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In the last 30 years, human technology has developed massively. Every year a new smartphone is released with a faster processor, more memory, better features.

Why hasn't the same level of progress happened in the Star Wars universe?

In The Phantom Menace, we see a number of droids - R2 units, C-3PO, Pit Droids, etc. In Return of the Jedi - the droids we see pretty much have the same capabilities.

I would have thought that technology would still be progressing in the Star Wars universe - but it appears to have stopped.

During wars on Earth, our technology capabilities grow - so it can't just be the effect of a massive war which is causing the stagnation of development.

So, what gives?

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TIL: building a weapon that can destroy planets is not technological progress. –  Colin D Mar 7 '14 at 13:15
Speaking G-Canon, judging based off of the Rebel alliance (which has limited resources) and backwater planets (Tattooine, Dagobah, Yavin IV, Moon of Endor) may not be the best yardsticks of technology. Compare against a flourishing or highly populated area. –  phantom42 Mar 7 '14 at 13:39
@ColinD - compared to the superweapons of old, the Death Star is not technological progress –  joshbirk Mar 7 '14 at 15:27
How do you propose to measure the technological progress of a culture that is already so far ahead of our own so as to require the suspension of disbelief? If you showed someone from the middle ages an original iPhone, and then an iPhone 5, they'd still burn you as a witch. –  Sammitch Mar 8 '14 at 1:43

9 Answers 9

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I'm no Star Wars expert, so I could be WAY off base; but it seems pretty straightforward to me that this is not (and hasn't been for a very, very long time) a society that values the advancement of technology. The fact that they HAVE (from our perspective) advanced technology does not mean they value it.

I view it as being analogous to our so-called Dark Ages in history, where innovation occurred at a very slow pace (again, from our modern perspective). During this time, "innovation" was not really recognized or valued at a cultural scale, as it is today; rather, all that mattered was survival (and if you had the chops for it, conquest).

Similarly, most of the Star Wars universe seems to have a Dark Ages or "frontier" element to it -- and not in the "brave new frontier" sort of way so much as the "untamed wilderness" sort of way. Until the Empire, the "republic" is a loose confederation of sovereigns; in practice, everything feels pretty ad hoc. Most of these have different variations of the so-called "advanced" technology -- but how long have the same fundamental technologies existed? Millennia, it would seem. Occasionally someone tweaked a concept here or there -- for practical purposes, mind you, but not for the sake of pursuing knowledge or innovation for it's own sake.

Are there scientists in the Star Wars universe? Probably, but I've never heard of one. Are there career inventors? Surely, but none so famous as Anakin -- who, if we're being honest, was merely a clever tinkerer.

So considering these notions, I think it's safe to say that the Star Wars universe was in a pretty unenlightened state for long time before the Empire came about. Not that I want to give props to the Emperor and his cronies, but hey -- no one else thought of building a moon-sized space station with planet-busting capabilities. And I hear they have cookies.

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+1 I like the allusion to the "Dark Ages." Today it seems like technology advances at an exponential pace, but there's also little in the way of conquest these days. Our global society has become so dependent on international trade that there's really little to gain from war. On the other hand, the Manhattan Project has a lot to owe WWII. –  David Schwartz Mar 8 '14 at 0:30
There were a wide variety of scientists mentioned in the EU; starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Scientist –  Richard Mar 8 '14 at 0:51
Another notion to consider -- even if there are scientists and inventors, again, it seems that the majority of cultures in the galaxy don't really value science or innovation, so wide-spread adoption of new ideas is probably extremely rare. In fact, it's intriguing how many "standards" and basic cultural norms would seem to be shared across otherwise radically different worlds; this attitude of dismissiveness toward scientific progress appears to be only one aspect of a much broader shared culture. Someone with more knowledge of galactic history might have more insight here. –  Brian Lacy Jul 6 at 15:35

Let's consider the settings for the two trilogies.

Episode I-III

  • Naboo, a prosperous and peaceful planet
  • Coruscant, galactic center of commerce and industry
  • Tatooine, a schizo-desert planet with dangerous pod races we never see in the original trilogy.
  • Geonosis, a huge red planet with a huge droid factory on it.
  • Kamino, a far-away planet that is mostly storm; inhabited by strange aliens with an unusual obsession with cloning and no background checks on their clients.

