The Star Wars franchise has never held its galaxy far, far away to a high standard of accuracy. After all, nothing was going to get in the way of George Lucas having his hands on your childhood toy money, especially science. Which is why many of the on-screen technologies and environments were created simply to move the plot along or because they looked cool, a trend Rogue One unabashedly continues.
We love Star Wars as much as the next droid. Like any fan, we're not going to let some sciencey mumbo jumbo get in the way of our enjoying Darth Vader's return to the big screen. Then again, like any true fan, we love debating the integrity of the sagas almost just as much. At its heart, Star Wars was always meant to be an entertaining space romp filled with philosophy, laser swords, political intrigue (ugh), and a tiny green gremlin speaking with poor grammar. It is science fiction at its best, with a whole lot of emphasis on the fiction. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun poking holes in its cosmic logic, not to mention save anyone hoping to build their own lightsaber a rude awakening. You and your limbs can thank us later.
Here are 15 Times Star Wars Failed at Basic Science. Other than creating Jar Jar Binks.
12 Overly Simplistic Planets
This might come as a surprise to those who slept through their high school science classes or learned ecology from Super Mario Bros, but places capable of supporting life usually don't have only one environment. A desert planet. An ice planet. A jungle moon. An ocean world. A furry Wookie land. The list goes on. Habitable places possess complex ecosystems balancing varying levels of water and the other essentials from one region to the next. So if you're on Tatooine and want to go skiing, you shouldn't have to leave the planet. That's just math.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe explains away this conundrum by stating that many of its worlds were modified following colonization and specifically adapted (in both atmosphere and gravity) to accommodate the most populated species. These Type I “planetary civilizations” contain advanced inhabitants who have mastered the ability to control all sources of energy on their planet to, say, modify weather at will. Though this doesn't explain how the indigenous Jawas can conveniently breathe the same air as Luke Skywalker. Which leads us into another problem...
11 Aliens That Look and Act Like Humans
Isn't it a little odd that all the major players in Star Wars are human? (Sorry Chewie.) Or that a vast majority of its aliens share suspiciously similar biological traits? Unless the galaxy is incredibly small, there's a slim chance so many would so closely resemble the same race and evolve the exact same physiology, let alone be able to drink Juri Juice together at Mos Eisley's.
Sure, we have George Lucas' lack of room in the budget and the fact the film is an Earthling production to thank for all the hominids running around. But it's left fans in a bit of a bind explaining this evolutionary enigma. After all, not every character was fortunate enough to get turned from a rotund middle-aged Irishman with a penchant for fur into an obscenely fat space slug when the money started rolling in.
Many try to point to “parallel evolution” as the answer. This is the development of a similar trait in a related, but distinct, species descending from the same ancestor. Though it's a bit of a stretch to believe that when Han shot first, he was actually killing his distant green-skinned brother. As for all those humans, a popular theory posits that they originated from one planet like Coruscant millions of years prior to the fall of the Old Republic and advanced faster than any other race. (Because humans are awesome.) The plot of the canceled Alien Exodus novel would have taken this one step further and shown that they are actually all descendants from Earth who have forgotten where they came from. Which would explain why they speak English. And celebrate Christmas.
10 Making Sounds in Space
If the Death Star explodes in space and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound? Nope. Sound requires air (or some other medium) to travel. Without air, no sound. Being the near perfect vacuum that it is, space thus has no sound and all those pew pews going around are just in your head. Or at least they would be if Star Wars obeyed this basic rule of physics.
There is an exemption here, however. NASA has shown the ability to record cosmic noise via electromagnetic vibrations put out by pretty much everything in the universe. So, in space, you can hear a planet scream. You just can't hear the distinctive zoomings of a TIE fighter as it blasts away the competition or the high-pitched shrieks of R2-D2 after getting hit. Which means all those movies making a racket in space have it all wrong, unless of course you're in a Stanley Kubrick film, in which case space does make one other sound and that sound is classical music.
Now about that exploding Death Star...
9 Making Explosions in Space
The vacuum of outer space does more than keep the mute button pressed, it also prevents explosions on the scales shown in Star Wars. Since space is void of oxygen and fire needs oxygen to exist, it makes it very hard for things like the Death Star, Alderaan and poor Porkins to go boom the way they did in the films.
That's not to say these things wouldn't blow up. They would. It just wouldn't be as epic. That's because while things can explode in space, they need to provide their own source of oxidant. A lot of it. Not even the Death Star comes close to owning a large enough quantity to emit a sustained detonation. Which is surprising, given its $7.7 octillion per day operating budget. But that's space for you.
