipation. After over a year of build up its finally time for the most eagerly awaited movie of this year, a sequel to one of the largest movie franchises in the world – and, to show my bias, the best – STAR WARS (cue John Williams)! Star Wars is an easily recognisable sci-fi series, but how much in the movies is actual, feasible science? How much suspension of disbelief do you need? I did some research into what scientists had to say, because if there's one things Star Wars fans love almost as much as Star Wars, it's bitching about Star Wars.
All of the Star Wars movies involve large set pieces within space, whether it is an attack on the Death Star, an escape through an asteroid field or another attack on another Death Star... Originality aside there are some pretty big physical flaws with space flight in Star Wars. You may recognise some of the iconic sounds of TIE Fighter engines, or X-Wing laser blasts but if you were a fighter pilot in the Star Wars Universe you wouldn't, as there is no way the vibrations could travel through space.
The ships also fly like they're within atmosphere by banking unnecessarily, but as put by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, there is a reason: "it looks good". The biggest crime of all though is Han Solo's claim the Millenium Falcon could make the Kessel Run in less than 12 Parsecs. It can't - Parsecs measure distance, not time.
Most children in the western world have, at some point, beaten each other up playing with toy lightsabers. Many of them wish they could get a real one. So, how could we create one?
Firstly, we could try making it out of a laser, but unless we want our lightsaber to be a glorified laser pointer the problems add up fast. To restrict the length of the beam we would need to contain it using mirrors, an impractical, delicate addition. Lasers are currently used industrially to cut materials but this requires more power than a small lightsaber hilt could supply. And perhaps most crucial of all, there would be no lightsaber fights like in the movies, as the two beams would pass through each other with no collision at all. So, scrap that.
The second idea is to use plasma. With plasma, the beam will be clearly visible as the ionised gas emits colour in different directions, with different gases giving us different colour blades. Again, containment in a beam might be a problem, as plasma has a habit of expanding in a big cloud with a lot of energy, so it might singe our eyebrows! But if you could sort out that, and another inevitable power problem, you could definitely cause some havoc.
One of the most iconic scenes of the series is Luke staring out from his homestead at the binary sunset of Tatooine. Could humanity one day witness a similar sight? Well, potentially, yes! With just the small problem of a 200 light year journey you could visit Kepler-16b, which unlike Tatooine, is cold and gaseous but orbits a binary star system in the same way Tatooine does, orbiting both the stars around their shared centre of mass. So although you may not be able to stand on Kepler-16b and view the sunset, researchers hope to find rocky exoplanets in similar orbits for you to stand on, pouting into the distance in the future.
Keeping Darth Vader Alive
The most iconic of all Star Wars characters is this looming figure clad in dark armour and the most recognisable noise of the series is the sound of his breathing. But could Darth Vader survive in our world?
After (spoiler alert) losing a fight to his once friend Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader is left with a few less limbs, third degree burns across his entire body and – due to inhalation of volcanic gases – a badly damaged respiratory system. In order to save Vader, he is placed inside the iconic and, compared to most things in Star Wars, feasible life supporting-suit.
His new robotic arms and legs are not far off from what we have already achieved in the field of bionics, with patients being able to control their new prosthetic limbs with thoughts alone. They have been successfully completing a number of movements such as doing up buttons -which is nearly as complicated as choking insolent officers.
Darth Vader's suit also helps with his breathing, and two Danish physicians have come up with a hypothesis how; his suit uses an advanced bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) system along with supplementary oxygen. In a BPAP system there is a change in pressure during both inhalation and expiration that supports a patients breathing, and they are often used to support patients with difficulty breathing in both acute and chronic conditions. This is not, however, a practical long-term solution, with lung transplants having greater efficacy. But then again, having the big bad permanently dressed in such a terrifying way has its own benefits!
The Death Star
Deserves its own blog post entirely. Or, judging by the plot of the original trilogy, two.