Episode IV-VI

  • Tatooine, a desert planet without pod races, but with a fairly large spaceport named Mos Eisley that has a droid-detecting device built into bars to keep them out, and Jawa crawlers dealing in scrap droids like R2D2 and C3P0
  • Yavin IV, a moon that is mostly a jungle
  • Hoth, an ice planet, completely inhospitable
  • Dagobah, a huge forest planet, plus swamp
  • Cloud City, a city that literally exists in the clouds harvesting precious gases and other materials from the planet below, with a fairly advanced security system
  • Endor, another damn forest planet
  • Two Death Stars, massive space stations the size of small moons

A lot of the major locations for the second trilogy don't have much reason to host high-tech gadgetry, so it makes sense that we don't see a whole lot of it. It also makes sense because these movies were made before the I-III trilogy, with a lot less CGI, so they weren't capable of showing as much high-tech wizardry.

That being said, when we DO see examples of 'modern technology' in the IV-VI trilogy, it is massive and amazing - entire cities floating in clouds, space stations that have been decades in the making that are the size of entire planets. Not to mention the incremental improvements mentioned in DarkHeart's answer.

It also helps to keep in mind that the original trilogy is largely focused on the rebel alliance, which is far-flung and stationed on remote planets not likely to have access to high-technology. The empire is much better equipped, but we don't see them as much.

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I think your heading is supposed to be Episode IV-VI (Such a minor edit, it seems like a waste of time me suggesting it) –  Joe Mar 7 '14 at 17:30
@Joe Wow, I must've been asleep when writing that roman numeral. Fixed. ;) –  Zibbobz Mar 7 '14 at 18:24
I wish I could give more upvotes for 'no background checks on their clients'. –  IronWaffleMan Jun 15 '14 at 4:53

I can't believe no one has mentioned this yet.

Look at the prosthetic hand that Luke gets, vs the prosthetic that Anakin gets in the original.

This was a deliberate choice by the directors to show that there was some advancement in at least medical technology between the two series.

See this question Why is Luke's cybernetic hand superior to the one Anakin receives?

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Nice catch. That is a VERY clear sign of advancing technology. –  Zibbobz Jun 17 '14 at 14:04

Yes, the Star Wars Universe seems to either be in decay or at least stagnation

TLDR - there is very little in the New Republic which is significantly more advanced than anything in the Old Republic or the Infinite Empire. In some cases the old empires seem more advanced.

The best single point of evidence to this is the Infinite Empire:

The Infinite Empire, the first known major galactic government, was founded and ruled by the Rakata, a scientifically advanced species that used their knowledge to conquer and enslave other species throughout the known galaxy, from Humans to Sand People.

The Rakata:

  • Used the Force
  • Probably invented hyperdrives
  • Had droids that were just as capable as what we see in Episode VI

In fact, much of the technology we by the end of the OT has some basis in Rakatan tehnology. This includes even lightsaber, which had a precursor as a Rakatan force-saber. Certainly by the time of the Old Republic, we see pretty much the same technology that we have in the original series. Droid-wise we see HK-47 nearly 4,000BY, who is seems every bit as advanced as C3P0 or even assassin droids of the New Republic time. In fact, some of it is more impressive - some of the truly ancient stuff is either magical or so advanced as to appear magical.

Another valid comparison is the Ebon Hawk to the Millenium Falcon. The Ebon Hawk is several thousand years old compared to the Falcon and is nearly comparable in every way. The Falcon is faster and somewhat larger. A modern day real world comparison cannot be made, if we tried to compare vehicular technology between now and 4,000 years ago ... you would be comparing the Space Shuttle to a rock.

For comparison by the way of superweapons, on one hand we have the Death Star, whose schtick is to use a massive laser cannon to smash a problem. Back then we had the Star Forge:

The Star Forge drew energy and matter from a nearby star which, when combined with the power of the Force, was capable of creating an endless supply of ships, droids, and other war material.

And then there was the Mass Shadow Generator:

The Mass Shadow Generator drew upon the natural mass shadows generated by planetary bodies. At Malachor V, the gravitation anomalies at work within the Malachor system allowed it to unleash catastrophic devastation upon anything within close proximity of the planet. The superweapon was designed to take advantage of the unique gravitational fields present at Malachor V, but it would later be speculated that the weapon could be modified to function within any star system. The Mass Shadow Generator was capable of gravely damaging or destroying any ships or space stations in orbit above the target world, but it also annihilated virtually everything upon the planet's surface.

