FLASHBACK: Star Wars and Isaac Asimov's Foundation
Posted By Scott on July 20, 2001
When Star Wars first came out in 1977, George Lucas was accused of borrowing (and sometimes accused of stealing) from many science fiction and fantasy novels. There are the obvious comparisons to Dune, Lord of the Rings, and even The Wizard of Oz. But recently I decided to pick up ?Foundation? by Isaac Asimov, and I was amazed at just how many things in Star Wars were seemingly inspired by this novel.
Foundation was first written in 1951. It was a Hugo Award Winner and spawned several sequel novels. The basic plot is that in the distant future, mankind has spread all over the universe. This future civilization is on the brink of collapse due to political infighting and civil war. However, a mathematician named Hari Seldon believes he can predict the future for years to come by using a combination of psychology and a type of chaos theory. By his calculations, their culture will collapse in a very short time and the following years will be plagued by civil war and turmoil. However, Seldon starts a group known as the Foundation whose aim is to reduce the severity of the impending crisis and be the seed for a new and prosperous civilization. Seldon is branded a traitor and a lunatic, but later generations learn just how right he was. Leaving behind a series of pre-programmed recordings, every hundred years or so a hologram of Seldon returns to reveal to them the true nature of what they have just gone through and advise them on how to handle impending crises.
While the overall plot is fairly unique, there are distinct things in this book that Star Wars seems to have used for inspiration. They include:
- Hyperspace ? Foundation was one of the first science fiction novels to introduce the concept of hyperspace. Faster than light travel is seen in many science fiction novels, but this seems to be the version that Lucas uses for inspiration. Here?s a line from the book:
He had been in space before so that the trip, as a voyage and nothing more, meant little to him. To be sure, he had traveled previously only as far as Synnax's only satellite in order to get the data on the mechanics of meteor driftage which he needed for his dissertation, but space-travel was all one whether one traveled half a million miles, or as many light years. He had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyper-space, a phenomenon one did not experience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remain forever, the only practical method of traveling between the stars. Travel through ordinary space could proceed at no rate more rapid than that of ordinary light, (a bit of scientific knowledge that belonged among the few items known since the forgotten dawn of human history), and that would have meant years of travel between even the nearest of inhabited systems. Through hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time.
Gaal had waited for the first of those Jumps with a little dread curled gently in his stomach, and it ended in nothing more than a trifling jar, a little internal kick which ceased an instant before he could be sure he had felt it. That was all.
- The Galactic Empire ? At the beginning of Foundation, we?re introduced to the Empire. It is run by an Emperor, of course. While not as evil as the Empire in Star Wars, it is a government that is old and corrupt and no longer functioning properly. The Emperor and his people hold a tight grip on what is said in public and who says it. There is also a civil war brewing. Star Wars seems to mirror the political backdrop of the events in Foundation.
- City Planet ? In Episode I we visited the city planet of Coruscant. In Foundation, there?s a planet almost exactly the same. Both planets are one massive city, both are the political center of the universe, both have an Imperial Palace, and both are swarming with ships. Here?s how Foundation described Trantor:
TRANTOR- At the beginning of the thirteenth millennium, this tendency reached its climax. As the center of the Imperial Government for unbroken hundreds of generations and located, as it was, in the central regions of the Galaxy among the most densely populated and industrially advanced worlds of the system, it could scarcely help being the densest and richest clot of humanity the Race had ever seen.
Its urbanization, progressing steadily, had finally reached the ultimate. All the land surface of Trantor, 75,000,000 square miles in extent, was a single city. The population, at its height, was well in excess of forty billions. This enormous population was devoted almost entirely to the administrative necessities of Empire, and found themselves all too few for the complications of the task. (It is to be remembered that the impossibility of proper administration of the Galactic Empire under the uninspired leadership of the later Emperors was a considerable factor in the Fall.) Daily, fleets of ships in the tens of thousands brought the produce of twenty agricultural worlds to the dinner tables of Trantor. . . .
Its dependence upon the outer worlds for food and, indeed, for all necessities of life, made Trantor increasingly vulnerable to conquest by siege. In the last millennium of the Empire, the monotonously numerous revolts made Emperor after Emperor conscious of this, and Imperial policy became little more than the protection of Trantor's delicate jugular vein. . . .
- Korellia ? We all know Han Solo is Corellian, but there?s more than a passing similarity to the name in Foundation:
Sutt indicated the trimensional star-map on the table. He adjusted the controls and a cluster of some half-dozen stellar systems blazed red.
"That," he said quietly, "is the Korellian Republic."
The trader nodded, "I've been there. Stinking, rathole! I suppose you can call it a republic but it's always someone out of the Argo family that gets elected Commdor each time. And if you ever don't like it - things happen to you." He twisted his lip and repeated, "I've been there."
Besides those rather obvious similarities, there are others as well. The book starts out introducing us to Gaal, a country boy from a backwater planet seeing the big galaxy for the first time. We also see a rather large space battleship from the Imperial Navy called an ?Imperial Cruiser?. There?s also a ?Chancellor of the Empire? and later on a ?Trader?s Guild? that does trading throughout the universe. Finally, the Foundation starts a group of Priests that are believed to have mystical powers (though they simply know technology), wear simple robes, and keep peace and order in the universe. Sound familiar?
One of the most interesting things about the book is how far ahead of its time it was. Many of the concepts introduced by Isaac Asimov in 1951 are the basic building blocks of science fiction today. It seems that George Lucas borrowed a little from here and a little from there and wrapped it all up into a package more accessible to the public. I highly recommend Foundation to Star Wars fans. It?s not jam packed with action, but it?s an interesting novel anyway.
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