Nautilus

The Science of Star Wars Weaponry

If you are already a Star Wars fan, you know that the stories take place in a galaxy far, far away, so the laws of physics should still apply. On the other hand, these are obviously works of fiction; is there any point in applying those laws? Yes—it is both fun and worthwhile to do so. Sometimes the physics shown in the movies is spot on while on other occasions it would require advanced technology or new discoveries in the realm of physics to make sense. Either way, science is about the critical thinking process needed to tackle a problem rather than the specific situation in which the problem appears. There’s no reason we can’t consider Yoda force-lifting rocks instead of pulleys lifting blocks!

Still, the films don’t always provide all the answers needed to explain a physics topic. What exactly is a lightsaber? Is it a plasma or a beam of light? Depending on the source you consult outside of the movies, it could be either. Here, what is depicted in the movies is taken as definitely true, but other sources are considered when needed. For the sake of clarity, not all calculations are shown in full detail. If you want to reproduce them on your own, you can do that with the help of an introductory physics book. The beauty of science is that no matter who or where you are, you should be able to reproduce the results of another person’s work.

Lightsabers

Lightsabers are what makes Star Wars, Star Wars. On the surface, they’re just fun to watch. They also help us feel the conflict and emotional upheaval the characters are experiencing. What would the iconic “I am your father” moment in The Empire Strikes Back be without the preceding lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader? They are clearly a brilliant element of the films, but ... does the science hold up?

The extended universe of establishes that lightsabers are powered (and colored)). Do these crystals have any basis in reality? Putting that aside, are all the different colors and designs practical?

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus10 min read
Talking Is Throwing Fictional Worlds at One Another: A linguist exposes the inner truths about language.
A few years ago, David Adger was in his office at Queen Mary University of London, where he is a professor of linguistics, when the phone rang. It was a British TV company that wanted him to invent a language for monsters with no lips, just big teeth
Nautilus9 min read
When Words Fail: Where our minds go when words let us down.
In Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable, the anonymous narrator laments, “I’m all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their setting, no sky for their dispersing.” For Beckett’s narrator, words have become unmoore
Nautilus8 min read
Can New Species Evolve From Cancers? Maybe.
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Aggressive cancers can spread so fiercely that they seem less like tissues gone wrong and more like invasive parasites looking to consume and then break free of their host. If a wild