My Favorite Bit: George Beahm talks about THE MILITARY SCIENCE OF STAR WARS
George Beahm is joining us today to talk about his book The Military Science of Star Wars. Here is the publisher’s description:
George Beahm, a former U.S. Army major, draws on his experience to discuss the military science of the sprawling Star Wars universe: its personnel, weapons, technology, tactics and strategy, including an analysis of its key battles to explain how the outmanned and outgunned rebels ultimately prevailed against overwhelming forces.
Contrasting the military doctrine of the real world with the fictional world of Star Wars, the author constructively criticizes the military strengths and weaknesses of Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire and Kylo Ren’s First Order…
From Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) to Rogue One (2016), this timely book demystifies the operational arts in an accessible and entertaining way for military personnel and civilians.
Replete with a glossary of military terms, this book is supplemented with an annotated bibliography.
What’s George’s favorite bit?
Forty-one years ago, Star Wars (its original title) hit movie screens nationwide. Its creator, George Lucas, had hoped his little movie would do well, but he wasn’t convinced himself, because it was a science fiction movie, and those kinds of movies made a big splash and then disappeared.
“I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched….I expect it to all fall apart next week,” said Lucas (The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film).
As we all know, Lucas’s pessimistic viewpoint was proven wrong: his space fantasy was the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg–many of them, in fact–and Lucas, Hollywood, and the film industry would never again be the same.
That was forty-one years ago.
Lucas has moved on to enjoy retirement, and Disney now helms the Star Wars franchise because its appeal has not diminished over the years: the Force is strong with the franchise.
During all that time, though, I wondered why no one had attempted to discuss at book length Star Wars in terms of its military underpinnings. After all, discussions about the military science of Star Wars could easily be found online, so why this glaring omission? And what could I do about it?
In The Military Science of Star Wars, I wanted to make the world of the military accessible to the lay reader, as opposed to appealing to readers of war porn: hardcore male readers who typically read Tom Clancy novels festooned with confusing military terminology, mind-numbing acronyms, and military culture as seen from an insider’s perspective. A private brotherhood, so to speak, in which only those who know the secret handshake can join.
As a former army officer, I’ve always enjoy dissecting the conduct of military operations, to the point where, when my wife and I are watching the news, and there’s a U.S. military strike in (usually) the Middle East, I explain it in layman’s terms, though I’m sure she’d just as soon I keep my mouth shut: it ain’t her cup of tea.
When I thought about writing my book, I wanted to give readers a broad picture of military culture as framed by the Star Wars universe. I also wanted to discuss the tactics, strategies, and successes (or failures) of specific battles, because that’s what war always comes down to: who wins—and who loses.
The Star Wars universe, it seemed to me, was a perfect subject in which to explore military science because millions of people worldwide have seen its movies, and some of them have read the novelizations and other official books. So when I talk about the “Battle of Hoth” from The Empire Strikes Back (1980), it rings a bell because people remember the large AT-ATs plodding their way across the winter landscape of the planet Hoth, as the Galactic Empire attacks the dug-in rebel forces.
For those of us who have served in the military, especially in the combat arms—my own branch was field artillery—such discussions are made all the more fun because the movies bring them alive, in a way that a dry recitation of history from textbooks cannot. Thus, Star Wars allows us to easily visualize the battles for dissection, allowing us to pose questions like: If you were the general in charge of the rebel force, or the ground force that attacked the rebels, how would you have conducted the mission?
If you think such exercises are merely diversions, think again: the U.S. military employs such battlefield analyses as a matter of course, in the classroom and in the field: It’s exactly the kind of intellectual exercise that can be found in one of the classes I took as a senior lieutenant in my Tactics and Combined Arms class, at the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery Advance Course, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
One exercise postulated that the student was in command of an artillery firing battery in direct support of an infantry unit taking heavy fire and suffering casualties. They’re requesting more fire support, but your own unit is taking counterbattery fire: incoming artillery rounds from the enemy.
Your dilemma: Do you stay in place to support the infantry, knowing full well you may take casualties that will soon render your unit combat ineffective? Or do you displace to an alternate position, set up, and resume firing? You, as the commander, must make that call—and do so immediately. “Captain, what are your orders?” your men ask.
Lives—theirs, yours, and those of the frantic infantrymen requesting immediate fire—hang in the balance. Again: “Captain, what are your orders?” There’s a reason the U.S. Army chooses its commanders at every echelon with great care: it’s the most difficult, challenging, and riskiest job in the world.
If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the premise of a well-known Star Trek engagement depicted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a Starfleet training exercise for cadets called “The Kobayashi Maru,” in which a no-win scenario is played out: you, as a starship’s captain in Starfleet, respond to a distress call from a freighter named Kobayashi Maru, for which there are no viable military options. The point of the exercise is to put a cadet in a pressure situation, a simulation that one that may in fact play out later in real life, to test his or her mettle.
That is why the U.S. Army’s training doctrine is simply stated: “train as you fight, fight as you train.” The bottom line: realistic training will save lives when the bullets start to fly.
My point, of course, is that the military is a crucible unlike any other: you, as a commander, are tasked to make life or death decisions. It’s why your senior officers chose you over others to do the job—because they believe in you to accomplish the mission while taking care of your men . . . and bringing as many as you can back home alive.
It’s all about training in peace to prepare for war, and that’s why postulating fictional scenarios in Star Wars is no mere mental exercise but, in fact, is serious business—the timeless business of war.
 Though Tom Clancy died in 2013, books bearing his name are still being published because he’s a brand name. This explains why his name is writ large on the cover of his thick novels, and name of the actual writer is in smaller text size. In essence, other writers are coming up with tales inspired by the Clancy universe.
George Beahm is a former U.S. Army major in the field artillery. He served on active duty, in the National Guard, and in the Army Reserve. He has commanded both line and support units, and at battalion level as a staff officer. His last assignment, in a Lieutenant Colonel’s slot, was to serve as a Ground Liaison Officer to an active duty F-16 Fighter Wing. He is an inductee in the Order of Saint Barbara, a military honor society; Saint Barbara is the patron saint of field artillerymen.