Night Sky Gaze
star wars science

What ‘Star Wars’ Gets Right–And Wrong–About Space

Before you get mad, we love Star Wars! It’s the greatest science fiction franchise ever, and we’ll definitely be watching The Rise of Skywalker on opening night.

But how much of the Star Wars universe is based in actual science fact?

Exoplanets

When George Lucas first cooked up the idea of the Star Wars universe in the 70s, astronomers didn’t yet know if exoplanets were even possible. The idea of whole galaxies of life-supporting worlds seemed majorly far-fetched.

Since then, however, we’ve discovered more than a thousand exoplanets–planets that exist in solar systems other than ours. We’re learning more about the possibilities of habitable worlds all the time. The ice planet of Hoth, Cloud City on Bespin, and even habitable moons like Endor are all possible. Now, whether you’ll actually find Ewoks and Tauntauns is another story…

Space Battles

Pretty much every sci-fi flick that involves space battles gets this one wrong. Explosions in space shouldn’t be big clouds of fire and smoke. That’s because there simply isn’t enough oxygen in the vacuum of space to sustain a fireball like that.

We also shouldn’t be able to hear those explosions or the sound of laser cannons or proton torpedoes. There’s no sound in space, friends!

Finally, there’s not enough gravity for X-Wings and TIE Fighters to crash when they’ve been hit. Instead, they should continue in a straight line in whichever direction they were originally headed.

3D Holograms

Princess Leia’s hologram seems like no big deal now. Ditto the holographic chess game that Luke and Chewbacca played on the Millennium Falcon. Holograms and augmented reality are everywhere these days. At the time, Pokemon Go wasn’t even a glimmer of an idea, so score a big point for LucasFilm!

Asteroid Fields

In The Empire Strikes Back, when Han flies the Falcon through a crowded asteroid field, it’s a thrilling chase. In real life, even the densest asteroid fields are nowhere near as dense. In fact, there are often millions of miles between the nearest objects.

Hyperspace

Sadly, hyperspace travel isn’t likely in the real world. The filmmakers had to come up with some way for our heroes to travel the vast distances between solar systems without spending months or years on their ships. LucasFilm’s answer was the hyperspace drive, which kicks ships like the Millennium Falcon into an extra-dimensional plane where they can travel faster than light.

There’s also the little problem that Han Solo boasted he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. As any astronomy geek can tell you, a parsec is a unit of distance, not time. Maybe the meta-joke is that Han doesn’t understand the science of the immensely powerful ship he pilots?

Lightsabers

The big question, of course, is whether lightsabers are a possibility. Who hasn’t dreamed of doing battle with a glorious, glowing sword that can cut through steel?

Unfortunately, lightsabers would be difficult–if not impossible–to create in real life. Scientists think that the closest version we could make would involve a plasma beam surrounded by a limiting magnetic field. But that would take an immense amount of power–and it would almost certainly cause horrible burns for everyone in the area.

Deana Adams

When Deana Adams was a kid, she begged her parents for a backyard telescope every birthday and Christmas until they finally caved. As an avid amateur stargazer, she memorized the constellations and hunted for the planets, collecting facts about astronomy the way other kids collected baseball cards or Barbies.

Deana is a contributing writer at NightSkyGaze. She still has her very first telescope.