The Phantom Menace

Movie made: 1999 | Set in: the distant past

Summary Table
Event Likelihood Time frame
Regular interstellar travel in a multispecies galaxy very low? beyond 2100+
Sophisticated robots medium 2030+
Sophisticated combat robots medium 2030+
Handheld laser firearms very low 2030+
Light sabers extremely low 2040+
Holographic communications and games medium 2015+
Force shields very low 2050+
Miniature flying spy drones high 2010+
Antigravity technology low 2040+

Note: While the series is meant to be futuristic, it does not depict the human future. It is set in the past, and Lucas made it clear that it is more a tribute to old adventure movies than an attempt at hard science fiction.

Approach to the future

Storytelling backdrop


Futurism: 4

Entertainment: 7

Plausibility: 3

Interesting depictions

Warfare / robots:
While visually spectacular, the massed robot army deployed against the Gungans is extremely implausible. They are overly vulnerable, and needlessly dependent on a central computer. Given the high-level AI that other robots display, they could be programmed to act autonomously if central control was broken.

The destroyer droids are more sensible. They are built for effectiveness rather than in imitation of the human form, and are even equipped with their own force shields.

The obstacles to combat robots are many:

  • Robots (and all computers) lack the most basic common sense.
  • Robots still have trouble moving around on anything but flat surfaces.
  • Robots are still vulnerable to simple countermeasures, from bullets to tipping over.

Still, they are likely to appear in combat, beyond their present kamikaze role as cruise missiles. Robots might initially be deployed for specialized, dangerous missions such as reconnaissance and urban fighting. It will be a long time, however, before a robot will be the equal of a teenage African guerrilla with an AK-47.

Force shields are unlikely, but might be possible with some fundamental progress in physics. Gungan shields are more plausible than universal shields such as those in Star Trek, as they seem to block only energy weapons.

See also “Robots” below.

Flying reconnaissance robots like Darth Maul’s will appear. Small, unmanned spy aircraft are already in service, and the military is working on tiny fixed-wing and helicopter vehicles. Some would be operated by individual soldiers on the front lines.

Other technologies/topics depicted

(See Star Wars for technologies common to all four movies.)

Holographic displays appear in two forms:

  • a walking platform that allows for a 3D virtual presence
  • a small animated image generated by Qui-Gon Jinn’s handheld unit, used to show Queen Amidala’s ship being offered for sale

Holography like this is possible, and likely to come into use before 2020. It will probably appear first in devices for public displays and spectacles.

Robots / AI:
Robots are less pervasive than in Star Wars and its sequels. R2-D2 at least has a clear purpose in Phantom Menace: ship repairs, inside the ship and outside in the vacuum of space.

The robots of the Star Wars saga seem to be sentient and emotional, yet they can be assembled by household tinkers and claimed as property. No one seems to be troubled by this casual creation of artificial beings.

See also “Warfare/robots” above.

See: A note on artificial intelligence.

Antigravity technology is used widely. Land speeders, spy droids, and pod racers employ an antigravity device called the repulsorlift. More strikingly, it is used to support parliamentary procedure in the enormous senate chamber. Recognized delegations hover before the assembly.

Antigravity is unlikely, but cannot be dismissed until we know more about the fundamentals of physics.

Coruscant is a planet entirely covered by an immense, multitiered city of skyscrapers and flying vehicles.

This will never happen in the human future. Only a tiny fraction of Earth is actually used for cities, and that fraction is not going to get much larger. People would not want to live in such a world, and will never have occasion to in the future.

As elsewhere in the Star Wars series, aliens are unimaginative: largely humanoid, and closely resembling—to the point of ethnic stereotyping—people in their nature and motivations.

See: A note on aliens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The futures depicted in the movies