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How Star Wars Trumped Star Trek For Scientific Accuracy 495

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the set-phasers-to-awesome dept.
An anonymous reader writes "When George Lucas added the 'ring around the Death Star' effect to his 1997 re-release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the revision was almost as hated as Greedo shooting first, and to boot was seen as a knock-off of the seminal 'Praxis effect' in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). But a debunking astronomer claims that the Federation got it wrong and the fan-boys should thank Lucas for adding some scientific accuracy to his fictional universe."
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How Star Wars Trumped Star Trek For Scientific Accuracy

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:36PM (#33383166) Journal
    From the article:

    Sadly, upon closer inspection, we see that ILM blew this rare opportunity for scientific realism in the Star Wars universe ...

    Indeed, if you're familiar with Docking Bay 327 [], it is inside a large maitenance trench [] where the structural weaknesses should have created a horizontal ring exploding outward. Instead the movie gave us a vertical ring exploding outward.

    I hate most of Star Trek and basically considered Star Wars a religion as a human larva & pupa (see above docking bay reference). Being as how I was hatched after the last (real) Star Wars movie came out, my nipples exploded with joy at the prospect of seeing the originals on the big screen -- special edition or not. I was confused by the Han/Greedo exchange, found not a whole lot of added value in the other aspects but must have been the only person pleased with a more satisfactory Death Star explosion.

    But a debunking astronomer

    Yes, it's Phil "Bad Astronomer" Plait. Look, it's great you get people into astronomy via sci-fi religious flamebait stoking but ... I think you put it best in the last slide of one of your presentations [].

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:41PM (#33383242)

    When George Lucas added the 'ring around the Death Star' effect to his 1997 re-release of Star Wars episode IV: A New Hope, the revision was almost as hated as Greedo shooting first ...

    No. Greedo shooting first is far more hated. Enhanced explosion effects and cgi starfighters are the sort of thing expected not a major character personality rewrite.

    Adding ridiculous numbers of storm troopers to corridors is probably far more hated. The death star explosion is most likely pretty far down the list.

  • by nomadic (141991) <> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:41PM (#33383250) Homepage
    One of the things that Star Wars had over Star Trek is the fact that the science, or lack of it, was never a critical point of the story. Nothing wrong with bad science with your fantasy, but Star Trek tried making the bad science part of the plotline which was idiotic. Making up a particle that causes some problem, then making up another particle that fixes the problem caused by the first fake particle is beyond stupid. You don't gain anything from it.
  • MORE OLD NEWS!!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SunSpot505 (1356127) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:57PM (#33383472)
    You know I realize CmrTaco founded slashdot, so maybe i'm looking a gift horse in the mouth here, but come on dude!!!! The book cited was published in 2002. This following an article on Falconry that has been in use for at bare minimum 70 years??? Is it the slowest news day in history or what??
  • Re:Finally! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by morari (1080535) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @01:54PM (#33384148) Journal

    All the interesting gaps in the Star Wars storyline took place between Episode III and Episode IV. We all know Anakin's going to fall to the Dark Side, and there was no need to spend two movies doing it. The unexplored part of the movie timeline is what life is like immediately after he becomes Vader, but before the events of Episode IV.

    Agreed. However, I have my doubts that Lucas could have pulled off anything better than he did, regardless of his chosen timeline. He's just not very good, as he's proven time and time again. :\

  • by Kilrah_il (1692978) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:16PM (#33384422)

    I always liked this definition: "SF is a story about things that might happen, but we wouldn't want them to happen. Fantasy is about things that we would like to happen, but can't possibly happen." It's not an exact definition, but I thinks it's pretty good.
    I don't remember who said it (Maybe Arthur C. Clarke?). If anyone remembers, please enlighten me. Thanks.

