A long time ago, in a small town far, far away, a young man named George Lucas had an idea for a story:
A simple young farmboy gets a magic sword from an old wizard so he can defeat an evil knight, rescue a princess, and save the world.
Actually Lucas wasn’t the first person to have that idea. Everybody has that idea. Granted, they don’t always do it with knights. Sometimes it’s cowboys; sometimes it’s samurai. Sometimes the farmboy is a farmgirl. Sometimes the wizard is a scientist and sometimes the evil knight is a dragon or a cyborg. Sometimes it’s guns instead of swords.
But Lucas knew all that. He was a Northern California kid who grew up watching movies and racing cars, a tyro moviemaker at a moment when American film had become very serious. The 1970s had genre goofs like The Exorcist and Rocky, but the gold-standard movies were adult stories about violence, sexuality, and the treachery of dreams. Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather. Heroes in these movies lost—like, all the time. Sometimes the whole movie got you to like bad guys, and sometimes they died anyway!
Lucas rebelled against all that. He looked back to the Flash Gordon serials and war movies of his youth, and mixed in all his favorite irreducible elements from boy-hero-king chosen-one stories—a historian named Joseph Campbell had helpfully assembled a list. Lucas kept the swords, the magic, and the knights.
Then—and this was, perhaps, his greatest innovation—Lucas kept everything else, too. Wizards, dragons, princesses, horses, cars, motorcycles, airplanes, ships, ray guns, teddy bears, his family dog, pirates, car chases, Nazis, gangsters, samurai, dogfights, gunfights, swordfights, fist fights, gladiators, spies, castles, and robots. In space, traveling at hyperspeed.
Star Wars, the universe George Lucas created, covers as of this writing 11 feature films, with more in various stages of production, as well as at least a half-dozen television series, hundreds of books and comic books, dozens of computer games, and a vastly profitable empire of licensed merchandise, including, perhaps mostly famously, dolls and Lego sets whose popularity literally rescued that beloved toy company from bankruptcy.
- The movies are actually musicals. Or rather, they’re paced like musicals, with solos (Luke staring at Tatooine’s twin setting suns) and duets (“I Love You”/ “I Know”), and big Busby Berkeley/Gene Kelly–Stanley Donen numbers (Death Stars, pod races).
- In 1978, a disco version of the Cantina theme went platinum.
- In Force Awakens, the sprightly Huttese rap number called “Jabba Flow,” was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton. Star Wars is musicals! The secret is out at last.
The timeline for all these stories is rigid, vast, and confusing. The fourth, fifth, and sixth movies take place, timeline-wise, before the first, second, and third. The eighth movie takes place between the sixth and first. A spaceship from the animated television show Star Wars Rebels appears in the movies Rogue One (which takes place immediately before the first movie) and in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (the eleventh movie, last in the current timeline). The television show The Mandalorian takes place between the third movie and the seventh. The various ancillary stories in books, comics, and games tell stories from a history spanning tens of thousands of years and an entire galaxy, but the official position of Walt Disney Studios, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012, is that almost everything other than the movies produced up to that point is non-canonical—apocrypha among holy texts, albeit still beloved by some fans.
Star Wars is, in short, a single, unified, vast, familiar, astonishingly well-executed story that emerged from the mind of one filmmaker. It is now worth billions of dollars, drives entire industries and subindustries, and has become a seemingly permanent facet of global culture. It’s profoundly silly, yet also strangely profound—a grand, nostalgic romance full of wisdom and love that three generations equate inextricably with childhood, adventure, and the definition of good and evil.
The History of Star Wars
The story, in broad strokes, is this: Two noble knights from an order called the Jedi discover a boy destined to be a powerful wielder of the mystical energy that connects the universe, called the Force. One of them dies protecting him from the Jedi’s evil counterparts, the Sith, but the other—Obi-Wan Kenobi (along with his master, a wise gnome named Yoda)—tries to train the boy, Anakin Skywalker, to fight on the side of good.
It doesn’t take. The movies aren’t totally clear on this point, but Jedi aren’t supposed to succumb to emotion or form attachments—the Dark Side of the Force, which the Sith worship, relies on “negative” emotions like anger and fear, so maybe it has something to do with that. Unclear. At any rate, Anakin nevertheless falls in love with and marries the good Queen Amidala. That gives an evil politician named Palpatine—secretly a Sith Lord conspiring to become Emperor of the galaxy—leverage over the powerful Anakin. After some confusing political and military machinations, Palpatine becomes Emperor and has most of the Jedi exterminated. Obi-Wan defeats Anakin in battle, wounding him so badly that he requires a mechanical suit of armor to keep him alive. Anakin becomes the Sith Lord Darth Vader.
