With what has to be the most exciting teaser trailer of the decade dropping earlier this week, we all got a tiny glimpse into what has changed technologically in a galaxy far-far away since we first visited it in 1977. Seeing as the timeline for The Force Awakens generally follows our own here in this Galaxy, let's take a visual look at how both of our weapons tech has changed in some 37 years.
The comparison composite below shows Wedge Antilles at the top left in the cockpit of his X-Wing. This is a screen grab from Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie that aired in 1977. Next to that photo shows a Navy A-7 Corsair II pilot of the same era here in our galaxy. Below those shots, on the left, is the new X-Wing pilot featured in the trailer and on the right there is an F-16 Viper pilot wearing modern flight gear, including the futuristic Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing System (JHMCS). Although both the new X-Wing pilot's gear and the F-16 pilot's gear looks more modern and compact, not that much has really changed in either galaxy in close to forty years.
In the composite below we have the Millennium Falcon from way back during the events of A New Hope next to the B-1A bomber, a weapons program that was deep in controversial development, and about to be cancelled, at the time of the first Star Wars films hit the theaters. The B-1A was the much faster and higher-flying strategic brother of the low-flying, stealthier and slower B-1B 'Bone,' seen below it in the composite, an aircraft that has seen nearly continuous action over the last decade and a half of the Global War On Terror. Next to it is the updated Millennium Falcon as seen in the new trailer. There are some subtle differences, but really, once again, both aircraft have been updated, but they really have not changed all that drastically. Both war-torn and finicky flying machines soldier on, many decades after we first met them and were impressed with their size, maneuverability, and 'glowing' propulsion systems.
Below we see two flying legends, one of fiction and one of reality, the X-Wing and the F-15 Eagle. The top X-Wing shot is a screen-grab from the 'trench run' during A New Hope, while the shot next to it is of early-build F-15A Eagles flying high over Germany around the same time people were watching A New Hope in theaters. The bottom X-Wing shot is from the new trailer, showing a division of the exoatmospheric fighters hauling ass over a watery surface well within the atmosphere of a planet. The shot next to it shows the updated and evolved F-15E Strike Eagle flying over rough terrain, its wings and belly loaded with targeting and navigational pods, fuel and weapons.
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Both the X-Wing and the Eagle seemed to have evolved over the decades from high-flying air and space superiority fighters to craft that are also now capable of low-level penetration missions. Certainly both have evolved, but they still remain X-Wings and Eagles.
Finally, we a have a fun one: villain-like leaders and their weapons. Here we have Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the USSR during the time when A New Hope premiered, and we have Darth Vader. Both men are brandishing classical weapons of high regard. In Communist Russia owning a gun, especially a fine hunting rifle, was a status symbol and a form of gentlemanly elitism. The lightsaber is also a differentiating possession, as only those with the force, ie with great power, can effectively wield one. Thus doing so puts an individual into a class so elite that at one time only knights belonged to, at least publicly.
Then you have our new 'villains' (yes I realize that this perspective is entirely subjective and will change depending on where you live, just roll with it) who seem to have an affinity to the idea that more brute power and unique customization out-weigh classical tradition and gentlemanly 'sporting' norms. The 'I' generation of tyrants I suppose.
In the unknown Sith lord featured in the trailer's case, their lightsaber has a cross bar above its hilt, something we have not seen before in the ever re-definable Star Wars 'canon' universe. This modification is already controversial among some Star Wars nerds, although the visual impact is powerful. In addition to this sinister crimson crossbar, the 'blades' themselves look fiery or very powerful yet unfocused, in comparison to the clean beams of lightsabers past. In addition, this lightsaber looks as long as it does powerful, like a Highlander's Claymore. A weapon of brute force over precision.
Like the Sith lord's Claymore, Putin's super-modern take on the AK-47 platform definitely has its own customizations as well, and room for many more. Its 30 round polymer magazine gives the gun killing ability far in excess of Brezhnev's stately and precise hunting rifle. In fact, at full-auto, it is not so much a precision weapon at all, although its stopping power and volume of fire are overwhelming compared to precision hunting weapons. It is a non-stately weapon, a soldier's weapon that sacrifices class for brute killing power. One that many world leaders of the past would steer away from being seen publicly gushing over.
In the end, this tiny peak into Star Wars future, or should I say present, is very encouraging as it looks like Abrams and crew have done a good job with realistically upgrading existing technological capabilities from the past, while not introducing an unbelievable new, super-advanced technological world for us to have to buy into. In fact, this maps very closely to our own past three and a half decades or so of technological evolution.
Like the X-Wing and the Millennium Falcon, our F-15s and B-1s are still flying, they just have been refined, adapted and upgraded over the years, as have their pilots' life support equipment. Sure, there are newer super weapons already working along-side the geriatric F-15s and B-1s, such as the F-22 and B-2, but they are in very limited supply and are extremely costly to procure and operate. Thus the older, proven and updated airframes continue to do the USAF's heavy lifting, and It looks like the X-Wings and Mellenium Falcon do the same for the now liberated rebel forces. And yes, the elite bad guy still has a gun or a lightsaber, but just like pretty much everything in our intense modern culture, that guns and that lightsabers have just become more brutally powerful and individualized over the years.
In some ways, watching this new trailer and comparing what 37 years looks like from a technological standpoint, both in fiction and reality, brings us back down to planet earth. Like the Star Wars universe, we really haven't come as far as we may fancy ourselves to have in so many years. Yes the technology and weaponry has evolved, but it has not mutated as drastically as we may like to think.
With this in mind, it is a good sign that Disney and JJ Abrams have done their research enough to bring some developmental and technological truth to the most beloved movie franchise this side of the Kessel Run.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com