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The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist's Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, and Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films and Books Hardcover – April 15, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Jeanne Cavelos says, "Star Wars fueled my interest in space exploration and the possibility of alien life," leading her to a career in astrophysics. While these movies have inspired her, she admits that may not have been their intention.

In creating the part science fiction/part fantasy/part myth that is Star Wars, George Lucas did not seek to create a futuristic universe that agreed perfectly with our current understanding of science.... How realistic, how possible, is this galaxy far, far away?

The answer when A New Hope first came out was "not at all." But a strange thing has happened in the years since Star Wars first came out. Science is beginning to catch up with George Lucas.

Cavelos looks at Lucas's planets, aliens, droids, technology, and Force with both rationality and affection. The droids R2-D2 and C-3P0, among others, become more interesting and almost credible after her consideration.

The element of Star Wars that is most true to science is the sense of wonder it calls forth, which has very little to do with how close it is to a possible future. Or, as Steve Grand, director of the Cyberlife Institute, said to Cavelos: "I never try to let scientific implausibility get in the way of a good story!" --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

The opening in May of the new Star Wars film has hardcore fans in a frenzy. Timed to release with The Phantom Menace, this book follows in the tradition of The Physics of Star Trek and Caveloss own The Science of the X-Files. The author examines five major areasplanetary environments, aliens, droids, space ships and weapons, and the Forcein sufficient detail to satisfy even knowledgeable fans. Take Lukes desert home world, Tatooine. When Star Wars first came out, scientists doubted the existence of planets in other solar systems, but since 1995 several have been found. Could a planet form around a binary star? Yes, but due to gravitational forces only if the stars were very far apart or very close, so as Luke gazes out at his two suns setting, he sees an accurate portrayal of a binary system. Most of the Star Wars aliens fare equally well. The Wookies keen sense of smell, for example, would give them an alternative means of communication so that they might need to vocalize only with grunts and howls. Can the force be with you? Physicist David Bohm posited a quantum potential force that would interpenetrate and bind together everything in the universe, but only Yoda knows if we can direct it with our minds. Caveloss engaging style makes this book a treat, with no science background necessary. (May) FYI: The Science of the X-Files has been nominated for a 1998 Bram Stoker Award in the Nonfiction category.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (April 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312209584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312209582
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #945,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a writer, editor, scientist, and teacher. I began my professional life as an astrophysicist, working in the Astronaut Training Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

After earning my MFA in creative writing, I moved into a career in publishing, becoming a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where I created and launched the Abyss imprint of psychological horror, for which I won the World Fantasy Award, and the Cutting Edge imprint of literary fiction. I also ran the science fiction/fantasy publishing program. In addition, I edited a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. In my eight years in New York publishing, I edited numerous award-winning and best-selling authors and gained a reputation for discovering and nurturing new writers.

In 1994, I left New York to pursue my own writing career. My latest book is Invoking Darkness, the third volume in the best-selling trilogy The Passing of the Techno-Mages, set in the Babylon 5 universe (Del Rey). The Sci-Fi Channel called the trilogy "A revelation for Babylon 5 fans. . . . Not 'television episodic' in look and feel. They are truly novels in their own right." My nonfiction book The Science of Star Wars (St. Martin's) was chosen by the New York Public Library for its recommended reading list, and CNN said, "Cavelos manages to make some of the most mind-boggling notions of contemporary science understandable, interesting and even entertaining." The highly praised The Science of The X-Files, (Berkley) was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Publishers Weekly called it "Crisp, conversational, and intelligent."

My first published book, the Babylon 5 novel The Shadow Within (Dell), has been reissued by Del Rey with a new cover. Dreamwatch magazine called it "one of the best TV tie-in novels ever written."

Other works include essays in Star Wars on Trial and Farscape Forever, a novella, "Negative Space" (which was given honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction), in the anthology Decalog 5: Wonders, and an essay, "Innovation in Horror," which appears in both On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association and The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing (Writer's Digest Books). I've published short fiction, essays, and reviews in many magazines.

I'm currently at work on a science thriller about genetic manipulation and cloning, titled Fatal Spiral.

I also put together my first anthology, The Many Faces of Van Helsing, which was published by Berkley in 2004 and nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

I run Jeanne Cavelos Editorial Services, a full-service freelance company that provides editing, ghostwriting, consulting, and critiquing services to publishers, book packagers, agents, and authors. Among its clients are major publishers and best-selling and award-winning writers.

Since I love working with developing writers, I created and serve as director of Odyssey (, an annual six-week workshop for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. Guest lecturers have included George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Terry Brooks, Ben Bova, Jane Yolen, and Dan Simmons.

