Engineers Explain: Star Wars IRL

By Engine Room Posted 12mth(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes


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Happy May the Fourth! For those of you non-Star Wars fans, May 4th is a day dedicated to everything and anything Star Wars.

For many of us who grew up with the films that defined our childhoods, we know that one of the defining features of the films are the futuristic gadgets, spacecraft and robots that feature so prominently. Which begs the question: how much of the technology in Star Wars could be real? Do they have any scientific theories behind them?

We speak to three recent engineering graduates and bona fide Star Wars fans to help explain some of the most iconic tech for us. 

Could lightsabers work in the real world?

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Hands up – how many of you pretended to be a Jedi when you were young, and made swooshing sounds to mimic the hypnotic hum of a lightsaber?

An elegant energy sword wielded by Jedis, the lightsaber is probably THE most recognisable weapon in the franchise. Star Wars lore explains it is made of a plasma blade powered by fictional ‘kyber crystals’, and emitted from a metal hilt that can be shut off at will.

How does this hold up in real life? Benjamin Tham, an Electronic Systems graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic, tells it like it is: 

“A lightsaber is a blade of pure plasma energy that can cut through bone, metal, and just about any material. We would need a tremendous amount of energy stored within the hilt, channelled through circuits and energizers, to generate just a tenth of what is depicted in the movies. Our current level of battery technology can store just enough energy to power a flashlight.”

While there are engineers who have tried to make their own lightsabers, it’s extremely dangerous and difficult to pull off (don’t try this at home, young padawan!). Until we discover kyber crystals, we’re better off play-pretending to be Jedi knights for now. 

How do TIE Fighters zip around space with that design?

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If you didn’t already know, TIE stands for Twin Ion Engines. Much has been discussed in the Star Wars fandom about how these formidable aircrafts actually operate.

One theory is that those big side panels that give TIE Fighters their signature bowtie shape are solar panels, which generate electrical energy as fuel. Can this design give the air fighters the kind of power, acceleration and cool manoeuvring we see in the films? 

Kaden Ching, who just graduated with a diploma in Energy Systems and Management from Singapore Polytechnic, breaks it down for us:

“Unless TIE Fighters always move perpendicularly to the sun, it’d be extremely unlikely for their solar panels to get enough sunlight for an extended duration of time to produce enough energy for the amount of flying they do. In real life, they would also be the least aerodynamic aircrafts of all – the large and bulky panels would make the ships very difficult to control. The pilot would also only be able to see directly in front, as his side vision would be blocked by the two panels.”

Not so intimidating an aircraft in combat, after all. How did they even get signed off by the Imperial Forces?   

Is hyperspace travel really possible?

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"Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova.” Who could forget this famous moment in Episode IV: A New Hope, when we witnessed Han Solo’s explanation of the dangers of hyperspace jumping to Luke Skywalker for the first time?

For any of you readers who are not Star Wars fans, hyperspace is described as extra-dimensional space through which spaceships can travel to move across the galaxy faster than through real space. Ships must be equipped with something called ‘hyperdrive’, which allows them to jump between solar systems at faster-than-light speeds. 

Sounds impossible, right? You’ll be surprised to know that interstellar travel actually has a basis in theory – if we consider how wormholes work. It’s pretty complicated for us to explain so we’ll let Mohammed Arshad, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from Singapore Polytechnic, do it for us.

“Imagine a four-dimensional space, which could fold in on itself to create connections between two points. Wormholes, first suggested by Einstein, are a kind of tunnel that connects these two points in spacetime. In the Star Wars universe, hyperdrive could be a mechanism to warp spacetime and create a hole between two points, through which starships can ‘jump through’ and take a short cut. This mode of travel wouldn’t violate any laws of physics.” 

A wormhole, in theory 

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Whoa, that’s a lot of info to unpack. While scientists haven’t yet discovered evidence to indicate the existence of wormholes in our world, it could work, that’s all we’re saying. Imagine the places we could go to instantly if such technology existed in real life!

There are countless of seemingly too-cool-to-be-true creations in Star Wars that George Lucas dreamt up. But remember that as engineers, uncovering how things work are part and parcel of the job. Your passion to invent, design and build are what makes the impossible, possible.

So go forth, and… 

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