star wars

Techno Babble and Starkiller Base: How much do we need to know? by Matthew Marchitto

I have a love/hate relationship with techno babble. Sometimes, I love it. It can make a story feel smarter and more rooted in reality. Like all that information you’re being bombarded with is saying “this is how it could happen in real life.” But, on the other hand, it can feel cumbersome and dull. The temporal capaci-what is going to do the thingamajig now? Great, let’s get to the pew pew.

I recently rewatched Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and started to think about Starkiller Base and some of the questions that surrounded it. A lot of wondering how it got made, how it’ll move once the star is dead, and also how can it even suck up a star? Did it use warp technology? Also, the way warp speed works in Star Wars seems…

Does it matter? That depends on the story and the world. In the case of SW:TFA, I don’t think it does. Starkiller Base is the big bad, we know what it’s going to do, when it’s going to do it, and—to a degree—how it’ll do it. The point of Starkiller Base is that something is going to get exploded if it’s not stopped. We have all the necessary information. Technological details have never been the point of Star Wars, at least as far as I can tell. If this was Star Trek, that’d be a different matter.

This is a hard line to tow. How much information does the audience need? I don’t want to overburden them with a dump of information, but I also don’t want them to be lost and unable to follow along. There is also a certain level of believability, not realism, but in-world consistency that gives the audience cues as to how the world works.

Dragons, a staple of fantasy, shouldn’t be able to fly (at least not the typical image of a dragon). At best, they should be clumsy gliders. But when a dragon soars through the sky, we all buy it. It doesn’t matter how it flies, just that it’s a dragon and it can fly.

Now, if you had a dragon that could fly because it exuded fart clouds, okay a little weird but whatever, then you’d have established a rule in your world. So, if say, you had a another giant winged beast show up and start flying around, but it didn’t use fart clouds to fly despite its huge size, that’d create an inconsistency in your world. Once it’s established that big bulky things have to adhere to some rules if they want to fly, it becomes a glaring mistake when your own rules are broken. It messes with the world’s consistency.

Ultimately, how many of your world’s rules you have to communicate to the reader/viewer depends on the context. In the case of Starkiller Base, all we need to know is what it does and when it’s going to do it. The same tends to apply to most doomsday machines. There are a lot of other times when we do need to know how The Thing works. Especially in stories that are set in modern times or hard science fiction, but also if it’s just you breaking one of your established rules. If you’re going to break one of your world’s rules, the audience has to understand why or it’ll mess with the story’s consistency.

What do you think, is there such a thing as too much techno babble or not enough of it?