Science of Star Wars – Holograms

One of the pivotal moments in the Star Wars Saga was when Luke Skywalker stumbles upon the holographic message  Princess Leia sent to Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Since I was so young at the time, I don’t think I realized how cutting edge that was in film.  Usually, science fiction or space adventures used some kind of video phone – still cutting edge, but pretty standard issue as far as film and TV were concerned.  But not a 3D hologram.

Of all the fiction in Star Wars, holograms are probably one of the more realistic forms of technology and have made real advancements throughout more recent years.  Though nothing we have matches exactly what we see in the films, we have lots of different technologies that could be called “holograms”.



Sega Time Traveler – 1991

Perhaps the first real attempt at a commercial 3D game was Sega’s Time Traveler.  This didn’t make it to my local arcade, but it was well known if you were a video game connoisseur.  It was expensive and didn’t look like a typical arcade game. It’s subject matter was a bit out of place as well (these were the days of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat).  But it was certainly innovative.


Nintendo 3DS

The Nintendo 3DS handheld console is perhaps the best application (to-date) of 3D games.  In fact, it’s really the only material application of glasses-less 3D graphics.  It uses a lenticular display system that can show slightly different images to each eye (you ever seen a specialty cup from an athletic event that shows a different image when you turn it?).  When paired with a parallax barrier that augments this display and allow this display to be adjustable.

It’s a great system.  But frankly, I’m a 2D guy.  A game has to really utilize the 3D effect in order for it to really add to the gaming.  Otherwise, it’s a bit of an annoyance. But it works.  It’s cool. But video games are already cool.



3D films have also been a holy grail for story tellers for decades as well.  And it’s quite well established as a technology.  My first 3D film was  Avatar.  Not a great movie, but the visuals were spectacular.  It really integrates the viewer into the action of the story.  Being a Star Wars fan, it always makes you wonder what it would be like to watch, say, the Death Star Trench Run in ANH or the attack on Death Star 2 in RoTJ.

We may even get to experience these dreams as the previous Star Wars films are being adapted to 3D.  I have high hopes for this, but believe it won’t really knock me out of the park, only because it helps for the movie to be created with 3D in mind.  But adaptations tend to be pretty good too.


Live Performances


Perhaps the most interesting use of Holograms was first seen at a “live” performance of Tupac at Coachella in 2012.  Essentially, a large video and mirrors setup was used to project an image of the deceased artist to the live audience.

“Although the perception was of a 3D likeness of Shakur, the image was actually a 2D image. Shakur’s likeness was projected onto an angled piece of glass on ground, which in turn projected the image onto a Mylar screen on stage.”  ~ CBSNews Article

This is a fascinating method for bringing deceased, popular performers – Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Michael Jackson.  But it does seem to be more like a fad.  But much like any form of performance art, it’s effectiveness is ultimately determined by the artists who figure out the most inspirational uses for it.


Augmented Reality

Microsoft HoloLense

And lastly, perhaps the most state-of-the art 3D technology is perhaps augmented reality.  Unlike the previous example (or what we see in Star Wars) augmented reality uses a device (glasses/goggles) to superimpose computer generated imagery into your field of view.  This enables many new interactions with media, designs, and data.

Microsoft is perhaps the highest profile company that is developing a AR solution.  Their HoloLense project is speeding towards commercial readiness. Here is a video demo:

The benefits are many.  Games are obvious.  Networked, multiplayer, strategy games played literally around your own living room.

In some ways, it’s similar to the projected displays from Zeebo’s head-unit in the Star Wars Rebels episode Empire Day.

Copyright Lucasfilm.

Some interesting applications may be remote hands-on instruction.  Microsoft did a demo where a remote plumber would give live, in-your-face instructions on how to fix a leaky pipe.  They can see what you’re seeing and actually annotate your field of view, showing you which wrench to use on which pipe.  You could extend this type of interaction with telemedicine, education (would you pay a real expert to sit down with your kid to teach them algebra?), manufacturing, and many others.

This may ultimately be the best application of augmented reality.  Even in the Star Wars universe, it would have been a much easier way to quickly train the Rebel fighters to navigate the Death Star in 3D and identify any wayward thermal exhaust ports.