mystery box

“What’s in the box?”

If you’re Brad Pitt the answer to that question is rather disturbing, but if you’re JJ Abrams… well, it may not be disturbing, but it’s probably equally disappointing. Thanks in no-small-part to JJ Abrams, the trope of the “mystery box” has become something of a trend into today’s media. From Lost to The Force Awakens, we have seen this lazy man’s plot device inserted and abused in almost every way. So, we are here to ask… from the deepest recesses of our hearts… PLEASE STOP.

Misled Talks
The idea of the mystery box comes from James Jonah Abram’s TED Talk, in which he discusses all the various ways movies influenced his thinking and the way he approaches them. He also talks about magic, and misdirection, and how he -thinks- incorporating those things into his movies makes them better. He breaks a lot of this down to the idea of the mystery box. In narrative terms it is an object or a person that just kind of exists in the script, but which has a big and unanswered question surrounding it, the bigger the better. Now, we’re not just talking about the normal sort of mystery or ambiguity that sometimes surrounds characters or objects. No, a mystery box’s main personality trait and quality, is that it is a “mystery.” It is characterized as being more about the questions, than the answers.

Lost is a good example. There were multiple mystery boxes, each more fascinating that the rest. These objects were unknown and they allowed the audience to speculate widely about their nature, their origins, and how they would play a part in the plot. That’s all well and fine from a marketing standpoint, but as Jessica Jones Abrams has proven time and again, it’s not really satisfying from a plot standpoint. Lost continues to be a good example, because the answers that audiences got were generally unsatisfying. The questions were what drew people in and made them keep watching, but the answers were sub-par, at best, and that is one of the major flaws of the mystery box device.

The truth of what is in the mystery box, will never live up to the expectations of what is in the audience’s mind. With Lost people endlessly debated the mysteries of the island. Everyone had their own wild theories or expectations. So, when the answers finally did come, there was almost no way they were ever going to be as satisfying or exciting as audiences had built them up to be. It was basically Phantom Menace Syndrome on a much smaller scale. The hype was great, but because of that the reality was dull by comparison. -Also, it didn’t help that the writers were creating questions they themselves did not have answers to

Speaking of Star Wars -which we will be a lot- one of the examples Jar Jar Abrams gives in his TED Talk is Luke Skywalker. He makes the claim that Luke’s father was the ultimate mystery box, because nobody knew anything about him, and then in Empire Strikes Back it was revealed that Darth Vader was his father. Here is the thing… He’s wrong. Luke’s father was not a mystery box. It was not something that was plopped in front of the audience with a big question mark on it, and a bunch of arrows pointing to it. Nobody left the movie theater in 1977 wondering about Luke’s father. People weren’t doing whatever-it-was-that-70’s-people-do-instead-of-blogging about “Who is Luke’s Father?” George Lucas didn’t even know who Luke’s father was at the time. The great mystery box that Abrams holds out as his example, is not even a mystery box. Yes, the reveal in Empire was one of the greatest moments in cinema history, but not because Lucas and his team consistently hit us over the head with the question of: “Who is Luke’s father?” It was great because the mystery and the moment happened organically, which is a word that is completely foreign to a Jacob Javits Abrams’ script.

The Force Stumbles Out of Bed
The identity of Anakin Skywalker was not a mystery box, because it was tucked away in the peripheral of the original Star Wars. A true mystery box, as James Joyce Abrams has so aptly demonstrated over and over again is something featured prominently. It is something that keeps the audience asking questions, and endless theorizing. In The Force Awakens: Rey is a mystery box, Finn is a mystery box; that old man at the beginning of the movie is a mystery box, Luke Skywalker is a mystery box… everything is a mystery box. In fact, the movie only seems to be filled with two things: blatant nostalgia and more questions than a four year old can ask in an afternoon… and just like a four year old, it gets a little frustrating. There are many other movies and examples we can use for this trope, but The Force Awakens is perhaps Abrams’ master opus of mystery boxes. It is the culmination of all the crappy plot contrivances and marketing techniques that he has perfected over a long and baffling career.

We know this, because The Force Awakens raises more questions than it does answers, and it feels more like it is meant as the first episode of a TV series, than it does as a stand alone movie. Do you know what was great about A New Hope? It was its own movie. It was not trying to set up a major universe or a trilogy of movies with a multitude of unanswered questions. It was just a good movie, by itself. Also, say what you will about the prequels, but at least they felt like complete movies. At least they tried to tell a complete story. At least they presented the audience with conclusions to most of the questions that were asked in the 2.5 hour time frame. That is the problem with the mystery box format. The Force Awakes feels like one-half of a movie. Luke doesn’t even get to say a line at the end. Abrams just cuts the scene like it’s a damn commercial break on The Bachelor, and that is kind of the point.

The main point of the mystery box trope is to sell interest, not story. Cloverfield, Jack Jack Abram’s epitomical monster movie was a fairly uninteresting take on giant kaiju monsters, but the marketing campaign was brilliant. It was full of mystery boxes that sold the movie, and sold it hard. If Cloverfield had been marketed normally -as just some shaky-cam monster movie- it wouldn’t have made half the money it did. It was the clever clues, the big questions, the shady reveals, and the months of speculation that drove sales, because that is what a mystery box really does. Abrams is not some movie genius, he is a marketing genius. The problem with applying that idea to Star Wars… is that it is Star Wars. You don’t need to market it. It markets itself.

An Open Letter

Dear Mr. Abrams,

Please stop. Seriously, just stop with the mystery box thing. We know it is kind of your ‘bag,’ err… ‘box,’ but it is becoming irritating. For once, we would like to sit down to watch one of your movies, and not have to try and guess at the complicated -and ultimately disappointing- backstory of every other person and every object that appears on screen. We don’t want to watch movies that tease later movies, and while we’re on the subject we don’t want to watch movies that keep reminding us of better movies. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” just made us want to watch “Wrath of Khan,” and “The Force Awakens,” just made us want to watch “A New Hope,” and both those two were filled to the brim with mystery boxes… and lens flare. Yes, we’re never going to let that go.

‘Oooo Luke’s original lightsaber? Where did it come from? How did it get in the possession of an alien that looks like a mix between Yoda and a Golden Girl?’ We’re tired of the mysteries and the boxes they come in. We are tired of walking away from movies feeling unsatisfied, with both your answers and your questions. For once, we want to sit down and have you explain something to us in a clear narrative form, plainly, instead of forcing us to guess it. That is fine if done, subtly and -here’s the big one- in moderation! Also, on a side note, please know the answers to the questions before you ask them. We know that sounds like a simple and obvious request, but we also know that it’s not… because ‘Lost.’ You’re the damn writer. You need to know what is actually in the mystery box before you create it. You can’t wait to be surprised, along with the audience.

We’re getting off track here… In conclusion, you have made us so mad that we are actually ending our letter with the words ‘in conclusion.’ Also, just stop. Please, stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.

The mystery box is a great marketing tool, but a crappy storytelling one. We promise people are going to go see the next Star Wars movie without your hype machine pushing it. They will always go and see Star Wars movies, even as our own sun burns out and the planet is consumed by super-heated gases. When alien archeologists discover the charred remains of our planets, they will discover that at lest 30% of us died watching something related to Star Wars. There is no need to sell us on Star Wars, so just make a regular movie. Just make a movie that poses questions at the beginning and answers them by the end.

Sincerely,
The NYRD

PS: Hyperdrives don’t work that way. There is no way the Millennium Falcon could ever come out of hyperspace inside the atmosphere of a planet. The gravity well of planets and other large bodies creates bubbles that interrupts hyperspace, which is why “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” It is also why the Rebels on Hoth had to go through all that trouble to escape the Imperial blockade in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ instead of just being able to disappear randomly from its atmosphere… Well that and dramatic tension, which is also something you seem to not understand. In summation, hyperspace is a system that has rules, not just a convenient plot device for lazy writing.

police

An oversized and heavily armored transport lumbers forward accompanied by armored troops with weapons at the ready. Impersonal faces concealed behind masks suddenly raise their weapons and fire into the crowd of rebels. Gas canister fall among the ragtag ranks as some of their number panic and scatter in the face of such an imposing army… No this is not a scene from the latest Star Wars movie, but it could be. Instead, this is a scene that has been played out across the country as local law enforcement continues to become more militarized in their equipment and attitudes. In many places the police are looking less and less like a domestic peacekeeping force and more and more like an army of stormtroopers marching on the orders a Galactic Empire…

1033 Why Aren’t You at Your Post?
We want to start off by saying that we respect the police and everything they do. They have an incredibly hard job, and the majority of our boys and girls in blue are dedicated and amazing people who do a service to our country. However, we cannot ignore the facts that more and more local law enforcement is looking like stormtroopers invading Hoth, rather than officers of the law. Militarization of our local police forces began simply enough. In 1990, with the National Defense Authorization act. This was replaced in 1997 by the 1033 Program, both of which allow the transfer of military surplus to local law enforcement agencies, including camouflage, body armor, assault rifles, and armored transports. This was enacted at a time when we were at the height of our “War on Drugs,” and as a way to justify a bloated military budget in the post-Cold War years.

These programs may have been conceived with the best of intentions. Transferring surplus equipment from the military to police makes cost-saving sense on a certain level, and for the most part it has helped alleviate some cost burdens on smaller municipalities. Many departments have taken advantage of this program to acquire equipment like binoculars, radios, headsets, bullets, and even office supplies, but that’s not all. Small towns like Mishawacka, Michigan and Watertown, Connecticut have used the program to acquire things like MRAPs. In case you don’t know what that is, MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected. They are used to protect soldiers from roadside bombs and ambushes in war zones. We aren’t entirely sure how many mines there are in Watertown, Connecticut, but is there enough to justify their use of $733,000 military vehicle? In one instance, the town of Bloomingdale, Georgia received four grenade launchers under the 1033 program, which seems a bit extreme.

