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Why is technology so advanced in the Star Wars prequels? The obvious answer is that the prequels were made in the 90s - 00s while the first films were made in the 70s and 80s, therefore real world technology was more advanced when the films were made. But I'm curious if there is any sort of in universe explanation with an official source.

I have always heard a theory since I first saw the Episode I (in fact my friend's dad laid it out for us on the car ride home from seeing it) that the Clone Wars caused a technological regression, and so the Star Wars universe in episodes 4-6 was one where people couldn't afford to make and/or own many droids, or at least not create any new ones, and this explains why the empire didn't have battle droids, and Luke and his uncle were out buying scrap droids, etc. I'm not sure how much water this theory holds but I'm not able to find any official sources saying this.

So I guess I kind of have two questions. Is there any official explanation for the advanced technology in the prequels, and does the regression theory I mentioned hold any water or is it entirely fan-based?

Again I'm not looking for theories, I've seen hundreds of theories. I'm looking for sources.

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    The clones beat the drones. The Drones were proven ineffective, why would they want more around? – cde Dec 7 '15 at 4:18
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    It's best to just pretend the prequels never existed. – DA. Dec 7 '15 at 5:51
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    The same is true for Prometheus (prequel to Alien). – DisgruntledGoat Dec 7 '15 at 23:28
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    @cde, even before the clone wars, in The Phantom Menace the entire drone assault is stopped by wiping out a relay. To lose command and have soldiers with no autonomy is a terrible tactical disadvantage. – John Smith Optional Dec 10 '15 at 12:38
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    @JohnSmithOptional that's just the first drones. Later ones didn't need a central control. – cde Dec 10 '15 at 12:43
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When considering an answer from canon sources (which I think you are defining here as the movies, plus interviews with production staff), I think the main premise of the question doesn't hold up.

I contend that the technology of the prequels is not more advanced, it just feels that way.

Differing Priorities

The technology of the Republic (and especially of Naboo) reflects a wholly different set of priorities than the technology of the Empire.

A crude summary:

  • The Republic cares about aesthetics. They want their technology to look pleasing.
  • The Republic was reluctant to maintain large standing armies during a time of what seemed like peace.
  • The Empire wants to be intimidating. They rely on fear to discourage rebellions.
  • The Empire cares about results most of all. It doesn't care about life. The Empire is brutal and efficient.

Following on from this, in our own culture we also place a high priority on how our technology looks. Sleek, attractive technology is what feels "modern" to us. So when we see the Republic/prequel technology, which more closely aligns to our own ideals, it gives us a more modern and sophisticated impression.

Conversely, the Empire is happy to go with something that's crude and cheap if it gets the job done, even at the cost of the lives of their soldiers. The tie fighter is a good example of this. And when they go for big and intimidating, that elegance which we associate with high technology once again does not fit in with their priorities.

Here's a quote from Doug Chiang, the Design Director on Episodes 1 and 2 (source):

If you look at Episodes IV, V and VI as the peak of the industrial revolution design in terms of manufacturing – where everything was stamped out for mass quantity – we were now going back to the craftsman era where everything was hand crafted. Every vehicle and design was a piece of art. That was the approach that I took for the Naboo Starfighter and also the Queen’s ship.

Droid Armies

I think the movies portray a situation where the Empire could have a droid-based army, but chooses not to.

  • Droid technology is still in common use during the period of the Empire and the Rebellion, they're just not shown as being the backbone of combat forces for either side. (The Empire uses armed probe droids, both sides use repair and medical droids, etc.)
  • Droid armies are probably still associated with the separatists, and at least in the period leading up to Episode IV the Empire still cares a little bit about appearances.
  • Droids don't actually have a combat advantage vs people. It seems like they should, logically, but the prequels show them as equal or perhaps inferior.
  • I think the prequels imply that the Trade Federation went with a droid army because they had lots of money but not many people available. Especially people willing to fight/die. The full separatist faction then built from those beginnings.

Technological Advances

I think it's fair to describe both Imperial Star Destroyers and the Death Star as significant technological advances, well beyond what was available to the two sides in the clone wars.

The Death Star in particular was unprecedented. Consider Han Solo's incredulous reaction when Obi Wan first suggests the "moon" is a battlestation. He was an experienced smuggler familiar with Imperial forces, and yet utterly taken aback by what they had built.

Luke and His Uncle

Owen buying second-hand droids from questionable sources was more a reflection of his specific situation rather than the technology available within society generally. Tatooine is a backwater planet, and he's a not-very-well-off moisture farmer. The farm is doing okay, but he mentions not being able to afford to hire more help so that Luke can leave to follow his dreams. This is at least partially an excuse to keep Luke from going, but even so he probably just can't afford new droids.

