Why are the data-formats in Star Wars such an awful mess? Because filmmakers make movies about filmmaking

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/01/04/why-are-the-data-formats-in-st.html


Hey, it was set a long time ago!

This was what, 5 MB, and that was only in the 50s!



Why are wireframes and lo-fi rendering styles “cooler” and more indicative of “high tech” than what we are actually already well capable of today?


Narrative causality is…flexible. Encryption requires however long would be dramatic in order to be cracked; technology is capable of solving nigh-impossible problems without the slightest comment if they would get in the way of the plot; while utterly useless for addressing trivial ones that will lead to drama later.

(edit: the only mystery about R2’s mysteriously compatible data-interface is why RS-232 has evolved to have such a horrid connector in the future; the fact that it is still present and still supported by everything can be safely assumed.)


I remember seeing one timeline (which used official but non-canonical sources) that worked out that the rebellion happened around the same time as the American Revolution.

King George III would have been so much cooler if he could shoot lightning from his fingertips instead of being insane.


I’ve always assumed it was a deliberate retro-futurism. The vehicles and space battles were meant to evoke WW2 aerial and sea combat, and the computer technology is modeled after 60s “space age” hardware.

It’s a bit like how the Game of Thrones universe has stalled technological progress, which can rationalized by the influence of magic and a maester conspiracy that deliberately hoards knowledge to maintain the status quo.

Star Wars has space wizards and laser swords, with FTL travel and strong AI. What more do you need? Let the droids worry about all that nerdy shit.


I so adore this level of nerdiness.


Still at some point data just becomes unwieldy.

Just ask anybody reading this to deal with a petabyte of data right now and move it 1000 miles.

I know I couldn’t do it without a lot of money and possibly a truck full of hard drives.

In rogue one I can imagine the data was too massive to transmit reliably and would take something largish to hold.

We are also talking about a galactic empire spanning a lot of planets. Imagine this comic only multiplied by millions of worlds:

Also the plans are a backup of a moon size starbase … that shit is gonna be large.


Robot-controlled tape drives have action; they move and are therefore at least interesting to watch. We had one of these where I used to work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2vqJgLRX1E


Some of this can be explained. They’re snagging the bulky hard drive BECAUSE they don’t have the proper codes and authorizations to use the normal data retrieval systems. So instead of just hitting the 'Transmit" button on any terminal they have to steal the hard drive from archival backup storage. The storage is so bulky because that drive also happens to contain the plans for every post-office on Krembach-VII and the sewer system on Sherwood.


The robot’s name is abbreviated from, “rack two, drawer two”. You can hardly expect his function to evolve much further than that.


You know, I’m going to suggest another argument entirely.

What would your data security look like if there was no crypto anymore?

What would happen if computers could solve the hard problems, like factorization, that underpin modern crypto? Or fast enough to brute-force it such that you really couldn’t encrypt data at all? At that point, would physical security become your only real security? Would it then make sense to put all your top-secret plans in a well-defended tower on a shielded planet? Would it explain why your data ports can be accessed by any droid (and why you then should only have them in secure locations)? Or why you wouldn’t want to trust sensitive discussions to a digital channel for fear of interception?


Reel 2, Dialog Track 2, according to Wikipedia:

The name is said to derive from when Lucas was making one of his earlier films, American Graffiti. Sound editor Walter Murch states that he is responsible for the utterance which sparked the name for the droid. Murch asked for Reel 2, Dialog Track 2, in the abbreviated form “R-2-D-2”. Lucas, who was in the room and had dozed off while working on the script for Star Wars, momentarily woke when he heard the request and, after asking for clarification, stated that it was a “great name” before falling immediately back to sleep.


I can understand the bulky HDDs, but those dual-joystick-thingy controls are the worst (in a fun way). Whatever happened to just typing in “row 32, column 6” or at least cursor keys?


The “tapes” are so large because they’re built to withstand the blast of 20 thermal detonators before becoming lossy.


1 PB = 1024 TB

The just announced Kingston 2TB USB flash drive is 72x27x21mm. Unless my math is way off, you could easily fit 512 of them in a standard box of letter-sized copy paper. It’d be expensive, of course, and flash drives are not reliable for backup.

No doubt there are more efficient ways to package that data… 64 16TB SSDs perhaps


It is still enough of a hard problem you see weird but interesting solutuions like amazons data truck:

Perhaps I should have said 100PB instead of one as one is starting to move it’s way into being weildyish.


Meh. Most of the criticism can be easily waived away with two words: civil war.

Technology development inevitably breaks down at times of internal social and political crisis, with the result that some sites will end up with access to better tech than others. Communication and production lines are not safe; production capacity (and likely, entire skillsets) has been irreparably lost when this or that world was blown up; the internal market for advanced goods has collapsed and now relies entirely on supplying the military at cheap rates or on logistically-troublesome contraband. These dynamics apply equally to Empire and Rebels, as they gain and lose footholds and bases here and there, suffering Erso-style sabotage in the process.

As war continues, fancy but fragile tech like Obi-Wan’s glowing orbs give way to rugged magnetic tapes that will survive a blaster. At the same time, Rebels (or shady operators like Dooku) will value thinness and portability as they run from planet to planet, so they will likely pay more to get hold of small-sized data vessels.

And at the same time, common standards for drones exist because it used to be One Republic. Common standards made sense before enemy lines were drawn, and it makes sense to keep them around for droids because they are a relatively scarce commodity - they require advanced manufacturing capabilities, they are fundamentally expensive, which is why they get bought and sold like cars rather than thrown away like old laptops. The car you buy today works with the same fuel nozzle of 20 years ago, and spark plugs are not that different either.

Do you think people in Aleppo today have access to the same level of technology that they have in Damascus? Or that they use different electric plugs? Same thing.

Lastly, the facility on Scarif is not as dumb as it looks. It’s harder than average to attack on the ground, because it requires seaborne capabilities that Rebels are clearly missing (how do you transport boats from planet to planet as you run? Well, you don’t.) At the same time, this choice means that there is less usable space for actual buildings (small islands), hence the tall archive. Consider that this is a backup facility, likely to have the same budget most backup facilities get, i.e. almost zero, because backing up is an unfashionable activity that won’t win you a seat at the table with Krennic and Vader. So you don’t get the fancy artificial-island shit; you are given some ground and told to build it there as best as you can with no money; and because you’re just receiving a constant trickle of data from lots of other sites, you don’t really need a fat pipe - just a reliable and rugged antenna that will never break down.

And hey, it worked: Rebels lost the battle even after they committed significant forces, and only managed to exfiltrate one tape. That’s not a terrible track record.


Why would R2 need a voice chip? Most everyone seems to know what he’s saying and can communicate with him directly. He’s, like, emotive.