Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away
Even though I was only 11 years old when I first saw Star Wars, I had two reactions to the scene of Luke Skywalker zipping across the Tatooine desert in his land speeder. I first thought, "Cool! I want one of those." My next thought was, "How does that work? Every hovercraft I've ever seen creates a seal between the craft and the ground to contain the air." I was a precocious child.
Silly me. It wasn't hovering at all. It was defying gravity a significantly more complicated feat, but one that easily explains the lack of a hovercraft skirt. And according to Jeanne Cavelos in The Science of Star Wars , such an antigravity vehicle would need only to carry around a cargo of "exotic matter" equal to its own mass to counteract the planet's gravity. "Exotic matter" the real term for "any material that pushes objects apart, that has in essence repulsive gravity or antigravity" it turns out, is a theoretical probability. Sure, science has never detected, let alone seen or confined, any of this negative matter (not to be confused with antimatter), but on paper, it's out there. So while on earth we are a long, long way from flying without worrying about Bernoulli's principle, maybe a more technologically advanced civilization millions of light years away has mastered antigravity.
The possibility of worlds as fantastical as Tatooine, of ships like the Millennium Falcon hitting light speed, of light sabers, truly intelligent robots, and socially evolved alien species is the beauty of books like The Science ofStarWars . Adding even a hint of science fact to the far-out science fiction of George Lucas makes it all that much more magical.
And as she did in The Science of the X-Files , Cavelos packs a lot of facts into The Science of Star Wars . Breaking down the fictional Star Wars realm into chapters on "Planetary Environments," "Aliens," "Droids," "Spaceships and Weapons," and "The Force," Cavelos draws on geology, astronomy, cosmology, ecology, biology, computer science, physics, astrophysics, and psychology (to name just a few) to apply the latest scientific thinking to topics as diverse as the Jawas' glowing eyes and the gait of C-3PO.
Star Wars is escapist mythology. But after decades of development, it is also a well-thought-out and rich alternative universe. The Science of Star Wars makes the details of that unreal world more real than you may have imagined.