During the school year, I am an English lecturer at Saint Anselm College, where I teach writing and literature.

I've lectured widely at venues as varied as the Smithsonian Institute, the United States Air Force Revolutionary Technologies Division, the American Chemical Society, Dartmouth College, the Intel International Science Fair, the Discovery Channel, the Sci-Fi Channel, the History Channel, Turner Entertainment, the Art Bell radio program, and many others.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Quality entertainment is its' own reward, so in many ways the plausibility of the scenarios is not an overriding concern. However, there is a threshold of believability that cannot be crossed, for if it is, it can cease to be entertainment. The quality of the entertainment has a great deal to do with the location of the threshold, if the story is very good, the bar is higher, but for a mediocre story it can be much lower. In the Star Wars movies, the bar is generally considered pretty low, as most people who watch them are fairly uncritical of the scientific basis for the events. George Lucas was brilliant when he opened the series with the phrase, " A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." This is equivalent to the classic "Once upon a time" opening to fairy tales. By immediately giving the Star Wars events the status of a fairy tale, Lucas provides himself with a great deal of scientific poetic license in his Star Wars movies.

However, there are always people who examine the actions on the screen and consider the plausibility based on the current theories of science. In this book Cavelos critically examines the major events in the Star Wars series from the perspective of modern science. The opening chapter is a discussion of the major environments where the action takes place. It starts with the questions concerning how prevalent planets are in the universe. In this case, recent research indicates that there are an enormous number of planets, so the focus moves to planets that could support life, in particular, human life. Here, the odds drop substantially, as the range of temperature, gravity and atmosphere that humans can function in is in all cases very narrow.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Vincent Sanford on January 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Let me start out by saying that I could hardly put this book down. Once I started, each chapter made me starve for the next. The book, as the title suggests, offers a scientific look with amazing theories and explanations to some of the concepts in the movie, "Star Wars." For example, one may ponder the existence of aliens and the ability to travel at light speed--or even faster! Well, this book provides a thorough look at these questions giving an opportunity for some very accomplished scientists in such fields as physics and statistics to share their views and offer a hypothesis. I especially enjoyed the chapter on 'The Force.' Here I found it incredibly interesting. For there is not only a physical scientific look at this phenomenon but also a parapsychological view, fusing physics, psychology, metaphysics and even quantum mechanics together. In conclusion, this book is an asset to anyone who has pondered the many what ifs... in life. A great read as well as a perfect look at the blending of "Star Wars" with science, the human experience and the human mind. Great Work.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is written in a readable way that touches on many of the major topics brought up by physics. I think it is a great starting point for those of us that wan't to leap into physics. Being thirteen I have to give her credit for making the book understandable, quantum mechanics is pretty hard to explain and it takes someone who knows what she's talking about to do so. It has brought me to the point where my mind begins to understand things, and starts asking questions! It has furthered my desire to be an astrophysicist and is quite a good book!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ronald corless on September 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
What I loved about the Star Wars saga is the fact that travel
across the galaxy is as commonplace and taken for granted as
car and air travel is today. And I love the alien world our
heroes visit like the Fourth Moon of Yavin,the Moon of Endor,
Tatooine,Hoth,Bespin,Dagobah and Coruscant.
This book explores the possibility of rapid interstellar travel
and alien planets and extraterrestrial life and the even how to
build lightsabers and blasters with incredible detail. Cavelos
explains that such breaktroughs may or may not happen in a few
thousand years. Who knows what breaktroughs humanity will make?
We may not be at war with aliens or other civilizations and I
hope it won't happen. But I do hope that someday people will be
able to travel to other solar systems and galaxies as quickly
and easily as crossing our oceans. Cavelos gives interesting
detail on wormholes,warp drives,and even what it would be like
to travel at warp drive with the stars stretching into streaks
of light. That will be a very exciting time. I hope that galactic
travel and even intergalctic travel will be used for tourism as
well as exploration and colonization. People will travel to exotic planets and moons like Yavin 4,Endor,Hoth,Coruscant etc.
and even view our own galaxy from above as a glowing celestial
spiral. That would be a very exciting time!!Perhaps it
will happen in the next thousand years or so.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you're a person that loves to rationalize every detail, this book is definitely for you. In my opinion, it was somewhat depressing due to the fact that the author proved that so many things fetured in star wars could never happen. It was also interesting, though, especially about the droids and midi-chlorians (paperback edition).
I'm only a freshman and high school, and I understood everything perfectly. It was nice that the author explained what equation meant what and so on. I basically rated this book only three stars because, if you're not a science lover, there are some lulls that become really boring. Overall, this was a very interesting book.
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