Why Are There No ‘Space Rocks’ in Star Wars?

Okay, here’s another dumb Star Wars-related nerditation. Pairing my love of astronomy and space with Star Wars, I was stirring my coffee this morning when it hit me: they totally could have used rocks as weapons in Star Wars. In fact, the more I think about it the more I wonder. Why *weren’t* there space rock weapons in Star Wars?

I get that there is a case for Star Wars taking place in a technological ‘dark age,’ where little innovation took place. And yet, the desire for planetary destruction in a galactic war means that you’re looking for new ways to bring the pain to your enemy.

Enter Space Rocks.

The Empire could outfit a group of asteroids – as they did in ‘The Last Command’ – and set them on course for any planet they didn’t particularly like. Simple remote navigation, some thruster packs or even a hyperdrive motivator since they were able to build one big enough for the Death Star.

All you need is the tech, the target, and Moff Tarkin ready to put the hurt on any otherwise unsuspecting species who doesn’t understand in an interstellar game of Rock Paper Scissors, Rock always wins.

As humans, we don’t think about the simple destructive impact of a solid object and when it collides into the surface of the planet. Think about how fast the average comet is going as it travels past earth. This article estimates their speed between 10 and 70 kilometers (6.3 – 43.5 miles) / per second. Per second!

Do you have any idea how fast that is?  For comparison, to achieve escape velocity a rocket must travel at 6.9 miles / second or 25,020 mph. Now imagine that going seven times that speed, going the other way, and oh yeah, it’s about the size of a city:

Star Wars as a franchise is a weird place. They alternate between utter ignorance of celestial physics and turning it into a weapon whenever it suits them.

Expanding the idea further, this means that space rocks aren’t just limited to planetary-scale attacks. Why waste valuable crew members on suicidal attack runs against moon-sized space stations or galactic battleships when you can just hurl rocks at them until the Empire gives up and goes away?

So yeah, if I lived in the Star Wars universe I might put some thought toward conquering the galaxy through the cunning use of rocks. No Death Stars, no Storm Troopers. Just rocks. Maybe I could even get a Corellian gunship or four to handle anything that the rocks couldn’t catch. Until then, I’m still stuck here on Earth and I don’t even have enough money for some new converters at Tosche Station.

I took all these ideas to Reddit, of course. The feedback was both lively and pointed – Paulofthedesert said:

Star Wars just isn’t a “realistic” space story. In reality, any civilization capable of accelerating an object to relativistic speeds is capable of killing a planet in an unpreventable way. A 747 going 90% the speed of light has the energy of ~300 million Hiroshima bombs. It would absolutely be a planet killer. Given the fact that individual fighter craft have FTL capability, the death star makes zero sense.

When the last jedi established the fact that FTL starships can collide with real objects in normal space it utterly invalidated the entire plot of the 1st and 3rd movies. You would absolutely just use a single ship with a robot in control to FTL the death star. It makes zero sense to build one anyway but still, that was a dumb decision.

Blasters could not kill the rocks – anything going light speed is fundamentally undetectable before impact. People saying planets are shielded ignore the fact that the shield would have to absorb more energy than is in anyway physical possible. An energy source that large would radiate enough waste heat to make the planet uninhabitable.

Also, FTL travel in general breaks logic because it fundamentally implies time travel to the past and all the associated paradoxes.

Tldr; even outside space magic, star wars isn’t even a little realistic in its handling of technology.

Then LatchedAbyss1 pointed out:

Which movie was it where the Star Destroyer was just rolling through an asteroid belt and obliterating any of the rocks that got too close? I would imagine planets have pretty good asteroid defense systems as well. You don’t have millions of systems existing in a government that lasts thousands of years without being able to protect them from random space debris. And if you have that, then it’s pointless to chuck rocks at a planet.

And finally, derioderio wrapped it all up:

As Harrison Ford said to Mark Hamil when Mark was pointing out some continuity errors while they were filming the very first SW film: “This ain’t that kind of movie, kid.”

Star Wars is essentially a fantasy with a soft magic system in a space opera setting. If you’re letting lack of consistency or continuity with physics disrupt your enjoyment of the Star Wars universe, you’d best just give up, because it’s just not that kind of fiction.

So as you can see, nerditations ain’t what they used to be. Make a point, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek, and you’ll get hit from all sides from people who have thought about this much more than you have. Lesson learned for me!

Write on, nerds.

 

 

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