Star Wars’ Tariffs, Emperors, and Physics

Star Wars’ Tariffs

There is a lot of excitement around the new Disneyland attraction Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge.  Nobody would watch a lifelong movie series, starting in 1977, if everybody was super civilized and lived in peace.  And which even helped their civilizations by sharing resources, science, and advice.  Not to mention their winning TV series.

One of the two main rides will be the Millennium Falcon.  Of course the Wookie Chewbacca and Han Solo were/are smugglers.  They make “runs” with the fastest hunk of junk in the Galaxy, setting a record in the Kessel Run.  So, there must have been tariffs or sanctions, or trade blockades to make that relevant.  Hence, there were Star Tariff Wars.  Han Solo in the ride had stolen “coaxium”, the fuel of hyperspace travel.  (Which is one that I left out of my recent article on fuels for space travel.)

Currently, we have on planet Earth, a tariff war between the leader of the West, King Trump of America, with his provocative Knight Hawks John Bolton and Peter Navarro, and the leader of the East or China, President for Life Xi Jinping.  

In contrast, we used to have an international free trade goal including NAFTA in North America, cooperative European Union, NATO, an impending Pacific trade alliance, nuclear arms controls, and a 15 year agreement with Iran to denuclearize.  What a difference two years makes.  The whole concept of free trade was to create a peaceful economic interdependence, so that no country could contemplate war, without destroying its own economy.  Trump has also started a tech war against Huawei, leading to a separation of communication providers that will spread worldwide.  China has initiated a list of companies that it will boycott.  There is already a communication war between the Empire of Google, with appropriately named Android, and the Empire of Apple, with iOS operating systems.  Huawei will split off Asia from the rest of the world.  Being cheaper, it will spread faster.

The Star Wars fights and Rebellion were a result of the old desires of some men to be the emperor of the Galaxy.  The pseudo-religious “Force” gave Jedi Knights a very local set of powers, or an ability to drop bombs more accurately.  All of which could be replaced by better technologies, and guns rather than swords.  Gun powder of Carbon and Sulphur can be made anywhere.  The Force was hardly a religion or even a moral guideline.  Somehow, the Jedi who went over to the Dark Force and had the most martial art power came to become Emperor.  It’s like the best combined martial arts fighter on Earth becoming Emperor.  Highly unlikely.  

The galactic Empire government couldn’t have been totally democratic, with a bunch of Lords running around, like Lord Vader, and the Sith Lords.  So its House of Lords must have taken over and elected the Emperor by the vote of States, and ignored their Galactic Constitutional responsibilities of oversight.  No analogy apparent yet?

The two leading economies and three leading nuclear powers on Earth are each led by dictatorial super egos.  Each based on restoring their country to some image of past international superiority.  China has population and rapid growth.  Russia spans 13 time zones, with all of its resources.  The US led scientifically and in innovation, had a rising and striving immigrant population, and was supposed to be a shining example of Democracy.

In most science fiction, there are rare minerals that are a pivotal resource.  In the Dune series by Frank Herbert, it was “spice melange” that allowed galactic navigators to work.  In Star Trek, it was “di-Lithium crystals” as an energy source.  (This doesn’t make chemical sense, since the two Lithiums would not complete an electron shell.  That’s why we have Lithium-Hydride compounds.)  Also, we are not getting to the stars with only chemical power, which I wrote about in a recent article.   In Star Wars, coaxium is the fictional rare fuel to power hyperspace travel.  (No explanation is given why travelers are not crushed as the spaceships rapidly accelerate to hyper speed.)  Also in Star Wars, it is Kyber crystals that are supposed to power Jedi Knight Light Sabers.  (Crystals don’t power anything, you have to charge everything up, especially plasma swords.  Actually, a magnetized ordinary iron sword would play havoc with a plasma light saber.  And what’s the deal with a Jedi having to build their own?  If the light sabers were any good, they would be mass produced.)

Anyway, electric motors and wind turbines depend on Rare Earth oxides – praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.  While the rare earth elements are not that rare, China has the only processing plant for them.  We ship our rare earths to them for processing.  China has now threatened their supply to the US in the ever escalating trade war.

The Earth’s proven oil resources are held by – Venezuela Nicholas Madura, Saudi Arabia and its House of Saud, led by Crown Prince Muhammad Ben Salman, Canada, Iran with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iraq, Kuwait with Emir Sabah Ahmad al-Sabah, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia with Vladimir Putin.  Many of them are controlled by OPEC.  Not a very democratic crowd.

Trump has yesterday started a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods, and will keep hiking it until they stop allowing asylum seekers to travel through Mexico.  It’s hard to know what laws Mexico has to do this.  The enforcement of this may encourage more Mexicans to leave their country and seek asylum in the US.  Trump is telling China, Iran, and North Korea, that even after you have a trade deal negotiated and signed, Emperor Trump can single handedly change it at a moments notice, with no advice or consent from our Senate, as required for treaties.

I think as Disney’s next venue, it should have a Democratic utopia section, showing what a true democracy would be like, without the powers of nuclear life and death, and worldwide trade, concentrated in the hands of a single Emperor for Life.  It could also have income equality, free education to make the maximum use of its population, and healthcare for all.  Wait a minute, that’s Sweden and Norway.  Will Trump be our Emperor for a second term?  It depends on his Supreme Court endorsing a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, and support for States’ redistricting on the basis of not counting the 22 million non-citizens, 11 million of which are legal.

By the way, when I graduated UCLA in 1963, Walt Disney was our Commencement Speaker.  Being all science minded, I thought that was odd, to put it mildly.  Little did I know that I would be teaching in Orange County, where Disneyland was the biggest employer.  Little did I know that science fiction hero and heroine movies would come to dominate the next millennium’s culture.


“When you wish upon a star, 

Makes no difference who you are,

Anything your heart desires will come true”.

From Disney’s film “Pinocchio” of 1940, which is also a timely analog to Trump.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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