Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke, via brainyquote.com
Today I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. But this is not intended as a review of a movie that has been seen and reviewed by others. My thoughts run to (technological) life imitating (science fiction) art. Here’s what I will say about the movie: I enjoyed it. Humor, blasters, evil empires, love and courage. Okay, so some of the plot does mimic a progression that I saw in the original trilogy. And the feel is different from those original Star Wars (non-remastered, CGI -modified rework by Lucas) films I saw in the 1970s and 1980s.
I started thinking how science fiction, particularly Star Trek and then Star Wars, have given us a world where we have satellite-beamed entertainment, video-communicators in everyone’s pocket (Iphone and android), and space travel that is so routine, few are awed anymore. Yet we all yearn to visit other planets, other stars and engage with whomever is “out there”. How many were fascinated by the flyby of Pluto, and the still-communicating Voyager satellites entering interstellar space. We have started to change our view of aliens from those wanting to eat us to visitors.
What lists can you come up with of the science fiction later becoming science fact? Mine starts with writings from a hundred-fifty years ago.
- From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne (1865) a vessel in which men travel to the moon.
Science: Sputnik, Soviet launch a man-made satellite into orbit.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arthur C. Clarke (1951) Origins of man. Finding alien technology and a depiction of space travel (10 years before it became reality) with a supercomputer pilot to Jupiter
Science: NASA space program ( Project Apollo, 1963 -1972) overcoming technical hurdles and developing tools and systems to travel to the Moon, land and then safely return to earth.
- Star Trek ( TV series, 1966 -1969) Drama and adventure at faster than light-speed. Stories on the difficulty of maintaining unity in the galaxy. Racial diversity, Love, loss, greed, lust, and alien civilizations.
Science: Apollo – Soyuz, Skylab (1973 – 1979) Initial efforts at cooperation in space, long-term habitation in space orbit, and coexistence on Earth.
- Star Wars (1977). This story of good versus evil, love, journey to discover one’s identity and high-tech shoot ’em ups, started what became one of the world’s top-earning movie franchises in history. Planet-vaporizing weapons and plasma-laser light-sabers.
Science: the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 (called mockingly, Star Wars). Intent was to develop – particle beams, lasers and missile defense systems
- Star Wars movie trilogy and Star Trek movie/ television franchises, (1980s -2009) Food synthesizers, medical diagnostics, hibernation, and transporter “beaming”
Science: naval electromagnetic rail gun, launching projectiles at supersonic speeds (since 2007)
Science: quantum teleportation experiments and transporting particles in 2017 (“beam me up, Scotty!”) With quadrillions of calculations needed to beam Kirk about, the technology is still in a galaxy, far, far away.