I only got to attend one Star Wars Universe panel during Celebration. I regret not making more time to go to more but the one I attended was one of the best education-based panels I have ever attended at any con.
The focus on this panel was STEAM and how it influences Star Wars and vice versa. The panel was made up of an engineer, another engineer who works for NASA, a droid builder, a doctor, and a computer scientist that works for ILM. Imagine a panel where a guy designs and builds R2D2 is admittedly not the smartest person on the panel.
Let’s face it, Star Wars is light on the science part of sci-fi. It’s more about the hero’s journey. However, I didn’t realize how many of those characters are engineers on some level. R2 and Chewbacca are always tinkering and finding new ways to solve problems. Leia is not afraid to get grease on her elbows. The ships themselves, especially for the rebellion, look like parts thrown together to make it work. All of these things inspired our panelists.
In fact, one of the panelists, Holly Griffith of NASA, became a scientist because of Princess Leia. It was Leia’s fearlessness in dealing with people and machines that made her want to help people to achieve space travel.
The A in steam stands for Art. The panelists discussed how a lot of what they build not only has to be functional but aesthetically pleasing. Not only that, but the art department at Star Wars uses science to make sure their works work properly according to the rules of science. Sometimes, this can be a simple thing like making a droid look dirty.
Four of the five panelists were women. Every question and comment from the audience came from women. It’s great that Star Wars helps inspires people to choose careers in the STEAM field especially groups that have been underrepresented in those fields — especially before Star Wars came around. I’m not going to give Star Wars all the credit, but great sci-fi, like Star Wars, has helped inspired positive change in the world.