Throughout its enormously successful decades-long history, the Star Wars universe has inspired a host of spinoffs: TV shows, video games, and comics, as well as popular toys and even theme parks. Action-packed plot sequences, dynamic characters, and exciting future technology all play an integral role in creating the magical realm that is the infamous galaxy far, far away.
When the first film was released in 1977, as well as the corresponding comic series, Star Wars depicted a number of innovations that were still out of reach at the time. But today’s technological landscape is a different place – many fantastical tools that once dwelt within the minds of filmmakers and comic book artists have found their way to the reality of our everyday lives.
Prosthetic limbs figure in largely within the Star Wars universe – from Darth Vader’s robotic limbs to Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand, even all the way to Darth Malak’s prosthetic jaw in the Knights of the Old Republic games and comics, characters lose appendages left and right. In the past fifteen years, great strides have been made in real-world prosthetics making the use of advanced sensor and gripping technology. In 2014, the FDA even approved a mobile, battery-powered prosthetic nicknamed the “Luke Skywalker Arm.”
Beyond just robotic limbs, robotic technology has made other dramatic leaps, taking us far beyond what was possible in the 1970’s. Digital assistants with the skills of C-3P0 and other artificial intelligence droids are now capable of providing their services in correlation with increasingly-popular home automation systems. The mouse droids of the Death Star are now becoming a reality with home security robots like the Avatar III, and Alexa, the voice of the Amazon Echo, an advanced standalone home automation device that sits on a tabletop. Alexa, Siri and other tools of their ilk will take us to the next era of robotic-assisted convenience.
The holographic displays that fans of R2-D2 will appreciate are also becoming commercially viable. In the Tales of the Jedi comics, Jedi and Sith masters like Vodo-Siosk Baas and Exar Kun were able to record themselves for later projections through holocrons. Tupac may not be a Jedi Master, but many can recall his appearance at Coachella as a “hologram”, which brought back this type of technology into popular imagination. More recently, an Australian team has utilized graphene to project high-definition holograms. Microsoft’s virtual reality platform, the HoloLens, may reach consumers as early as next year.
Another bit of Star Wars tech that was the envy of every fan is speeder and swoop bikes. Racing through the forest moon of Endor looked like fun, so long as the trees could be avoided. While the design is not quite that of a swoop bike screaming through the skyways of Coruscant, the Aero-X is a streamlined hovercraft that is reminiscent of a swoop or speeder bike. With a top speed of forty-five miles per hour, it may not be winning races against swoop gangs any time soon – but it also makes it less likely that a Ewok will ram you into a low-hanging tree branch.
While lasers may have seemed the realm of fantasy, laser cannons such as those seen in Star Wars have been creeping ever closer to the field of battle. While not exactly the turbolasers used on capital ships like the Star Destroyers or even personal ships like the Mynock in the Star Wars: Legacy comics, a canon designed by the US military and tested in 2014 uses highly focused beams of light to destroy its targets, such as incoming missiles. For a light cannon, this cannon is not exactly “light,” currently weighing in at over two tons.
And of course, there are lightsabers. While scientists have debated the feasibility of this weapon, MIT scientists accidentally discovered a way to make photons interact with each other in a way similar to a lightsaber beam. It may not be able to cut through a door, but it’s a start.
It remains to be seen what new sci-fi technology will be released into the world with the upcoming release of The Force Awakens – but what we can all be certain of is that all Star Wars fans will see that the choice is in their hands to make those fantasies a reality.