The Force Awakens and Technology in the Star Wars Universe

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10/21/15

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The official trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed dropped Monday night, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve watched it enough times to wear holes in the tape (assuming YouTube videos came on VHS tapes, anyway). This is our first canonical look at the Star Wars universe some 30 years after the iconic Battle of Endor, and it’s an interesting window into how the technology of the Star Wars universe has — or in this case, hasn’t — evolved since Episodes IV – VI.

Note: For the purposes of this article, I’ve stuck mostly to the “new” canon, which consists of the original movies, the prequels, the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, and the new comic books and tie-in novels issued in advance of Episode VII. In Star Wars, the Battle of Yavin is treated similarly to the BCE / ACE divide in modern chronology. Events before the battle are labeled as “BBY” and count down, while events after the battle are denoted as ABY and count up.

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Star Wars has always portrayed technology as progressing much more slowly than other famous franchises. One of the most common features of sci-fi universes is their depiction of technological progress, even if that progress ultimately creates dystopian settings. TV shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation or Battlestar: Galactica, in contrast, depict a future in which technology continues to evolve quickly. Even by Star Wars standards, however, the vessels and technologies on display in The Force Awakens haven’t changed nearly as much as one would expect.

In Star Wars, technologies like hyperspace travel, advanced AI, and hologram projection were just as ubiquitous at the beginning of the prequels as anything shown later in the franchise. Even on a backwater planet like Tatooine, Luke carries a blaster, drives a high-speed hovercraft, and isn’t fundamentally astonished to discover that blades of energy that can cut through anything actually exist. What sets The Force Awakens apart from the prequels is that Lucas depicted a very different array of starships, fighters, and combat technology in the prequels as compared to the films that came later.

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In Episode VII, virtually every example of technology shown in the various trailers appears either directly derived from or identical to hardware we’ve seen in previous films. Stormtroopers still wear nearly-identical armor. Starfighter technology is clearly derivative — the TIE fighters and X-Wing match-up that occurs towards the end of the trailer both feature starfighters that are closely related to the versions seen in the original trilogy. This is rather interesting, given that Lucas’ prequels used a variety of fighter designs that were visually distinct from the fighters in Episodes IV-VI, even if they often featured similar visual themes.

We haven’t seen many capital ships at all so far, but it appears that the First Order is using modified Imperial Star Destroyers. These iconic wedge-shaped vessels are instantly identifiable as “Star Wars ships,” but again, Lucas chose a different path. The early Star Destroyers that the Galactic Republic deployed in Attack of the Clones and continued using through the Clone Wars cartoons and Revenge of the Sith are clearly of a different class than the ISD that stretched across the cineplex when Episode IV debuted in 1977.

 

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