However a notable counter-example, as mentioned in the comments below, is the Sun Crusher:

The Sun Crusher was a nearly indestructible craft that was no larger than a starfighter, but was capable of unleashing destruction on a magnitude that dwarfed even the Death Star's capabilities. Unlike the Death Star, which destroyed individual planets, the Sun Crusher could destroy an entire star system by causing its target star to turn into a supernova. The key to its near invincibility was layered Quantum-crystalline armor, a material so strong that it could perfectly repel even turbolaser shots.

The Sun Crusher's construction began around the same time as the first Death Star. This, however, does seem a rare outlier compared to the rest of Star Wars tech which has remained largely the same.

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On the other hand, the Sun Crusher is new(er) technology that seems more advanced than those –  Izkata Mar 7 '14 at 16:50
Yeah, solid counter point, I will note it in the answer. –  joshbirk Mar 7 '14 at 17:20
Rakata knows how to build light sabers before jedi/sith, in fact they learned from rakata –  jean Mar 7 '14 at 19:57
I had forgotten about Force-sabers - you are correct. –  joshbirk Mar 7 '14 at 20:45
While not nearly as immense a difference as 4000 years, if you compare vehicles used for space travel today to those from a decade or two ago you'd see a regression (from reusable, pilotable space shuttles to...rockets with parachutes). Yet technology has still certainly advanced. –  Doc Mar 8 '14 at 8:34

What about all that stuff the empire built? They even had their own set of droids such as the MSE-6-series repair droid.

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Not to forget the Rebel Alliance! A-Wings, X-Wings, etc. None of which were in the first set of films.

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Not every planet is going to have the same technological advances and also, it wasn't that long between Episode I and Episode VI. Anakin/Vader appeared in every episode.

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But are they more advanced? The interrogation droid and the MSE-6 aren't markedly more advanced than anything seen on Coruscant. –  Terence Eden Mar 7 '14 at 13:43
@TerenceEden The interrogation droid is built for a specific purpose. I think it was fairly advanced on what it did. Sure beats C3P0 ... –  DarkHeart Mar 7 '14 at 13:46
I dunno, listening to C3P0 is certainly torture - just ask Han –  SSumner Mar 7 '14 at 15:43

Yes! No! and Maybe!

The tech level mostly stagnated in the period from old to new republic. There are other most advanced civilizations in the past: Rakata and Gree. At the republic's time actual grees cannot understand ancient gree technology and rakatas are almost extincts.

And even those civilizations refers to other more ancient. Rakatas are know to get advanced technology from a even ancient race of pacific force users those are know to travel between system by "gates". Rakatas built huge starships with hyper-drives moved by slave force users (and that's why they hunted down force-rich planets)

Planetary destruction weapons are shows sometimes. Example: Tatooine was once a nice earth like planet before rakata used a weapon to "turn all soil into glass" and kill all flora (and most fauna) later that glass shattered to sand.

Tech level appears to fluctuate a bit at a millenia rate.

References: Dawn of Jedi comics books series, SWTOR in game codex lore.

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This could use some references so that people know which books/films/games you're referring to. –  Richard Mar 7 '14 at 20:30
Mostly Dawn of Jedi comic books series and SWTOR game in codex lore –  jean Mar 7 '14 at 20:33
I meant add them to the actual answer... –  Richard Mar 7 '14 at 20:33

I would say that not only has the technology stagnated, but I would even dare say that it has deteriorated. To make my point I shall be referencing common technology from the Knights of the Old Republic Era, the Prequel Era, and the Original Trilogy era. I shall also provide my personal hypothesis as to the reason for this technological backsliding (apart from the obvious "they made the original trilogy first" reason)

First off let's take a look at a small, one man star-fighter that could be considered as being fairly well comparable in size. For the KOTOR, we have the Aurek-class tactical strikefighter (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Aurek-class_tactical_strikefighter.)

You'll note that it is equipped with shielding, an internal hyperdrive, is armed with 2 heavy laser cannons and two proton torpedo launchers. It's also capable of pushing out an astounding 160 MGLT (and since it has shielding it was probably capable of diverting power to thrusters to go even faster, but that's conjecture on my part.) What we do know is they saw service for 3000 years, were continually improved over that time, so these stats are probably the last recorded for the class.

