After Death Star II blew: Dissecting the tech of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

Have X-wings, lightsabers, stormtrooper kits moved on?

Droids

Star Wars would not be Star Wars without faithful droids C3PO and R2D2, both of whom are back for the latest installment. But they are joined by a new addition, the rolling BB8 droid seen with Rey in the trailer. Aside from the fact that the cute little ‘bot is a huge merchandising deal for Disney, which already has miniature versions on the shelves for fans of all ages, the BB8 is a worthy-looking successor to what Mark Hamill called the most adorable droid in movie history, Artoo. However, what it’s not is a significant upgrade.

In fact, in the Star Wars universe, droids appear to be practically immortal (unless they’re disassembled), living for tens if not hundreds of years. Artoo is seen in the trailer looking pretty beat-up, but still functional and unchanged from events nearly a century before. If BB8 is a new droid, then once again, we see that droid design seems unchanged in the galaxy.

More likely is that BB8 is another old droid, but in that case, why are there no new ones? The only other droid on show is the tall red beast that Rey, Finn and Han Solo pass on a street somewhere. Although unfamiliar, it’s not wholly dissimilar to the large B2 Super Battle Droids used by the Trade Federation, and it’s certainly not a ground-breakingly different model from droids we’ve seen before.

Prosthetics

Losing a hand in a lightsaber battle is practically a must for any budding Jedi warrior and for those crippled and disfigured by a horrific brush with lava, there’s always an entire body suit of armour with an unfortunate breathing mechanism to fall back on.

The Force Awakens will be no different and villain Kylo Ren is seen once from the back without a black suit of armour and then in a retro-looking helmet very akin to the one sported by Darth Vader for so long.

This tells us little about how medical technology may have changed in the galaxy, since we don’t know if our glimpse of Kylo Ren as a man is part of a flashback to before or even if the helmet is an affectation in homage to Darth, since we do hear him pledging his evilness to the molten remains of Darth’s mask during the trailer.

The only other prosthetic we see belongs to a hooded figure who reaches out to pat Artoo. The internet more or less agrees that this is likely Luke Skywalker, which means that either prosthetics have taken a decidedly more rugged look in the past 30 years or, potentially, Luke has been in some sort of exile so that when the fleshy part of his artificial limb was stripped away, he was unable to fix it.

It’s perfectly possible that a lot more has changed under the hood of technology like droids, blasters and starships than a quick look in a trailer can reveal.

But the evidence seems to stack up for some sort of stagnation in the galaxy since Luke and Leia freed it from the Empire’s clutches. It looks very much like new technology is not being developed. Instead, the technology leftover from the war is being recycled in this new conflict.

There are more than a few things about the trailers and cast that back this idea up, apart from Luke’s hand. There’s Rey, a character that we’ve been told is a scavenger and that we seem to see harvesting bits and pieces from the downed Star Destroyer on Jakku.

Luke and R2D2 credit Lucasfilm Disney

Don't build 'em like that anymore: R2D2, pushing 100

But perhaps most tellingly, Rey and Finn have to ask Han Solo if everything about Jedi Knights and the fall of the Empire is true. To them, the events of Episode IV – VI are rumour and legend. Even if we accept that Rey has spent her life on the provincial planet of Jakku, Finn is supposed to be an ex-stormtrooper. That line of work presumably includes a fair bit of intergalactic travel and contact with what’s left of the Empire, so he should know better.

A serious lack of information and technological progress point to some new tyranny in the galaxy that’s keeping the people down. That, or JJ Abrams has decided to go for an art-imitating-life-bit, and has given Star Wars its own economic recession. But it’s probably more likely the first one.

What did you spot in the trailers? Tell us in the comments. ®

Read on...

There's an excellent piece on Star Wars set and sound design – including some revelations about the original Cantina scene set – here

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