IT all started a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars – A New Hope was created by George Lucas.

Forty two years later, we have the final instalment: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, the eagerly anticipated final film in the recent trilogy.

The creators of science fiction often have eerily accurate views of the future. In 1865, Jules Verne published a novel called From the Earth to the Moon, a story in which three Americans were fired into space by a gun, on a vessel called Columbaid.

Almost a century later, in 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon, three men were fired into space in a vessel called Columbia.

If we were to compare Jules to George, does any of the science fiction in the Star Wars universe hold true? Let’s investigate.


One of the most recognisable ships in Star Wars is the T.I.E. Fighter, the fast, agile yet fragile Starfighter. T.I.E stands for Twin Ion Engine, which is a form of electric propulsion that creates thrust by accelerating ions using electricity. These engines are in use today, however they are only practical in the vacuum of space.

The European Space Agency recently launched the BepiColombo mission to Mercury. It will use its built-in ion drives to travel to Mercury to perform a detailed study of the smallest planet in our solar system. It is expected to arrive in December 2025.

Ion engines generate a cloud of positive ions, which when released, create thrust. Newton’s third law of motion states that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. So the release of the clouds of ions in one direction causes the spacecraft to move in the opposite direction.

These engines, sometimes known as Ion Thrusters or Ion Drives, accelerate from 0-60mph in a painfully slow four days, not yet as fast and agile as Darth Vader’s ship.


Another one of Darth’s toys is the Death Star, a moon-sized fortress designed with massive power-projection capabilities, able to destroy an entire planet with a blast from its superlaser.

In Star Wars: A New Hope Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by a laser blast from the Death Star. We see the beam of light shoot across space, vaporising the planet.

A laser is just light that can be focused onto a precise spot and can have high, extremely concentrated power. The amplified light of lasers can be very powerful: a series of pulses can drill through hard materials like titanium or diamond.

A megawatt laser can burn a hole through an object up to six miles away—though it needs to maintain contact for at least two seconds.

MIRACL is a 2.2 megawatt laser developed by the US NAVY, which has the power to hit, and destroy, a satellite within Earth’s orbit.

Vaporising an entire planet, however, would require a laser with a billion trillion times the energy of MIRACL. Thankfully, this technology does not yet exist.

Let’s not forget about lightsabers: “an elegant weapon for a more civilised age”, according to Obi-Wan Kenobi. According to lore, lightsabers work by focusing a beam of energy that extends out from the hilt, arcs back on itself and returns to the hilt, creating a blade. Despite the name, lightsabers do not emit beams of light. Light does not have the ability to cut through anything, as it has no mass. If light could cut through things, then every flashlight would be a deadly weapon.

If the blade were a laser, we might have the ability to cut through objects, but laser beams don’t bend, they will continue on indefinitely until they connect with something. We would have to find a way to make a laser stop at a predetermined length, or learn to wield an infinitely long beam of destruction.

So using lasers to make a lightsaber is out, at least until technology can catch up with our imaginations.

The Glasgow Science Centre has a Space Zone and Planetarium where visitors can find out more about galaxies that are near and far, far away. Visit www.glasgowscience for more information.

Chris Banks is cultural event coordinator at Glasgow Science Centre.