  • by lymond01 (314120) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:44PM (#33384800)

    Good comment, no mod points. ST:TNG was a let down in terms of stories and characters. Picard was the only truly memorable character who wasn't a one-hit interest (like Worf's Klingonishness). Everyone else was boring. The stories were, well, days in the life mostly rather than the morality-questioning, slightly more epic tales of the original Star Trek. And Bones, Kirk, and Spock were the reason people watched the show.

    TNG episode that stands out the most didn't even have the main characters: The Game.

  • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by c0mpliant (1516433) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:51PM (#33384916)
    I know I'm going to be lambasted for this and let me say right from the start I don't like the majority of Star Wars, but I really liked Episode 3.

    To me it was one of the few ones who's plot was reasonably believable. Reasonably good build up, some tension thrown in, no overwhelmingly painful, tediously dragged out love story, good depiction of a coup and to top it off, only a few unanswered questions about what had taken place.

    Star Trek story lines usually had an air of believability to them. Granted some series had too many encounters with time travel (I'm looking at you Voyager), holodeck accidents (I'm looking at you TNG) and the Mirror Universe (I'm looking at you DS9), but you could usually find decent explanations for most things. To be honest I like the TV series approach better than the films, as was stated by others here, you have more time to develop characters, more time to develop lore and culture but you also invariably have more time to create garbage and bullshit. But overall I feel that the genius to bullshit ratio of Star Trek far exceeds that of Star Wars
  • by hazem (472289) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:28PM (#33385516) Journal

    Orson Scott Card said once there really is no difference:

    "Half joking, I was writing to Ben [Bova] about this very subject, and I said, look, fantasy has trees, and science fiction has rivets," Card said in a 1989 interview. "That's it, that's all the difference there is, the difference of feel, perception."

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:46PM (#33385780) Journal

    ST and SW are of such a high calibre of entertainment that I can forgive the bad physics, or at least tolerate them. But BSG (new) and B5 prove that you can have a good story AND still get the physics right without it "turning into a class" as you put it.

  • by penguinchris (1020961) <> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:49PM (#33385822) Homepage

    You can take it further than that. Star Wars is heavily inspired (with some elements lifted directly) from Akira Kurosawa samurai films.

    If you watch the Akira Kurosawa films, you realize that they're heavily influenced by American Westerns. Several of his films were re-made as westerns for western audiences, like The Magnificent Seven (Seven Samurai) and A Fistful of Dollars (Yojimbo). I think at least one of his films is a remake of a John Ford western, even, though I can't think of which one it is.

    So yeah, it's similar to a western. But it's not really a John Wayne kind of western, it's a western by way of Japan.

  • No, it's for people who want an exception to there precious Fictional stories to seem 'more important' then others. Nothing more.

    Name 1 book that is very different from fantasy? 1 story that would couldn't replace the fiction science with a fictional magic device.

      Isaac Asimov
    AI in rogot can easily be replaced by golems from fantasy.

      Robert Heinlein
    A immortal man? an AI, a talking car? Really? can't be replaced with magic?
    Clones can be doplgangers.

    and Arthur Clarke.

    HAL could also be a Genie in a bottle,.

    Just listing the Big Three does not an argument make. An dyes I have read most, if not all, of their works

    "Fantasy is a genre where anything goes"
    No, it's not. Like all stories it provides bounds and context. any story where 'anything goes' is crap.
    The ONLY difference is how far removed it is from current understanding and technology.

    IT's ALL still fiction.

    " too cerebral for visual consumption.
    and ther is it. NMY stuff is too smart for the unwashed masses. Hurumph. I should start to cal it the Hurumph fallacy. or maybe the "Petomane fallacy"

    I am familiar with Analog. I was a long time subscriber, plus I had boxes of me grandfathers copies. I read a lot of them.

    Fantasy is a sub genre of fiction.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:17PM (#33386196)

    Even Arthur C Clarke agrees:

    Third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    Ergo, anything from fictional science is, by definition, magic, and so falls into the realm of Fantasy.

    The Third Law's corollary would be:
    Any sufficiently developed science fiction novel is indistinguishable from a Fantasy novel.

