How Star Wars Is Expanding Its Online Presence With a New Science-Based Show

Bacta tanks are just one of the many topics explored on a new Star Wars show. All Images: Lucasfilm
Bacta tanks are just one of the many topics explored on a new Star Wars show. All Images: Lucasfilm

The Star Wars movies may get all the big headlines, but theaters are far from the only place the franchise is expanding. Official online video content has been growing in recent years and that continues today with the launch of a brand new show—one that highlights the power of Star Wars beyond just storytelling.

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The new show is called Science and Star Wars and it was created in partnership with IBM for Facebook Anthology. Each episode of the 10-episode series will live on the Star Wars Facebook page and cover a different niche of the galaxy far, far away, and its relationship to real-life technology. The topics are droids, blasters, lightsabers, hover vehicles, bacta regeneration, carbon freezing, artificial limbs, space travel, Force powers, artificial intelligence, and, of course, Boba Fett. Host Anthony Carboni will be joined by Star Wars actors, science experts, and IBM’s Watson to dig into each topic and figure out either how close science has actually come to achieving those things, or the areas of science that might achieve them in the future.

The set of Science and Star Wars.
The set of Science and Star Wars.
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“There have been documentaries that look at the science of Star Wars but we wanted to do a different take on it for the internet age,” Mickey Capoferri, senior director of content and programming at Lucasfilm, told me. “Something fast, quick, and to the point but fun. An overview of different disciplines looking at how close science has come to the fantasy technology of Star Wars.”

To explain how that works, Capoferri gave a brief overview of the series’ first episode, on lightsabers, which debuted today. “Clearly we don’t have lightsabers yet. We’re probably not going to get them anytime soon, but [we explore] the technology that if you were to get them, it’s happening right now,” he said. “These researchers aren’t necessarily trying to create a lightsaber, but the plasma they are creating is being used to create quantum computers, to accelerate research and things like that.”

Host Anthony Carboni and Taylor Gray (Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels) reenact a famous scene from The Phantom Menace.
Host Anthony Carboni and Taylor Gray (Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels) reenact a famous scene from The Phantom Menace.

Other episodes will get a little more out there, such as the one on Boba Fett. On the surface, the famous bounty hunter doesn’t seem particularly science-driven but there’s more to him than you might realize.

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“We do some hypothetical assumptions about what might be under his helmet,” Capoferri explained. “Like H.U.D technology is getting really big now. So while in the movies we don’t actually see what Boba Fett sees, we kind of hypothesize the types of things a bounty hunter of his level would have.” Capoferri added they’ll also be testing to see if it’s possible to shoot fire from your arm.

This is Jango Fett but, you catch the drift.
This is Jango Fett but, you catch the drift.
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When the show goes into things that are a bit more mythology-based, Capoferri confirmed that he does consult with the Lucasfilm Story Group. But Science and Star Wars wants to do more than just appeal to fans.

“We care about getting kids inspired into science, so it really wasn’t that hard of a sell,” Capoferri said. “It was very much a ‘Yeah, that makes sense. That’s a good use of Star Wars.’ It shows that Star Wars is not just a piece of entertainment, it really is part of the zeitgeist, part of pop culture and part of our upbringing. You just can’t imagine a world without Star Wars.”

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Carboni and Gray admire the potential of science.
Carboni and Gray admire the potential of science.

In addition to Science and Star Wars, Capoferri also produces the weekly Star Wars Show on YouTube, which was nominated for an Emmy this year, and the Star Wars Rebels aftershow Rebels Recon; he also teased there are more projects in the works. However, the difficulty in cultivating a new outlet for one of the biggest brands in the world is figuring out way to respect it without cheapening it.

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“We can’t saturate the world with unnecessary Star Wars content,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing: finding a balance of [projects] that are worthy of our time and energy. There’s lots of opportunity but that balance is going to be key because we don’t want to just pimp it out. It’s gotta make sense.”

Trying to get Star Wars fans into science makes sense to us. Science and Star Wars will premiere each Tuesday on the Star Wars Facebook page. More info can be found on ibm.com/starwars.

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Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

AFAIK, having not obsessively read huge tracts of the old Expanded Universe (I refuse to call it “Legends”), but having read a fair amount of it, there’s never been even one tiny iota, not one sentence’s worth of exposition about how the important parts of Star Wars tech works:

Lightsabers (Won’t work without the right “magic” crystal, which comes in various flavors and colors - but the builder / wielder can actually change the color unintentionally, which is why most evil force-wielders have red blades - aren’t limited to one planet, and nobody really knows where they come from or why they’re special. And only one at any given time will work for the lightsaber you specifically are creating, since it “chooses” you. But you can then hand it to someone when it’s finished and it will work just fine as long as it doesn’t get damaged. But the person who built it will probably need to repair it. Yeah. They’re not magic at all.)

Hyperspace drive (the “motivator” is literally a black box of solid state electronics that magics the ship into FTL in everything I’ve read)

Droid AI (If AI is so advanced, why aren’t there talking computer / droid assistants aboard ships and installations? Why are restraining bolts exterior peripherals instead of integrated tech that a “renegade” droid can’t pry off other droids to “recruit” them? If Droids have free will - as they seem to in several if not most examples - why would they ever put themselves in harm’s way for organic people who treat them like property? Why isn’t there a Galactic Droid Rebellion or Droid Freedom movement? Why are so many of them humanoid that don’t really need to be? I can understand protocol droids fitting in at fancy diplomatic functions, but assassin and medical droids? They’re nowhere near human-looking enough to pass or to put patients at ease, so why bother at all? If Droids are aware and sapient and mortal as they appear to be... why are there no Droid force-users?)

Blasters (The bolts are slow enough to be dodged, yet appear to be directed energy. The fact that lasers are generally vehicle-mounted heavy weaponry and named distinctly lampshades this oddity. Don’t even get me started on how ridiculous the Bowcaster is.)

At the risk of starting a flamewar (which I don’t want; I love ‘em both for different reasons), at least Star Trek pretends to know the layman’s version of the actual science behind their fantastic gadgetry, at the very least, even if they do use it as Deus Ex Machina more often than to properly drive the story as in “real” Science Fiction (which Star Wars ain’t, not by a long shot).

I definitely would have rather seen a Star Trek science show, and spent this budget on actual story-driven Star Wars content, instead. It’s kind of like examining the military tactics of the 1980's G.I. Joe cartoon, what this is doing...