Now it is time for the fifth and final post in a series (click here for the series) on how the Star Wars universe is a Thing of the Past. The ideas upon which the Star Wars universe is built are fading rapidly. They are truly ‘on the wrong side of history’, and now on the wrong side of science.
In Episode II of this series we saw how the idea of a “Plurality of Worlds”—the idea that the universe is full of planets like Earth that are home to lots of life and lots of intelligent life—arose following the Copernican Revolution. The Star Wars universe, which teems with all sorts of life from all sorts of more-or-less Earthlike planets, is a Plurality-of-Worlds universe.
But the Plurality of Worlds is really just an Assumption of Homogeneity, an assumption that the rest of the universe is like Earth. As we saw in Episodes II and III of these posts, this assumption has not held up to the scrutiny of science. As discussed in Episode IV, we now see that the universe is a marvel of diversity, not homogeneity. Thus the universe of Star Wars is truly a Thing of the Past: it is built on a view of the universe that was in its heyday two to three centuries ago, when we thought all stars and planets were just other suns and other Earths, and we thought life just spontaneously generated from inanimate mud.
Today our understanding grows that most planets are not like Earth, that most stars are not like the sun, that most star systems are not like our solar system—and we have no idea how life comes forth from inanimate material (but we know it doesn’t happen regularly, and even when it does happen, the jump to complex life and then to intelligence does not immediately follow, either). The Star Wars view of the universe is going the way Geocentrism went in the Copernican Revolution, and for the same reason: scientific evidence. This is a new Revolution in our view of the universe.
So what might be the impact of this Revolution?
Well, for one thing, Br. Guy Consolmagno, S. J., Director of the Vatican Observatory and head of this blog, might need a new answer to the common question he gets of “would you baptize an extraterrestrial?” To get a sense of just how much Br. Guy gets asked this sort of question, consider two articles written just this past December concerning the Vatican Observatory. One was from Newsweek. Its title was "God and E.T.". The other was from the New York Times. Its title was "Searching for the (Star) Light at the Vatican Observatory", but it also addressed extraterrestrial life. And in 1994 the Times did publish an article with the actual title of "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?" in which they put that question to the Director of the V.O. at that time, Jesuit Fr. George Coyne. Br. Guy even has a book out entitled Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial?, co-authored by Fr. Paul Mueller, S. J., also of the Vatican Observatory. Br. Guy’s current answer to this is “only if she [the extraterrestrial] asks”, but science and history suggest that the issue will never arise.
Another impact might be the rise of push-pack from those who like the old Plurality of Worlds view. “Back in the day” of the Copernican Revolution there were people who for any number of reasons liked an Earth-centered universe; they were vested in the idea, and they did not want to see it go. They did not cotton to new evidence mucking about with their world view, which often was grounded in the established science of the time—the science of Aristotle. Today there are people who like the Plurality of Worlds, who are vested in that idea now, who will not want to see it go, and who think of their view as being grounded in science. Think of the number of times you have heard or read about the Earth being just the third rock circling an insignificant star in a run-of-the-mill galaxy, etc., followed by pronouncements on our cosmic insignificance, references to Giordano Bruno, etc. To date, when a revolution in science undermines a longstanding worldview, there is push-back from that worldview’s staunchest adherents; and there is no reason to think this Revolution will be any different.
Then there is the impact the Revolution might have on broad popular culture. Will Star Wars and Star Trek and the like remain popular when the general public understands that they are based on an outdated view of the universe? I have argued in the past that they will not. And what about UFO’s, the X-files, Alien Abductions, ‘Space Aliens in cahoots with the government’, Ancient Aliens, and the like? All that stuff is based on the Plurality of Worlds—on a Star Wars view of the universe. If the universe is not full of technologically advanced aliens, then they can’t be coming here to abduct people, or to get in cahoots with the government. Take away that Plurality-of-Worlds universe, as science and history are doing, and what happens to all the baggage that is stacked upon it? Will it all collapse? Or will the folks who subscribe to that kind of stuff just switch from believing in aliens to believing in mole-men living in a super-advanced-but-hidden civilization buried hundreds of miles inside the Earth?
And lastly, consider the media. Search through a media outlet, like NPR, that has some science coverage, for stuff related to SETI or intelligent life on other worlds. You will find a lot. Might those stories be viewed by our descendants in the same way that we view the reports in newspapers from a century ago about Martians constructing canals, or about civilizations on the Moon? They might.
Of course, the impact of this Revolution, a revolution that suggests that the universe of Star Wars is simply not plausible, cannot really be predicted. But whatever the impact will be, it will probably be big—much like the big impact of the Copernican Revolution.
By way of disclaimer: If a fleet of Imperial Dreadnoughts zaps out of hyperspace* into Earth orbit, demanding our total planetary submission to the Galactic Empire, I completely retract this entire series of posts! Put another way, the right scientific discovery can completely reverse the historical trajectory of the idea of a Plurality of Worlds. But for a very long time now that discovery has not materialized. If anyone wants to place a wager on the Dreadnoughts, I will give him or her very lopsided odds. If I lose, it will be worthwhile to get to see space Dreadnoughts, at least before I am hauled away to a life of slavery in the Imperial ore pits on account of my utter temerity in claiming that science and history refute the existence of any Galactic Empire.
*Or “magics” into Earth orbit—same thing, for all practical purposes: I do not wish to give any credence to the idea of hyperspace as a scientifically plausible thing. And of course, an attack from below by ground-boring Dreadnoughts from those mole-men mentioned above is probably more scientifically plausible. After all, we know life exists on Earth, and even under ground, and our proposed mole-men would not have so far to travel.