Amidala dies before Vader finds out that she has given birth to two children: Luke and Leia. Yoda and Kenobi escape the massacre of the Jedi. They send Leia to live on the peaceful planet of Alderaan and Luke into hiding on the desert world of Tatooine, where Kenobi watches over him.
Years later, Leia becomes a leader in the Rebellion against Palpatine’s Empire, and sends word to Kenobi that the war needs his help. Kenobi recruits Luke (without telling him about his family history) and together with a disreputable rogue named Han Solo and Solo’s partner, a tall, shaggy alien named Chewbacca, they travel on Solo’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, to rescue Leia from a planet-destroying battle station called the Death Star.
This accomplished—despite the destruction of Leia’s adoptive homeworld and the apparent death of Kenobi—Luke, Leia, and Han continue to fight the Empire and its eternally replenished ranks of white-suited Stormtroopers. Luke travels to Yoda’s hiding place, a swamp planet, to continue his training as a Jedi. Yoda’s admonition to Luke—“Do or do not. There is no ‘try’”—has gotten more nerds through more hard tasks than any other bit of self-help with the possible exception of the “fear is the mind-killer” riff from Dune.
In a duel on the floating city of Bespin, Vader tells Luke that he is Luke’s father. (This was a formative reveal for fans at the time, though anyone who’d read Campbell probably saw it coming from several parsecs away.)
Han and Leia fall in love. Eventually, Luke manages to turn his father away from the Dark Side of the Force just in time for him to save Luke from Emperor Palpatine. The rebels blow up a second Death Star and save the galaxy.
Or so it seems, because almost four decades after that movie, Return of the Jedi, the rebels, reconstituted into a “resistance,” are fighting the First Order, apparently reorganized from the dregs of the old Empire. Han and Leia’s grown son Ben has taken the name Kylo Ren, and uses the Dark Side of the Force. New kids—a remorseful former Stormtrooper named Finn and a junk scavenger with Force abilities named Rey—join Leia, now a general, in the fight. Kylo kills Han, but the Resistance destroys yet another planet-killing weapon, and Rey manages to locate the missing Luke Skywalker and, through his reluctant training, become a Jedi herself.
To little avail. The First Order kicks the crap out of the Resistance, knocking them down to just a small fleet on the run. Rey and Kylo eventually find that they are alike, in a way—both struggling against the weight of all the story that has come before them. Kylo kills the apparent leader of the First Order and assumes command. Eventually all that’s left of the Resistance can fit on the old Millennium Falcon, on which Rey and her allies escape—thanks in part to Luke sacrificing himself to buy them time.
Where We Are Now
That was all canon—the story of Star Wars so far. There’s more, of course. Outside the movies, other material, like the generally terrific animated TV shows Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, is also canonical, monitored by a “story group” at Lucasfilm that approves names, places, events, and generally attempts to keep the vast warp and weft of the universe raveled, or at least knotted off until some other writer can get to it. The movie Rogue One told the story of the Rebel spies who stole the plans that allowed Luke Skywalker to destroy the Imperial superweapon called the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope. Solo told the story of Han Solo’s early life and adventures.
But more than perhaps any other entertainment brand, Star Wars also has a meta-canon. The behind-the-scenes tale of its creation and continuation are in many ways as much a part of global culture as the movies and ancillary material themselves. George Lucas, who grew up of limited means, learns to wield a magical lantern—filmmaking—from Francis Ford Coppola, an old master, and challenges the Hollywood establishment to take over the world. The story of Star Wars is important; so is the story of the story of Star Wars.
The fact that Lucas made the first movie, Episode IV in the cycle, is on its face astonishing. No one would produce it. Studios turned it down. Alan Ladd Jr., a scion of Hollywood who was running 20th Century Fox at the time, agreed. Lucas sweetened the deal, the story goes, by reducing his directing fee—but retaining the rights to license toys and tchotchkes.
To realize the kind of visuals he needed, Lucas started a special effects production unit that came to be called Industrial Light and Magic. Creators there—first outside Los Angeles, and later in Marin County—invented or reinvented many of the technologies that have become their own kind of canon in filmmaking. They resurrected the widescreen film format Panavision; they learned to create detailed models and computers that could control cameras swinging around them in repeatable maneuvers, so that they could overlay multiple shots to simulate swarms of spaceships. ILM’s work with intricate models eventually gave way to the computer-generated digital images that now dominate visual effects.
