The Star Wars franchise has produced some of the most iconic images in pop culture. But anything so visual also invites real-life comparisons. And with these seven Star Wars lookalikes, the real things are more interesting than their science fiction doppelgängers
Even though there’s a functional space station circling the Earth, the fictional Death Star is the most iconic space station in history. Able to crack open entire planets as if they were eggs, the dreaded weapon is actually a pretty un-distinctive orb except for what appears to be a massive parabolic dish. That shape evokes either collecting or projecting disparate energy in the form of sound, light, or radio signals. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it does give the sphere a sense of identity and malicious purpose.
Such shapes exist in nature as well, as is evident in surface of Earth’s moon. There, the regolith has been pounded to dust by repeated impacts of meteorites, setting the stage for later meteorites to form nice, round craters.
But Mimas, a frozen moon of Saturn, has a spectacular impact crater. The Herschel Crater, named after the astronomer who found the moon in 1789, is 80 miles wide. That dwarfs most estimates of the Death Star’s diameter of 50 miles. Mimas' distinctive round shape attracts the attention of real-life astronomers. Craters on other moons would make ideal locations of massive parabolic reflectors. These could enable amazing radio astronomy by avoiding things like light pollution and atmospheres.
The X-Wing fighter is the backbone interceptor fighter of the Rebel Alliance. Its most distinctive feature is, you guessed it, the wingtips that expand from a flat plane to an X.
In the real world, when one sees this maneuver, it’s a safe assumption that there are aerodynamic reasons for changing the control surface in such a dramatic way. But the X-wing opens the tips even when fighting in space, where there is no atmospheric resistance.
Star Wars weapon design always revolves around direct fire weaponry, stuff you shoot at enemies in your line of sight. So the X-Wing’s rationale for spreading out the four blaster tips is that it increases the spaceplane’s firing area. Pilots even call it an “attack position.”
The European Space Agency has a spacecraft with a similar design, but totally different purposes. The first made a visit to the ISS in 2008, and four more arrived over subsequent years carrying cargo to low earth orbit.
The ATV deploys an X-wing of solar panels during its trip to the station, which launch folded to fit inside the rocket. It needs this power for the more than 100-hour trip to the station and to power the sensors used to dock. As for aerodynamics, this one-way delivery vehicle was no spaceplane. At the end of the mission, months later, the ATVs were programmed to dive into the atmosphere and, unlike the X-Wing, burn to ash on the way down.
There’s a reason why U.S. sailors like the Close-In Weapon System. Any ship-killing missile between around one and five miles is met with a hail of shells from a whirling Gatling-style cannon.
The CIWS is beloved, and shares the nickname R2D2, after the loyal Star Wars droid. A dome cover protects the radar search antenna inside, giving the top of the CIWS that distinctive R2D2 shape. It appears to squat on deck, waiting for trouble.
The sassy droid has something in common with this naval defense chain gun: smarts. The CIWS has to react so quickly that it shoots without human permission, using only the radar returns to identify targets. We can safely assume that R2D2 would approve of that kind of robotic autonomy.
This is the one example on the list where a fictional robot is less known than the real one it resembles. Honestly, how many people know the multi-armed droids that help Han Solo fix his ship? Called a Treadwell Droid, you can see them in the background of many scenes, but particularly all over the Hoth rebel base.
The droid may be one of the most obscure in the Star Wars universe, but its robotic double has legions of fans. The Da Vinci medical robot does what (judging by Solo’s reactions) the Treadwell seemingly can’t do: use its many arms to assist a human during complex procedures. Doctors use the robotic limbs and sensors to perform precision surgical work. The system is sold worldwide and has performed more than five million robotic-assisted surgical procedures. Using a robot helps makes surgery more controlled, less invasive, and easier to recover from.
Ah Bespin. Go for the gas mining but stay for the bi-pod aircraft. There’s no reason to think that these vehicles are not rated for space, but they are only shown operating in the stratosphere. They look cool but make little sense—here’s why.
The reason for a two-seat warplane is to divide the responsibilities of the pilots. For example, the front seat pilot focuses on piloting and navigation while the one in the rear manages weapons and radar. The other reason is to give the airplane higher endurance.
has both needs in its short history. The long distances were needed for strikes into Japan (that never happened because the war ended) while later, more sophisticated radar required a dedicated operator sitting in the starboard fuselage.
In the future, where artificial intelligence is pervasive, it doesn’t make much sense to think that the Bespin patrol aircraft need a second crewmember. They don’t appear to be built for long-distance operations, either. Then again, even Jedi need droids serving as their rear-seat co-pilots, so maybe patrolling Cloud City is much harder than it looks.
TIE fighters have everything it takes — to stay in one spot in orbit. They have solar arrays, mounted on pylons so they don’t shadow each other. They don’t carry much fuel or cargo capacity, just enough to maintain its altitude. And they have terrible aerodynamic shapes if they try to operate anywhere with an environment (or air defense radar.)
So, for a fighter spacecraft a TIE makes a good satellite.
Those qualities are on display with a much larger, real-life example: the International Space Station. It’s built with a basic H shape, which guarantees the maximum surface area of its solar panels. The shape is also the collective result of weight-saving launches. It has a skeletal feel because every pound costs a lot of money to launch.
So no, this space station has no telltale, gravity-inducing wheel like we see in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“The ISS was designed with free-fall science in mind, too, so artificial gravity was not considered,” astronaut . "One recent proposal suggested adding a rotating section to ISS to prove the technology of artificial gravity for Mars travel. So far, cost has prevented any such design from ever getting past the drawing board.”
Let’s start by saying, Han Solo shot first. It’s key to his rougish personality, cheat-to-win ethos and lack of guiding principles that gives his third-act conversion some meaning.
The alien he kills is the bounty hunter Greedo. But this single-scene character spawned a dedicated fan base that endures.
"As a 7-year-old kid, I watched Star Wars in the theatre and it was a life-changing experience for me," said , biological sciences professor and curator of fishes at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History. "Greedo has always been a personal favorite of mine."
So when he discovered a new species of catfish that has a puckering, underslung mouth, it rang a bell. He named it Peckoltia greedoi, a fitting name for the lookalike fish.