Star Wars has been a massive cultural phenomenon for almost 50 years at this point. Regardless of the quality of any recent Disney productions, the Original Trilogy is likely to remain beloved and influential for another 100 years.
But I wonder… as the decades roll by, real world space travel may become more and more familiar to ordinary people. Even if the majority of humans don’t travel into space, general knowledge of space travel will likely become more widespread as corporations and governments send manned or unmanned craft into space for commercial or exploratory ventures. In the same way that early 1990s movies about the Internet or “hacking” now often seem totally ridiculous in light of widespread experience with computers, I wonder if basic knowledge of space travel will eventually have a similar effect on how audiences perceive Star Wars.
Now, I’m NOT talking about realism here. I’m not talking about things like sound in space, Faster-Than-Light travel, energy shields, Death Stars, or the fact that flesh-and-blood humans are involved in space combat in the first place. I think audiences will always be willing to accept the fantastic. But imagine a (non-science fiction) movie, set in the present day, that has a car chase involving normal every-day consumer car models, but all the cars in the film can somehow move sideways. Since the audience is very familiar with cars, everyone would be totally baffled by this unless some explanation was provided by the movie itself. It would be very odd if the movie required audiences to just accept this as part of the experience, because it’s not fantastic or mind-blowing - it’s just contrary to everyone’s day-to-day experience. Unless some explanation is provided, I think it’s easier for audiences to accept Superman and Deathstars than it is to accept a Honda Civic that moves sideways, because the latter falls into this “uncanny valley” of something ordinary operating in a way everyone knows it doesn’t, making the film seem weirdly out of touch. The scene in Empire Strikes Back where Han and Leia walk around inside the giant asteroid worm without wearing protective suits has this effect. It’s easier to accept the freaking GIANT SPACE WORM than it is to accept Han walking around in a vacuum without a space suit! We know the giant worm is a cool fantasy conceit - but Han walking around in a vacuum like that just makes the director seem clueless.
So I wonder how Star Wars will ultimately hold up in centuries to come, when iconic action scenes rely on the audience being totally unfamiliar with ordinary movement in space. Consider the Battle of Yavin - probably the most famous sequence in the whole Star Wars saga, where Luke pulls off an impossible shot at the last second, saving the day. The drama and tension comes from the fact that we all have a visceral understanding of how impossible this shot really is. Apart from the fact that many characters in the movie itself communicate this to us (e.g. Han Solo saying “Great shot kid! That was one in a million!”), we can see how difficult it would be to hit that tiny exhaust port while flying through a trench at insane speeds, while also being shot at by laser turrets and TIE fighters.
But… an audience watching this movie 100 years from now might feel differently. I think there are two main things about ordinary movement in space that go against our normal 21st century intuition: (1) objects in motion never slow down, they keep moving forever unless energy is exerted to decelerate, and (2) an object moving through a vacuum can rotate along its axis three-dimensionally without effecting the object’s forward trajectory or speed.
If this were common knowledge or experience, the Deathstar trench run might be viewed differently. For example, given the threat of enemy TIE fighters, why not have the X-wing pilots fly in pairs: both pilots fly through the trench, but one would face “forwards” and target the exhaust port, while the other would face “backwards” to fend off enemy TIE fighters and protect the first pilot. When Vader is pursuing those X-wings through the trench, any one of those X-wings should be able to rotate 180 degrees and fire back at Vader (while still moving forward through the trench).
Or consider that in the film, they fire proton torpedoes downwards at a 45 degree angle into the exhaust port. But why not do the following instead: When approaching the exhaust port, rotate the X-wing 90 degrees so its nose points downward facing the trench surface, then fire the proton torpedo directly downward in a straight line when passing over the exhaust port. This would require precise timing, but surely a targeting computer could do it. And you could have other X-wing pilots around to fend off TIE fighters when approaching the port.
Or… why even do the trench run at all? Just align an X-wing at a 90 degree angle to the Death Star surface and fly directly towards the exhaust port. Then fire torpedoes in a straight line into the port. Fire multiple proton torpedoes in case some are intercepted by laser turret fire, or first target the laser turrets themselves. You could fire the torpedoes from a great distance away. A computer-guided torpedo could hit the small exhaust port without a human pilot having to fly anywhere near the Death Star. Even in the 21st century, drones are capable of hitting precise targets from a great distance, while also dealing with the added complexity of flying in an atmosphere and gravity well. Targeting something in a vacuum would be much easier. The Battle of Yavin takes place in a vacuum with no significant gravity well (the Death Star is enormous, but still only about 140 kilometers in diameter, thus the effect of its gravity would be negligible).
To me, if experience with space travel became widespread, the Battle of Yavin would fall into that “uncanny valley” where something ordinary is portrayed in a weirdly incorrect way that feels lame or out of touch, like a normal car moving sideways or a computer virus in a 1990s movie. I wonder if the Battle of Yavin could somehow be reimagined to work with an updated understanding of movement in space, while still keeping the general premise of pulling off this “impossible shot” at the last second using the Force.