Instead of the brightly burning ball of fire that normally follows blowing a spaceship to smithereens, we'd get something more akin to a massive camera flash, followed by pieces of debris flying off in every direction. This is because any oxygen would be used up so quickly the fireball would be snuffed out immediately. You certainly wouldn't see flames randomly flying off. And you most likely wouldn't get that infamous Praxis ring of energy expanding outwards. However, all this scientific gibberish fails to take into account one thing: explosions are cool.
8 The Existence of Starkiller Base
While we're on the topic of massive space stations doing unrealistic things, let's talk Starkiller. Death Star 3.0 from The Force Awakens is the First Order's massive, planet-turned-weapon that arms itself by draining the energy from a nearby sun. Most first graders know the sun is really, really hot, and you probably shouldn't mess with it. That is unless you want to fry ants with a magnifying glass. Which is exactly what the First Order achieves on a scale that throws a planet-sized middle finger at science.
Converting the mass of a star into a solar system-killing megabeam would result in a butt load (scientifically speaking) of energy. While most of this energy would be used in the death ray, some would inevitably release into the base's atmosphere as waste heat. Even if that amount is 0.001% of the total joules created from the conversion, it would still raise the Starkiller's surface temperature by millions of degrees, ending the First Order's fun before it ever begins, taking out all its oddly placed trees and making the Resistance's job a whole lot easier. In retrospect, the First Order would have probably been better off just building a really big magnifying glass.
7 Spaceship Flight Patterns
All that awesome ship-on-ship combat action in Star Wars is based on World War II dog fighting. Being some of the most influential spacecapades ever filmed, we'd say it was the right choice. Just not the most scientifically precise one.
If you've ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey you have a general idea of how ships would move in space. Slowly and boringly. One thing you definitely won't see them doing is making a bank turn. Since there is no air to push against in space, ships wouldn't be able to easily change direction like fixed-wing planes flying in Earth's atmosphere. In order to turn, they would have to use some type of thruster, though it wouldn't be exciting to watch at all.
But that's just one way in which the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings, and rest of the Star Wars fleet act absurdly. The fact they fall after being hit, instead of continuing forward in the direction of the impact, is just as scientifically ridiculous, given there's no gravity in space. Not to mention the crazy amounts of fuel that would be needed to power all those X-Wings waywardly trying to bank.
6 Hyperspace Travel
According to Albert Einstein, it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object to light speed. Even if a ship could travel that fast, it would take years to go from one star to the next. Because nobody wants to sit in a theater for four years waiting for the Millennium Falcon to make it from Tatooine to Alderaan, George Lucas came up with hyperspace. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Einstein, no doubt.
The fictional hyperspace created by Star Wars is an alternate dimension that can only be reached by traveling at (or faster) than the speed of light. Passing through it enables starships to reduce their journey through space significantly by “jumping” from one point to another rather than traveling between them -- all made possible thanks to the convenient hyperdrive onboard. Despite how awesome it is to see stars suddenly stretch into laser beams, none of this is realistically feasible. Nor does it make sense. That is unless you can figure out what “point-5 beyond light speed" means.
5 Ewoks Not Dying a Horrible Death
Ask yourself this: What would happen if a giant spherical metallic boob equipped with a nuclear reactor detonated over the atmosphere of a moon filled with homeless care bears? It wouldn't culminate in a pan flute forest kegger, that's for sure.
If Return of the Jedi had taken a cue from science, its celebratory ending after the destruction of the second Death Star would most likely have included the horrific death of every living Ewok on Endor. Physicists have concluded this climax should have resulted in enormous chunks of debris plummeting to the forest moon's surface at around 220,000 miles per hour, resulting in dinosaur-extinction-esque sized impact craters.
Even if all that Empire space garbage were to burn up in the world's atmosphere, it would most likely turn into toxic soot anyway, spark planetary firestorms, incinerate the Ewoks, and destroy all those wonderful Storm Trooper-smashing Red Woods. The Ewoks would have been much better off if they just went ahead with their original plans of killing and eating Han, Luke and Chewie. Oh well, lesson learned.
4 Hand Blasters Going Pew, Pew
Probably one of the greatest things the Star Wars franchise has provided this world are the two indelible words: pew, pew. We've already touched on the soundlessness of weapons going off in space, but really, can you ever say “pew, pew” enough? Though just like their larger external counterparts, the hand blasters both the good and bad guys use indoors throughout the films should never make a peep either. The reason being that lasers don't make noise.