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    +1 for mentioning the Death Star. Not only is it an unprecedented technical marvel, but it's probably way more expensive than vast armies of droids. Big change in priorities. – Thunderforge Nov 7 '16 at 17:12
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We just don't visit the technically advance (I.E. rich places) in the Original Trilogy. All we see are backwater planets and military installations:

  • Tatooine- A remote desert planet with a port city, the rest is moisture farm land, dangerous sand for miles and miles, and a Crime Lord's hideout.

  • Bespin- A remote gas giant with a mining town, Cloud City.

  • Hoth- A winter wasteland used as a hiding place for the Rebellion.

  • Death Star(s)- Partially complete Military Installations.

  • Endor- A Forest populated by primitive care bears and a secret Empire base/shield Generator.

  • Dagobah- A Swamp planet, population, 1 crazy hermit.

  • Alderaan- Turned to dust from orbit.

  • Yavin 4- Rebel headquarters hidden in ruins in a dense forest.

None of these are exactly metropolis megacities that would lend themselves to luxury technology and fancy night clubs.

Compare to the places we go in The New Trilogy. Capital cities, Megacities, Nice Tropical Queendoms:

  • Naboo- A tropical marvel, like a modern day Dubai and United Arab Emirates, rich from high quality Plasma it sold.

  • Coruscant- Giant Megacity and Capital of the Republic and Empire. Most advance in terms of Luxury technology because it's home to the richest and most powerful, a thriving population with night clubs and everything.

But even then it has it's share of backwater planets:

  • Geonosis- Remote Desert planet, location for a secret factory for war machines.

  • Kashyyyk- Forest Planet, hidden tree cities with less cuddly care bears.

  • Kamino- Secret clone factory on an Ocean planet with violent weather.

  • Mustafar- Land of Volcanos.

  • Utapau- Remote desert planet.

In short, we have two completely different and small points of view of the massive universe that Star Wars happen in. To compare it to real world, its like looking at war torn Afghanistan cities, military bases, and cave hideouts, and comparing it to New York City.

That said, even the Original Trilogy had technologically advanced locations. The prototype Death Star was MASSIVE, confused for a moon, and such technologically advanced military weapon that it destroyed an entire planet into dust. Han believes the entire Empire fleet couldn't do that, and that makes all the tech in the New Trilogy seem useless in comparison.

And if we go by the 1997 Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, Coruscant with all its luxury technology is there too:

enter image description here

And we see scavenging of droid parts happen in the New Trilogy as well. Again, Tatooine is seen, with slave labor and run down parts everywhere.

enter image description here

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War Droids Were Banned By The Empire and the Old Republic

I forget where I heard/read this, but it makes a lot of sense. The separatists broke the law to have mass manufactured fighting droids, and were universally seen as bad guys due to that. Clones are almost as bad, but less so in response to a droid threat. This hints heavily that the Star Wars setting is an AI Apocalypse Survivor setting, one where advanced machines nearly wiped out life but life wiped them out first - and therefore has a dread of the same thing happening again, even thousands of years later.

This helps me understand why star wars ships are human-controlled, even if they have vast supercomputers to handle the systems on-board, decisionmaking is still handled by sentient creatures sitting at consoles. Droids -limited AI that are often below human/xenohuman ability - are discriminated against and forced into servile roles.

The near miss with the separatist droid armies and clone armies caused the Empire to crack down on technology.

The Empire, ruled by an Emperor who has personal power beyond nearly anyone, and with secret storehouses of advanced technology (see: the novels) and secret training camps for huge numbers of further metahumans (again: the novels), stands to gain everything by suppressing further technological advancement, and even rolling back powerful technologies (at least the ones that can be rolled back - the ones that require a lot of industry and energy, or rare knowledge). Of course, suppressing technology is quite difficult, but when you have an authoritarian government on the tail end of an EXTREME war that ravaged the galaxy, when the sciences are already disrupted and distrusted, and you have a big well of xenophobia to tap into to deal with any dissent, and a personal corps of mage-assassins ready to go across the universe to kill and destroy anything you dislike, it's very possible. The dissent that caused the Rebellion could be seen as a sign of this policy existing - the 'oppression' of the empire is not really quantitatively summed up.

Even when he does resort to a technological superweapon he centralizes the technology (only builds one, and then another when that gets destroyed, and makes it his flagship) so he can personally control it.

Fleets crewed by humans (that can be connected through a Force-network to be vastly more effective - Battle Meditation) and limited ability to mass manufacture items vastly increases the power of Jedi in the universe, and makes a Force-ruled empire almost an inevitability. And Palpatine, like all Sith, was a Force-supremacist.

Only the extreme Force powers of Luke Skywalker eventually upset his ambitions in the end, so perhaps his decision to suppress technology across the galaxy was actually the correct one in perpetuating his rule.

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    There is no AI apocalypse in any extended universe history, pre or post Disney canon... – cde Dec 10 '15 at 14:54
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    The Issue with the Trade Federation was a PRIVATE, unauthorized army running illegal blockades. – cde Dec 10 '15 at 14:56
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I think that Lucas tried to make the stuff look older in the prequels, but he also wanted to do those things that were technologically not affordable in the 70s and 80s.

And I think, he was based in cars history to draw the evolution of machines. Compare the yellow Naboo ships in EpI or the cars in Coruscant in EpII, those are metaphors of car design evolution, more smooth curves in the 50s and 60s (recovered during 90s) whereas square edged ships in original trilogy is an evident mirror of terrible square machines during the 80s... Episode III was wise in trying to link both designs with small destroyer, small AT-AT, incipient TIEs and so on...

But, of course, had Lucas relied less on CGI, he would pull out a real older times in the prequels. My humble opinion, sorry I don't remember the machines names in the prequels, fan type "B"...

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    Thank you for assisting the community. Ideas for framing an answer may include describing your sources along with a synopsis of what they said, and/or adding links to the resources and visuals you’ve found. I hope you enjoy participating. – John Nov 7 '16 at 16:20
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Weren't Y wings in use during the clone wars? There was technological advancement. X wings, Tie Fighters and such are superior to clone wars era tech. However, the general feeling of technological advancement in the prequels mirrors that of the Hobbit movies against the original trilogy, and that is a result of bad film making relying on CGI and the directors trying to outdo themselves.

But if we want to make an in-universe retcon, The Empire does come across as an aesthetics focused force who would have valued a minimalist look. Also, comparing things to our universe where there was an intense period of technological advancement during world war two which saw complete technical and military transformation, but since has slowed to a crawl in military terms now. The plans in service in 1940 would be utterly ruined by the planes in service in 1950. All new technology and short service lives. But that changed by the 80s. There are planes in service still which were in service during the original trilogy theatrical run, such as the f-16.

If one looks at the prequel trilogy, sees all these different models of ships and fighters than what you see during the original trilogy, and then looks at the new movies set even further in the future, one might be puzzled why the military tech looks the same, but the technology in the late 50s was less similar in many ways than early 80s military technology than todays. So there are real world parallels.

Plus the First Order is aesthetically trying to recreate the glory days of the Empire and may be relying on designs when they shouldn't.

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    This comes across as more of a comment or critique on the franchise and not really an answer. Movies & TV is not a discussion forum. – MattD Feb 4 '16 at 2:02
  • It addresses the question directly from multiple angles. Your reply is unproductive and doesn't make sense. – DarthHater Mar 10 '16 at 7:01
  • Except it kind of doesn't. It's more meandering and doesn't really have a direct point. You start off with a question of your own, and don't really provide concrete proof for your claims. – MattD Mar 10 '16 at 12:52
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This is such an old thread, but I'm gonna come in anyway. While i sat and read numerous articles and wikipedia sources, and then came here, I started looking at all the ships and vehicles they'd used throughout the whole series, and I had some thoughts. I read that the ships are made to be practical, not to look good or sleek. The design of the Imp Star Destroyer is big AF because it stores thousands of ships and tons and tons of military cargo and supplies. Where as, the Republic Star Cruiser (name?) is basically the same shape, just much sleeker. I know you preferred to not have theories, but this one makes sense to me... Think about those self-driving cars you see driving around your city. They are covered in a bunch of crazy gadgets and gizmos, but its much more advanced than, say, my little honda, without any of the sensors and such. The tech got much better, but the design suffered. I feel like its one of those things.

TIE fighters have some crazy ass tech in 'em, but they look so simple and odd. But they are some of the fastest ships in the galaxy and would dominate the Jedi starfighters that Anakin and Obi Wan flew in the beginning of the EP 3. (Although Anakin is a BAMF when it comes to flying) The only thing i don't understand is why the X-wings look inferior to the Republic's 170 starfighter. (I'll post a related pic below.) Also, you don't see many bow-sabers in any other part of the saga except for Darth Maul's. So...that's odd....i think that's because its a difficult discipline to master, and maybe they were just goin outta style.enter image description here

  • Did you miss the OP's request "Again I'm not looking for theories, I've seen hundreds of theories. I'm looking for sources." – Paulie_D Oct 20 '17 at 11:57

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