Science of Star Wars: Moisture Farming

There’s one thing that never quite made sense.  In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is constantly referred to as a “farmer”.  I didn’t realize until I was a bit older (a lot older because I saw it as an infant) what kind of farmer he was.  The Phantom Menance is really the only time we hear someone refer to the farming activities on Tatooine as “moisture farms”.

Moisture farming entails grabbing moisture out of the atmosphere and using/selling it.  It seems akin to “dirt farming” or any other type of sustenance living.  It implies that it isn’t something worth doing other than for a small numbers of people to survive to see the next day.

Copyright Lucasfilm

Moisture farms seem like a bit of a dumb idea given that any of those people could essentially live anywhere else in the galaxy.  Given how common water is in the (IRL) galaxy it seems like a strange activity.

But this also provides a basis for Luke Skywalker’s upbringing.  He’s the furthest thing from aristocracy, and living in extreme obscurity.

But moisture farming isn’t just for Star Wars – we do it on earth as well.  In the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, locals use large Fog Catchers to collect water from fog to use to grow plants.


Fog Catcher. Photographer: Neil Hall
Photograph: Neil Hall
Photographer: Neil Hall



In technical terms, this type of system doesn’t seem to scale particularly well.  But it’s clearly effective when given high density volumes of water/fog.  In a very desolate place such as Tatooine, every drop counts.  That notwithstanding, researchers are evaluating the use of these fog catchers as a way to bring larger scale agriculture to the region.

“Scientists at the Alto Patache research centre, run by the Universidad Catolica have shown that water spilt during the collection of fog water has led to a variety of plantlife growing in the desert.”

From the look of the scenery from A New Hope, it appears that this type of moisture farming was very automated and reliant on equipment.  The Chilean version is decidedly low-tech and consists of mostly a giant net that grabs droplets of water.