Some have argued it's the firing mechanism inside the weapons reverberating, but that's just a load of rancor. Because then how do you explain the recognizable ricochet sound caused by the Stormtroopers hitting everything but their intended targets. Don't believe us? Go into the bathroom, turn on the light and listen. There's a reason why your eardrums haven't exploded from all those photons hitting the mirror. Light doesn't make sound. We're not complaining, though. We love the sound of hand blasters, and we haven't yet found a situation where hearing it isn't appropriate. Pew, pew. Take that, science.
3 Keeping Time with Parsecs
“You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” What's not to love? Well, if you're Neil Degrasse Tyson, everything. The renowned celebrity astrophysicist has never been shy about flexing his astronomical chops, regardless if anyone's asking to see them. Which is why if you sat next to Neil while watching Han Solo boast about his lap time through the smuggler's route known as the Kessel Run, he would lean in and whisper, “A parsec is an obscure unit of distance equal to 3.26 light years. Neither has anything to do with time.”
Han bragging he made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs is the same as us saying we can run a marathon in 4 miles. A statement all the more confusing when you know the Kessel Run is 18 parsecs in its entirety. Lucas claimed the gaffe was intentional and intended to show Han as someone who didn't always know what they were talking about. On the other hand, fans in true fan-fashion retconned science so the statement makes perfect sense, rewriting Star Wars canon so the Kessel Run is conveniently completed by passing through a cluster of black holes. Being the fastest ship around, the Falcon could pass by a black hole closer than any other and create a more direct route. The only problem with this is that 12 parsecs is roughly 40 light years, which is unlikely to be the fastest route anywhere.
Regardless, we'll stick with George's cover-up, lean back over and whisper, “Who invited you anyways, Neil?”
2 Lightsabers That Cut Off Hands
If hand blasters shouldn't go pew, pew, lightsabers definitely should not hum. But they're awesome, so who cares? However this elegant weapon for a more civilized age has been lying to us all these years. They aren't made of light. Light doesn't have mass and thus can't cut through things, least of all Luke's hand or Kylo Ren's father.
A lightsaber combines a power source and light emitter focused by a Kyber crystal within a containment field. A negatively charged fissure inside the hilt causes the emitted light beam to arc back into itself, creating the blade. Technically, light could be configured into a laser to create a visible beam capable of cutting, but 1) lasers don't bend and 2) it would take so much energy to achieve this result that the machine would be far too big to carry.
Some argue these mystical blades are actually made of plasma. True, if you were to build your own lightsaber, you'd probably get the closest facsimile by encasing plasma in an electromagnetic field. The problem is that for it to be an effective weapon, the plasma temp would have to reach over 200 million degrees. This would have the unfortunate side effect of incinerating everything nearby, including the wannabe Jedi holding it.
Things are a whole lot safer and more fun when pretending lightsabers are actually made of light. Lucky for us, we all already have our very own scientifically accurate lightsabers -- they're called flashlights. Enjoy.
1 The Existence of Midi-chlorians
So yeah, we're about to nitpick the poodoo out of the Force. Which is kind of tough to do, since Star Wars never tried to take itself seriously when it came to this universal binding agent. That is until midi-chlorians appeared on the scene. For the first time, the films tried to rationalize a pseudo-scientific claptrap that offended the intelligence of fans in a way not felt since Jar Jar Binks was introduced a few minutes prior.
The Force was and still is one of the coolest aspects of Star Wars. This mystical energy that connects everything and everyone had us at, “These aren't the droids you're looking for.” So there really was no need to delve any deeper into the how and why. But then came along the Phantom Menace, with its yippees and monotone Natalie Portman, and before we knew it, we had microscopic cell whisperers dashing our dreams of ever moving the remote with our minds.
There is a real world precedent for little critters floating around our bloodstream telling us what to do. They're called mitochondria. These organelle create the chemical energy needed by cells to function. But they are more like batteries and don't interact with anything outside their immediate vicinity. A far more accurate real world representation are the Higgs bosons. Used by the Higgs field, these particles interact with every other particle ever created to maintain a universal energy field. Sound familiar?
Regardless, none of this technobabble adds anything to the Force. If anything, it takes away from the mythos. Which is why Midi-chlorians are proof that some things are better left unexplained. Kind of like the science of Star Wars.
Did we miss any other science fails? Can you rationalize any of the above better than we can critique it? Let us know in the comments.