10 december 2012

Visionaries of the future: George Lucas

In a 1977 interviewGeorge Lucas (1944) said ‘I would feel very good if someday they colonize Mars when I am ninety-three years old or whatever, and the leader of the first colony says: “I really did it because I was hoping there would be a Wookiee up here.’

With his Star Wars Saga, Lucas hoped to inspire people to think about outer space and see it as an adventurous, exciting place.  The Star Wars movies inspired entire generations and made science fiction accessible to the big public. It is safe to assume that many of today’s scientists were inspired by the Star Wars movies and they can very well have attributed to their decision to pursue their careers and make Lucas’ vision reality.

Lucas’s movies initiated a paradigm shift, and the universe he created in his story revolutionized art, science and technology. Lucas drew the inspiration for his story from the famous book ‘The hero with a thousand faces’ by Joseph Campbell. It lead Lucas to build his saga not only on science but also on myth, what makes the story so compelling and popular. His modern mythology makes his work stand out from earlier works of science fiction.





Besides filmmaker, Lucas was also and inventor. If the technology didn’t exist to bring his visions to life on film, he would think of a way to do it. He founded special effects company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). One of his inventions was that of motion control camera’s.  Besides on Star Wars, ILM  also worked on other epic movies like Jurassic Parc, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Ghostbusters.

The first Star Wars movie begins with a holograph of princess Leia pleading for help. The fact that the projected image wasn’t perfect, but flickering and the message kept repeating, makes is so realistic. Paul Debevec is a scientist working on this technology nowadays. Their first goal is to enable ‘3D conference calls’:

In Star Wars, in the legendary dog-fight scenes, Lucas presents us with the idea of digital technology enhancing transportation: Rebel pilots lock onto their enemies by targeting computers. Targeting computers can tell in detail what needs to be done, how the ships need to be operated, how the ships need to approach, navigations aspect, technological information. Today we know this technology by the name of ‘headsup display’, or ‘hud’ for short. This technology is not limited to vehicles but extents to wearable computers and more. Also, Luke is always accompanied by the robotic co-pilot R2D2, which is a robotic navigator; an idea that we now would call intelligent autonomous vehicles.

Besides the Star Wars vehicles being autonomous and digitally enhanced, another important characteristic is that they all float of fly. Flying cars have long been considers one of the futurology’s improbable cliché’s, but might not be as improbable as of yet.  If scientists could create the occurrence of superconductivity in not only extremely cold environments, but more average environments, levitating, floating vehicles are within reach. And a solution to a potential fuel crisis and environmental pollution as well.

When Luke loses a hand in a fight against his nemesis Darth Vader, it is replaced by a bionic hand. It was a robotic hand but had the look of a human hand. Medical scientists are trying to realise this even now. Although they have not matched the look of a human hand, the possibilities of bionics is advancing day by day.

The force is an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together‘ (quote from the Star Wars movie)

When the movie Star Wars came out, physicists were convinced that the universe was made of atoms and dismissed Lucas’ idea of ‘The Force’. Today, however, physicist acknowledge that many galaxies like our own spin so fast they should be flying apart. But there is something that binds them together. And it is a great mystery in physics what that something is. We now know that only 4% of the universe is made out of atoms and 96% is made out of  this undefined something. Some call it dark matter, others dark energy. Lucas called it the force.

Besides binding the galaxy together, in Star Wars the force can alco be channelled by heroes and villains into seemingly superhuman abilities, controlled by will and powered by thought. Mind power is something that is seriously researched by todays scientists. For example, neuro-scientists are working on translating brain acitivity into sounds.

Lucas provides as with many new ideas of how technology might evolve and what lies ahead in mankind’s future. But like many science-fiction creators he also give us something to think about. The technology from Star Wars will always need a guiding hand. In the finally of Star Wars ‘a new hope’ Luke Skywalker is faced with a challenge: ‘do I trust technology or do I trust my ability to tap into the force?’. He is told by the spirit of Obi Wan Kanobi to thrust the force. Advanced as they are, computers do not have the ability to act intuitive. Luke tries to find a balance between intuition (the force) and technology.

Picture credits: Starwars Wikia

George Lucas hoped to inspire people to become eager to explore outer space and gave scifi the feel of mythology and adventure. Personally, I think chances are that if we ever do colonize outer space, many  of those explorers will secretly hope to find a Wookiee. But Lucas’ influence is visible in today’s world as well:  already we see many technological advances that can be tracked back to the way Lucas imagined the Star Wars universe.

Source: Discovery Channel: Prophets of science fiction