In order to truly appreciate the science behind the "Star Wars" universe, a certain suspension of belief is necessary. Physics in a galaxy far, far away is quite a bit different than physics in our galaxy. There's "the force," for instance, as well as the perplexing fact that sound seems to travel in the vacuum of space there.
Even so, there are also certain elements to the "Star Wars" universe that might actually be possible to manifest in the Milky Way. Or at least, it can be a fun exercise to consider the possibilities. For instance, are lightsabers possible to make? Can starships capable of hyperspace travel ever exist? Could a Death Star be built, and if so, would it be a practical way to take over a galaxy?
In an article at Phys.org, that latter question recently received some serious speculation. And interestingly, it turns out that a Death Star — though an intriguing plot device — would actually be a terrible way to take over the galaxy.
PHOTO BREAK: 8 images of galaxies far, far away
The alternative? An army of R2-D2s.
Yes, that's right. If the "Star Wars" universe took place in our galaxy, everyone's favorite trashcan-shaped droid might turn out to be the true harbinger of destruction.
Why? Well, for one, Death Stars aren't very efficient. They require a ton of raw materials, and the amount of energy they require to run is highly uneconomical. On the other hand, the existence of diligent, intelligent robots would mean that a workforce can be churned out in large numbers and copied as needed, which not only means that a robotic army could potentially overrun a planet full of organic, fleshy inhabitants in no time, but such a robotic workforce could be put to work constructing an assortment of planet-destroying technologies far more efficient than clunky Death Stars.
The principle at play in this scenario is called recursive manufacturing, which essentially refers to the capability of technology to build upon itself. Basically, if you can build a factory that builds robots that are capable of building another factory, then this process can grow exponentially. Robots could build their own massive workforce that would quickly overwhelm conventional manufacturing and production.
Such a robot army of R2-D2s could be employed to build a Death Star rather easily, but there are far more effective technologies they'd probably build instead. For instance, using recursive manufacturing, robots could rapidly seed space with factories churning out other factories. Within a relatively short period of time, such factories could transform most of a galaxy's asteroids and uninhabited planets into missiles that could be flung at inhabited planets, thus destroying them. That's assuming the robots couldn't just be weaponized themselves, and organized to overrun a planet.
In other words, any civilization capable of creating robots as intelligent and diligent as R2-D2 is far more likely to be taken over via robot apocalypse than by Death Star. If a Galactic Empire ever did emerge in the Milky Way, it would have to be capable of controlling its robotic workforce.
The more plausible scenario, however, is that the Galactic Empire would be captained by the robots themselves. It's a theory that, at the very least, ought to cause "Star Wars" viewers to rethink their affection for lovable droids.