Science fiction has always been fertile ground to look to the future and depict how technology will advance, especially communications. This has been the case for the Star Wars saga ever since the first one was released over 40 years ago. Admittedly, it’s a little confusing in this universe. It feels like it’s the future, but it was really a long time ago. Even so, a lot has changed since 1977. A lot of the communication devices shown on screen don’t feel like they are from a galaxy far, far away.
The Bantha in the Room
The Star Wars saga spans many decades and a few generations, yet the technology never seems to advance, even taking steps backward as the movies progress. From the introduction of young Anakin Skywalker to the rise to power of his grandson Kylo Ren (over 60 years), the devices and processes have remained unchanged, most notably the communication devices used by the characters.
On Earth, technology has advanced significantly over the same amount of time. So, this leaves us with a question: why does it feel like nothing seems to advance in the Star Wars universe, from communication devices to transportation?
First, we must consider the events that are taking place over the course of the story. In the prequels, we are shown a mostly free galaxy where systems are trading and producing with each other. There are no limits to what advancements could take place. By the end of the third movie, the new Galactic Empire has risen. A civil war is brewing, and the totalitarian regime is mining resources across the galaxy to build a moon-sized space station capable of destroying planets. Not once, but twice. It’s safe to say that innovation outside of the Empire is stifled and strictly forbidden. After (Spoiler alert) the Empire is defeated do planets begin to rebuild, and we start seeing innovation begin again. Only for a new regime to rise and begin where the Empire left off.
Let’s, for a minute, think about innovation here on Earth. The wheel is one of the oldest pieces of technology and has remained fundamentally unchanged. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies perfectly to this scenario, and to a lot of the technology in Star Wars. In the middle of a galactic civil war, if the technology works, primarily communication devices, it doesn’t matter how it looks. Like, say, for example, a woman’s razor.
How Word Travels
Now that we’ve geeked out and explained the political and economic turmoil of the Star Wars galaxy let’s get into a few of the ways the heroes and villains communicated. Not all communication devices and techniques are perfect, but they are fun to consider.
Even with advancements in technology, on Earth, we still have a gap in our communication: language. In the Star Wars universe, language barriers are almost non-existent. Yes, it appears that characters can understand all sorts of language, and most of them speak Basic. Even if this weren’t the case, a trusty protocol droid would be able to solve the issue. The ever-chatty C-3PO is more than happy to announce he is fluent in over six million languages, including binary language for load lifters, which is very similar to vaporators. In our universe, tech giants are developing technology for real-time translation to eliminate the language barrier for good.
The other half of the droid duo, R2-D2, has shown throughout the series a connecting device that allowed access to almost any computer in the galaxy. R2-D2 could open doors, hack networks, and shut down trash compactors, all with the same connector in the same port. Of all the technology in the Star Wars universe, universal connections across all devices just might be the most desirable. Especially if you’ve ever had to deal with multiple chargers and connector cables, which we all have.
Another form of communication technology that hasn’t made the jump to the real world is the hologram. We’ve seen the use of holograms at music festivals and other events, but not to the extent that it’s used in Star Wars. Characters can use holograms for face-to-face communications or record messages to plea for the help of certain Jedi Knight. Along with the HoloNet allowing long-distance communication was the speed in which the holograms were sent. Users could communicate between groups of people across the galaxy in speed that rivaled that of light. Impressive.
However, our very own form of the HoloNet might be closer than we realize. Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have theorized about Internet-transmitted holograms that could be used to enable telecommuting. Better yet, the device transmitting the hologram is about the size of R2-D2.
We will refrain from discussing projections and communication via the Force.
While we still have to wait for hyperdrive to make its way into the real world, we have been able to make monumental leaps forward in the ways we communicate. Star Wars and other science fiction movies have always inspired future scientists and innovators to advance our technology boundaries. With programs like STEM opening the world of technology to more people, we have hope for our future. May the Fourth be with you!