But before the effects were done, Lucas screened a rough cut of the film for a few associates. His fellow young-upstart director Brian DePalma thought the weird Flash Gordon throwback wasn’t going to work, and made fun of him relentlessly. But Lucas’ other close friend, director Steven Spielberg, disagreed. Spielberg thought it was going to be huge.
Lucas’ then wife, Marcia, was a well-known and respected film editor; her work on the movie during production and post-production has gone largely unheralded except among film nerds. While Star Wars is partially known for silly cross-screen wipes to transition from scene to scene, the lightning-quick action sequences and a tempo that allowed for suspense, romance, and humor seem more likely to have come from her than from Lucas’ own script. Harrison Ford—who played Han Solo—famously quipped on set, “You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.”
When the first Star Wars came out, in May of 1977, it was a massive hit. Lucas famously watched the lines crawl around the block at Hollywood’s Chinese Theater from a Hamburger Hamlet across the street. Together with his friend Spielberg, whose masterpiece Jaws had come out two years prior (and his other masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind also came out in 1977), the two men had created the modern summer blockbuster.
They were movies that made so much money that studios couldn’t not make more. When blockbusters hit, they are, by the standards of any industry, extraordinarily profitable, but barely half a dozen major studios can assemble the resources and capital to make them—even fewer today than in the late 1970s, now that Disney owns Fox. Plus, because movies come out on weekends, that leaves just 51 possible release dates in a year, narrowing the bottleneck even further. With an occasional exception, blockbuster pressures relegate the serious, adult-oriented movies that Lucas had rebelled against to indie, small-potatoes status, playing to limited, urban audiences or, increasingly, on television streaming services like Netflix. The Lucasian blockbuster rewrote the economics of filmmaking. Lucas’ rebellion was a success.
Their new math wasn’t limited to the box office, either. Lucas’ willingness to trade his fee for merchandise turned out to be prescient. The demand for Star Wars toys at Christmas in 1977 was so great that stores sold empty boxes with rain checks. The market for toys licensed from movies and comic books was, at the time, dominated by a small company called Mego that primarily made 8-inch-tall plastic, poseable figurines with cloth costumes—competitors to Hasbro’s GI Joe, all these so-called action figures were basically Barbies aimed at boys. Mego held the licenses for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Universal Studios’ monster movies, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and various cowboy properties. But Mego declined to add whatever the hell Star Wars was, forcing Lucas to go to an even smaller company called Kenner.
Kenner decided to build dolls half the size of Megos, far less posable, made entirely of vinyl rather than including clothing. They were cheap enough to make that instead of following the then-customary practice of making dolls only for the hero, his sidekick (it was almost always a man), the villain, and a minion, Kenner made dolls for every character and alien in the movie, in multiple costumes. And all the spaceships. And most of the sets. Because kids wanted all of them. As a result, Kenner achieved industry dominance, Mego disappeared, Hasbro rebooted GI Joe along the same lines, and Lucas got very, very rich.
Spielberg mostly escaped the trap of making sequels; Lucas embraced it. And why not? His largely incomprehensible treatment for The Star Wars began long before Episode IV and ended long after it. So more Star Wars was inevitable. Lucas involved other filmmakers in the next two movies and then returned to one-man-band status for the prequel trilogy, Episodes I through III, which came out starting in 1999. They were technical triumphs, but audiences and critics received them poorly. The humor didn’t land; the actors didn’t sell the weirdness. Lucas’ near-total autonomy in the movies’ production, combined with the vast amounts of money spent and made on them, suggested not so much a Rebellion but an Empire.
In the 2000s, Walt Disney Studios went on an acquisition binge, buying the computer animation studio Pixar in 2006 and the comic-book company Marvel in 2009. Both flourished under the Disney shingle, and in the latter case helped Disney expand its audience among boys and men. So Lucasfilm made sense as an acquisition target, too. It was by then a home for the preeminent visual effects house Industrial Light and Magic, and ancillary Star Wars products like cartoons, games, and books—but had made few movies since Star Wars. Disney paid $4 billion for the company in 2012.
Kathleen Kennedy, a longtime Spielberg collaborator, became head of Lucasfilm, and quickly green-lit more Star Wars—movies, TV shows (to air on Disney cable channels and streaming services), books, and comics (published by Marvel, natch). All the Star Wars.
The Disney-era plans have to navigate a new cultural space. Kennedy explicitly set out to bring women and people of color into the franchise as fully-developed characters, something people rightly criticized Lucas for failing at. It broadened Star Wars’ audience—more kinds of people being able to see characters who look like themselves deepens Star Wars’ universality, and anecdotally, fan conventions now have as many girls as boys cosplaying their favorite characters. She hasn’t been as successful at diversifying the slate of people behind the cameras, however. So far only white men have written and directed Star Wars movies.
