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Arguably the Most Important Computer in Star Wars

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Today is known the world over as Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you). We want to take this opportunity to look at the technology of one of our favorite movie franchises. Given how much exciting technology there is in the fictional Star Wars universe, picking just one technology can be difficult. Since we work with computers, let’s look at one of the most important computers in the film, the X-wing targeting computer.The targeting computer has a prominent role in the first movie, “A New Hope.” Wookieepedia describes the targeting computer as:

A targeting computer (also called a target device) was a device used aboard starships to aid pilots in targeting their weapons. A target was considered vulnerable when it was aligned with the electronic crosshairs of a targeting computer’s gun-sights.

When Luke Skywalker leads a squadron of Rebel Alliance pilots to assault the Death Star, we get to see the targeting computer in action. Each starship pilot, including Luke, is equipped with a targeting computer. For the Rebel’s risky attack plan to work, they had to shoot a proton torpedo straight down the Death Star’s exposed exhaust port; a shot described by another pilot in the briefing as “impossible.”

To which our hero Luke arrogantly replied, “I used to bull’s-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters.”

As you can see, the entire plan depended on the Rebel’s targeting computers functioning properly. If the a targeting computer’s calibration was off, even by a slight fraction, then the shot would miss its mark and the sacrifices of brave pilots like Porkins would be all for naught.

As is the case with most military technology, the bad guys have access to it too. You might remember that Darth Vader participated in the battle with his TIE Advanced x1 starship. For Darth Vader’s ship, the targeting computer onboard seemed to work just fine, allowing him to easily shoot down those pesky Rebel pilots.

As much as equipment like targeting computers makes things easier for starship pilots, it’s not a technology that works perfect 100 percent of the time. In fact, you might recall that there were a few unsuccessful shots taken by the Rebels at the Death Stars’ exhaust port before Luke hit his mark.

How could it be that a trained starship pilot armed with an advanced targeting computer could have missed like that? Perhaps we’re looking at a sabotage situation at the hands of the Empire. Could it be that an Empire spy hacked the Rebel’s targeting computers and recalibrated them, making it impossible to hit such a small target at such a high rate of speed? This very well could have been the case.

Think about it. Maybe the Empire wanted the Rebels to know about the Death-Star-exhaust-port vulnerability because they also had an inside person at the rebel base to mess with their targeting computers. A sabotage like this would render the Rebel fighters useless against a megaweapon like the Death Star, allowing the Empire to easily defeat the Rebel squadron on their terms. Essentially, “It’s a trap.”

This J.J. Abrams-like plot twist could have been the case. Why else would Luke, just a few scenes earlier, comment on how easy of a shot it was going to be? Plus, in well-concealed sabotage like this, there could be only one person that would be able to see the whole situation unfold and give the Rebels adequate warning. Namely, someone who is omnipresent and has an ax to grind against the Empire, AKA, Ben Kenobi.

When posthumous Obi Wan made himself known to Luke in that X-wing cockpit, he had one clear message to deliver to the young Jedi, “Put away that targeting computer. Trust your instincts. Use the Force.” Not fully understanding why, Luke decided to let go and do what the ghost says, and well, you know how well that worked out.

Moral of the story, whether you’re using technology to run your business or to take down the Empire, it makes everything we do much easier. Although, like the Rebel pilots, let’s not become so dependant upon technology that we don’t see the big picture because we have totally removed ourselves from influences that we can’t see, like our conscious, our feelings, and even the Force.

May the 4th be with you!

Images courtesy of the Walt Disney corporation.

Date: May 4th, 2015, Author: Jorge Rojas

Toronto IT Support  /  Tektonic Blog  /  Miscellaneous  /  Arguably the Most Important Computer in Star Wars