Let's compare that to an Eta-2 Actis-class light interceptor from the Prequels (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Eta-2_Actis-class_light_interceptor.) You'll immediately note that it requires an external hyperdrive ring, no shielding, and armed with twin lason cannons, and twin light ion cannons. Not a massive indication of backsliding technology, as having less mass could make for a more agile fighter. Top speed is 125 MGLT, and since it has no shields, I'm going to assume that means that not as much power could be diverted to them to increase that. Still that's very fast.

Our final comparison ship is the RZ-1 A-wing interceptor, touted as the fastest ship in the Rebel alliance, and a match for the Tie Interceptor. Top speed, however of 120 MGLT makes it the slowest, yet the most up to date, of the three. Internal Hyperdrive (with a rating of 1.0 no less!) and shielding, as well as twin laser cannons and twin concussion missile launchers.

Concussion missiles are faster then proton torpedoes, and thus more useful in a dogfight, but are weaker as a trade off.

The other point I was going to make was that in KOTOR, personal shields were so populous, that it was easier to fight somebody using a melee weapon then it was using a light blaster. This technology was almost unheard of in the prequels (I have only seen them used by the Droideka in Episode 1), and by the time the Original Trilogy rolls around, the technology is pretty much lost (unless someone wants to point out I'm wrong, in which case, please do so!)

Also note personal stealth devices have also completely (forgive the pun) disappeared. A once common piece of tech in the KOTOR era, now lost. I know that cloaks in Original Trilogy era can only be fitted on starships.

As for why this is happened, I suspect it's a long ranging plan of Sith origin. Possibly to reduce the resources of the common herd, to make them easier to subjugate.

Please refute me if you feel none of this adds up or I'm seeing patterns where there are none.

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A couple of points to consider:

  1. The technology advances we have experienced in the last 100+ years is more of an anomaly than the norm. In the time before the 20th century significant technology advances occurred at a much slower rate, on the order of hundreds of years. A person born in, say, 1400 Europe, would probably not feel all that out of place in 1600 Europe - things just didn't change that much, especially at the level of the common man. I suspect that the pace of technological advance we are currently experiencing is unsustainable over the long run and will eventually slow down as the technologies mature. that's not to say that it will ever slow down to the pace of 300+ years ago, but I doubt it will continue at the current pace for much longer (there is already evidence of this in certain technologies). So I see the Star Wars universe as having reached that level of technological maturity where things just don't change all that much, at least not until and unless a major breakthrough or paradigm shift occurs.

  2. As has been pointed out, the time frame from episodes I - VI is really not all that long, much less than a single human lifetime. If the technology of that universe has already matured then there is not much room left for significant change in that short time span. For example, in the time of episode I you already have a galactic republic that is 1000's of years old and encompasses 1000's of star systems - which implies that it spans 1000's of light years (if not the entire galaxy). To have such a large union of star systems requires that interstellar space travel would have had to been around for a very long time and reached a high level of maturity. So you not expect much change (at least in that technology) over the span of the 40-50 years between episode I and VI. Most other technologies in the Star Wars Universe also exhibit a similar level of maturity (e.g., droids have obviously been around for a very long time - they certainly are not treated as a novelty in episode I).

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So, someone from the 1400s transported into the 1600s wouldn't have been surprised to find that the Earth orbits the sun, the invention of the Musket rifle, the flushing toilet, the pencil, the pocket-watch, the barometer, weather forecasting, the steam turbine, the submarine, slide-rules, bottled beer and the microscope? –  Richard Mar 8 '14 at 0:54
I'd argue that the life of the common man would be dramatically altered by the pencil or weather forecasting –  Richard Mar 8 '14 at 19:44
The main reasons that technology has progressed rapidly in the last few centuries include the scientific method itself; mass literacy; and widespread communication and sharing of new ideas. The Star Wars universe certainly has this infrastructure, so it's not enough to point out that science has not always progressed in human history - most of human history has been very different from the world of Star Wars. –  Jon of All Trades Apr 9 '14 at 3:36

Moore's law has marched on for 50 years, and will for some time. It makes sense that over thousands of years this progrss is unsustainable. So eventually computers or droids manufactured dozens or hundreds, maybe even thousands of years apart would not seem that different. There could come a day when technological progress stops.

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"and will for some time" Not really. The ITRS reckons it began to fall apart last year. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 30 '14 at 22:36

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