In a world that is evolving as fast as ours and in such a technologically advanced universe as Star Wars, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is fiction from what is science.
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, the final movie in the epic Star Wars saga, finally hits theaters today. Science fiction in general – and Star Wars in particular – is a highly popular genre, largely because of the exciting possibility that the technology we see on screen may one day be real.
But what is science and what is fiction in Star Wars? Could technology be ahead of real science?
The Force is at the heart of the Star Wars universe. “Give the Jedi their powers. It is an energy field created by all living beings. He surrounds us, penetrates us, unites the galaxy, ”as Obi Wan Kenobi once explained to Luke Skywalker. But is there any science to corroborate this?
Our current understanding is that there are four fundamental forces in the universe: the electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, and two different forces that control the atomic nucleus and the particles.
But different theories of physics are needed to describe these forces. Quantum mechanics, which explains nuclear forces, is notoriously incompatible with general relativity, which describes gravity. It is the Holy Grail of Physics to try to combine these theories and unify all forces into one "Force."
Science, however, supports the idea of an "all-encompassing" energy field. In fact, if we remove all things from the universe – galaxies, planets and people – we will have an exotic kind of energy in the empty space itself. Interestingly, this kind of energy from nothing can really give rise to forces, as implied in Star Wars. That said, its effect is small and it certainly cannot give anyone special powers.
Lightsabers are one of the most famous weapons in movie history. They are used by the Jedi and Sith and require knowledge of the Force before they can be controlled. Unfortunately, for now it is not possible to manufacture a lightsaber in the real world. One problem is that there is no way to make light emanate from a source and stop just a meter ahead – the light will continue to infinity unless it reaches something.
However, the name "lightsaber" can be misleading. There is a way to do something similar to this awesome weapon using plasma. The blade may be made of plasma and confined to an electromagnetic field. Theoretically, this plasma saber should be able to do many of the things lightsabers do in Star Wars.
We are still far from having this technology available. A much less glamorous use of plasmas is melting and welding metals. However, there are more exciting innovations using high energy plasmas. For example, plasmas are now used to propel charged particles at high speeds over extremely short distances.
This is helping scientists design and build increasingly compact particle accelerators, potentially up to a thousand times smaller – and considerably cheaper – than today's radiofrequency-based accelerators.
In this approach, a high intensity laser or particle beam is directed through a plasma medium. This allows the creation of a strong electric field that can be used to accelerate a beam of charged particles.
In the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker uses “Proton torpedoes” to destroy the Death Star – the gigantic space station that obliterates planets. According to the Star Wars canon, these are a type of explosive warhead that releases clouds of high-energy proton particles.
In the saga, these weapons are exceptionally maneuverable, so they can be used against a variety of targets. However, this is not the case with real torpedoes.
More than 40 years later, protons are used in a different type of war – the one against cancer. Proton beams can penetrate tissues at a specific distance determined by their energy. They can deposit most of that energy in a specific location, destroying a tumor but sparing healthy tissue. This is becoming a method of rapid treatment for cancer.
Although we cannot currently build droids like R2-D2 or C-3PO, research into machine learning and artificial intelligence brings these technologies even closer. So far, AI can already sort things out, play games, diagnose diseases, and predict scientific discoveries. But it is still far from developing general intelligence.
As you hear in Luke Skywalker's voiceover in the last trailer of the movie: "We Pass Everything We Know." And that is exactly what researchers are trying to do.