In that instance, a representative of the police force stated that possessing the launchers told criminals that officers were, “

DOD Equipment
Aren’t You a Little SWAT to be a Stormtrooper?
In the Star Wars Universe there is no local police force, at least not in places like the Outer-Rim, such as on Tatooine. We see in A New Hope that Mos Eisley is patrolled not by police, but by stormtroopers. That’s because, white armored soldiers setting up checkpoints and arresting people with rifles drawn are all telltale signs of an invading army. By the Empire’s own admission stormtroopers are as much tools of intimidation as they are of peacekeeping. The same is true of the AT-AT, the lumbering walking tank that can be seen in Empire Strikes Back. The All Terrain Armored Transport is a psychological weapon of fear above all else. It was designed to keep peace on conquered worlds as an imposing expression of power. It along with fully armored and armed stormtroopers tells the local populace that they have no power. They are subjects and any resistance means dealing with swift retribution at the hands of a 22.5 meter tall walking tank.

In our world, a fully loaded MRAP and fully armored SWAT teams send much the same message. Police looking to justify and play with their new toys and have made the sight of giant armored vehicles and military grade weaponry a common one on the streets of downtown America. According to the ACLU, nearly 80% of studied SWAT teams were used to serve search warrants in drug cases. It has been estimated that 50,000 to 80,000 SWAT raids occur every year in the United States. Most police departments are reluctant to release exact numbers on how often they use their SWAT teams, but the use of them has been on a steady rise for decades. This is startling considering that SWAT teams were originally conceived in the 1960’s as special operations units that responded only to the most serious threats, such as hostage situations or mass shootings. Now, over the past 80 years the percentage of small US towns with SWAT teams has grown from 30% to 80%. In Maryland in 2012, half of all SWAT deployments were to issue search warrants for “Part II,” or nonviolent crimes, and two out of every three SWAT raids used forced entry. Even more disturbing, about 15% of the raids in Maryland in 2012 resulted in no seized contraband of any kind, and a third of the raids resulted in no arrests.

It should come as no surprise that SWAT raids disproportionately affect poorer neighborhoods of color. Proponents will say that is just where you find the most drugs, but according to statistics white Americans are more likely to possess and use drugs than African Americans. However, the real problem with the excessive use of SWAT teams is the message they send. Stormtroopers and AT-ATs marching through Mos Eisley and searching house to house for missing droids is not the kind of reputation that helps police do their actual jobs. Similarly, owning four grenade launchers and saying that police are prepared to use them, sends the message of a military gearing up for conflict, not peaceful patrolling. In fact, in some cases the presences of militarized SWAT teams have escalated situations instead of restoring order. By some accounts, violence did not start in Ferguson, Missouri until SWAT teams moved in and fired tear gas, turning the protests into something that looked like a less entertaining version of the Battle of Endor. In fact, the Ferguson protests were one of the reasons that President Obama made the decision to restrict the sale of military weapons to local law enforcement, because police need to start being less stormtrooper and more community oriented.

A Galactic Community
One of the reasons why the Empire’s troops tend to be so reviled is that they are outsiders. White clad faceless enforcers landing from outer-space to occupy and control native populations. The men behind the helmets do not come from the occupied system, nor do they have any attachment or relations there. They know nothing of local customs or of the local people, and that is a problem that also faces our own nation’s police force. In urban areas of color, and other lower income areas the police who patrol it are often not from the neighborhood. They come from the outside, and know nothing of the the people or the places. In many cases, those police also do not relfect the diversity or makeup of the community itself. In Ferguson, for example, the police department only has 3 out of 53 officers who are black in a neighborhood that is 67% African America. That means 94% of the officers cannot even begin to relate to the experiences of 67% of the community. To them the neighborhood becomes “just a job,” a place where they go to put their lives in danger and deal with the criminal element. Those officers, like the invading stormtroopers, will never see the areas they patrol as anything but crime-infested and dangerous. That is their only interaction with the community they have. They only ever meet its criminal elements.

However, ideas of community policing help change that. It is an old idea done in a new way. In cities where the new program has been tried, police officers are no longer just there for enforcement. Instead, policing becomes a community service. They attempt to walk the streets, meet the people, and get to know the good as well as the bad. The principal is that it will give officers an affinity for the neighborhood, and begin to build trust between residents and law enforcement. Today, more than ever, police officers need to be seen as community helpers, and people who have a stake in the success of the neighborhood, not just as an outsider. This is the type of thing that has been going on in local and rural communities for years, but it is desperately needed in inner cities and urban areas. Building relationships also helps prevent crimes. People are more willing to go to the police with their problems or contact a local officer with information pertaining to criminal activity. It makes the police and the community-at-large partners in preventing crime, not adversaries with an “us” vs. “them” mentality.

Some officers will be quick to dismiss it, calling it dangerous or a waste of time, and it is true that community policing initiatives have had mixed results over the years. However, that also has a lot to do with the willingness of the officers who are assigned to engage in such initiatives. It is also worth mentioning that it is safer than ever to be a police officer. Police homicide rates have dropped dramatically over the past decade to record lows, and crime in general has taken a nose-dive, and yet people feel less safe and police feel more under threat than ever. We need to deescalate the antagonism between police and residents by returning to older ideas of policing. In fact, even the way officer dress can affect, not only how the community views them, but also how they view themselves. Wearing combat camo and armor immediately puts everyone involved in the mentality of violence. Even something as simple a wardrobe change can go a long way to giving police a better image, but many departments are still reluctant to make the change.

We can’t forget that being a cop is -at its heart- a service job. Law enforcement exists to serve and protect, but lately many department have adopted a mentality of by any means necessary. This has led to military vehicles rolling down our roads, SWAT teams breaking into private residents, and a whole lot of distrust between police and the people they are trying to serve. Some departments are not always willing to take the first step toward deescalation, but we can only hope they remember that deescalating a situation is entirely their job. So if that means throwing away the stormtrooper helmets and stepping back from their AT-AT’s than maybe that is what needs to be done. We understand it can tough, though. It is hard to put away your super-cool toys, but like our old Star Wars action figures maybe it would be best if we left them behind in a galaxy far far away. And for more information on this subject check out the documentary Do Not Resist, coming to theaters this weekend.

Now move along… move along.

At it’s heart, Star Wars is a film series about generations of the same family, and in The Force Awakens we get to see a unique dichotomy between the older heroes and the newest generation, but that dichotomy also exists in our own world. Every family has a Vader who complains about Kylo Ren’s long hair or his non-traditional lightsaber. Older generations have been complaining about younger ones since a long time ago on a Mediterranean island far far away when Xenophon and Plato first decried the “moral decay” of youth. So it’s not surprising that the Millennial Generation gets a lot of hate these days, especially on random articles posted by your aunt on Facebook. However, we here at The NYRD pride ourselves on being Millennials, and it strikes us that a lot of the criticism leveled at “these kids today,” is more unreliable than the hyperdrive on a certain Corellian light freighter.

The Boy has No Patience…
The exact years vary by source, but the Millennial Generation is often pinned as being born between 1980 and 2000. Children of the Baby Boomers we were raised in the shadow of Generation X. Millennials are often criticized as Impatient, Lazy, Entitled, Self-Obsessed, Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herders. Though we are going to disagree on most of those points -whose scruffy looking- we can also admit that there is at least some validity in these charges. After all, Kylo Ren is a caricature of certain Millennials, but -like the Ewoks- we are also a product of our environment, and our youth.

Time Magazine declared Millennials as the “Me Me Me Generation,” and they did so partially because a study by the National Institutes of Health found that “narcissistic personality disorder” was almost three times higher  for people in their twenties than for people who are 65 or older. However, what that study failed to mention is that young people are always generally more narcissistic than older people. That is the personality trait you expect in a twenty-year old, and one that fades as we get older. A paper at NIH.gov found that there was actually “no increase in narcissism in college students over the last few decades,” because Anakin and Luke were just as annoying as Kylo Ren when they were young too. Basically, all college students are “entitled little Siths,” and Baby Boomers were the first “Me Generation.”

It may surprise you, however, to find that in 2011 75% of  Millennials donated to charity, 71% actively raised money for a charity, and 57% volunteered their time to a cause or organization, and that is more than any other generation of people did that year. More to the point, this not an anomaly. Millennials actively tend to engage with causes and organizations to try and improve the world, but not in the same ways previous generations did. Political activism on college campuses is down, compared to the Hippies of the 60’s and 70’s, -but then again so is cocaine and LSD- but the American Congress and political system are also seen as broken and corrupt by almost every American, not just Millennials. So, our generation tends to engage world problems more through NGO’s and non-profits rather than through the Democratic or Republican parties. Half of all Millennials are not registered with any major political party, but were integral in the election of President Obama. This newest voting generation is engaged, just in differently. Millennials, as whole, tend to have a more of a global view on things. The Internet has connected the world in previously unthought-of ways, and as s result we tend to trust it more than TV -for better or worse. You see, a lot of the negative press that Millennials receive comes about because we do things that no longer fit traditional carbonite frozen molds.

401K, Why Aren’t You at Your Post?
For example, Stormtroopers originally started out as clones because when you’re looking for a faceless obedient workforce you can’t do much better. Millennials have proven more and more that they are not clones in some grand Galactic Empire, but that does not mean we are lacy. In fact, worker productivity has increased by 37.6% since 1995, even as wages have remained stagnant and unemployment has fluctuated between 5% and 8% over the past decade. Nearly 80% of college students work part-time while attending school, a figure that has steadily risen over the past 25 years, thanks in no small part to absurd tuition costs and a more competitive job market. The charge of “laziness” may come because Millennials have proven to be much different workers than the past generations. We have less desire to dress in suits, and less loyalty to our places of employment. We don’t do well on a time clock, preferring a more fluid job-life balance. We are often the first out the door at quitting time, but we are no less productive, especially if we’re passionate about what we’re doing. The Greatest Generation worked long hours for the good of the company, and Baby Boomers worked long hours to make the overtime money. Millennials, on the other hand, don’t want to work the long hours, just enough to keep us going. Our place of employment and our job title are not indicators of our identities.

