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Attention, spoiler alert: the latest Star Wars movie features a planet-based superweapon, able to sterilize the worlds of a distant star system with a single shot. Now, such a weapon would require enormous amounts of energy. To amass this energy, the weapon in the film actually ingests material from its star. ‘Its technology is not far-fetched and is supported by cutting-edge science” says Dr. Clément Vidal, an astrobiologist at VUB.
Dr. Vidal is no unknown in circles of astronomers and science lovers. In 2014, Springer published a book he wrote, The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective. In it, Vidal developed the detailed scientific basis for the so-called starivore idea that he introduced during a meeting organized by the Kavli Royal Society International Centre. Since then, his work on starivores has been featured in a number of media, such as this Motherboard article or the science documentary series Through the Wormhole, hosted by Morgan Freeman (season 6, episode 4).
Vidal has predicted that highly advanced civilizations are likely to directly tap the energy and matter of stars to power their technologies. Interestingly, the representation of the star-eating process used in the movie is remarkably similar to Vidal’s diagram of similar processes used by advanced extraterrestrial civilizations.
This is not the first time that Star Wars has used cutting-edge science. The famous Death Star is widely believed to be based on an idea of Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson. He predicted that highly advanced extraterrestrials would trap all the energy radiated by a star by constructing a sphere encapsulating it. The Death Star similarly captures all the energy produced by an encapsulated artificial star.
Vidal’s insight goes beyond Dyson’s because it identifies a more efficient way to use the energy of a star that an advanced civilization would be expected to discover. As the director of the movie J. J. Adams states it, the Starkiller Base “is very much—and it’s acknowledged as such in the movie—apparently another Death Star. But what it’s capable of, how it works, and what the threat is, is far greater than what the Death Star could have done. Starkiller Base is another step forward, technologically speaking, in terms of power.”