Book Review

Larissa Tetsch

Mark Brake and Jon Chase:
The science of Star Wars. The scientific facts behind the force, space travel, and more!

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (1 Dec. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1944686282
ISBN-13: 978-1944686284
ASIN (Kindle Edition): B01HDVCX8A
€12.49 (Paperback), €11.24 (Kindle Edition)

May the Force Be With Us!

“Prepare ship for light speed... – no, light speed is too slow. We’re gonna have to go right to ludicrous speed!” Photo: MGM

Will humans one day settle on Mars? Will we ever be able to build a functional lightsaber or use the Force to perform Jedi mind control? Mark Brake and Jon Chase set out to find the truth.

If there is one science fiction saga that has inspired generations of movie lovers and fascinates young and old, it’s the story that takes place a “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Whether it’s the catchy musical theme (yes, even kindergarten kids can be found trumpeting it), the menacing figure of Darth Vader printed on endless promotional items (from toddlers’ pyjamas to cookie jars to armchairs) or the distinctive Stormtrooper uniform, Star Wars, the “epic space opera” by George Lucas celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and seems to be more popular than ever before. Today, almost every child is familiar with the Star Wars characters in one way or another due to successful merchandising and a TV series based on the original Star Wars saga.

Intergenerational entertainment

In 1977, the first part of the original trilogy, entitled A New Hope, hit movie theatres, followed by The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Roughly twenty years after the release of the first Star Wars movie, a prequel trilogy was launched, and in 2015 the first part of a sequel trilogy conquered the hearts of “science fictionophilic” cineastes. If no more losses like Princess Leia/Carrie Fisher’s death have to be written in, the last movie will (hopefully) answer our remaining questions in 2019. Thus, Star Wars will embrace a period of 42 years, a time span in which society, technology and science have vastly changed.

It seems that the popularity of Star Wars is mostly based on its ability to make people dream of a place where humanity has cast off its limitations and thus the galaxy is truly our own. But is space travel really within human reach? Will we ever have the chance of meeting up with life forms originating from other worlds? Is artificial intelligence about to assume leadership on Earth? These and plenty of other questions are addressed by the British authors Mark Brake and Jon Chase, who promise to reveal the, “kernel of the brute” of popular Star Wars inventions. Brake, one of the UK’s first chairs in science communication, received worldwide attention for developing the first undergraduate degrees in Science and Science Fiction and Astrobiology. Together with Chase, who calls himself a Science Rapper, Mark tours Europe with “Science of…” road shows covering different science fiction TV and movie series.

After a chewy beginning ...

Given its authors’ background, the Star Wars Science book targets science fictions fans who are undeterred by physics and technical details. Profound scientific knowledge is not necessary, but it helps to know the saga’s characters and settings. The book itself is divided into five conceptual themes of “Space Travel”,” Space”, “Aliens”,” Tech” and “Bio-Tech”. Although this division makes perfect sense, the assignment of the mostly rather short chapters to these themes often seems arbitrary. The first theme starts with more general and philosophical questions, including what belongs to the Stars Wars canon and what doesn’t, how the saga has influenced the perception of space and space travel and what main messages Star Wars delivers. Your reviewer admits that she felt a certain temptation to skip these pages, but fortunately her persistence was rewarded. Next time she watches Return of the Jedi, she will probably not rejoice with the rebels and Ewoks of Endor upon the destruction of Death Star II.

Altogether, the book offers much more than just the scientific facts to which the subtitle refers. Apart from that, facts sometimes have to be replaced by informed guesses (which the authors do not only successfully but also wittily), the book also dares to glance into the future of our own, not only technical, but also cultural, future. How much artificial intelligence is desirable? Are we sufficiently aware of the risks and dangers of this development? Critical undertones resonate when Star Wars is compared to other science fiction stories like George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) in regard to a surveillance state or the construction of future megacities where “the sun is a myth”.

... many inspirational insights

As a biologist, your reviewer certainly was especially strung out on the “Aliens” section. Here, the book dug deeply into the basics of evolution: Will the same mechanisms as on Earth apply on other planets or moons? What are the conditions needed for the emergence of life and how probable is it after all? What would organisms look like in other parts of the universe?

Probably the most interesting questions for many Star Wars fans were saved up for the last chapters. Doesn’t everybody want to know what the Force is or how a lightsaber works? Finally, after a chewy beginning the book was a real treat, with many moments of epiphany lurking between the pages. Sometimes a few drawings might have been helpful to illustrate the complicated physical contexts for readers with a less strong technical background. But after all, you could always look it up in the movies instead!

Letzte Änderungen: 11.02.2017