Millennials are the most individualistic generation, but individualism has been on the rise in America since the late 1800’s. The steady move from blue collar to white collar jobs in the US is at least partially responsible. Baby Boomers were raised with the idea of the “American Dream,” the idea that everyone who worked hard enough could earn all the money they could ever want, and that idea influence their lives. Then America started moving away from a production-based economy. Factories and other jobs were shipped overseas, and the number of college graduates rose. Millennials watched in droves as their parents lost jobs with companies they had worked at for decades, -all with nothing but a pat on the shoulder- and suddenly career loyalty or working your life away for forty years no longer seemed to make sense. Companies, especially corporations, proved they had little loyalty to their employees, and that was a lesson Millennials took to heart. Now with a vast workforce of millions of college educated people, companies have become even less interested in employee retention and more concerned with their bottom line. It should be no surprise that the newest working generation is less concerned about finding a career, and more concerned about living our lives. We now expect to change jobs dozens of times and even change career fields once or twice. Workers are faceless clones in an ever growing army that are both expendable and replaceable. There is no fulfillment of identity or purpose in that kind of environment, especially considering more and more Millennials do not even see money as a motivating factor, but that is not the only institution we are changing.

I know…
Han and Leia got married at some point between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. A lot of people claim that Millennials do not have the patience or commitment for marriage, but that’s not exactly correct. Yes, traditional marriage has begun to break down for the Millennial Generation, not because of dedication. Only 26% of Millennials have currently tied the knot, which is minuscule compared with the fact that 48% of Baby Boomers were married when they were our age. Yet, it also worth noting that divorce rates are now the lowest in the United States since the 1980’s. This is partially due to the low marriage rate, but also because the new median marriage age is 27 for women and 29 for men. Many Millennials are getting married older or not at all, because we tend to hold the union as less sacred.

Many people in our generation grew up as a product of divorce, two parents who rushed into marriage in their early 20’s only to discover they actually hated one another, often with one or possibly two kids caught in between. We’re not saying Kylo Ren fell to the Darkside because Leia and Han split up, but he is more likely to spend time finding himself as a person -or as a dark Jedi- before running off to marry his high school sweetheart. The Greatest Generation got married after the war, committing fully till “death do us part,” even if they hated one another. Baby Boomers followed their example, but as their marriage progressed and life goals changed things fell apart. Getting married after high school or college is too young. Boomers watched their parents have long lasting relationships and believed it was what they had to do, but 50% of the time it didn’t work. Generation Xers and Millennials then grew up knowing first hand the process and pain of divorce and loveless marriages. We are getting married later or not at all partially because of what we witnessed as children.

When Almost 900 Years You Be…
Kylo Ren fell to the Darkside, and Millennials aren’t perfect, because of course we aren’t. We might be the generation to solve climate change or put a man on Mars, but we are also the generation that invented the selfie, perfected cyber bullying, and created the Kardashian -a creature that takes more than a thousand years to digest your soul. Accusations of being “entitled” are exaggerated but not completely untrue, but every generation has had their mistakes. We do not want to make this article an attack on anyone, but it is worth noting that no one is perfect.

After all, Baby Boomers spent their youth rebelling against Vietnam but grew up to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They preached about loving the Earth and your brother, but contributed significantly to rising CO2 levels and and rising racial tensions. Baby Boomers are the richest generation, and yet have created economic policies and college debt that has ensured that Millennials will be the first generation not to do financially better than their parents in over a century. Also, Donald Trump… We point out these out not to be mean or spiteful, but just to make a point. We all have flaws, but we are also all products of our time. Our generation is the most educated generation and the most skilled. We are also the most tolerant and racially diverse, with 15% of all Millennial marriages being interracial, more than any other generation. We are also the generation that is often closest with our parents, seeing them as friends rather than rivals, because there is no war, Generational War or Star War.

Even the idea of “generations” is as much a fantasy as Lucas’ opus. There are over 80 million “Millennials” now in America, -more than even Baby Boomers- mostly thanks to immigration and a changing population. However, those numbers aren’t exact, because generational lines are blurry and ill-defined. Baby Boomers are actually the only discernible population trend thanks to the “busyness” of their parents after the war. The rest of us are just left to be defined by vague ideas and changes in technology and culture, but isn’t that kind of the point we are making? Millennials are only different because we were born in different times. We have better access to technology, education, healthcare, and all sorts of privileges that past generations never had.

Millennials are smart, caring, and incredibly. We might harness technology that can save this world, and it is because of the older generation. It is their gift to us. Our problems and concerns will always seem weird and trivial when viewed by people who had to worry about The Great Depression or nuclear war with Russia, but don’t we want the world to be better for our kids. When we say things like, “Back in my day we had to walk ten miles in the snow…” aren’t we really just saying, “I’m sure glad someone invented the car for you.” So, parents, go give your Millennial a hug, just make sure he’s not holding a lightsaber while standing on a catwalk over a deep abyss.

We here at The NYRD finally feel that enough time has passed that we can be -relatively- certain that most of the world has seen Star Wars: The Force Rises Groggily After Its Alarm Goes Off. So we decided that now might be the best time to have a heart-to-heart about the movie’s main protagonist, Kylo Ren and how he almost certainly reflects the Star Wars and geek community at large. We are by no means the first people to point this out, but we think that both it and Ren are worth exploring. It should also be said right now that if you haven’t yet seen this movie -because you’ve obviously been frozen in carbonite for the past six months and we want to welcome you back to reality- be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Geeking Out Far Far Away
Kylo Ren is a geek, and not just any geek. He’s a Star Wars geek, and we mean that in both the sense that he is a geek in the Star Wars galaxy and a geek for the Star Wars galaxy, specifically the story of Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is obsessed with Vader in only the way someone on an Internet forum could be. More to the point, he also hates Anakin Skywalker -and possibly Jar Jar Binks- because he is that kind of a nerd. Kylo Ren is a purist. In essence he is a fan of the original trilogy, and only the original trilogy.

It makes sense in a way. Darth Vader is by far one of the coolest villains in all of movie history. Tall, imposing, and vicious he is more a force of nature than an actual person. “More man than machine,” as someone once said. Even when Vader gets angry all he has to do is force choke an admiral or two and be on his way. He almost never flies off the handle or acts irrationally, except for that whole Nooooooooo incident, but we don’t really talk about that… except for right now. The reason that outburst of emotion at the end of Revenge of the Sith seems so odd is because it is way out of character for what we know as the big man in black. That is also why so many people have so many problems with Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren included.

Hayden Christensen’s and Jake Lloyd’s acting aside, Anakin is annoying. It is one of the reasons why the prequel trilogy never worked as well as the original. Unfortunately, by the very nature of the character of Anakin Skywalker he will always get immediately compared with Darth Vader and will always come back looking weak and whinny when compared to his cooler and older counterpart. However and more to the point for Kylo Ren, Anakin Skywalker was good and Darth Vader was not, and that is where the distinction seems to be drawn for our Master of the Knights of Ren. The son of Han and Leia is a hardcore fan. He practically cosplays as the man and he even went so far as to collect memorabilia of his grandfather -though he did take it out of its original packaging so it will eventually depreciate in value.

Let the Nerd Rage Flow Through You
The irony is that Kylo Ren is arguably more powerful than his grandfather. It was often said that all the machinery in Vader kept him from fully accessing the Force, but his grandson does not have that limitation. He does not merely stop a blaster bolt with his hand, as Vader did. Ren freezes it completely in mid-air, and then proceeds to have a conversation with very little effort. Kylo Ren can rip memories and information from people’s minds. He does not simply Force choke his opponents he completely incapacitates them. However, unlike Vader’s cool and simmering anger, Ren’s rage explodes in violent tantrums. In many ways he is a child, an incredible dangerous one, but a child nonetheless.

What makes Kyle Ren more dangerous than Darth Vader is that Ren is a white-knuckled-zealous-fanatic when it comes to the First Order. He doesn’t just believe in this new diet version of the Empire, he lives it. It is part of his identity as a person. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand only joined Palpatine in some misguided attempt to save Queen Panda Bear. He held some beliefs similar to Darth Sidious, but his motives were more about justifying a personal end. That is why he ultimately turned back toward the lightside when confronted with the faith of his son, and why Ben Solo did not turn back when faced with the faith of his father. His obsession with the First Order and the darkside are part of how he identifies himself as a person, same as any one of us who proudly label ourselves as an unabashed Star Wars geek or nerd. After all, that is why so many people get so angry over things like the Special Editions, or the prequels, or anything else George Lucas did in the past two decades. No matter how much we may not mean to, we make these things part of ourselves and then when someone or something threatens them we react, sometimes irrationally.

In the Star Wars: The Force Struggles to Brew Its Morning Coffee, Kylo Ren’s rage is often triggered when things are not going his way, but especially when people violate the things he holds sacred. When faced with “Finn the Human” he very clearly yells the word “traitor,” because that matters to him. Finn, by running away from the First Order, stepped on something Ren holds dear. Vader, on the other hand, never cared if you were a defecting stormtrooper, Rebel-cannon-fodder #2, or a Kowakian monkey-lizard. He would just kill you without needing to tell you what you were. Also and in the most heavy handed symbolism of the movie, Kylo Ren literally unleashes his rage on a computer terminal, because that’s what you do when you’re a nerd. If someone argues that “Greedo shot first,” your only recourse is to thrash wildly at a computer screen until you make your point, and that is exactly the guiding principle that drive Ren through most of the movie. Some people may find him to be an uncomfortable, petulant, and unabashed man-child. Unfortunately, that is also exactly how many people see us Millennials.

The Millennials’ Falcon
Kylo Ren is the kind of person who will defend his obsession with the countenance of a cosplaying Sith Lord who just got told that Captain Kirk could beat up Darth Maul, because he is a Millennial. Think about it for a moment. We can assume he was raised in relative comfort, living in the shadow of his famous parents. He probably never faced much hardship as the previous war was mostly won by the time he was born. The Empire was defeated, his parents and uncle were heroes, and he was expected to live up to their legacy. Yet, he was not as cool as his father, as smart as his mother, or as focused as his uncle. He probably spent much of his childhood feeling inadequate and alone and -like many of us- he turned to stories for solace and escape. He found his identity and idol in the man who was his grandfather. Dark, imposing, and powerful, Vader must have seemed like a mythic figure to young Ben Solo. He did not just want to be like the Sith lord, he wanted to be the Sith lord. He even went so far as to kill other Jedi students, emulating the violent acts of the man he admires.