    This even includes the venerated "Hard SciFi"

  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:58PM (#33386736)
    Sci-fi obviously gets this wrong, with billowing clouds of burning petroleum shot on earth composited over CG or scale models, it's almost completely wrong on every level.

    I'd love to see space battles done realistically some day. But here are some points.

    Gas, debri, behaves differently and quite counterintuitive in a vacuum. Everything in space follows a parabolic/freefall trajectory, and unless it has anything to hit, it'll continue follow that vector. Gases and liquid much the same. Any explosion or rapid venting would see gas streaming out into space fast.

    The closest example I can find is the rocket exhaust from a russian missle test that spiralled out of control over norway. []
    This gives you some idea of the odd way things behave in a vacuum. Rocket exhaust has a velocity of many km/s.

    As for explosions, only ionized glowing gas would be visible, or ice particles reflecting light, as well as any debri.

    In earths atmosphere explosives generate a shockwave traveling at many kilometres per second. In a vacuum this is relatively unimpeded, so would be faster.

    Yet in a vacuum shockwaves from gas alone would be relatively benign after a short distance. There is no overpressure/underpressure effect the same as in an atmosphere. If anything the shockwave from explosives nearby would give a vessel a sideways shove with rather even pressure exerted by high velocity gas impacting the hull.

    However in space, any debri or shrapnel is extra deadly.

    Consider that Project Orion was intending to use nuclear warheads detonated behind a vessel to propell it along. They were talking about distances of 100 metres, which with a mutli-kiloton bomb would only ablate a thin layer of steel off the pusher plate with each pulse.

    So a nuke could go off pretty close to the hull of a vessel and do little more than give it a nudge and a does of EM and gamma radiation - if enough nudge it might splatter the canned primates against the inside of the ship and cause some structural damage.

    Considering lasers are defeated by a reflective surface it seems to me the only plausible space weapon is projectiles. A high velocity delta would mean putting your packed lunch out a airlock at a 8km/s differnce would give it it's own weight in TNT and put a hole through a foot of steel.

    Thankfully Battlestar Galactica reboot got this right - they ditched lasers for more realistic old fashioned projectile rounds.

    A smaller projectile accelerated to relativistic speeds would be almost impossible to dodge for anything large and slow moving. If you could detect it at tens of thousands of kilometres away you'd have only a split second to move your vessel.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:17PM (#33386926) Homepage

    HAL isn't a good example of hard sci fi. Nor is the monolith for that matter. HAL was conceivable, not proven, but seemed plausible given what we knew at the time. You're right, though, Clarke and Kubrick didn't bother explaining in detail how HAl's AI was possible. The monolith was truly beyond comprehension, and is pure fantasy.

    The depiction of weightlessness and motion in space, the silence in vacuum, and other aspects of 2001 are good examples of hard sci fi. Those were done to be as scientifically accurate as could be given our excellent understanding of newtonian physics.

    In conclusion, I guess a story doesn't have to be all or nothing.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:28PM (#33387024)
    Sci fi is a subset of fantasy. In the middle of the 1900s, there was a large push towards sci fi that resulted in it dominating the literature market for fantasy. For some reason, the broader genre was redefined to be a subset of its subset. They even redefined fantasy to be only fantasy that isn't sci fi.

    I'd say that fantasy is any story that's wholly impossible in the current or any probable past (probable being based on the past being very much like the current present, any dragons, monsters, or aliens indicating it to be fantasy). King Arthur would be historical fiction until Merlin, dragons, and the Lady of the Lake got involved, then it becomes fantasy. Though I'm not sure where to put "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" as it's more a thought exercise about anachronism, but I've seen it listed as sci fi because it contains time travel. The time travel is a plot device which wasn't described as being science or mystical. I'd put it in historical fiction, but it doesn't fit well anywhere.

