The Real Life Equivalents of Famous Sci-Fi Weapons

Sunday, 03 September 2017 - 6:20PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Science of Star Wars
Sunday, 03 September 2017 - 6:20PM
The Real Life Equivalents of Famous Sci-Fi Weapons
Lucasfilm / CBS
Ever wondered what goes into creating a crazy science fiction weapon like a phaser or a lightsaber? Being fictional, they all had to come from somewhere during production.

At Escape Velocity 2017 in Washington DC, the DC Stunt Coalition came by to show off a subject they're well-versed in: really cool weapons from famous movies. Avid stunt enthusiasts Elliott Merker, Abra Burkett and Anthony Parker explained some of the real life fighting styles and weapons that inspired the "phasers and sabers" of science fiction:

Ray Guns, Phasers, and Blasters

The concept of lasers - which some folks forget is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" - has been around for a long time, with an old legend claiming that during 212 BC, Archimedes constructed a "death ray" which used mirrors to set enemy ships on fire. More conventional lasers started appearing in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and ray guns in things like Flash Gordon, but a real-life equivalent didn't appear until the creation of the "Maser" in 1953 - just replace "light" in the laser acronym with "microwave." 

After the introduction of masers, more complicated sci-fi weapons followed like phasers (with different settings) in Star Trek, and more realistic looking blasters in Star Wars. Most of the plasma-firing blasters were modeled after real weapons, with the Stormtroopers' standard E-11 blaster rifle looking like sterling submachine guns, and Han Solo's trusty DL-44 blaster pistol looking like Mauser Broomhandles. 



As for artificially intelligent guns like those found in Robocop or Terminator, our society may be getting closer to those, but we aren't there yet. The closest equivalent that the military is willing to try out is something like the "Sea Whiz," an automated anti-missile tracking system. It doesn't look quite as threatening as an ED-209 Enforcement Droid, but a laser-version does exist aboard the USS Ponce:



Gun Kata and Kirk-Fu

It's very common in science fiction to add souped up martial arts of some kind, and most have some form of real life martial arts style that they begin with. Currently, one of the few sci-fi styles without a major equivalent is Christian Bale's "gun-kata" from Equilibrium, which combines some Wing Chun elements with dual-wielding guns you fire the entire time. While DC Stunt Coalition claims it's possible to use such a style, so long as you always keep track of where you and your opponent's barrels are facing, there's no place crazy enough to teach gun-based hand-to-hand.

via GIPHY



Slightly more feasible, if not by much, is Captain Kirk's gruff style of fighting, sometimes lovably referred to as "Kirk-Fu." His love for chops and two-fisted back blows comes from Gene Roddenberry, who combined his history of writing fight scenes for tough sheriffs in Western radio dramas with an eventual interest in Eastern martial arts. Thus, the sort-of useful Trek fighting style was born, although DC Stunt Coalition warned that you're more likely to hurt yourself trying it.

via GIPHY



Most realistic would be the mix of styles found in Firefly and Serenity, which have a ton of useful hand-to-hand styles, even with giant guns like Vera lying around (side note - Jayne's "Vera" gun is modeled after a Kalashnikov shotgun). River Tam combines kung fu and kickboxing with some ballet training for a more fluid style of carnage, Mal Reynolds combines judo with old fashioned brawling, while The Operative uses a complicated mix of kung fu, karate, and Filipino kali.



Bat'leths and Lightsabers

Obviously, there's no real laser swords just yet, like lightsabers (although they're technically plasma swords). But the elegant weapons for more civilized ages do take in a number of different inspirations, mostly from normal, metal swords and how they were used.

There's technically seven different forms of lightsaber combat in the Star Wars universe, each based off different weapons - Count Dooku's "Form II" emulates foil fencing, Anakin's "Form V" handles lightsabers much like Shaolin practitioners do, etc. But practically, each trilogy has handled lightsaber fights differently, with the Original Trilogy basing its plasma swords off Kendo-style katanas, the New Trilogy treating lightsabers like longswords in European styles of sword fighting, and the Prequel Trilogy turning lightsaber duels into kung-fu fights.

For the record, some games like Knights of the Old Republic feature Jedi who duel-wield lightsabers, which is feasible with real swords, but extremely tough to use defensively and should be avoided unless you have a death wish. Like the bo staffs they're based on, double-bladed lightsabers are a more practical choice.



Moving into Trek weapons, the Klingon Bat'leth is an especially recognizable giant knife, based closely on the deer horn knives used in various Chinese martial arts, particularly Baguazhang. They're handy tools, with no wrong way to use them, although the Klingon version is much bigger than the otherwise handheld deer horn knives. To get a sense of scale, check out the Bat'leth prop showed off at Escape Velocity:



The other notable weapon from Star Trek (besides phasers) is the Lirpa, used in the unusually violent Vulcan mating challenge, as seen in the original series episode "Amok Time" when Kirk and Spock nearly kill each other with staffs with sharp metal edges. These are based on Shaolin monk's spades, which feature a blunt handle on one side and a sharp blade on the other.

Much like a shovel, which it is - monks found them useful to fight with at one point, and created their own versions, which led to one of the most famous fights on Star Trek history.

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