Not all Millennials have lived the easy life in the shadow of the hardwork of their parents, just as not all nerds rage at computer screens when people disagree with them, but there is an intersection of both populations where that is the case. Jar Jar Abrams is making a comment on the blind fanaticism of hardcore Star Wars fans, but there might also be a valid criticism buried under that black mask as well. There is something ultimately chilling about a geek gone wrong. Kylo Ren is a villain who feels alone and unloved, and he long ago gave up reality for the fantasy of his obsessions. He did not just fall from the lightside, but actively ran from it. Despite his in inability to properly pace a movie, Abrams does a good job of holding up a mirror to his own audience. We are like Luke Skywalker, entering the Darkside Tree on Dagobah. We think we are facing an all powerful imposing villain, but instead when the mask falls away, we find a reflection of our own faces.

For the most part, Millennials, especially nerds and geeks, are amazing people. Most of them will give you the limited edition 1978 Millennium Falcon shirt right off their backs, but we must all admit that there is a darker aspect to our culture and our love of things, like Star Wars. Like Kylo Ren we tend to make our favorite stories a part of our identities and personalities, and then we rage against the people we perceive as threatening who we are. With the advent of the social media and a popular culture that has suddenly embraced all things geeky, the angry nerd is starting to become a villain. In a way we may be forgetting to actually enjoy the things we claim to love, and instead we are spending our time looking for all the little things that make us angry. The true irony is that there has been no bigger target for nerd rage over the last fifteen years than Star Wars. So maybe Abrams actually hit the womp rat on the nose with this one.  Star Wars: The Force Drags Itself Out of Bed and into the Shower was by no means a perfect movie, but it does remind us that it was just a movie.

The holy grail of any science fiction story, and truly any hope of extended manned spaceflight is -without a doubt- the ability to go faster than light. An FTL engine is a piece of technology that has been depicted countless times in literature, movies, television, and the sugarplum dreams of children for nerds. Whether you want to call it a hyperdrive, a warp drive, jump drive, mass drive, improbable drive, or whatever we have seen it over and over again and for good reason.

The Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, and it is more than 4 light years to our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. We can never travel at the speed of light because that would be impossible, thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and not just because of all the weird time dilatation stuff. Traveling the speed of light would require infinite energy to accomplish, and infinite is kind of a hard number to come up with in practical terms, even with today’s cheaper gas prices. Yet, even if we were to figure out how to travel that fast it would still mean that it would take 4 years to reach Alpha Centauri, and that just won’t do when you are trying to keep a dramatic pace in your science fiction Disney-owned blockbuster. That is why the entertainment industry has given us to following:

It Ain’t Like Dusting Crops, Boy
Hyperdrive is the engine of the Star Wars universe. It allow ships like the Millennium Falcon and others to enter what is called “hyperspace,” Though Star Wars is not the only science fiction property to theorize such a dimension, they are the best known for it. According to Star Wars canon -at least we think it’s still canon but who can tell anymore- hyperspace is “a dimension of space-time that could only be reached by traveling at lightspeed or faster.” In essence it’s like a higher dimension or a pocket dimension that exists next to the Star Wars universe. Somebody took the time to do the math, but what is the most interesting aspect of this superluminal space is that it is still affected by the gravity of the normal dimension. Thus, hyperspace calculations are incredibly difficult because objects with enough mass can pull ships out of hyperspace, sometimes fatally. There are only certain routes that people use to navigate the galaxy, much like highways and back roads through hyperspace that avoid most major gravity wells. This also is used to explain Han Solo’s boast, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” The mining world of Kessel is situated next to the Maw, a cluster of black-holes, so getting to it is more about daring the shortest and most suicidal route rather than the fastest time -yes, by the way, we’re those kind of geeks.

We have talked about the science of Star Wars before, but it is worth covering this part more in depth. To begin, the rapid acceleration that we see in the movies would leave Han and Chewie as a fine paste on the back of their seats. Human beings -and possibly Wookiees- can withstand about a max of 5 g’s for about 2 minutes. Accelerating to lightspeed, even at 9 g’s would take about 19 days, though our favorite smuggling duo would be dead long before they reached it. We know the crew experiences at least some of the force of movement, because in The Empire Strikes Back R2-Ds falls backward when they jump to hyperspace. So we can only assume that the Falcon has some amazing inertial dampeners.

As for the dimension of hyperspace itself, it is a very cool storytelling element, but for the most part it is fictitious. The closest we have come to even discussing it on Earth is in terms of the Heim Theory which tried to purport a unifying theory between quantum physics and general relativity. It allows for the existence of such higher dimensions that could theoretically be accessed and used like hyperspace. Burkhard Heim even speculated that a rotating magnetic field could reduce the influence of gravity on a spacecraft enough for it to take off, and -for a while- these theories actually made him something of a celebrity in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, they also never quite passed peer review and Heim is no longer studied as part of mainstream scientific research.

Spinning Up
The jump drive is another fantastical engine that is best portrayed in Battlestar Galactica where ships are instantaneously transported from one point in space to another, light years away, but is also appears in other science fiction media. Unfortunately, shows like Battlestar Galactica seemed to be too preoccupied with high impact drama and suggestive PG-13 sex scenes to really go into the mechanics of how their FTL drives worked. So we are left with only speculation.

It is possible that a jump drive would be related to a phenomenon known as quantum tunneling. In its purest form, tunneling is the process by which a particle passes through a barrier that it would not normally have passed through. It has a very low probability of happening at all, which increases as the target barrier’s thickness decreases. Also, as rare as this phenomenon is, it happens quite frequently inside the core of our own sun, mostly because the unfathomable number of particles in the sun means that statistically even low probable actions still take place on a regular occurrence. Scientists like Günter Nimtz, claim that when a particle tunnels through an object it does so instantly making its movement faster than light, though that has been heavily debated. Still, if that were to be true, this could be the basis for what you would call a jump drive.

Unfortunately, quantum tunneling has several major set backs. First of all, it has only ever been observed at the particle level, and would be incredibly hard to scale up to more complex forms of matter like you, or Starbuck, or Edward James Olmos. Even if we could scale it, quantum tunneling happens an improbably low amount of the time. An FTL drive that only allows you to jump 1 out of every 1,000 times is not going to be great when you’re fleeing from cylons. Even then, it is only possible over short distances, and we’re not talking four or five light years. We’re talking about minuscule distances, centimeters and multiple planck lengths. Lastly, scientists cannot even seem to agree if the particle even is traveling faster than light, as it would be inconsistent with Einstein’s Special Relativity. So we’re thinking a jump drive is probably fracked.

Chevrons Locked
Wormholes could offer a better solution. They have been portrayed in various science fiction properties, most notably in the Stargate franchise and the Mass Effect series. The best part about wormholes is that they are scientifically plausible. It has become almost cliche at this point to make the old analogy of space-time being like a piece of paper. You may not be able to go faster than light from the top of the page to the bottom of it, but if you fold the paper over and create a bridge through it than you could travel there almost instantly and still stay on Einstein’s good side. -We are also aware that we called the example cliche and then proceeded to use it as our example, but if it works it works- General relativity even predicted their existence, though we have yet to observe one.

Size is the first issue. If naturally occuring wormholes exist, they happen on a microscopic scale. Another issue is stability. As of right now we have very few ideas on how we could open a wormhole and even less on how to keep it open. It would require some sort of exotic negative mass or negative energy to do so. Both of which are theoretically sound, but we have yet to reliably observe them, let alone harness them for our purposes. Another tiny problem is the fact that, even if we could create or find one big enough, and even if we could keep it open and stable, we have no guarantee that inserting a foreign object or a human body would not cause it to immediately destabilize and collapse. Then even if does remain stable the affects of gravity inside the wormhole would unevenly affect anyone entering it, turning them into spaghetti, which would be very bad for MacGyver or whoever else was inside at the time.

Engage
We come now to the warp drive. It is one of the most talked about and plausible science fiction faster than light engines ever dreamed up, though we at the NYRD personally believe that is because most NASA scientists are also Trekkies. Star Trek has laid out the details of the warp drive pretty extensively. So we know it is powered by a mater/anti-matter reaction which is mediated through a non-reactive substance held in check by an electromagnetic field. This creates warp plasma which is channeled through warp coils that ultimately distort space around the ship. Now most of that is sci-fi technobable, but it has a foot in actual theoretical science, we mean at least as much as any show about Tribbles and green women can.

The Alcubierre Drive is a theoretical warp drive worked out by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, and essentially it works just like a Star Trek warp drive -again because Alcubierre is a Trekkie. According to Einstein, nothing can go faster than light, except -and its a big exception– space itself. At the moment of the Big Bang the fabric of space expanded faster than the speed of light, and space is still expanding to this day. The Alcubierre drive would essentially warp the space itself around a starship, causing the space in front to contract and the space behind the ship to expand. All the while, the USS Patrick Stewart is contained safely in a bubble of normal space time. Thus, a ship can achieve speeds faster than than light and the crew inside the ship would not even feel the inertia of acceleration.

Unfortunately, Alcubierre himself stated that this would take an amount of energy on par with the mass of the observable universe, though some scientists at the Johnson Space Center, believe they have gotten that down to about the mass of Voyager 1, which is better but still not ideal. Even more problematic, maintaining the stability of the warp bubble around the ship would again require negative or exotic matter, same as it would for the wormhole solution. However, and despite all its flaws, this theory is the current front-runner for the most plausible superluminal engine we have yet to come up with.

