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In Star Trek there are nebulae practically everywhere. I don't remember seeing any in Star Wars though, why is that?

enter image description here

Why does Star Trek hog all the nebulae and Star Wars has none?


If there actually is some obscure nebula in the Star Wars universe, the question remains - Why does Star Trek have so many while Star Wars has (next to) none? I don't know enough to say which portrayal is more accurate. Have the makers of either franchise commented on the prominence/absence of nebulae? If no such official commentary exists, I welcome speculation.

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    Space is big. Really big. We don’t see that much of it in Star Wars, so I guess the camera just wasn’t pointing at any nebulae. – Paul D. Waite Feb 18 '16 at 9:59
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    Star Trek has unrealistically impressive nebula, Star Wars has unrealistically impressive asteroid fields. I'm going to call it a tie. :-) – Harry Johnston Feb 18 '16 at 10:19
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    In Star Trek they are actively exploring and looking for interesting phenomena. In Star Wars that fact that space is involved at all is secondary to the plot. – Stop Harming Monica Feb 18 '16 at 10:20
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    Star Trek takes place in our galaxy. Star Wars is in another. Apparently, the other galaxy doesn't have as many nebulae. – Mr Lister Feb 18 '16 at 15:41

11 Answers 11

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Star Trek does not represent nebulae at all accurately. Real nebulae are nowhere near that dense - they'd constitute a hard vacuum by our standards. They're also big, typically hundreds of light-years across.

As far as I know, there's no canon reason why any of the scenes in Star Wars couldn't have been set near planets that are located inside a nebula, but also no particular reason why they should. But while nebulae look pretty from a distance, the only thing you'd notice from inside them was that you couldn't see as many stars. (Perhaps the ones you could see would be a bit fuzzy; I'm not sure.) Basically it just wouldn't make for a pretty picture.

(It might be reasonable to guess that a nebula would interfere with hyperdrive travel, in which case planets within one would likely remain uncolonized.)

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    Also, do remember that most of the colorful pictures we get from NASA are stylized and incorporate representations of frequencies outside of the visible spectrum (ie infrared and ultraviolet). – Naftuli Kay Feb 18 '16 at 19:15
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    @NaftuliTzviKay its not so much "outside the visible spectrum." The Hubble images are all visible spectrum - just that they've remapped the colors. Are Hubble Telescope Images in true color? describes this. – user12183 Feb 18 '16 at 20:24
  • Wasn't there a scene in the Joiner King where Han and Leia are flying out of control into a nebula? I remember Han makes some witty remark asking Leia if she could use the force to part it much like she had done earlier with some storm clouds. – DeepDeadpool Feb 19 '16 at 15:06
  • @GheyPhistor: I think the OP was thinking of the movies in particular, but NKCampbell's answer already covers a few non-movie canon examples. – Harry Johnston Feb 19 '16 at 23:17
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Most of the shots within Star Wars are taken next to planets. Whereas far more action within Star Trek happens in deep space.

Nebulas do not tend to appear next to planets, or within planetary systems, they do happen in deep space however.

It is merely due to the settings. Star Wars has a higher percentage of asteroid fields due to this same planetary system setting.

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    Nebulas do not tend to appear next to planets - true, I suppose, in much the same way that you don't often find a continent inside your house. :-) – Harry Johnston Feb 18 '16 at 9:33
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    @HarryJohnston I did however find a continent next to my house once... – user11521 Feb 19 '16 at 3:33
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    @Michael: true, the real problem with talking about a nebula being next to a planet isn't the size so much as the fuzzy edges. But I couldn't think of an analogy for that. :-) – Harry Johnston Feb 19 '16 at 5:21
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Just to outline the current canon uses

Disney canon:

Rebels: Season 2: Ep 12 - Legends of the Lasat depicts an impenetrable space cloud / nebula

Pictured here: enter image description here

Clone Wars: Season 1: Ep 3 - Shadow of Malevolence depicts the Kalidda Nebula

Pictured here:

enter image description here

Tarkin (novel)

Tarkin recalls a lesson taught to him when he was a young man

You make use of asteroid fields, nebulae, star flares, whatever you find, to intensify the havoc

Wookiepedia also indicates minor references to nebula in the books Lords of the Sith, Lost Stars, Aftermath, and new canon comics.

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An out of universe explanation for why nebulas show up so often in Star Trek is because they had the effect already done and kept reusing it to save money and add some visual variety. Starfields and planets are cheap, but they get dull after a while.

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan ends with the Battle of the Mutara Nebula, a striking purple and blue hued nebula rippling with electricity.

The Mutara Nebula

The relatively big budget of a movie, as compared to a TV show (Wrath Of Khan was fairly cheap), allowed more spectacular practical effects. Always ones to shave costs where they can, this effect got reused again and again by the TV shows.

First the Mutara Nebula was recycled in TNG as the Paulson Nebula where the Enterprise-D hid from the Borg in "The Best Of Both Worlds".

Paulson Nebula

In the DS9 episode "Vortex" it becomes the Chamra Vortex.

