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Just watched the Force Awakens, and I noticed that once again, mainly low-tech planets are shown in the movie, which is at odds with the technology described.

Jakku seems to be a garbage dump, the Starkiller base is barren deserted, the last planet where we see Luke is also stuck in the past apparently (well it is a long time ago I suppose). In other movies, the only futuristic planet I can remember is Coruscant (and maybe the planet where they build the drones), even Naboo looks nothing particular. The others I can remember are either deserts, swamps or ice planets.

It's not completely illogical, since the characters spend a bit of time hiding or living as hermits, but I wonder if there is any particular reason that has driven this choice (it looks like a deliberate choice to me). Something explained by Lucas at some point about the vision he had of the universe or only production considerations?

I understand that, for the entertainment value, it is more interesting to show planets with varied landscapes (and easier to film, too), that yet another Coruscant-like planet. But it feels a bit odd to see mainly third-world planets, when people are mundanely using blasters, shields, advanced robots and so on.

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    You've hit the nail on the head. Each of the trilogies open with the characters hiding out in the outer rim colonies. – user7812 Apr 20 '16 at 8:43
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    I'd say a large part is also due to the fact that Star Wars actually shows a "used" universe. Sure, they use blasters and space ships and faster than light travel, but the majority of the planets and their citizens do live in the third world and in a general everyday reality not that different from our's. Technology doesn't necessarily lead to utopia. – Napoleon Wilson Apr 20 '16 at 8:50
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    Possible duplicate of Why is technology so advanced in the Star Wars prequels? – cde Apr 20 '16 at 9:13
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    @cde, Certainly related, but I think this is a distinct question. The other question focuses on the difference in technology between episodes I-II-III and IV-V-VI, this one is just asking about the apparent lack of technology everywhere. – drolex Apr 20 '16 at 9:45
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    I'm far from being a SW expert, but I think the western inspiration played some role as well. – Chanandler Bong Apr 20 '16 at 10:33
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Frankly, Lucas wanted giant mega cities and shiny tech everywhere. But Money and Technology just wasn't there at the time. According to wikipedia:

The concept of a city planet in the Star Wars universe originated with the initial drafts of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The planet was called Alderaan, and much of the action in the film transpired on it. Since building such a city would be prohibitively expensive, much of what was to take place on the planet was moved to the Death Star, and Alderaan became the name of Princess Leia's home planet.

The Empire's homeworld, Had Abaddon, came up in early drafts of Return of the Jedi. The entire planet was to be a sprawling city. However, concluding that the realization of such a city was (still) impossible at the time, the creators abandoned the idea.

The idea of city planets, i.e. a planet so urbanized and technologically changed that the entire planet is a single city, was eventually shown as Coruscant, the Republic mega-city-planet in the 1997 special edition of Return of the Jedi, and eventually the Prequel Trilogy.

Lucas himself confirmed it in an interview about Illustrated Light & Magic special effects studio:

“It was like a giant switch was thrown overnight,” Ed Catmull says about Jurassic Park’s effect on Hollywood. CG began to spread everywhere, with movies being green-lit on the strength of a single test shot. Projects once thought impossible became possible—and for Lucas, that meant his long-imagined but never-realized Star Wars prequels.

LUCAS: I never thought I’d do the Star Wars prequels, because there was no real way I could get Yoda to fight. There was no way I could go over Coruscant, this giant city-planet. But once you had digital, there was no end to what you could do.

And that's why we got the Prequels and their cg eyesores wonders of digital technology.

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    And in turn the condemnation of everything prequel and the praise for nostalgia is likely the reason why The Force Awakens then went back to lost planets even though they could show more technology. Nowadays we fortunately all know that using technology to film a space opera is baaad and CGI makes a film look baaad. – Napoleon Wilson Apr 20 '16 at 9:45
  • What about the Death Stars? They're not quite planet-sized, but moon-sized is nothing to sneeze at, and they're high-tech all the way through. Sure, they're technically military bases more than anything, but there's got to be millions of people staffing a station that large, so it must in some way resemble a planetary society. Then of course Starkiller Base actually IS a planet, and it's at least high-tech on the inside... – Darrel Hoffman Apr 21 '16 at 13:40
  • @DarrelHoffman If you can find original cuts of A New Hope you'll notice that you never see very much of the Death Star, and yes there were millions of people on it, but they never had to show you all those people interacting in a city like environment. In fact they couldn't, since the station was split into so many levels and cordoned off so much. It wouldn't of made any sense at all to have the same type of planetary society shots they do on Coruscant inside the cramped quarters of the Death Star. – Ryan Apr 21 '16 at 19:35
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To add onto the other useful answers here, Star Wars is usually considered a Space Western.

A characteristic of the genre is that you usually don't see major urban centers, as westerns usually take place on the edges of civilization, where the law is weak and adventure can be imagined.

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    Yes but is it showing the edges of civilization that makes it a western or is it being a western that makes it show the edges of civilization? – drolex Apr 20 '16 at 13:23
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    @drolex there was definite western influence, as those who worked with Lucas said for example that Fett in the original trilogy was modeled on Clint Eastwood's character from "A Fistful of Dollars." There's also obvious western cliches, like the cantina scene – Smart0rd Apr 20 '16 at 13:34
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    Lucas said he wanted to capture the feel of old (movie) serials he loved as a kid, most of which were Westerns. – T.E.D. Apr 20 '16 at 13:37
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    @MasonWheeler it's not usually considered strictly a space western but to have a lot of Western influences. A more strict take on space westerns would be Star Trek or, very very strictly, Firefly – Smart0rd Apr 20 '16 at 14:36
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    @MasonWheeler -- there was the remote Farm House where the Sodbusters live, the Friendly Indians (the Jawas), the Scary Indians (the Sand People), the Greenhorn lost in the desert (C3PO), the Old Prospector (Ben), the Barkeep, the Bounty Hunter, the Desperado, and his Faithful Indian Companion (Solo and Chewie). Excepting the Naval Battle at the beginning and the '57 Chevy convertible Luke drives, it was John Ford all the way until the Falcon takes off. – Malvolio Apr 20 '16 at 19:02
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Low-tech is relative.

Sure, Tatooine is a desert hell-hole with moisture vaporators and everything. But they have plenty of technology - just not as much as other places, which is also very much related to the fact that Tatooine is very sparsely populated.

The typical example of a very high-tech world would be something like Coruscant - a planet-wide city with a huge density of population and lots of opportunities to flaunt your riches (imagined or otherwise).

What's the main difference between the two? Capital.

Technology doesn't come out of nothing, it comes out of investment - someone delays their own consumption in order to do an investment that will mean more (capacity for) consumption in the future. And as our own planet shows, opportunities for investment even on a single planet seem to be rather unlimited, just like human needs are unlimited. Whenever there was a "jump" in technological level on Earth, it meant that people accomodated to the new standard, and wanted more again. If this were not the case, Earth would already be a unified (relatively) high-tech world - that is, no areas would have lower level of technology and capital than others.

Investing capital means trying to find the best return on your investment in a certain amount of time. That's why high-tech countries remain high-tech, while low-tech countries remain low-tech - again, relatively. When you add more capital to a low-tech country, you "advance" it, but you're going to be investing in things that have the best return on your investment. So you're not going to build a car design shop in the middle of a desert occupied by a native tribe that doesn't understand one bit about physics (which would require a huge investment that could be avoided by building the shop in your country), but you might want to build up a mining operation there, and get maximum from lower wages and better worker motivation. As a side-effect, you make everyone's life better - but your only concern is return on investment. The same kind of mine in your home country would be much more expensive.

Now, let's see how this works for Star Wars. Obviously, they didn't reach the limits yet - there's still opportunities to invest capital, both at home and abroad. Somebody colonized Tatooine at some point, expecting some return on the investment (even if that was something like "avoiding racial discrimination" or whatever). But Tatooine is full of people that are simple moisture farmers (who might own huge swathes of land!), with very little education and very little added value compared to people on other worlds, low-tech or not. They still have access to high-tech gadgets (because they're still part of the same economy), but they're expensive compared to their own income, so they're not abundant.

Coruscant is the kind of world that's a target of investment even ignoring all natural resources and local population etc., simply because it's an important hub system, not to mention the seat of the government. You want to have some presence. But worlds like Naboo and Alderaan are very similar - high-tech societies with very limited primary economies and lots of capital. They also seem to be rather hospitable, presumably with plenty of natural resources, at least in the past.

A big deal is made out of the contrast between the Core Worlds and the Outer Rim - this means that it's quite probably that the Core Worlds were on average settled earlier. There are some cases of Rim worlds that are actually high-tech, so time is not the only concern - most likely, the worlds in question had some important advantages for capital investment compared to the Core Worlds - for example, cheap land with plenty of resources, or even just low or non-existent taxation for example.

Throughout history, one thing has almost always been true - where economy blossoms, states get interested and invested very quickly. They want their "fair share" of the bounty. So the more high-tech the world, the more capital it has, the more presence the government would have as well. And now we come to the crux: episodes IV-VII follow people who are actively avoiding the authorities. All thing equal, they'll try to keep as far away from the high-tech worlds as possible.

The Rebel Alliance specifically targets planets that are underdeveloped for occupation - in fact, ideally entirely abandoned or unknown. Obviously, they also have bases on planets like Corruscant, to handle espionage and recruiting (in support or personnel), but that's not where you park your war fleet. Luke lived his whole life on a backwater planet, which echoes the typical "unhappy with a farmer's life" story, but it also reflects other things: maybe the imperial propaganda isn't so strong on backwater worlds (not enough population to bother), and the imperial presence makes it easier to move untracked. A poor guy has less to lose than a rich guy with his own business, as long as the rich guy isn't specifically fighting against losing his business. The core of the Rebel Alliance were the elite guys of the old Republic, but it's quite possible that the brunt of the Alliance were backwater guys looking for freedom and adventure.

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Some great long considered answers here. My simple theory which enables me to get lost in the movie is, if you can have cell phones and networks in "Low Tech" African nations you can have Light Sabres, Droids and energy shield on Tatooine.

  • Yes I guess this in line with Luaan and Smart0rd answers and it's a partial explanation but I think it is missing something in the comparison, because even in poorer countries there are megacities thriving with activity where technology is clearly visible (but not necessarily available to everyone). These could be omitted to show only the most remote parts of the poor planets but once gain I wonder if there is a choice behind that. To sum up the question is not "how is it possible to realistically show only poor planets" but "why show mostly poor planets"? – drolex Apr 21 '16 at 7:58
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    Great point, I suppose you scale up a continent with mega cities along entire under developed countries to a galaxy (far far away🤓) with interstellar travel, it's conceivable your poor counties become planets and your mega cities become city planets. The question as to why is the main focus on the poor planets, you could consider the basic plot of a rebellion uprising, which is typically seeded from the less developed and oppressed regions. – Spionred Apr 21 '16 at 9:55
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well, ask yourself this...with all the technology in our world alone, why are there still countries with no, or even bare minimum technology? Same kind of reason. In deserts around our world, you don't see a whole lot of tech either. In poor countries you don't see a lot of tech. In Star Wars, this is no different.

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    But why would you choose to show only these places? And once again the comparison with poor countries is not really a good one I think. First-hand technology or luxury are visible in Lagos, Jakarta, Ulaan Baatar, etc (even unmissable as it contrasts so much). Not available to every one though. – drolex Apr 22 '16 at 8:31

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