So, sorry Star Wars fans. You may have cool things like lightsabers, the Force, and a deep seated hatred of Jar Jar Binks, but Star Trek has the most plausible fictional way of traveling across the galaxy. Still, it is worth mentioning that Star Wars has always been more about myth and fantasy than science, and that is okay. The Jedi are samurai, Han Solo is a cowboy, and originally no one ever put much thought into how things work, just that they looked cool while doing it, but even impossible science fantasy is as a vital part of the human imagination and science. Ultimately, if you remove either science or imagination from the human experience, the remaining one would not be as strong as they it is today. The fantastical worlds of writers and artists inspire scientists and vice versa. Unfortunately, in the realm of interstellar flight our collective imagination is still outpacing our scientific achievement, at least until that day we all get a visit from a British man in a police box.

We have all been hearing a lot about this Star Wars thing lately. The newest trailer dropped last week and the Internet has been talking about nothing else since. Unfortunately, the thing the last trailer lacked was any sort of solid idea of what Episode VII might be about. Well the guys at Science Vs. Cinema decided to try and fix that.

They edited last year’s teaser from Star Wars Celebration along with the most current and final trailer to blend together the scenes to give us a sense of the order of the movie. We are not sure if it reveals anything more or less about what how good Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be, -we are reserving our Jar Jar judgement on that one- but it at least gives us a better idea of what old JJ Abrams is working with.

This fan trailer gives puts order to the chaos of the images we see, starting on a desert world and ending in the climatic battle which very well could be the movie’s climatic battle. Be warned, if you want to go into Episode VII without expectations or spoilers than you should not watch the following trailer, but if you are the kind of person -like Todd- who needs to know everything so they can dissect, conjecture, and digest it all, then this Star Wars trailer is for you. Check it out:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released on December 18, 2015. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, then you are probably already out of luck. You may just have to wait a week.


Image courtesy: http://www.starwars.com/films

This past week, the nerd community saw the release of one of the most anticipated trailers of the year, Star Wars Episode VII. Unfortunately, almost immediately afterwards we also saw some Twitter trolls start the offensive hashtag: BoycottStarWarsVII. The campaign was supposedly created to stop Star Wars from pushing a evil multicultural agenda of tolerance and acceptance, because there are some people out there who just aren’t fans of Lando Calrissian, or nuanced and informed discussion. Those people are morons, but in a world where important conversations about identity, gender, and racial divides are conducted with hashtags, at least they have given us this opportunity to have a dialogue about multiculturalism in geekdom. A big part of the problem is the way that people of diverse -and especially African American backgrounds- are not always perceived as being stereotypically nerdy, but nothing could further from the truth.

Missing the Target with Stormtroopers
Let’s face it. The outrage over a black stormtrooper or the outrage over a multicultural Star Wars cast is completely ridiculous. It is the same kind of outrage we saw over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, the creation of Miles Morales, or any one of a thousands or so similar incidents. It is possible that sometimes nerds don’t mean to be racist, and they get so caught up in canonical in-fighting that they fail to realize what they are doing. It is also possible some people are just terribly ignorant.

However, the nerd community does not share the fault alone, as the media does not do a good job of embracing the idea of a black-nerd, or “blerd.” When Hollywood thinks of geeks, they think male, white, Asian, or even Indian. -Basically the cast of the Big Bang.- Welcome to the struggle of the blerd, but why is that the case? There have been plenty of famous black nerds, Raj in What’s Happening, Carlton in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and of course Steve “I am the goddamn nerd king” Urkel in Family Matters. Yet, Hollywood and geekdom in general still struggle with casting African American leads in science fiction, fantasy, and comic entertainment, partially because they fear the choice will put off those big juicy, money-spending, white male, geek crowds. Worse yet, when they finally do buckle and add a little variety, it is the members of that very same nerd community who are the first to rage or completely disregard such casting choices as nothing more than “political correctness,” and that has a lot do with our collective cultural stereotypes of the black community in general.

For this article, we are not looking to get into the complexities of black culture or how the media and white culture perceives black culture, or how black culture may perceive itself through the mirrored lens of the media. Mostly, because we don’t have the time, historical perspective, or proper doctoral degrees to really do the subject any justice. For now, let’s just say that living up to the media’s standards of being black in America means you often find yourself stuck along very rigid stereotype lines, and very few of the prescribed roles that the media assigns to African Americans involves being nerdy.

The Trials of Mace Windu
When a black character gets portrayed it is often along certain stock-lines such as a sports star, a rapper, or the bad ass. We love Mace Windu as one of the only good things about the prequels but he has an undeniable Samuel L. Jackson quality about him. Now that is not a bad thing, but not every black Jedi needs to be Shaft with a lightsaber. Why couldn’t Qui Gon Jinn or any other Jedi have been black too? Why do we only seem to get one representation at a time? By portraying African Americans so heavily along the roles of gang members, criminals, and even “the cool one” the media helps create the perception that these are really the only acceptable things young black men or women can be. So for years, the very idea of the black comic book nerd or the black science fiction nerd was forgotten. We’re not saying that they didn’t exist, just that they were not made visible by Hollywood for the viewing audience at large. In fact, when blerds were portrayed at all, many perceived those characters as “acting white,” because smart and uncool have not been the standard labels for young African Americans. So whenever we got the black nerd character, he was only ever portrayed as the person who was rejected by the show’s wider community. Both Carlton and Urkel started as comparison characters to the show’s “cooler” characters. In other words, they were not the characters that were “normal” or worth emulating. Even if they did eventually become some of the most popular characters on their respected shows.

Thankfully that perception is changing, slowly but surely. When you really open your eyes and take notice you see blerds everywhere, and it is amazing. People like Aisha Tyler, Damon Waynes Jr., Donald Glover and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson have come to epitomize what it means to be black and nerdy. Characters such as Turk from Scrubs, Toofer from 30 Rock, Gus from Psych, and Troy from Community, helped to put forth new roles for African American nerds in Hollywood, even if their shows are now all canceled. No longer are these characters the punching bag or the annoying friend. They are funny, smart, and fun to be around. In the past decade it has started to become cool to like cartoons, comics, sci-fi,.and be a little weird. That has helped the blerd gain some prominence, but unfortunately even with these positive role models, studios, social media, and geekdom at large, still hesitate and debate over the merits of casting African Americans in starring roles.

Will Smith may have starred in Men in Black, Laurence Fishburne may have played Morpheus, Samuel L. Jackson may be Nick Fury, but the minute you cast an African American actor as a stormtrooper the Internet breaks. People will point to characters like Falcon, Zoe Washburne, Static Shock, Black Panther, Uhura, or Captain Benjamin Sisko as example of diversity in geekdom, and they would be right. However, those characters are just a good start, and not a justification for why we need an all white cast for Episode VII. Being a nerd should be about including all people and most importantly giving everyone a hero they can look up to and say, “He/she is like me. I can be a hero, a Jedi, a stormtrooper, a Galactic senator, or whatever I want to be,” because that has always been the magic and importance of our shared nerd heritage.

Gambling on Lando Calrissian
Many people will inevitably wonder why we need a separate label for a black nerd. Those will be the same people who will wonder aloud why February is Black History Month, or why “only” Black Lives Matter? What those people need to understand is that saying that Black Lives Matter is not the same as saying only black lives matter. It is a reminder that black lives matter too. Similarly, giving one the label of blerd does not mean they are separate from other nerds. As a race and as a minority African Americans have been poorly under-represented, or worst yet represented poorly through the lens of media stereotypes. The blerd label -much like the Black Lives Matters campaign- is way to remind us that African Americans are not just two-dimensional stereotypes. They are humans who are entitled to life, hopes, dreams, and the freedoms to swing a stick around their head and make lightsaber noises. We all need to remember that nerds and people come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they all deserve respect.

Hollywood forgets that sometimes. It is easier to typecast people in certain roles, because it is accepted by the culture at large. Thus the fanboy backlash from casting an African American in a previously white role may sometimes force studios to temper otherwise multicultural and innovative choices. However, as easy as it would be to blame the media for the lack of ethnic diversity in the movies we love so much, it is not entirely their fault. They are far from perfect in fostering equal casting opportunities, but it starts with us, the fan community. As a famous leader once said. “The change you wish to see in the world, you must be, hmm.” Acceptance and equality start with each of us.

Blerd Lives Matter because all nerd lives and loves matter, regardless of color or creed. We need to encourage more diversity in our movies, television shows, comics, literature, and lives. As a community, we geeks and nerds need to start demanding a fair balance of positive racial representation, and more importantly we need to stop raging every time Hollywood makes a stormtrooper black. -It is a perfectly conical choice.- There will always be people out there with poorly conceived hashtags because they are filled with bigotry. Yet we cannot let them be the voice for our larger community. Geekdom is full of great and accepting people, and we have to make sure that the only minority we disregard is the minority of people who want to do nothing more than spread their message of fear, because that leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to a darker-side for us all.

They say you should never talk about religion in polite company, so instead let’s talk Star Wars. For all their flaws, the prequels reveal something that is worth considering about the Jedi Order. It gives us a glimpse of a rigid dogmatic organization that finds itself being tested by new challenges and new ideas. So much so, that when the Jedi do eventually fall to Palpatine’s machinations, you have to wonder if it is not so much because of the careful planning of Darth Sidious, but more because of the Jedi’s failure to adapt and change with the times.

Currently, there are 804 million declared Christians in the Americas, which is the largest Christian population on any continent, but religion all over the West, especially in the eastern United States, has been in a steady decline for decades. Yet, for this past week it has been impossible to get anywhere in New York City as the streets have become clogged with faithful followers trying to catch a glimpse of his holiness, Pope Francis, as he completes the American Run in less than 12 parsecs, in what we are going to call Pope-a-palooza??

Pope-Wan Kenobi
All week New York and the east coast have been bracing for the Pope’s visit, like an approaching Imperial invasion. Streets are being blocked off, stadiums are being prepared for capacity seating, and in Philly 4.5 miles of Center City are being cordoned in preparation for Sunday mass. Catholics and non-catholics alike are clamoring for a view of the Pope, even at a time when according to a Pew Research Survey, the normally steady ranks of American Catholics have dropped by 3 million followers in the past 7 years. It could be that there is still some tendency in us all to recognize religious authority, even if we do not always believe in religion?

