Home > Clement's Game, Star Wars > SciFi Round 20: The Economics of Star Wars

SciFi Round 20: The Economics of Star Wars


This is an old topic, and one we’ve touched on before, but I still had enough fun with it to write this post.

Short Answer: the only economics in Star Wars is the real-life economics of selling Star Wars media.

This to some extent makes sense, especially for the original three movies.  Lucas was using The Hero’s Journey, which is not a carefully world-built plot.  But since economics is intertwined with social structures, it makes the plot as Lucas wrote it impossible.  Here are a few examples:

Why Are The Jedi Still Around?

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid” – Han Solo was right.

The Jedi and Sith are part samurai, part wuxia, part knight-errant, and part magic.  But even their telekinesis, limited telepathy and prescience, and Tesla-coil fingers are not enough to make them truly effective in combat.  If a real-life sharpshooter shot one of the Jedi, they’d be dead before they could possibly react.  Some Star Wars media claim that the Jedi have negative reaction time – i.e. they see the bullet coming or that the opponent’s finger is about to contract on the trigger and simply move first.  But even that isn’t enough: block the first bullet, but then get hit by several of the second through the hundred-tenth.  There just isn’t enough time for the Jedi to block or dodge them all with human muscle fibers.

More than one opponent at a time with current real-life guns at ranges greater than the range of a lightsaber would kill a Jedi very effectively.  It would be better if they had armor, but even then many fights in the movies only work because their opponents have implausibly bad aim for well-trained soldiers.  The Jedi can’t possibly have been effective guardians of peace and order in the old Republic.  For that, you’d want normal police or military.

How is this economics?  Because it costs far more to identify and train a Jedi Knight than it would to train a cop or a soldier.  The labor market doesn’t make sense.

Physics, Economics, and Coruscant

Coruscant.  Capital of the Republic, the Empire, and the New Republic.  Population 1 trillion or more Human Aliens and human-sized more alien aliens.  An entire planet-wide city, with flying cars in between several-kilometer-high towers.  Too bad it is both physically impossible and makes no economic sense.

Consider power production and waste heat.  On the Earth right now, total power consumption per person is ~6 KW, of which ~2.5 KW is from things other than photosynthesis.  Society on Coruscant is apparently much more energy-intensive.  A trillion people on Coruscant would use 10 to 100 PW, approximately the total energy incident on the planet from sunlight.  The whole place would be cooked.  And even if there were so much power available, why waste energy on launching things to orbit if you have the materials sufficient to build orbital elevators?  And if you had those capabilities and that many people to house, why leave them in conditions more densely packed than Bahrain?  You could build a Dyson Swarm instead.

View from an apartment on one of the skyscrapers on Coruscant.

View from an apartment on one of the skyscrapers on Coruscant.  The air pressure at that balcony as compared to at the base of the tower would be approximately that at the top of Mauna Kea as compared to sea level, and there are far taller towers in that cityscape – where the air pressure would be lower still.  Bad economics.

Also consider the heights of the towers.  You’d either spend quite a long while going up and down, or wouldn’t have open windows at the top – pressurization and depressurization and high-altitude acclimation take a lot of time.  And why waste all of the material and space on building towers?  Put it all underground, not just the Undercity slum.  And why is there a slum anyway?  It’s not like the Republic can’t afford to have a comprehensive social support net.

Or, alternatively, don’t concentrate the population on a single planet like that.  With the travel and communications in Star Wars, why do you need a trillion-person city around the government center anyway?  Oh yeah – Rule of Cool.

How About That Death Star?

The Death Star blows up Earth-like planets.  That’s 10^32 – 10^33 J in a few seconds – it’s more luminous than all but a few stars, so it is well named.  It would also take ~10^15 kg of antimatter per shot, or less mass traveling at highly relativistic speeds in an accelerator – which would mess with navigation.  There’s space inside the design for such an arsenal, but using such a device makes no sense.  Even if there was ever a compelling reason to kill the populations of entire worlds, it can be done with millions of times less energy.  The sunlight incident on an Earth-like planet is 10^26- 10^27 J / (100 years).  Drop that in 10 seconds and every point of the surface has soaked up enough energy to raise the temperature of everything with less than 300 m of shielding mass by >100 K.  The Death Star is a million times bigger than it needs to be.

Who signed off on such a poorly-costed plan?

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  1. 2013/05/19 at 6:32 pm

    By my math, Coruscant would work if it ran on solar power and recycled everything, but both of those are contradicted by canon.

    • michaelbusch
      2013/05/19 at 6:41 pm

      Only in terms of the total power available, and it would require the entire place be coated with high-efficiency solar panels – which, as you say, we don’t see. And even then there would still be problems with waste heat and power transmission (particularly at the poles). It could work, but my point here is that it makes no sense to do that, given all of the other options.

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