In 1977, 20th Century Fox released a modestly budgeted science-fiction film called “Star Wars.” Because of the movie’s long and troubled production and genre, the studio worried it wouldn’t be successful. It ended up being one of the most financially successful and influential motion pictures ever made. And its capacity to inspire stretched far beyond the film industry.
In the 42 years since its release, the space opera has sparked the creation of a host of technological innovations. “Star Wars” delighted and enthralled audiences with fictional tech like bionic limbs, interplanetary spaceships, holograms, and flying motorcycles.
Today, talented inventors have brought those fantastical concepts to the real world.
In celebration of the now officially recognized Star Wars Day, here are four examples of technology inspired by the iconic film saga.
May the fourth be with us all.
In 2002, entrepreneur Elon Musk founded space transportation company SpaceX with the intention of colonizing Mars. The billionaire’s interest in visiting other worlds almost certainly came from his love of “Star Wars.”
Musk confirmed on Twitter that the George Lucas-helmed sci-fi classic is the first movie he ever saw and a personal favorite. The inventor probably saw a lot of himself in Luke Skywalker. Like the farmer turned space warrior, a young Musk had a high aptitude for working with technology and a fascination with spaceships.
The adult Musk turned his childhood passions into innovative and successful aerospace vehicle corporations. Now, SpaceX is preparing to launch its first human-crewed mission, a landmark achievement in the history of commercial space travel. Without discounting all the hard work that went into bringing the company’s space crafts into existence, it is worth noting the firm might not exist without “Star Wars.”
In an interview with actor Joseph Gordon Levitt, Musk revealed the key inspirations behind two types of Space X spacecraft. He noted the Dragon series is heavily influenced by NASA’s Apollo Lunar Module. And he revealed the Falcon family rockets were inspired by Han Solo’s beloved Millennium Falcon.
Prosthetics existed long before “Star Wars,” but the film popularized the notion of bionic limbs. In “Empire Strikes Back,” Luke Skywalker loses a hand in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader. The Jedi gets a lifelike robotic hand and forearm made later in the film.
“Empire’s” conception of a fully functional prosthetic hand strongly resonated with a few different inventors. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency created a bionic limb called the Life Under Kinetic Evolution arm. The LUKE allows amputees to perform tasks requiring a high level of dexterity like turning keys, cooking meals, and brushing teeth. The thought-controlled robotic arm is now available for purchase.
The Georgia Tech College of Design has also developed a prosthetic limb very similar to the one Luke sports in “Empire.” The highly advanced bionic prostheses give users a level of motor control so fine, they can play piano with it.
Michael Anderson’s 1976 dystopic thriller “Logan’s Run” is the first film to feature the use of holographic technology. However, the cerebral science-fiction film lacked “Star Wars'” massive cultural impact. Accordingly, modern technology that allows for the projection of three-dimensional imagery owes a debt to the blockbuster space saga.
Although many companies have claimed to have developed “Star Wars” style holographic tech, most examples are disappointing. In 2012, a firm claimed to have presented a holographic performance by deceased rapper Tupac Shakur at the Coachella Music Festival. It was later reported the company used a 21st-century update of the 19th-century magic trick Pepper’s Ghost.
Australian National University introduced something much closer to the holograms featured in “Star Wars” in 2017. The school’s researchers used light manipulating nanomaterial to create high-quality 3D projections. The institution’s scientists are developing their technology for use in smartphones. With “Star Wars’” Princess Leia’s hologram as their benchmark, the group hopes to make 3D image-based communication a reality in the future.
One of the most thrilling scenes in the “Star Wars” saga is the “Return of the Jedi” speeder bike chase. Watching Luke and Leia race to stop a group of Stormtroopers from exposing the rebels’ position is as thrilling as it was in 1983.
Despite the wishes of filmgoers around the world, speeder bikes have remained in the realm of fiction. But that disappointing reality has changed in recent years. One innovative corporation has developed a new flying vehicle that has brought some Hollywood magic to the real world.
Hoversurf has developed a line of hoverbikes that allow riders to zip through the air at 60 miles per hour. The flying vehicles have lightweight carbon fiber bodies and lithium manganese nickel batteries that provide up to 25 minutes of flight time.
The Dubai government has already purchased some of the firm vehicles for police use in the United Arab Emirates. Hoversurf has plans to make its terrifying but cool looking flying vehicles available for sale. For $150,000, wealthy individuals with no fear of death or arrest can theoretically recreate “Jedi’s” best action sequence.
Currently, scientists have yet to find a way to bring “Star Wars” tech like lightsabers and hyperdrive to the real world. But at one point, interplanetary spaceships and bionic limbs also seemed impossible. With endlessly imaginative science-fiction to inspire us, those conceptual advances might be made real one day. To believe otherwise shows a disturbing lack of faith.