Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Practical Worldbuilding: Why Blasters in "Star Wars" is Brilliant

Blasters. They're a regular feature of science fiction small arms. George Lucas didn't invent them; E.E. Smith did, a generation before. However, with Star Wars we have an accident of history turn into a brilliant bit of practical worldbuilding. By filming at Pinewood Studios in the United Kingdom, Lucas had access to a lot of weapon props made from de-militarized fireams from World War 2. These props added a lot to the "lived-in" feel of the Original Trilogy, that sense of verisimilitude that every other entry into the franchise lacks.

It's not gone unnoticed. One of the reasons Cameron's Terminator and Aliens have that feel (regarding the Future War scenes for the former film) is because the same spirit is present; the prop weapons are unreal, but you can see clearly the parallels with real-world equivalents, so the effect is maintained.

Across the Pacific, it's no surprise that creators of various science fiction series in Japan do the same sort of thing. Some are far more blatant than others, and some use more obscure referents than others, but the practice endures. It endures because this sort of short-hand is simple, easy, and effective. (e.g. Space Battleship Yamato uses the historic Borchardt C-93 as the basis for the Cosmo Navy's sidearm.)

So, why not do it myself?

For this Space Opera thing I've got going on, I've taken notice of my enjoyment of dedicated rimfire-caliber firearms such as the Ruger Mk.IV, the Smith & Wesson Victory, and the Browning Buckmark (for handguns) as well as the Marlin 795, the Ruger 10/22, and the CZ 512 (for longarms). I'm basing small arms-scale blasters on them, down to how the tech works. (Still mulling over squad-level stuff.)

The reason for this is to make it easier for the reader/viewer/player to grok what the thing is and how it works by using existing familiarity and just adding what is needed to make it relevant to the story or game's setting. This isn't a bad thing; great poets steal, and this is why. It's the iterative improvement process applied to creative works. Using real substance for unreal narratives is not a bad thing at all.

Think about this for a moment. You're quite able to grasp how Han Solo's pistol works, in practical terms, without ever getting into the hows and whys because it looks like a real pistol. Stormtrooper carbines, Rebel carbines, and so on all look like a real firearm in the Original Trilogy. The Prequels' better props are also based on real firearms, even if one step removed. Now, take a look at what Rey used; I have not see a single thing in the real world that looks like that- it looks like a Star Trek reject, and it shows. Don't be that guy; use visual shorthand to help your readers accept your fictional worlds. It works, it's efficient, and it's easier than it seems.


  1. Yep. I ranted about a similar idea here:

    Storytellers want to try and keep the time they have to spend explaining things to the audience to a minimum. When you can "cheat" it's a good thing.

    That's one thing I wish people would get about all these redefinition movements of the present day. For an example: When marriage meant "man + woman" you could have a character say something like "I'm married" and then, when we see a man/woman in that character's house, we'll assume that's the spouse. Now, the character could say those two words and we'll have no real idea - is it a wife or a husband back home? Now we have transgenders so now we have to have it explained to us whether the spouse at home is a man, woman, or something else.

    And I already know that some liberals will ask, "what does it matter?" It matters because it's about saving time and keeping the audience immersed. You give a character a spouse to provide motivation and stakes. You make it a spouse instead of just a boy/girlfriend because the commitment also raises the stakes. Shorthands and tropes EXIST FOR A REASON, and that reason is so the plot doesn't get bogged down in the minutia of the set up.

    And anybody that says they like the minutia is a liar. You just have to watch how people relate their days. The person who gives the exciting, pertinent details right away is always the one with a captivated audience. NOBODY likes listening to the guy who has to spend 30 minutes giving you the set up to the actual story (I know, I WAS that guy).

  2. I'm thinking about making heavy use of large calibre handguns since in my setting energy weapons can't be scaled effectively down to pistol size. This has a very lovely side effect that 41st century ammo makers can do wonderful things with a bullet that large.

  3. Interestingly, in film and TV, beam weapons (lasers, phasers, blasters, etc.) lack the profound symbolism of actual firearms. The fact that they make a fun sound ("pew" or "brzzt") instead of a thunderous bang; the fact that they shoot colorful beams which leave either unmarked corpses or no remains at all; and the fact that they can be handwaved as "being set to stun" all make beam weapons less psychologically menacing than firearms.

    The TV standards & practices people in the 1980s thought the same: in the old GI Joe cartoon, all the (well-researched) real-life firearms carried by the characters turned into "lasers." They still looked like M-16s or Uzis or AK-47s, but they shot glowing pulses and made a "pew" sound. And thus were deemed safe for children to watch.


Anonymous comments are banned. Pick a name, and "Unknown" (et. al.) doesn't count.