After all, after the destruction of the Jedi Order, Masters Yoda and Kenobi no longer had a basis for any sort of political power. Yet, both Luke and the audience found themselves in awe -and not just because of their super-mind powers. According to Dr. Andrew Newberg, the human brain might be programmed for religion. A common thread among mystical, spiritual, and religious practices is that for people who are engaged in them there is a tangible and powerful emotion created as all the areas of the brain work together. This Jedi mind trick, combined with cultural pressures, scientific uncertainties, and good-old fashioned superstition, may contribute to why we still flock to see an old man in a funny hat, and why we can claim it as a tangible “religious experience.” A part of us is still hardwired to believe in “hokey religions,” -which may or may not be a match for a good blaster. Yet, we are also hardwired to reproduce as much and as often as possible, and according to a myriad of surveys both birthrates and religious attendance are declining.

Order 666
External forces caused the downfall of the Jedi, but there was evidence of cracks in their organization beforehand. Anakin Skywalker, for instance, was driven to do what he did partly because of the intractable rules of the organization. The Jedi have rules against their knights being able to marry or fall in love, much like another unreasonable monolithic powerful religious organization you might know. Of course, Anakin was also a bit of a jerk, so maybe he is not the best example. Count Dooku, however, was a well respected Jedi Master, and according to Wookiepedia he lost his faith in the Order after a disastrous battle he was forced to fight with no support from the Jedi Council. After leaving the Order he fell to the Darkside, but there is plenty of other evidence in Star Wars lore that the rigid Jedi doctrine drove as many people to the Darkside as it raised people to the Light.

The decline of religion in our times is not a result to some hidden order imprinted in the DNA of clone troopers, and yet attendance for organized religions, and Christianity especially, are at all time lows. A 2009 American Religious Identification Survey found that 86% of American adults identified as Christian in 1990 but only 76% did so in 2008. In England, the number of Anglicans -THE Church of Britain- fell from 40% in 1983 to 27% in 2004. Some estimates say that by 2033 the Anglican Church will be gone completely, which may explain why so many English have started listing their religion as Jedi, on their census surveys.

America has always been something of a Death Star of Christianity, an impregnable bastion of religion the size of a small moon. However, we still have one or two exposed thermal exhausts ports which are proving to be an undoing. Millennials are becoming less and less affiliated with organized religions, with 34% of people between the ages of 25 and 34 no longer associated with a church, mosque, or temple. For young adults, twice as many people, between the ages of 18 and 22, said they never attended religious services in the 2010s, as opposed to the same age groups in the 1970s. 75% more 18 year olds said that religion was “not important at all” in their lives as opposed to forty years ago. In fact, when you break it down by numbers, 23% of all Americans no longer affiliate with an organized religion, which has surpassed the number of Catholic Americans (21%) and mainstream Protestants (15%). Even “spirituality” has declined, with 20% fewer college students claiming they are spiritual as opposed to the same age group in the 1990’s.

Lightsaber Chart

The Apathy Strikes Back
There are many reasons for this decline, and most people’s knee jerk reactions may be to blame technology, or Dark Lords of the Sith, or “these padawans today,” and though some of those things may be a factor they are just part of a larger picture. Religion suffers in societies that have a high value on individualism. Like the Jedi Order, adherence to organized religion requires that followers put their faith in the larger organization and follow the rules and tenants set before them. If you have someone who thinks and acts as an individual, such Anakin, then the entire structure is threatened. In essence, individuality is a mark of the Sith. The Jedi believe in freedom, but not freedom of thought or belief for their followers. The Jedi philosophy sees individualism as chaos, and the church is no different.

Religion requires respect for authority, but that is also at an all time low and for various reasons. After all, it is hard to have respect for the authority of an organization that puts itself above others. Religions and the Jedi separate the chosen from the non-chosen, the Jedi from the non-Jedi. Religion promotes a specialness that is not always attainable by those who do not have the right Midi-chlorian count. That also means that religion does not have any respect for the rule of civil law, because it was made by non-special people. In Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi literally plot to take over the government when they discover Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Mace “L.” Windu says that the Jedi need to cease control of the government to ensure a “smooth transition,” because obviously it can’t be left to lowly unspecial people to handle the job. Only the chosen are capable of creating a stable rule of law.

This arrogance combined with a rising level of individualism has driven people away from organized religion. Baby Boomers, Generation Xer’s, and Millennials have all shown an increased focus on the self over the community, which has led to less interest in social organizations, apathy for the political process, and feelings of detachment from the community and the church. Of course, it has also led to a higher tolerance of diversity, respect for others’ opinions, and the ability to question the status quo. Not all those things are good, but neither are they all bad, but this rise of individualism has fueled by a distrust of the government, politicians, the media, the medical establishment and other large organizations, the church included. Now, thanks to technology we are connected like never before, and this democratization of communication and information has taken even more power out of the hands of religious and secular rulers. Social media has even given us a platform to proclaim our  own specialness, outside of the context of being a member of a chosen people. Yet, all of this has happened before… a long time ago.

The Great Force Awakening
Whenever it seems that religion is in decline some new evangelical movement whips up and reignites the passions of the American Christian. In the past, America has had Three Great Religious Awakenings, plus several other smaller revivals, because like the swing of a lightsaber, growing religious apathy cuts both ways. It may cause more people to leave the church, but it often invigorates those that remain. That is why, unlike other denominations, evangelical Protestants have experienced less decline and even net gains in some areas between 2007 and 2014. In fact, for every person who has left an evangelical Protestant denomination 1.2 people have converted or joined, slowing their decline from 26.3% to 25.4% in the past seven years, which maybe less of a revival and more of a cauterizing of a wound.

Any new Great Awakening would need to come with compromise. Religion -and Christianity especially- are now seen by many as narrow-minded and even bigoted. Rules about homosexuality, science, premarital sex, the changing nature of the family, and other modern concepts have left them behind. A need to adhere to past dogma has hindered many people’s enthusiasm for organized religion, especially in Catholicism. Religion would need to become more humble and more accepting, because when an organization becomes only about black and white, sin and saviors, Darkside and Lightside, it also becomes about immutable beliefs that make it unable to accept change.

Revenge of the Secular
There is a moment in Revenge of the Sith when Yoda is fighting Palpatine, and in the movie version it appears as if Yoda just gives up and abandons the fight. However, in the novelization the reader learns that Yoda has a revelation during the battle. He realizes that he and the Jedi Order cannot win, because unlike the Sith they failed to adapt with the times. The Jedi were stuck in practices and ideas that were no longer relevant to a modern galaxy. The Sith on the other hand had changed and adapted, and they become stronger for it.

We cannot predict what the next episode of this saga will be, whether organized religion will go the way of Jar Jar Binks, or if the Force Awakens. “Clouded the future is,” but there is evidence that much like Yoda, Pope Francis, has come to understand the downfalls of his organization. The Pope has become known as a reformer. There are hints that his Holiness sees that the times are changing and is trying to get the Catholic Church to change with them. It is not about abandoning core values -service, forgiveness, love, generosity- but core dogma. The Pope has touched the excitement of the religious and non-religious because he does things that are both more humble and more Christian than any Pope in modern memory.

Maybe that is why so many people are excited to see him, and also why we had to sit in traffic this morning.

There is something about the self expression of a tattoo that helps to show our modern individuality, beliefs, loves, and more; and if you are anything like the majority of the staff here at The NYRD -except for Todd- than you too, dear reader, may be sporting some ink. Your mark of independence, creativity, or passion may be in some hidden or not so hidden place on your body, but have you ever wondered why so many people nowadays seem driven to tarnish their perfect skin with poorly drawn tigers or mistranslated Chinese writing? All we know is that we are not alone, because this modern trend is a surprisingly timeless human trait.

Tit for Tats
According to a 2012 Harris poll 1 in 5 Americans, roughly 21% of adults in the United States, have at least one tattoo on their body. According to a Pew Research poll that number jumps to 40% when looking at young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Tattooing is becoming more popular than Robert Downey Jr. holding ice ream, and for a few reasons. First, tattoos are becoming more and more acceptable as celebrities, athletes, and other notable figures proudly display their ink on the big and small screens. Secondly, the Millennial Generation -who is constantly rated as more confident, connected, and more willing toward self expression- has made tattooing a part of the youth culture. Lastly, and due to all these factors, the stigma of tattoos have lessened over the years. It is not gone completely, but it no longer seems that ink is just for sailors and Sith warriors.

One tattoo artist we talked to explained how he got his start marking gang members and bikers in a dingy ink den on the wrong side of Brooklyn. Originally those were his only customers, but now his clientele are mostly young adults who wear cardigans instead of leather jackets, and get tats of Kermit the Frog instead of skulls and daggers. Of course, this also reflects a bigger trend going on in NYC and around the country. The landscape of Brooklyn has changed, with many neighborhoods going from hard-luck to hipster paradise. Gangs still exist, but they are no longer the only ones who brand themselves to affiliate with a group or ideal. Geeks, jocks, families, chess clubs, and more use tattoos to proudly display who and what they are.

We could argue a correlation between the rise of social media and the popularity of tattoos, and certainly our new cultural of unabashed social sharing and connectivity has added to the popularity of body art. We are more willing to share who we are with friends, family, and strangers, but there is more to it than that. When you look at history, this urge to carve out a visible personification for ourselves with tattoos proves to be quite a universal human tendency.

Faded Ink
Tattoos have been a part of human culture for more than 5,000 years. There has even been evidence of tattooing dating back to 6,000 BCE, with the discovery of a man sporting a thin pencil mustache tattooed on his upper lip, thus also proving that both tattoos and hipsters are apparently timeless. Ötzi the Iceman was discovered in the early 90’s preserved in ice. He lived around 3,300 BCE, had more than fifty tattoos on his body, mostly small vertical lines that may have been used for therapeutic reasons. Every human culture has had a history of decorating their bodies for various reasons, spiritual, religious, love, war, etc. There is evidence that Moses might have had a tattoo, despite what the Bible said on the subject. Even Christian Crusaders often got the Jerusalem Cross marked on their body so that if they died in battle they could be identified and be given a Christian burial. Today, cultures, such as the Maori in New Zealand, still use tattoos to commemorate their heritage and to bridge the gap between their ancestral roots and the modern world.

