- Dylan Kling
Looks can be deceiving: The evolution of technology in Star Wars
There is a bit of a misconception floating around the Star Wars community at large that technology doesn’t change much over the years. While I do tend to hear this more from people not familiar with the Expanded Universe, I do also see this misconception being implied within EU communities when it comes to hypothetical vs battles of fighters or factions of different eras, and no one seems to take into consideration how much of an edge those of later eras have over previous eras. And at times it certainly doesn’t look like things changed much, as warfare in the Dawn of the Jedi, KOTOR and, SWTOR time periods looks very similar to warfare of the later Clone Wars, Rebellion and, Legacy eras. But looks can be very deceiving. So, I’d like to at the very least point out just how far technology evolves over time and go over the reasons so many may have been fooled into thinking otherwise.
So, before I begin I am going to lay out an example by using simple numbers to explain on a general level what goes on in the technology race of Star Wars. Say for example the standard sized capital ship of a particular era has shields strong enough to withstand 50 damage from other capital ships of the same size, and that their batteries can deal out 10 damage per volley. This means that in 5 volleys one capital ship can take down the shields of another. Now let’s say one faction is able to produce new and advanced turbolasers that allow their capital ships to deal out 50% more damage per volley or 15 damage. Now that faction’s capital ships can defeat the shields of enemy capital ships in just 4 volleys. However, as the arms race always goes, when one side gets a new toy the other must eventually develop a counter measure or face annihilation. So eventually the other faction is able to produce shields that can withstand 50% more damage or 75 damage. Now in that same matchup it takes 5 volleys to take down that same capital ship’s shields. Also as these races always go each faction eventually discovers and adapts the other’s technology.
So if you looked at a battle between these factions before the advancements you would notice how each side takes out each other’s capital ship’s shields in 5 volleys, then you skip forward a number of years and notice it still takes 5 volleys to take down the shields of another. With this comparison it is easy to assume that no change technologically happened, when in fact it did, you just didn’t notice it as your only point of comparison is a ship from the same era with the same advancements. If you were to match up the pre time skip ship with the post time skip ship then the superior shielding and weaponry of the post time skip ship would be very obvious
Now the Star Wars Expanded Universe spans over 37000 years counting Dawn of the Jedi to Legacy 2, however we don’t have a year by year account of the galaxy for all 37000 years. What we do have is a bunch of periods of time where we know exactly what happened followed by time skips of various lengths. These time skips are when the advancements and evening of the playing field usually are happening. Sometimes we do get to see this back and forth in the technology race take place, the best example being the Vong War. In others we see one side with a technology that gives them an edge, only to have that technology either not mentioned in later eras or fielded by both sides. The lack of mention later in the timeline is because that technology became so common place on both sides it simply isn’t worth mentioning as everyone has it.
Though there are examples of big and noticeable improvements. For example, a Harrower- Class Dreadnought, a common capital ship in the Sith Imperial Navy from the KOTOR era, is only half the size of an Imperial-Class Star Destroyer, a capital ship of the Rebellion era. Bigger ships mean more powerful engines, hyperdrives, and more room for additional turbolasers, shield generators, hull plating, structural components etc. Now, it is true that both factions could make ships bigger than what they considered to be their capital ships.. But those were costly to produce, hard to staff, and limited in number, making the Harrower and Imperial Class the largest ships respectively each faction was able to mass produce in significant numbers, making them the example of what the technology at the time was capable of producing in the numbers needed to win wars. As wars are won and lost by the contributions of the average, not the highest outlier.
(pictures not to scale)
This isn’t exclusive to capital ships, throughout the history of the galaxy blasters got more powerful, were able to fire more shots per charge pack and, became lighter. Lightsabers no longer needed the dark side to be powered, then didn’t need external power packs, then the internal power packs became capable of keeping the blade ignited for longer and longer stretches of time. For example, the Lightsaber technology in particular was able to progress so much that Luke’s order was able to find working and still charged lightsabers that had not been used in over 20 years. And Palpatine when he retrieved his own lightsaber from inside the statue in his office remarked that it was the first time that lightsaber had seen the light of day in decades, yet it still worked well enough in his duel with the Masters. Even their blades got more and more powerful with each passing era with the Jedi order’s eventual switch to the Ilum crystals being because the cutting power of the Ilum crystals was better than that of other crystals. These improvements are hardly mentioned as they have no impact on the present due to being so common place. However, each of these minute changes that don’t seem to be a big deal in their own time do add up and become big improvements when a significant amount of time has passed. Take 2 blades from the KOTOR era and there isn’t much difference, but compare one of those blades to a Clone Wars era blade and all those small improvements amount to a very big difference.
Now I will admit that this only really accounts for the time periods we know of and have sufficient information on what was available at that time. There are hints of cultures like the Celestials that predate the Dawn of the Jedi era who were probably more advanced than what we see in later eras. Likewise, it is also possible that eras existed either in the time skips or after Legacy where technology was lost or regressed. However, until we get more information about these time periods and what happened we cannot accurately compare the technology difference that they may have with other eras. What we can say for sure is that in the times that we do know of and have sufficient sources on, we can see that however small they were, technology did change and advance over time.
To me this should be a fairly intuitive thing, as thousands of years passing with no technological changes would be absolutely ridiculous. Though even without the common sense argument there is plenty to show that yes technology did advance, and because of this combatants and factions of later eras in the Star Wars lore do have a quantifiable advantage against their counterparts of earlier eras. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily have auto wins because of that advantage of course, but it also doesn’t mean that you can treat the two eras as being equal on a technological sense no matter how minute the changes seem to be. But that is just my 2 cents on the issue. Let me know if you agree or disagree with anything I said and as always, until next time.