Chamra Vortex

An altered version became the dark matter nebula Mar Oscura in TNG "In Theory".

Mar Oscura Nebula

I'm sure people can find more examples of the Mutara Nebula being recycled.

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    But they get dull after a while - good point, the fact that SW started as a movie whereas ST started as TV had been overlooked up to now. As per NKCampbell's answer the various Star Wars TV series have indeed made use of (unrealistic!) nebulae. (To be fair, when we say that there aren't any small, dense nebulae as shown on TV, we mean there aren't any near us and we don't know of any reason why they should exist. In fictional worlds where the physics is different to ours, that might not be true.) – Harry Johnston Feb 19 '16 at 23:21
  • There's even a Voyager episode where they not only reuse the Mutara Nebula but call it the Mutara Nebula, too. – Praxis Feb 21 '16 at 6:12
  • @Praxis: Mutara class nebula. memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Mutara_class And from what I can tell it looked nothing like the actual Mutara nebula. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 21 '16 at 13:54
  • @PreferenceBean : I was just working off of memory. Thanks for checking. – Praxis Feb 21 '16 at 15:03
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Define "Star Trek". Not everything is full of nebulae. In particular, I'm thinking of the original series, which didn't have any nebulae.

(It is possible that they added some when the "enhanced" the original series with CGI, etc. I'll have to go check...but when they originally aired on TV, those shows were 100% nebula-free.)

Starting with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", they started adding manymanymany colorful things, such as the clouds surrounding V'ger. By the time of "The Next Generation", this was already a well-entrenched part of latter-day Star Trek visuals.

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    I have a suspicion that in the times of TOS and the original Star Wars movie, it wouldn't have been possible to make nebulae look as good as in the latter-day Star Trek. (But perhaps there are counterexamples from other works of the time? Or perhaps someone familiar with the history of special effects and their limitations could comment?) – Harry Johnston Feb 19 '16 at 23:26
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Very simple. Star wars got it right (or at least, a bit more right than Star Trek). Nebulae are very faint and without a big telescope and long exposure, you don't see anything.

Compare this with any real-world picture of a planet (or the Moon). As long as you have a reasonably bright foreground object, the exposure is so short that not even stars are visible, let alone nebulae.

The luminosities of spaceships/planets, stars and nebulae are huge factors apart, and even in observational astronomy, unless you want to see a nebula, you won't see it. And if there are nearby stars in the same picture, they will burn out the image (you'll see the diffraction spikes and bloom around them).

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Have you watch Star Wars Rebels: Secret Cargo? There is a huge nebula here.enter image description here

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Here's a well-known shot of a nebula (for some definitions of the word) in The Empire Strikes Back.

Final scene

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    I always thought that was a galaxy – Cearon O'Flynn Feb 18 '16 at 12:36
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    It is, indeed, a spiral galaxy. – squigbobble Feb 18 '16 at 12:37
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    And that's why I said "for some definitions of the word". Galaxies used to be called nebulae, and the Andromeda Galaxy was once the Andromeda Nebula. – Mike Scott Feb 18 '16 at 12:37
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    That's more likely a star with a planetary accretion disc. I can't think of a situation where they'd have that view, to the naked eye, of a galaxy from the outside. – Separatrix Feb 18 '16 at 14:02
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    So what you're saying is, it's a nebula... from a certain point of view. – Mason Wheeler Feb 19 '16 at 15:56
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Since astrogators wouldn't be able to spot the asteroids in time ...

Guessing seriously, assuming that nebulae and asteroids serve the same McGuffin purpose of impeding ranging and navigation or wreaking havoc upon space vessels, rocks tumbling through space produce superior visuals while they are much harder to render convincingly. At the time when Star Trek took off, the F/X department could not handle the challenge or they were able to do so but only at prohibitive cost and time.

Unfortunately I do not have references to quote.

  • I think you mean "at the time when Star Wars took off"? – Schwern Feb 19 '16 at 21:50
  • @Schwern No,I don't. Star Trek dates from the mid 60ies, Star Wars from the mid 70ies. – collapsar Feb 22 '16 at 9:38
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I'm thinking because Star Trek is all about weird stuff happening in space, and visual nebulae give a nice setting and visual for spacial anomalies and the like, whereas Star Wars isn't about that at all.

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You don't steer a ship near a nebula for the same reason you don't steer one near a black hole. The gravametric forces inside a nebula obey their own laws, imagine standing on the surface of Jupiter. The surface of jupiter exhibits 2x the gravity you would exhibit on Earth, your weight would jump from kg to mt. Now imagine standing abosolutely still if you can fathom that, now imagine standing still inside a nebula. With forces so unpredictable you could weigh as light as butterfly or as heavy as two large sized moons assuming your own weight doesn't kill you first.

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    This is nonsense. Jupiter has no surface. Nebula don't "obey their own laws" and are so sparse we'd call it a vacuum and they exert almost no gravitational force. – Schwern Feb 22 '16 at 16:13

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