There is no one true origin for the tradition of tattooing, but we do know where the English word for the practice comes from. Tattoo or Tattow is an Anglicized version of the word Tatau, a Polynesian word from Tahiti. It was brought back to the west by English explorer Captain James Cook, who is mostly remembered for his misunderstanding of the climate of Australia and his misunderstanding of the patience of Hawaiians. In Tahiti, Cook encountered heavily tattooed men and women, and because of his stories and the ink that his crew returned with from their Polynesian vacation, we got the modern word of tattoo.

Also thanks to Cook’s discovery and the stories he and others like him brought back from their voyages, tattoos became all the rage in Victorian society. Most people tend to think of Jane Austen and her ilk as a tame repressed group, but the truth is that many Victorians had at least one tat. Even Queen Victoria was believed to have a tattoo of a Bengal tiger fighting a python. Of course, most Victorians’ ink was hidden by frilly dresses, petticoats, and pantaloons, and there were always some that looked down on the fashion trend, but it was common practice of upper society at the time. It was also said that Winston Churchill’s mother had a rebelliously visible tattoo of a serpent… Hail Hydra.

Cover Ups
Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the darker side of tattoos. Many people were inked or branded unwillingly throughout human history. Geeks and Romans tattooed slaves and mercenaries so as to discourage them from deserting or fleeing their masters. Convicts in Japan were tattooed to mark their lowered status in society, even as far back as the 7th century. Curiously, this could also be why today the Japanese still look down on tattoos as something worn only by gang members and criminals. Most sadly, of course, the Nazis tattooed Jewish and other prisoners in concentration camps with numbers so they could easily identify stripped and destroyed corpses.

Of course, over the years some people have re-appropriated those symbols. The Japanese convicts turned their shameful marks into the elaborate body art which marked their strength and loyalty to the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Many descendants of concentration camp survivors have tattooed their ancestors numbers on their bodies as a way of remembering and honoring the past. These marks of shame find new meaning and acceptance in the modern world, but really that is what tattoos are. They are a way to memorialize what has come before and celebrate who we are as individuals.

Tattoos are permanent adornments, remnants from a different time in our life that stay with us. Like us they may grow and wear out, and their meaning may change over time. We may look on them with fondness or embarrassment, but there is not denying that they become a part of us. Many people use them to commemorate a milestone, honor a loved one, or even just because it makes them feel good. Regardless of the reasons, the marks help define us, not just to the outside world but to ourselves. Tattoos are not something new and they are certainly not something to be looked down on. In our modern world of Twitter and Facebook, tattoos help us to literally wear our hearts on our sleeves, or our dragons, our crossbones, our Superman symbols, or even that unicorn we got by mistake that one time, which we don’t ever talk about.

Who among us has not gazed out into the night sky and envisioned the possibilities. Science fictions are all about possibilities. Our graphic artists have taken some of NASA best images and used their skill to insert some of our favorite stories, because space is a vast and incredible place, and there is no telling what is really up there.

Who knows, we may even be up there ourselves someday. Until then, we can only dream.

This weekend marked the annual D23 Expo, one of the biggest Disney Conventions dating back to 2009. D23 is the official name of the Disney Fan Club, named because 1923 is the year that Walt Disney left Kansas for California and begin his domination of the planet. Over the past few years, and thanks in no small part to the Disney Corporation’s need to buy major brands from the Muppets to Pixar to Marvel to Star Wars, D23 has become one of the biggest places for Geek-related news, rivaling even San Diego Comic Con. In fact this year D23 even had more Marvel related news than SDCC.

We here at The NYRD are going to give you some of the highlights that came out of Anaheim this weekend.

Jump to: Disney Live Action, Disney Animation, Marvel, Star Wars


Disney Live Action:
Perhaps the two biggest properties announced were the two movies no one expected or even really believed we would ever see again. They also have one eye-liner heavy character in common, Johnny Depp. Disney will be producing Alice Through the Looking Glass in 2016, which isn’t being directed by Tim Burton, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales in 2017, because surely those were the movies that everyone had been clamoring for. Depp will step back into his roles of the Mad Hatter and Jack Sparrow respectively, and even more interesting Orlando Bloom will also be reprising his role as Will Turner, because Hobbit cameo money doesn’t last forever. If there is one thing you have to hand to Disney, they are more than ready, and able, to squeeze blood from a dry stone, and we can only wait and see to how much money these two properties have yet to make the House of Mouse.

In other news, a live action remake of the Jungle Book is also set for 2016, staring Bill Murray as Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and Christopher Walken as himself in the role King Louie. There will also be a live-action/CGI remake of Beauty and the Beast, staring Emma Watson as Belle, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, and Ian McKellen among others. That movie is set for 2016. Lastly, there will be a remake of Pete’s Dragon, staring Bryce Dallas Howard also in 2016, because that is certainly a 1977 classic everyone was clamoring for.

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It seems that Disney is putting all their eggs in the live-action remake/sequel basket. Other than Chris Pine’s new Finest Hour there was not one original live action movie announced under the Disney title for next year.  This is a bit disheartening, especially since, for better or worse, Disney is a large trend setter for the entertainment industry. They have the resources, the money, and the time to burn and experiment on new projects, but perhaps after the middling response to this year’s Tomorrow Land, the corporation giant has backed off on taking risks for a while.


Disney Animation/Pixar:
On the animation side of things, there is some hope, other than the announcement of Toy Story 4, where Buzz and Woody go on an adventure to find Bo Peep, because why let a movie trilogy end gracefully and on that right bittersweet note when you can just keep pumping it for more cash? The Pixar movie is set for 2017. Disney and Pixar also announced Finding Dory, which will be hitting theaters in 2016, staring Ellen DeGeneres. They also premiered an Inside Out short entitled, Riley’s First Date.

In other news, Disney will also be producing a 2017 animated cartoon called Coco, based upon the Dias de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The Rock himself then took stage to promote his new 2016 musical animated movie, Moana, which is based in South Pacific mythology, and will be about a young girl who teams up with a legendary demi-god named Maui, played by the Rock to figure out why people have stopped exploring. Disney is definitely trying to reach more diverse audiences with these two movies, which is a good thing.

Clips were shown from 2016’s Zootopia, which is a buddy cop movie that takes place in a city made up of anthropomorphic animals, staring Once Upon a Times’ Ginnifer Goodwin. Lastly, Disney will be producing Gigantic, the supposedly “definitive” Jack and the Beanstalk story for the big screen. This movie very much seems to be aiming to be in the tradition of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, to become another Disney animated musical classic.

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Marvel:
Perhaps one of the most anticipated panels of the Expo, Kevin Feige took to the stage to introduce the first trailer for Captain America: Civil War. The trailer is not currently released for public consumption, except in leaked form. Please note that we will not show you that trailer, because we at The NYRD do not support leaked footage. Also, why would you want to watch some grainy, shaky-cam footage that some jerk took on his phone from the 103rd row? Disney and Marvel will release the trailer on their own schedule and we are sure it will turn plenty of heads when it finally hits YouTube and movie screens. Until then, we are content to wait for all the Civil War goodness.

Marvel also premiered a small movie showing concept art from Doctor Strange, along with a video love letter from Sir Benedict Eggs Over Easy Cumbersome Batching. He has the best, most British name. Unfortunately we have no footage of those pictures, either. really we are saying we have nothing visual to show for Marvel. However, it was announced that Tilda Swinton will be playing Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One, though she admits that she is yet uncertain if she will be playing the part as a man or as a woman.


Star Wars:
Last but not least, it was Star Wars again that shook down the house. The panel had everything, complete with a show stopping appearance by Han Solo himself. Well, it had everything except for a new Star Wars trailer, which JJ Abrams said would not be out till the Fall. The audience also got to hear from Gareth Edwards who will be directing the first Star Wars spinoff, Rogue One. The movie is set to be a gritty war drama that takes place during the Rebellion Against the Empire, and possibly involves the stealing of the Death Star plans. In other words, forget everything you learned while playing Dark Forces, Kyle Katarn forgive us. We did get the first cast photo. This movie stands out as a interesting concept, though we are still unclear as why they called it Rogue One. After all, that would have been Luke or Wedge Antilles’ callsign during the Rebellion, but then again, who really knows what is canon anymore, Wes Janson forgive us. The movie began principal photography this month.

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Finally, and perhaps the biggest announcement was the fact that Disney World and Disneyland will both be opening new Star Wars-theme parks. The new parks will be based around two signature rides, including one where you will be able to pilot the Millennium Falcon. The second one will give guests the chance to be in the midst of a battle between the First Order and The Resistance. Both will be based in the lore of the new trilogy, because why base rides on classic Star Wars. When will we get Admiral Ackbar’s Crazy Trap Ride?

Despite our snark and our disbelief, we will ultimately end up going to the parks and seeing the movies, because of course we will. No matter what your opinion of the mouse-led entertainment behemoth, there is one thing that you have to admit is for certain, Disney stands to make all the money… like all of it.


Photos and video courtesy: https://d23.com/

Entertainment Weekly is all about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and they are showing off some new pictures. The images looks begrudgingly amazing and exciting. Though many of us here at The NYRD are still mourning the loss of the Star Wars Expanded Universe even we have to admit that these shots look and feel like classic Star Wars. However, we are still reserving our expectations until opening day. No one around here wants to come down with a classic case of “Phantom Menace Syndrome.”

EW also talked with cast and crew about some of the questions that fans had in regards to the new movie. Most importantly, they cleared up some fans objections over the character names, which seem to have more whimsy than meaning, unlike the names like Darth Vader, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. JJ Abrams revealed that the names may have more meaning than originally believed.

