Top Ten Highlights from Our 'Science of Star Wars' SDCC Panel
The Psychology of Star Wars
Travis Langley, "superherologist" and author of the upcoming book Star Wars Psychology: The Dark Side of the Mind, discussed the psychology behind the franchise, including the influence of Joseph Campbell's comparative mythology on George Lucas. Luke's journey is very much the hero's journey discussed in Campbell's work, and according to Langley, he ultimately prevails because he "has greater hope":
How close are we to any of the ships in Star Wars?
Emily Manor-Chapman, a NASA engineer on the upcoming Europa mission, broke all of our hearts and said that we're "pretty far off" from a real-life X-Wing:
Should we be nice to our toasters?
Moderator Jenna Busch asked how close we are to sentient droids like C-3PO, R2-D2, and (probably) BB-8, and whether she should "be really nice to [her] toaster."
Fon Davis, who worked on visual effects for all six Star Wars movies, said, "I think we're close, I hope we're not Skynet close," and shared a humorous false alarm:
Sadly, it turns out it was just a malfunction in the algorithm, and Manor-Chapman echoed the recent sentiments of AI theorists by stating that we won't create a real-life R2-D2 until we understand where sentience comes from:
Emily "I think we're getting good at mimicking what we think is sentience in AI, but we still don't know how the human brain works, so... we can't really build one."
The magic of Industrial Light and Magic
Fon Davis described his experience filming his first explosion scene for the Star Wars films, in which a federation cruiser blows up inside the "Toilet Bowl ship," as the crew called it:
Real-life speeder bikes
Outer Places's Kieran Dickson discussed several real-life technologies that are currently in development and are directly inspired by Star Wars, including the U.S. military's acquisition of a real-life hoverbike:
"Just recently the U.S. military started helping fund the development of these speeder bikes... They're not necessarily going to be using them to blow people up, but it's the U.S. military, so you never know."
But in all seriousness, according to the party line at least, the military plans to use these real-life hoverbikes for first responders in emergencies, as well as the transport of supplies over difficult terrain.
Real-life force fields
In the same vein, Boeing recently filed a patent for honest-to-goodness force fields. The patent is mostly speculative at this point, but it demonstrates that Boeing is actually funneling money into making this sci-fi staple a reality.
Why are Stormtroopers such terrible shots?
Several theories were bandied about, including their clunky, seemingly impractical armor and the conspiracy theories that they sometimes missed on purpose. But Eliot put forth the theory that the problem stems from the fact that they're clones: "They're a photocopy of a photocopy and eventually, if you keep cloning the DNA, it's going to deteriorate." So it's possible that they were good shots at one time, but by the time we see them in the movies, they have degenerated into uncoordinated grunts.
When will our lives become a space opera?
Manor-Chapman stated that while the Star Wars characters had their entire galaxy mapped out and were familiar with all of the surrounding planets they visited, we're still very much in the exploration phase. But that being said, we're starting to find exoplanets with two suns like Tatooine, planets that could hold life, like Europa and Enceladus, and the moon Mimas, which has a crater with a mountain in the middle of it and in certain photos looks like the Death Star.
An update on the Mission to Mars
Manor-Chapman told the panel that NASA has "laid out a road map of how they would like to get to Mars." But several factors need to be considered when planning such a daunting mission. According to Manor-Chapman, one of the most significant obstacles is the trade-off between the number of people that can go on the mission and the cost of the supplies necessary to keep those people alive (we don't want a Martian situation, now do we?):
That new lightsaber
Real-life lightsabers are all very well and good, but what about that crossguard lightsaber from the Force Awakens trailer? The panelists asked the room to take an informal vote on that controversial new lightsaber and the results were- surprisingly enough- controversial. The room was just about evenly split, which echoes the widespread concern that the new design is too unwieldy to be realistic within the rules of the Star Wars universe. But Star Wars fight choreographer Steve Huff said they were able to test out the new lightsaber with several different fighting styles in the studio, and were ultimately able to come up with a method that worked: