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Star Wars Buttons And Lights You May Have Missed ( 125

tedlistens writes: At Motherboard, Alex Pasternack writes: "Star Wars is set in a world of wildly advanced technology. But take a good look at the machinery of Star Wars, and you may be surprised to see how wonderfully analog it all is -- buttons! levers! vector graphics! Yes, there are hyperdrives and lightsabers and hologram Princess Leias and droids that know six million languages (including the language of moisture vaporators, along with various etiquette and diplomatic protocols useful across the galaxy). But it's also a world where sometimes you have to hit a robot to get it to work, like an old dashboard radio, a place where the supercomputers are operated manually and where buttons and control panels and screens seem far removed from our own galaxy: tactile, lo-fi, and elegantly simple." May the 4th be with you.
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Star Wars Buttons And Lights You May Have Missed

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Keep in mind most of this stuff has to work in space, which means it needs rad-hard circuits.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nope, the reason Star Wars is the way is because its esthetic is purely 1970s. Seriously go watch the original THX 1138 and then the original Star Wars. It's the same esthetic. Things changed a little bit for the better in TPM but with TFA we went back to the 1970s esthetic. So big computers (mainframes), lots of blinking lights, buttons, green/blue terminals etc...

  • by dottrap ( 1897528 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @03:31AM (#52051073)

    My graphics prof told us that the people hired to do the graphics for Star Wars were instructed to make it look more primitive. The technology already existed to do filled colored polygons and deal with pop-up and so forth. But when Lucas or whoever saw their first pass, they said it looked too good. So for example, in the trench run briefing, you see that they went to green wireframes with massive pop-up problems where big chunks just suddenly appear.

    • by necro81 ( 917438 )
      The contrast that I find most interesting is to look at the Death Star attack briefings from EpIV, then look at VI. It's the same rebels, same epoch, and yet the holographic display Ackbar references looks awesome compared to the crude dot matrix and vector graphics seen on Yavin. It's a substantial change in the Star Wars universe brought about by technological advances here on our own world.

      One can also look at the appearance of technology in the original Star Trek and compare it to The Next Generati
      • by cob666 ( 656740 )

        The new base could have had a better IT system
      • Though what's interesting about the Return of the Jedi holographic Death Star briefing is also the point my prof was making. Despite the cool hologram, the rendered graphics in the hologram get intentionally dumbed down. You can see color filled translucent polygons and smooth curves (making the green and red colors of the moon and Death Star) in some parts showing the technology was actually there, but the major focus parts of the briefing are the Death Star and the tunnels to the reactor which are all wir

    • The first film? There was no CGI. It was all models and Mitchell motion control cameras. Your graphics prof doesn't know what he's talking about.
    • And for once, Lucas was right. The state of the art will eventually look old. Primitive always looks like someone didn't want to spend a lot of money on this widget. It sort of grounds it and gives it weight, making it feel more like a believable tool than a computer. That, and people of the time could recognize "monochromatic screen, mono-space print, wireframe graphics... yep, that's a computer alright" and understand at a glance what they're looking at.

  • The Spice Must Flow! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 05, 2016 @03:57AM (#52051117)

    It's low-fi because Dune was lo-fi. As "The Secret History of Star Wars" reveals, the original treatment even included "spice", which became "the force". The SW universe has Tatooine ("totally not the desert planet Arrakis of the Dune series." Dune had a reason for their analog high tech: The Butlerian Jihad forbade machines which could think, and destroyed all instances of such tech. In the Star Wars universe we scratch our heads and wonder why the low-fi... Well, now you know, it was a wonderful aesthetic borrowed from Dune and is thus otherwise inexplicable.

  • by WinstonWolfIT ( 1550079 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @04:21AM (#52051145)

    I love the scene where a bearing has fallen off one of the droids and it didn't incapacitate them. The logical result should have been R2D2 spinning in circles.

    • You're thinking like a software programmer. Hardware engineers don't have the luxury of rebooting to try again or restoring from a backup, so they try to avoid single points of failure - they build redundancy into the system. That's why the Hubble Space Telescope has 6 gyors (only needs 3 to function). And why the Kepler spacecraft had 4 reaction wheels - so the thing could keep operating even if one wheel failed. (Unfortunately two failed, which forced a kludge fix using two reaction wheels and thruste
  • Tactile is right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PIC16F628 ( 1815754 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @04:29AM (#52051157)

    Why is tactile interface using buttons and levers bad? - is it just because a touch screen is so fashionable currently? Touchscreens serve for some use cases - Emulating buttons in a screen instead of real buttons is like a human living his life (outside the screen) with only one finger . We have so many degrees of control and feedback available in our hands, legs and we should use them effectively to interact with devices. An example is that of a car. This hand-eye-leg combined interface is what creates the feeling of 'oneness' with the machine - like how many of us feel that the car has become our extension - we are in full control.
    Touchscreen as the sole interface is a short term aberration and I think soon the industry start bringing back tactile (and not just limited to pressing buttons - but also to levers & knobs).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Have to agree 100%. When i'm driving my car everything for the air-con is on a jog dialler these days. No end stoips. Without taking my eyes off the road, I don't know the current setting or how much I need to move the thing to get roughly what I want.Never mind negotiating the menu system with it.

      I have bought a nissan micra run about (K11 couldnt find a K10) it has old fashoined dials. I know roughly where the dial I want is,I reach out leaving my eyes on the road, I find the dial I want (it's 2nd from th

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by azadrozny ( 576352 )

      With my old flip phone I could dial without ever taking my eyes off the road. Same thing with the car radio. I could navigate presets or change tracks on the cd player all by touch. Touch screens look cool, and are highly configurable but cannot be operated with out looking at them. Another nit that I have with car touch screens is that I cannot customize the display. Why can't I put navigation and radio preset options on the same screen? Currently I have to flip through four screens to set the navigation s

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's why I still drive my old POS car with knobs, a manual transmission and no fancy gadgets. I don't want touchscreen control fuckery. I also don't want bluetooth, gps, wifi, blah blah blah in my car. I have an old Garmin I update maps on that I use if I need it. Can I use my phone? Sure, but the Garmin is better than my phone and easier to use. Do I talk on my phone in the car? No, never. I can wait until I pull over or stop to see who called or texted me. I'm not one of these assholes that have

    • Most tactile controls tend to be multi-functional in a way that is almost taken for granted. Not only does it let you change status but it informs you of its status even powered off. Take the simple volume knob, usually labeled 0 to 10, (or 11 if you're Spinal Tap), it hold its status whether it's on or off. I owned a 22 Sony CRT monitor that had two VGA inputs on the back. On the front was a switch labeled "1-2" which simple enough switched inputs. I've owned three LCD displays sonce then, all of them su
    • Any control meant to be operated in a moving or vibrating environment need to be tactile. Trying to make fine movements and selections on a touchscreen in a moving car is an exercise in frustration. The car's vibration-induced spring-mass-damper movement of the screen does not match the spring-mass-damper movement of your arm, and you're constantly having to readjust your arm's position just to keep your finger in one place, much less make it move to a specific different location.

      A knob OTOH allows you
    • Having recently driven a Caddy rental car, I can attest to the shittiness of non-tactile interfaces. I couldn't even change the A/C fan speed without staring at the console. Give me knobs and buttons over a slick chrome bar and a touchscreen any day.
    • We have so many degrees of control and feedback available in our hands, legs and we should use them effectively to interact with devices. An example is that of a car.

      The car is a great example for the wrong reason. The primary control for a car is direction and speed. Not a lot of degrees of freedom and perfect for controlling by physical levers. Where the use of this breaks down is when things get more complicated than that. You can only put so many levers and buttons in until you run out of room.

      A typical compressor or critical pump can have upwards of 100 control and readout functions. A chemical plant or refinery has many thousands of control functions in a giant mi

      • by Livius ( 318358 )

        The car is a great example

        Recently I rented a car that had a radio that could not be turned off.

        Now, since it was a rental, I gave up after five minutes with the owner's manual, so maybe there was some advanced feature that turned it off, and it was possible to turn the volume down to zero, but seriously, car designers need to rethink their assumptions about people's priorities.

    • I completely agree, especially with my choice in remote controls. I have a home theater system composed of an HDTV, stereo, Bluray player, Tivo, and various streaming devices. I hate keeping track of multiple remotes and learning new ones as I upgrade components. So, when I found my now ancient Home Theater Master MX-500 I fell in love. It was able to learn and emulate all of my remotes with its 45 hard buttons, 5 way thumbpad, and mono LCD. I can run everything in the dark without even looking at it a

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      I'd give anything to have an "elegantly simple" user interface that both Windows and many Linux distributions are forcing on users. It's 'futuristic' in the sense that we (hopefully) will come out of the current dark age and go back to "elegantly simple" and never make the same mistakes again.

      Hey, Star Wars was a fantasy -- I can have a dream too.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @04:38AM (#52051185) Homepage

    Star Wars Buttons And Lights You May Have Missed

    Oh my god, you're right, I totally missed the fact that Star Wars is set in a grubby, dirty universe with clunky robots and thinks that fall apart! I mean, it was so subtle I never even saw it. Mind. Blown.


  • by Misagon ( 1135 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @04:49AM (#52051205)

    Many of the props and sets in Star Wars (1977) were not meticulously designed like modern blockbusters. This was considered a low-budget movie.
    Lots of props and set details were therefore literally built from junk if only to save money. A lot of it was airplane scrap, in fact. The prop makers also had a manufacturer of high-end record players next door from which they got lots of small parts with minor defects.

    As an extreme example there is Obi-Wan's lightsaber: it was built from an 1940's airplane engine, a WWI rifle grenade, a 1970's calculator, a WWII machine gun, a 1930's camera flash and a 1970's faucet knob.
    One of my hobbies is building replicas of props from movies, and the Star Wars movie in particular. For me it is great that there are real-parts that I could chase down to build something exactly like in the movies. However, it does sometimes get a bit expensive and there have been clashes with for instance, collectors of vintage cameras.

    • by Longjmp ( 632577 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @05:31AM (#52051277)

      As an extreme example there is Obi-Wan's lightsaber: it was built from an 1940's airplane engine, a WWI rifle grenade, a 1970's calculator, a WWII machine gun, a 1930's camera flash and a 1970's faucet knob.

      That's way to sophisticated ;)
      In the 1960's German TV series "Raumpatrouille Orion" (Space Patrol Orion) [] they used things like faucets and electric irons as controls, easily identifiable as such in the films.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      As an extreme example there is Obi-Wan's lightsaber: it was built from an 1940's airplane engine, a WWI rifle grenade, a 1970's calculator, a WWII machine gun, a 1930's camera flash and a 1970's faucet knob. One of my hobbies is building replicas of props from movies, and the Star Wars movie in particular. For me it is great that there are real-parts that I could chase down to build something exactly like in the movies. However, it does sometimes get a bit expensive and there have been clashes with for instance, collectors of vintage cameras.

      As a gun collector a little part of me dies every time I think about the fact that people have taken Mauser C96s, Sterling smgs, or, worst of all, MG-34s or STG-44s and turned them into replica Star Wars props.....

    • by PvtVoid ( 1252388 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @08:40AM (#52051727)

      Some of Dr. McCoy's surgical instruments in Star Trek were salt and pepper shakers. I have a set.

      • Beverly Crusher's medikit used a silver-spray-painted Radio Shack stereo microphone. I recognized it because I had one (still have it, actually).
    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      The sound effects were similarly retro in many ways. I seem to remember watching a video that showed how many of the Falcon's sounds were from an old plane starter, etc.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @05:30AM (#52051275)

    Designers of 1970s movies used examples from 1970s.
    How is this news? Take a look at the Deathstar's control panel. It is right from a 1970s era power station control room, a cutting edge one at that.

  • And (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @05:52AM (#52051311) Homepage

    Aliens has everything from green-phosphor, text-only teletype-speed consoles to yellow-screen laptops, to low-res monochrome blocky graphics, to huge "TVs" full of monochrome photographs and green text. .

    Even for the sentry guns, the remote piloting via a huge satellite uplink, the Earth-based personnel records, the hypersleep computers, the blueprint machines, the health read-outs, the motion sensors, etc. etc. etc.

    In a movie, the tech shown is what feels / looks good, not what would actually be used (e.g. nmap in The Matrix Reloaded), and even back in the day teletype terminals were long dead, but the ddddrrrtttttt of text appearing one letter at a time is much more cinematic:

    File Closed.

    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      The Aliens series aged well but that's one thing that tended to fall off with time. Old clunky flashing-lights computers that go chugga-chugga-chugga seem quite cliche. Star Trek has similar issues in ToS.

      The catch of course is that going with a nice "modern" look for the era in which the movie was made would look even worse today, so chugga-chugga-chugga actually has the advantage in this case. Star Trek went for the iBridge in the newer movies which adds to the disconnect from the old series.

    • 200: A Space Odyssee had flat panel LCD-like TV and computer screens. In the initial Discovery scene where Dave is jogging around in a circle, there are some tablet computers/screens lying on one of the tables. They are at uneven placement and angle, so are not built into the table.

      No tubes in that prediction.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Thursday May 05, 2016 @09:00AM (#52051791) Journal

    At first glance, when I thought about the analog computer interface you see R2D2 using all the time, I thought "how stupid - a mechanical interface between computers". But then, the more I thought about it, it actually made sense. It's clear it is a rotational interface, like turning a dial. Well, what precision can an object be rotated to? How man "positions" can it be in? It's infinite. Pi never ends or repeats, so you can go into infinite precision as to the rotational position of a knob. They are only limited by their technological ability to detect rotational position (which could be done through an electromagnetic field). So it is conceivable they have the ability to detect the rotational position with some incredible precision, thus a single rotation of the knob, by stopping at some specific position, could transfer a vast amount of information. The interface can of course be 2-way. Sometimes R2 is rotating the interface, and sometimes the host machine is rotating. Anyway, I thought that was interesting.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is the future, so maybe the tech is better than what I could find at a reasonable price. I ended up specifying two of these

      to instrument a tilting rotary table that my work uses to calibrate optical equipment. Despite up to 19 bits of resolution (~0.000687 degrees per step), they have an absolute accuracy of +/- 35 arcseconds, which is +/- 0.009722 degrees. This is probably due to mechanical tolerances or readout d

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I can guarantee you that they put no such thought into it. Nope. You may well be giving a very good observation and, indeed, at first blush it appears you are. They, on the other hand, gave it no such consideration and simply went with what looked good, was affordable, was reliable, and was reasonably easy - as well as easy to put into footage that gave the implications they wanted.

  • I have to give the back of my 6 year old Samsung HDTV several whonks a day because there's a loose solder joint in there somewhere and the screen gets vertical lines and the colors go whacky.

    Then one dah I gave it a really good whonk and it got better and no problems for weeks now. My 1970s training served me well. Back then the remote control wasying on the floor on a sofa cusbion in front of the TV to watch and flip around during commercials. And actually using the TV guide.

  • You'll see things here that look odd or even antiquated to modern eyes. Phones with cords, awkward manual valves, computers that, well, barely deserve the name...

    It was all designed to operate against an enemy who could infiltrate and disrupt even the most basic computer systems.
    • Could be like the tube-based radar on Russian fighter jets: used not because they engineers were way behind the times, but because unlike solid state transistors, the tubes were impervious to electromagnetic pulses, so they couldn't be disabled.
  • Nobody here seems to have a problem with "Battle of Britain" style dogfights or things that go "whoosh" in deep space . . . and unless you want your movie to be 1) incomprehensible, as I doubt seriously there's anybody here on Earth who has actually worked with a functioning hyperdrive motivator, moisture vaporator or protocol droid, and 2) boring, dead, dull - you'd better make sure the technology is either visibly comprehensible to the viewer or have someone in the film explain it in a way that's entertai
  • First, and most likely -- the writers and designers just plain lacked vision of what advanced tech could be. Compare, for example, 50's SciFi where FTL spaceships still had engineers using slide rules. In Starman Jones, they depend on a dead-tree book for coordinates, and read them aloud to the keypunch entry guy.
    In Feeling of Power, there is a handl-held calculator, but its readout consists of pinball-machine-like cylinders with 0:9 printed on them.

    THe other factor is that you can't make the movie to

  • Ah yes, we all debate technologies used in this movie with lots of diatribes like in the SpaceX vs. SLS food fight. Here are my favorites:

    1. Spacecraft with superluminal speeds over interstellar distances engage in close range combat like 19th century battleships.
    2. High power laser or particle beams with a hit/miss ratio just like 20th century bullets from guns.
    3. Nobody has to deal with life support systems (i.e. replacing CO2 scrubbers or rig up something like Apollo 13 crew had to do).
    4. Food? It s

  • You can work a mechanical button without looking, buy sense of touch, just like you can type on a keyboard. Touch screens, on the other hand, provide no tactile feedback; you actually have to stare at the screen to confirm you are pressing the correct "button". So, what are all new cars now being equipped with? That's right, touch screens! Just a matter of time before car manufacturers start getting sued for accidents caused by drivers distracted by trying to use the touchscreen while driving.
  • ... My GE microwave is still like that. It was kind of funny because when I hit it and it actually worked, my thought process wasn't "well, good."

    No, my thought process was, "that worked? How? What in a modern, solid state, uC based system would even respond to a hit? As an engineer, the fact that this worked offends me!" After some thought I realized the safety contacts on the door weren't always making a good connection.

    It's still easier to pretend I'm the Fonz whenever I want a hot pocket than it is to s

  • The Star Wars universe has a serious problem with technological stagnation.

    It's not just analog levers and such, which you would actually expect a "hot dog" pilot like Han Solo to prefer over a Star-Trek-like "tell the computer what you'd like the ship to do and let it tend to the details" interface. The general advancement of technology is stagnant at best, and is possibly regressing.

    Consider that in A New Hope, the heros are able to plug R2-D2 into the Death Star and "interpret the entire imperial networ

  • Retro-futuristic. It's a style that has worked successfully for many films and games. Perhaps the sub-conscious clash intrigues our primitive brains?

That does not compute.