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What Makes ‘Star Wars’ Magical for Them: Astronomers Who Study Real Galaxies Reminisce About the Mythical Galaxy ‘Far, Far Away’

Professors K.E. Saavik Ford and Charles Liu at the American Museum of Natural History. (Ford photo by Roderick Mickens/American Museum of Natural History; Liu photo by Lillian Ortiz)

In honor of May 4th, Star Wars day (May the fourth be with you), we invited Graduate Center astronomers to share their favorite memories of the iconic sci-fi series.

Two professors who spend much of their time studying the origins of galaxies and, by extension, the origins of life and matter, reminisced with us.

Here are their favorite moments from the films and their own lives.

Professor K. E. Saavik Ford (GC/BMCC, Physics/Astronomy), a self-described Trekkie, studies black holes, specifically active galactic nuclei. She’s also an astrophysics researcher at the American Museum of Natural History.

“One of my favorite moments from Star Wars is probably the (totally scientifically unrealistic) flight through an asteroid belt in The Empire Strikes Back. I love how all three dimensions of flying matter, and that there's of course this crazy life form (oops), and it's just a fabulously fun, exciting series of moments. Also, an asteroid belt like that would be super cool to see. But it would be totally unstable and not last very long in cosmic terms!”
Professor Charles Liu (GC/College of Staten Island, Physics), also a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History, studies galaxy evolution, primarily star formation and colliding galaxies. His latest book is 30-Second Universe: 50 most significant ideas, theories, principles and events that sum up the field.

“‘Charles, you have got to come see Star Wars with me!’ That was my friend John, who had already seen the movie with his older brother Tom, twice. By mid-June 1977, when my little brother and I finally went with John and Tom to see it, they’d already retold the whole story and recited all the memorable lines to me so many times (‘Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.’ ‘That’s no moon.’ ‘Nice shot, kid, but don’t get cocky.’ ‘The Force is strong with this one.’) that the story held little remaining suspense. It didn’t matter. What fun it was!

My favorite thing about Star Wars isn’t a particular film, or film moment, it’s the romance. Thanks to the jaw-dropping advances of its special effects, we in the audience felt we really were in a galaxy far, far away — sneaking around on a giant space station, in a titanic cosmic space battle, in an interplanetary fight for freedom. The wave it created has led to every space and science fiction movie epic that’s come since.

Yes, 1977 was a long time ago; and for a journey that took twice as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey put together, Star Wars had it all for me: movies, comic books, cartoons, trading cards, video games, you name it, I was into it. (Well, not the action figures — too expensive.)

My favorite Star Wars memory was made just this past year on a day in December, watching Episode IX together with my wife and grown children, who’d gathered in New York from three states to join their crusty old dad, celebrating the culmination of a lifelong journey of imagination and joy.”

Submitted on: MAY 4, 2020

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