The two main leads, Finn and Rey only have first names on purpose. It leaves it open for their last names to be revealed at a more dramatic time and point. In other words, expect one or more of them to have a last name such as Solo, Skywalker, or maybe even Calrissian. The villain is named Kylo Ren, but he is a member of the Order or Ren, which we would guess is hopefully some kind of Sith Order and not something you get as a meal a long time ago at a drive-in window far far away. Also, Kylo is not his real name either, which means he could very well wind up having one of those very same above surnames we were talking about.

Regardless, enjoy the pictures below. Out favorite is the look at General Hux. Check it out.


All photos and captions courtesy: http://www.ew.com/gallery/star-wars-force-awakens-first-look-gallery

Funny woman Amy Schumer is coming off a relatively good high as of late. Her new romantic comedy is out in theaters and thanks to her acceptance speech at the 2015 Glamour Awards, she has become somewhat of an icon for powerful women everywhere. Her latest outing for GQ’s Comedy Issue has been to don the guise of everyone’s favorite princess from a galaxy far far away. Of course Schumer doesn’t do anything halfway or without putting her brand of comedy on it.

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GQ let her pick her own cover idea and Schumer not just went funny and geeky, but she blew out our servomotors. It is a shame that GQ is only featuring Schumer as part of their “comedy” issue. She is a powerful and sexy woman and we would not mind seeing more of her and those like her on the cover of GQ in the future.

For insight into the Schumer shoot, check out GQ and the hilarious video she made while lying next to a bewildered and somewhat jumpy C3PO. Of course in all fairness, surprised and a bit insulted tends to be Threepio’s default look, but it works fairly well. Our personal favorite would have to be the bar scene. Check out the magazine and the pictures below for more.


Photos courtesy: http://www.gq.com/gallery/amy-schumer-photos-star-wars-trainwreck

“A long time ago in a galaxy far far away” is a lot like saying “once upon a time.” It signals to us that we are heading on a journey that takes place in a different place where we will need to suspend our belief in reality and accept a world of magic, sorcery, and even the belief that George Lucas can still write a Star Wars script. Yet, how much of the impossible must we accept? Is the Force real? Did Han really shoot first? Are we actually seeing the events of a different and distant galaxy? That last one just might be the most fantastical of the bunch. What is more likely is that Star Wars takes place in a different universe, one governed by  physical laws that are completely different than our own.

There is nothing more exciting than Luke Skywalker screaming down that Death Star trench, Darth Vader hot on his heels, or Lando Calrissian spinning the Millennium Falcon through death defying maneuvers as he avoid star destroyers and TIE fighters over Endor. However, as any scientist can tell you, space battles like that are not possible, at least not in our galaxy.

The Darkside of Dogfighting
Star Wars dogfighting was based on World War II dogfighting, right down to the distinctive shape of the X-wings. The aerodynamic X-wings would work very well in an atmosphere, but would be irrelevant in space, almost impractical. Even the way the starfighters move are similar to atmospheric fighter craft. They wing over, dive, roll, and rocket around on full thrusters as if they were fighting wind or gravity. They even do a barrel roll, though that’s not what you think it is.

In truth, Newton’s First Law, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force, would mean that an X-wing or TIE fighter would not need to keep their engines thrusting them forward the entire time. It would be a waste of fuel. Unfortunately, that also means they would be moving in only one direction. To make any turns or maneuvers they would need precision maneuvering jets all over their spacecraft, or some sort of internal gyroscopic system, and even then their turns would be lazier as their momentum kept them moving forward even as they rotated their craft along a different point.

Newton’s First Law doesn’t just apply to the spacecraft. It also applies to the pilots. Thankfully, TIE fighter pilots seem to be strapped in tight, because if they weren’t their bodies would want to keep moving in the same forward direction, even as their craft began moving in an opposite one. If not for the straps, the first time a TIE fighter made even a lazy turn the pilot would run the risk of being rammed against the bulkhead, like a brain being concussed against the inside of your skull. Canonically, X-wings have an internal atmosphere, oxygen and inertial dampeners, though to what limit that is never specified in the movies. It’s why Luke and the rest of Rogue Squadron do not have to wear respirators when they are piloting, unlike their TIE fighter counterparts, who have to wear full survival suits. Similarly, if it wasn’t for the artificial gravity inside the larger starships like star destroyers or Mon Calamari cruisers, crew and equipment would be smashing against the walls like Ewoks at a Wookiee frat part. As an example, in our current spacecraft, who for some reason have failed to master the concept of “artificial gravity,” astronauts need to be strapped in for any maneuver they make, no matter how tiny.

On the plus side, Newton’s First Law also means that a fighter craft could rotate independently of its lateral or vertical movement. So an X-wing could do a full thruster burn, then turn 90 degrees and strafe an Imperial frigate without ever losing significant forward momentum, of course it also means that they would be traveling on a predictable trajectory for Imperial gunners to target, but that is actually a whole separate problem.

In atmosphere-based dogfights, the longer you stay moving in one direction, or if you are moving in a predictable manner, the more likely it is that you will wind up full of bullet holes faster than you can say “Grandma Yoda’s Famous Applesauce.” Yet, at certain times in space combat predictability of movement would be unavoidable. Gizmodo has an incredibly interesting article on the subject where they talk more in-depth about orbits and trajectories, but sufficed to say there are only a limited number of ways a starship could enter into a solar system or make orbit around a planet, and we can predict them based upon mathematical equations.

Gravity and Hokey Religions
Star Wars even acknowledges this, as traveling through hyperspace requires an intense amount of calculation and precision or any object with a large gravitational mass, such as a planet, star, or blackhole, can forcibly pull a ship out of hyperspace or prevent them from entering. To put that another way, it ain’t like dusting crops. This means that fleets entering into star systems do so along predictable routes that can be mined, guarded, or even just observed. Even worse fleets guarding a planet or solar system will be stuck in predictable and calculable orbits.

Any battles taking place near a planet or moon-sized space station would, ironically, need to follow at least one adage of atmospheric dogfighting rules. The higher you are from the center of the gravitational mass, the more advantage you have. Fighting from a higher orbital path down to a lower orbital path would give you a significant leg-up, literally. Essentially, much like Obi-Wan, you would have the high ground, and the force of gravity to help in any attack you make against a lower orbital path, which is important.

Newton’s Second Law, the vector sum of the external forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration vector a of the object: F = ma. In other words, if you fire a proton torpedo at a Nebulon B-frigate, but it misses and continues toward the planet below, the missile’s trust plus the force of gravity acting on it, means that your small meter long projectile could impact the planet below with the force of several nuclear blasts. And we mean that literally, as proton torpedoes most likely utilize radiation.

In space, explosives are useless. Fires burn out before they even begin. Radiation is more effective as it can travel through a vacuum. Yet, the most effective weapon is actually Newton’s equation of force. If you get an object going fast enough, even if it is small, it can do an excessive amount of damage upon impact, and in the void of space where there is no air friction or terminal velocity limit (just the lightspeed limit,) a magnetized railgun fired at the right velocity could do a heck of a lot of damage against a ship’s hull. For anyone who has seen Gravity, as poor as some of its science was, they did a good job of highlighting the dangers of even small space debris moving at incredible speeds.

A More Elegant Weapon
Unfortunately, rail guns or even projectile missiles have a possible drawback in Newton’s Third Law, when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body, or every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So when you fire a railgun, or a missile or even a laser in space, there will be an equal amount of force that presses back on your ship, changing your heading or slowing your trajectory. However, with lasers that opposite force would be significantly insignificant.

Of course, lasers have other drawbacks. Mainly, lasers are invisible, so there will be no spectacular light show, like you see in Star Wars, and no cool laser sounds, since space is a vacuum. Also, lasers only stay focused for so long. If you fire a laser at a distant target by the time it gets there your concentrated beam of death could look like nothing more than a flashlight to your intended target. That is because light spreads out over distances and even more so if it has to penetrate an atmosphere. Still for close range battles, it is a pretty good weapon, but close range in space combat is a relative term.

The Lightside of Space Warfare
Star Wars depicts battles in small areas with tightly packed swarms of ships duking it out, capital ships firing broadside turbolaser blasts into one another. It is very exciting, but the truth is that with such a tight space and no room to maneuver it is more likely that all the ships would wind up crashing into one another if they were actually that close. Real space battles will need to be fought at extreme ranges, with no visual contact whatsoever. Even worse, when you are aiming your giant cannons you would not be able to aim directly at your target. You would need to aim in front of it, using math to predict its course and trajectory, because the target you would be seeing on your screens would only be a shadow of where the ship had been previously, even if it was only light-seconds away.

For example, the light of the Sun, which is about 92,960,000 miles (149,600,000 km) away,  takes eight minutes to reach Earth. That means the sun we see in our sky everyday, is no longer where we see it. Its light is eight minutes old and the actual sun has moved eight minutes along its given path. And the distance from the sun to the Earth, one AU, is not an extreme distance in space. Even the light from Venus takes 134 seconds on average to reach Earth, and Venus is only about 162 million miles (261 million km) away. In a life and death space battle those seconds could mean the difference between a fatal blow and a near miss.

These distances would also wreak havoc with communications, even if we knew how to send them at the speed of light. Orders would have to be given in advance and then individual captains and commanders would have to be trusted to know their part in the attack plan. Admiral Piett could not call Vader in the middle of a battle to get additional instructions, even if he did not fear being choked to death for his failures.

In the end, space battles would more realistically resemble nineteenth century naval battles. You would know your enemy was coming, you would sit off from each other, each hoping to calculate the right avenue of attack. Fighter craft would less resemble mustang warplanes and probably closer resemble spheres or cubes. A starfighter would probably have jets on every side of it, so that it could turn one way or another, with the pilot rotating inside the craft. This means that the pilot could orient himself however he or she wanted independent of the ship’s exterior and fire lasers that were mounted on all sides of the spacecraft. In the end, it would probably be easier to have droids control fighter craft, instead of just riding on the top of them and screaming when they got hit by an errant laser shot.

Still, it is fun to suspend our knowledge of science and physics, much as we do when we say “once upon a time,” but maybe with Star Wars it would be more accurate to say, “a long time ago in non newtonian-universe far far away.”