The "Star Wars" Worlds: More Science Than Fiction?

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
June 3, 2005

Everyone knows the Star Wars galaxy is located "far, far away." But how realistic are the alien worlds (see pictures) described in the science fiction saga?

To find out, National Geographic News checked in with two experts on everything extraterrestrial: Bruce Betts, a planetary scientist at the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California.

National Geographic News: So how believable is the Star Wars galaxy?

Betts: They [the filmmakers] have set up a fictional structure that is so far outside our reality that they can get away with an awful lot. What they have in their favor is that they use an entire galaxy.

A galaxy has, say, a hundred billion stars and maybe that many planets. If they've picked out the worlds where life has evolved or where life can exist, it's hard to argue there couldn't be 20 [such planets] in a galaxy of a hundred billion planets.

Shostak: What we might complain about is that so many of the galactic sentients [intelligent life-forms] seem determined to live on planets. Truly advanced life is likely to build its own habitats, and escape the limited area and resources of a planet. In Star Wars, it seems that only Monsieur Vader has figured this out, building his own artificial habitat, appealingly monikered the Death Star, even though it's not a star at all. But "Death Space Habitat" doesn't have as nice a ring to it.

NG News: Should we assume the major characters are human?

Betts: The literature, I think, refers to them as humans sometime. Although we're in a galaxy far, far away, I still make the assumption that these people breathe oxygen. That makes things a little tricky.

No matter what atmosphere they drop into, they're able to breathe. It seems odd that the Wookiee planet, for example, would have the right amount of oxygen for people who grew up on Tatooine, when we know that even going to a higher altitude on Earth becomes a problem in terms of oxygen. But now I'm just nitpicking.

NG News: By all means, nit-pick.

Shostak: Maintaining a cohesive empire, or even a republic, over a decent swath of any galaxy would be impossible without faster-than-light travel, of course. You need FTL travel, which Star Wars has, to even contemplate such far-flung organizations.

Even so, it all seems unlikely, because the various inhabitants, many of which are biological, will have evolved at different times. Consequently, the top species will be many millennia ahead of the number two species, in terms of evolution, and millions and billions of years ahead of your average intelligent species. They won't want to share drinks with them in a Mos Eisley cantina.

Continued on Next Page >>


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