    I'd define sci fi as a type of fantasy where the plot is moved forward by plausible fictional technology which causes some unintended consequences. The "masters" used the ultimate in plausable. They defined circumstances which were later examined and determined to be plausible, used to create new scientific theories, or used as a blueprint for new tech. Jules Verne described almost exactly SCUBA and CCTV before anyone else and with detail that someone reading it now wouldn't even necessarily know that it didn't exist at the time he wrote the stories. Dyson spheres and ringworlds have been examined greatly. There's some fantasy in Niven's world for the races and interactions and some of the other tech, but enough of the core ideas are plausible enough to get it a sci fi label.

    The original Star Trek was political and social allegory, set in space. It's as much sci fi as Gilligan's Island. Though I could see an argument for Gilligan's Island being sci fi, with the professor inventing things when needed for plot devices, but also inventing them as a means of introducing tech that disrupts the social order, which is the definition of sci fi I like to use.
  • Re:Finally! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @06:30PM (#33387690)

    The turning to the darkside was set in motion from the second one. Sure it was accelerated somewhat during the latter portions of the third one, but thats what you get from showing it in a film. Lets not forget what Yoda said "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate". It was his fear which led him down the wrong path. The fear of being taken for granted, the fear of being an outcast, the fear of losing his one true love. Fear is a powerful emotion, which has corrupted bigger men in history than some fictional character in a Sci Fi fantasy film.

    Amen. But that's not necessarily bad. To correspond with Yoda's code, there was also a Code of the Sith [].

    "Peace is a lie. There is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken."

    A movie centered around Palpatine teaching Anakin/Vader something like that would have been an interesting story. In Episode III, Vader didn't even have the vaguest idea what he stood for. By the time Episode IV rolls around, he did.

    I learned more about Darth Vader playing KOTOR than I did in all six Star Wars movies.

    If Yoda's "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering" was the only accepted canonical phrasing of the Jedi Code, a simple correction, perhaps in the form "Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to strength. Strength leads to power." (with an implicit loop-closing "...and power instills fear, but only in others, like those wimpy Jedi!) would have sufficed.

  • by kanto (1851816) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:57PM (#33388282)

    Rod Serling [] has been attributed with the quote "fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible."

  • by thesandtiger (819476) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @08:09PM (#33388362)

    In the books the Monolith is just a very, very powerful computer + manipulator/nanotech created by a very, very advanced civilization. I think in the book 3001 they get into that quite a bit, as humanity had advanced to a point where they could begin to understand it. As the author himself said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - the monolith is a perfect example.

    I don't know that HAL *needs* an explanation - it's a computer, an artificial intelligence, and that was something that people kind of got at the time: computers were seen as artificial brains, HAL was a big brain, albeit neurotic as hell thanks to bad programming. In any case, "explaining" HAL is as necessary as people "explaining" the cold sleep or the drive on the ship - it's a kind of logical (albeit extremely optimistic) extrapolation of tech we have in front of us.

    Personally, the only book in the series that stretched my credulity to the breaking point was the ludicrous 2100 (I think that was the year) - why would people 90 years from now still care about *diamonds* as if they were valuable, when today we're able to make diamonds industrially and cheaply, and certainly could make artificial gemstone quality diamonds given more effort in a few years. Seriously, it would be as if someone in 1900 wrote a story about people in the year 2000 finding a cache of buggy whips or something.

  • Re:Title failure (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:27PM (#33388744)

    > Ah, but with the exception of telekinesis, everything you listed only existed in the Original Series.

    Oh yeah? What about "Man of the People" on TNG where Alkar influenced Troi's behavior with his psychic powers?

    What about "Transfigurations" where John Doe killed Worf, and then resurrected him?

    Not to mention the quasi-magical powers of the Q... Star Trek has ALWAYS had a healthy dose of magic mixed with its science and pseudoscience!

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Friday August 27, 2010 @06:25AM (#33390640) Journal
    When you're a fan of westerns, every film seems to be essentially a western.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.