Lightsabers and droids in the reality check

May the 4th

In 1977 “Star Wars” first came to the cinema. The audience saw lightsabers, droids, and holograms. Which of these is reality 44 years later, and what remains utopia?

Members of the exhibition group “Stauferlöwen Saber One”.

Photo: Sebastian Gollnow / dpa

A translation error on German television made it involuntarily clear in 2005 when “Star Wars” day is being celebrated. From the famous greeting “May the Force be with You” (German: May the power be with you) the interpreter made: “On May 4th we will be with you.”

After all, “May the Force” could also quickly be called “May the Fourth” in English. May “, understand. This year the celebration even works with an anniversary, because “Star Wars” started in US cinemas 44 years ago. Which visions of the future have now become reality and which will never make it? Time for a physics check:

LIGHT SWORDS: Young Luke Skywalker – main protagonist in the original film – discovers such a weapon in the house of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Not as clumsy and as imprecise as firearms. An elegant weapon from more civilized days, ”explains Kenobi.

But would a lightsaber even work in real life? For the Star Wars expert and physicist Sascha Vogel not really – for two reasons: “Light doesn’t just stop somewhere”. What is meant is the columnar shape of the lightsabers in the science fiction saga. The second reason: “Light is not interested in other light”. That means: Neither resistance nor noises that arise during a duel with lightsabers in the film are currently feasible in reality.

One solution is called a plasma sword. Resourceful inventors from Canada have already implemented this, explains Vogel. Electrically charged gas is held in place with magnetic fields. Vogel: “It’s like a highly targeted flamethrower”.

HOLOGRAMS: In the universe of “Star Wars” they are used for communication. In the case of Princess Leia Organa, the droid R2-D2 first records her call for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi and later plays it back as a hologram. “It’s relatively easy today,” says Vogel. He mentions laser installations in event technology as an example.

An invention by the University of Sussex in Brighton (Great Britain) goes one step further. The technology creates three-dimensional images with sound. A small bead is moved very quickly by ultrasonic waves. Another highlight: the 3D image can be influenced if you approach it with your hand. Physicist Vogel: “We build holograms that can be touched on a small scale. In principle, we can tick it off ”.

DROIDS: The most famous representatives in the saga are called C-3PO and R2-D2. They also serve as the narrator of the story and comment on what is presented a little off the beaten track. A tradition from ancient Greek dramas in which the choir played this role.

A company near Boston specializes in lifelike movement of robots. The US company caused a sensation a few years ago with a model that moves like a dog. But it is more difficult to create a robot that behaves like a human and can also communicate, says Vogel. Until someone who then still looks like a person, it is not far anymore.

INTERSTELLAR JOURNEYS: A classic from the “Star Wars” universe: the pilot and smuggler Han Solo boasts of having managed the so-called Kessel Run in twelve instead of 18 parsecs. But this does not mean a unit of time, but the measure of a distance. One parsec corresponds to 3.26 light years, i.e. a good 30.9 trillion kilometers. Explanation: Han Solo “simply abbreviated”, as Vogel explains.

Fly several light years in a short time, but is that even conceivable? Sascha Vogel refers to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which defined a maximum speed: “It doesn’t get any faster than light”.

BLASTER: It’s about Han Solo again, this time in a no less famous scene when he draws his gun under the table in the bar in the Mos Eisley spaceport. A pocket-sized laser cannon – is that possible? “Not that small at the moment,” replies Vogel. Large laser cannons are already possible, but they require a lot of space. “They have to be so big because they need a lot of energy,” says the physicist, referring to new technologies in the US Navy, for example. “That is banal, like a large laser pointer.”

However, the expert does not consider a mini-blaster to be entirely impossible: “Not tomorrow and not in ten years. Physically nothing speaks against it for now. “

ANTI-GRAVITY SPEEDER: Luke Skywalker uses such a vehicle on the desert planet Tatooine. The speeder, who moves floating, doesn’t seem to care about gravity. Can it work? It is not an option to override gravity. Vogel: “That doesn’t work in physics.” A simple possibility would be to equip the speeder with propeller units like a drone.

On the other hand, things get more complicated with so-called superconductors: These materials, including many metals, have to be cooled down very strongly in a magnetic field. Consequence: You lose the electrical resistance and float. The question with the speeder would be whether someone would sit in such a frozen vehicle.

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