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October 4, 2012

Foreign Policy: Battlestar Galactica got space warfare right. Finally.

(Continued)

A: "Babylon 5" was closer in that it understood that there is no air in space and you don't bank. But even on that show, the ships would be under thrust, and then they decide to go back the way they come, they would spin around and almost immediately start going in the opposite direction. That doesn't work. They ignored the fact that acceleration is cumulative. But I do like that they can rotate in flight and fire sideways. "Babylon 5" and the new "Battlestar Galactica" are far and away the best in trying to portray vector physics. There are a lot of problems with the way they do it, but I'm willing to give them an A for effort.

Q: Which are the most realistic sci-fi movies in portraying space warfare?

A: There isn't any show that does a really good job across the board. Some do better at different parts. For example, the new "Battlestar Galactica" is probably the best at depicting life on board a ship. That ship is very spacious compared to a U.S. Navy warship, but the inside of it looks correct. One of my all-time favorite TV shows is "Star Trek," especially "Star Trek: The Next Generation." But one thing that drives me crazy is that on Star Trek, you're either on watch or off duty, when a real naval officer has a whole other job, such as being a department or division head. So he's constantly doing paperwork. Most shows don't get that right at all.

Q: And the worst shows for realistic space warfare?

A: There are so many that are so bad. "Star Wars" is probably the worst. There is no explanation for why X-Wings [fighters] do what they do, other than the source material is really Zeroes [Japanese fighter planes] from World War II. Lucas quite consciously copied World War II fighter combat. He basically has said they analyzed World War II movies and gun camera footage and recreated those shots. "Battlestar Galactica" has other issues. One thing I have never understood is why the humans didn't lose halfway through the first episode. If information moves at the speed of light, and one side has a tactically useful FTL [faster-than-light] drive to make very small jumps, then there is no reason why the Cylons couldn't jump close enough and go, "Oh, there the Colonials are three light minutes away, I can see where they are, but they won't see me for three minutes?" C.J. Cherryh's novels address this a bit with the idea of "longscan," where you predict where they are going to be, but you might not know for some period of time what they actually did.

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