January 8th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I think this is true of all the Star Wars movies, there is an avoidance of anything that resembles “science” or “technology” instead it’s all mysticism. It is a fantasy story that just happens to be set in space.
To explain: David Edelstein notes that the movie “it rehashes the plots of about a thousand World War II and/or Western films in which a brave squadron — a Magnificent Seven, a Dirty Dozen, a Force Five — prepares to sacrifice itself in the name of a greater cause.” That’s because the technology looks and acts like it’s from WWII. We see switches, cables, heavy doors, grenades, machine guns (“blasters”), a sword (wielded by a blind samuraiex-Jedi), and sniper rifles, but no radiation weapons or gamma ray bursters. Stormtroopers drive a truck, rather than enjoying, say, a zero-gravity trawler. Spaceships are there, but act entirely as fighter and bomber aircraft, or as naval warships. We never worry about the vast distances between stars, time dilation, the enabling technology, artificial gravity, or really anything at all about space travel.
Similarly, computers are basically typewriters and radio receivers. The movie’s main plot point, the Death Star plans which activate the first movie’s action, are essentially physical, not digital. They are stored as a physical object in a gigantic file system, then mostly passed from hand to hand. When they briefly act electronically, it’s as a radio transmission, often with specialized radio operators complete with giant headsets. There are very few mobile devices, and they don’t matter.
…Speaking of cyberpunk, in Rogue One there is no sign of the communications world after the internet. There aren’t any networks. Nobody hacks anything or checks anything online. Coding doesn’t appear to be a thing. There seem to be few networked sensors, as when attack after attack surprises enemies who only detect them visually (i.e., no radar, no distributed sensor arrays). Documents are unique, it seems, and hardly copied . This is true even of military documents – ironic, given that one of the key motivators for creating ARPANET was preserving those very things. Weirdly, communication satellites don’t seem to exist, or at least matter.
The movie is even more retro than this WWII level when it comes to media. There are no cameras or microphones. Nobody records, films, photographs, or surveils anyone else. When a hologram recording (in all ways a film strip) plays, nobody makes a copy. The one person who watched it simply remembers the gist, without bothering to shoot someone a copy or even write it down. In fact, there aren’t any media, either entertainment or news. You might expect a galaxy-spanning empire fighting an insurgency to have a serious propaganda effort under way. Instead it’s a semiliterate, nearly text-free realm.
Rogue One continues this, unsurprisingly, with some updates towards the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There’s the empire, of course, with its Lucas-born mix of Nazis and Ming the Merciless. Under its sway we see criminals, religious fanatics, and leftover warrior knights (Jedis, the Star Wars’ version of our world’s Teutonic Order). Family relations are also from the early 20th century, a classic nuclear family (only one child) anchoring the protagonist. Her gender roles are partly retro, too, as her mother matters far less than her father, and she risks her life and mission to save a child from a firefight.
Advanced technology has not extended lifespans or eased health problems. There are no signs of genetic engineering, medicine beyond 1950 (other than whatever the heck was involved in the heroine’s mentor’s outfit), or starvation alleviated by improved nutrition or even replicators. Cities are medieval/modern colonial in overcrowding and poor conditions. It is as if technology has been abstracted away from social life, or is arrogated to a powerful elite who otherwise keeps the populace in relative degradation. Perhaps the galaxy is run by a group of historical reenactors who insist everyone join their hobby in a kind of vast dystopia.