Why Neil Degrasse Tyson is wrong about Star Wars

Neil Degrasse Tyson is our cultural voice on science literacy and intrigue.  But he’s wrong about Star Wars. Here’s where he’s been most wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I love NDT.  I’ve read several of his books.  I’ve watched all of his episodes of Cosmos and his much less well produced lecture series on Netflix.  I’ve watched his talks on Youtube.. I’m also an avid listener of Star Talk Radio.  He’s a great source of inspiration for me.   But being consistently wrong about Star Wars is intolerable.

To be fair, he does say this:


But then he also says this:

NDT is, of course, entitled to his opinion on this, even though his opinion is illogical.  A few things:

a) A ship with teams of engineers operating them aren’t “fake real” they’re “fake” old and poorly designed.  Saying the Enterprise is better because it needs a team of engineers is like saying the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria are better than a modern yacht that can be driven by one or two people.

b) Perhaps he wasn’t paying attention, but the Millenium Falcon survived an attack by a FLEET of Star Destroyers (multiple times) and two Death Stars.  The Enterprise is of little threat to the Falcon.

c) While it is true that Star Wars takes liberties with the laws of physics (ships look like they’re “flying” in a vacuum; there’s no /not much fire in space as there’s no oxygen to burn).  Star Trek introduced notions of tacchions (time travel), dilithium, worm holes, multiple dimensions, and string theory.  None of these are “known laws of physics”.  They’re all theoretical (i.e. fake) – even if some very smart people think and talk about them a lot – “laws” require, at least, reproducible results.

But if that’s what you want, here’s a physicist discussing the fundementals of travelling through space via worm holes that sounds really close to Star Wars’ hyperdrive:

I really like his mentioning how the length of the hole is that connects the two distant points.  It sounds like that method of travel could measure speed of travel not in time, but in a unit of distance… like a parsec.

d) I’ll also point out that the Falcon is MUCH faster than the Enterprise.


NDT also recently said this of the Death Star:


This is a strange comment from a New Yorker.  But it’s understandable as acts of extreme terrorism rarely make any sense.    “It’s a waste of energy” is his stance.  True.  But so was destroying Pluto as a planet (even if scientifically rigorous).

The only thing that’s missing about Star Wars (relative to Star Trek) are constant scientific explanations.  And I don’t see why he would demand a scientific explanation of propulsion systems over the sexual tension between Han and Leia.

This is a surprising perspective from NDT given how many times he gets Star Wars questions on his various media appearances.  There’s also a lot of current technology that resembles those found in Star Wars.  Here’s a few that I’ve written about: