Star Wars Jedis and four other occasions when science fiction became fact

The opening of the new Star Wars film at the Imax Cineworld, Sheffield.
The opening of the new Star Wars film at the Imax Cineworld, Sheffield.

The latest Star Wars instalment will be poured over by fans for character development and plot twists.

But almost as crucial to the success of any science fiction film is the fantastical technology and strange beliefs its characters enjoy, some of which make go on to make the leap into the real world.


What started as a joke by atheists during the 2001 UK census has quickly developed into what some now call a genuine religion. The Jedi, a mystical, monastic order who value wisdom above nationality, are the main protagonists in the Star Wars series. When the Labour Government announced census respondents would be able to write in their own religious statement in the 2001 census, an online campaign resulted in 390,127 people - or 0.7 per cent of the population - classing themselves in the same category as Luke Skywalker. Beth Singler, a researcher in the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University, told the BBC she estimates that there are about 2,000 people in the UK who are 'very genuine' about being Jedi.


The first Star Trek series saw James T Kirk and his comrades regularly speaking into something that resembled a flip-mobile phone from the early 2000s. These communicators relied on ‘subspace transmissions’, but today look remarkably dated when you consider they represented the best communication technology the 23rd century had to offer.


'Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.' When Princess Leia appears as a hologram pleading for help, a generation of Star Wars fans marvelled at this seemingly implausible technology. In reality, the series was bang on trend - the Hungarian-British physicist Dennis Gabor was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971 for his development of hologram technology, although it would take decades of research and refinement before something as sophisticated as the film’s representation could be reproduced.


Another Star Trek prediction, but this time from The Next Generation series of the 1990s. Smooth, touch-sensitive tablets could be found throughout the Enterprise-D. Set designers later revealed their primary motivation was keeping down prop costs - by avoiding the use of buttons and levers - rather than a clear-sighted view into the world of iPads.


As seen in countless science-fiction films and hinted at in many novels before that. While we may not have yet reached a time when the infantry soldier is redundant, the rise of the machines continues. Unmanned drones have become a lethally effective - and morally contentious - weapon used increasingly by Western powers including the US and UK. These are still operated by a human, usually thousands of miles from their intended targets, but research and development on AI weapons continues.