Kennedy’s diversification also, it turned out, alienated a small but vocal portion of the fanbase that had been emboldened by other counter-revolutionary movements in nerd-dom like Gamergate and kerfuffles over science fiction awards. Nominal fans of Star Wars fans have driven actors Kelly Marie Tran (who played Rose in Last Jedi) and Daisy Ridley (who plays the Jedi Rey) off of social media entirely. Speaking at a WIRED q&a following a sneak preview of his movie Knives Out, Rian Johnson, who directed Last Jedi, said: “if someone is responding to diversity negatively, fuck ‘em.”
Restarting the franchise after a mostly fallow decade came with another challenge. Children and teenagers—a primary audience—knew it mostly from Lego sets, not movie theaters. Kennedy would have to reinvigorate Lucas’ vision, update it for the 21st century, but also retain its fundamentally retrograde romance, stacking it up against a half-dozen other studios who’d all learned the blockbuster lesson. Thus far she has been a cold-eyed defender of the faith, replacing one director for extensive retooling on one movie and outright firing the directors off two others. But the relative failure of Solo and apparent difficulties with getting post Rise of Skywalker movies off the ground has lead some Hollywood wags to speculate on her future with the company; Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the wildly successful series of Marvel Comics-based movies, is reportedly slated to produce a Star Wars.
Meanwhile, science fiction and fantasy epics have become, in the years since the first Star Wars, not a puzzling anomaly for studio execs to take chances on but the norm.
What’s Next for Star Wars
Carrie Fisher died suddenly in 2017, after completing her scenes for The Last Jedi, the second movie of the new trilogy that began with The Force Awakens. By some accounts her death threw the story into some chaos, as Leia was to be central to its plot. She appears in Rise of Skywalker thanks to unused footage from Last Jedi and digital magic. Billy Dee Williams will show up to reprise his roguish Lando Calrissian from Empire and Jedi.
A new trilogy to be produced by the creators of the Game of Thrones TV series has been cancelled; Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed Last Jedi, may still be on tap for his own new trilogy. The animated TV show Star Wars Rebels ended after four seasons, but the new streaming service Disney+ will carry a new season of the cartoon Star Wars: The Clone Wars and two live-action shows, one about one of the spies from Rogue One and another about Obi-Wan Kenobi with Ewan MacGregor returning to the role, are both in development.
Disney+ already has The Mandalorian, a live-action show about a masked, armored bounty hunter set in the lawless, old-West period after Return of the Jedi. It’s interesting for a bunch of reasons. Its creator, Jon Favreau, has years of experience with genre, including directing the first two Iron Man movies and a couple of digitally-recreated hyperreal versions of classic Disney cartoons. Favreau is working with Dave Filoni, who George Lucas himself trained and was instrumental in the creation of the animated Clone Wars and Rebels shows—which featured some of the best Star Wars moments of the last decade. And from a nerdy perspective, The Mandalorian is the kind of side-story expansion of the universe fans have long said they wanted. Its unnamed main character—the Mandalorian with No Name, if you will—is from the same planet as the fan-favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett.
Fett has few lines in the movies. The prequels explain that he’s the son of another Mandalorian bounty hunter named Jango Fett, who provided the genetic material to create the clone troopers of the Clone Wars. Whatever. Point is, Boba Fett is the focus of some serious GenX nostalgia-energy, and that’s down to the effects of the justifiably reviled Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired around Christmas of 1978 on CBS. Written by a crew of TV comedy and variety show writers, it reassembled the entire cast as well as comedy bigwigs of the era to gin something up about Wookiee Christmas. None of the actors look particularly happy, or even sober. But a cartoon that ran as interstitials during the broadcast introduced Boba Fett in advance of his appearance in Empire Strikes Back, still two years away. And then Kenner announced a special giveaway of a Boba Fett action figure that was supposed to have a backpack that launched a “missile,” a spring-loaded plastic dart. Kenner scotched the potentially eye-putting-out missile before it went on sale, but if you have one of the prototypes, it’s worth $150,000 today.
Point is, Boba Fett dies somewhat ignominiously in Return of the Jedi, falling into the tentacled maw of a monster called a Sarlacc. But no fan of Jon Favreau’s generation wanted Fett to die, and in fact a Boba Fett-centered movie was for a time on the slate of possible side stories. So it’s hard not to see The Mandalorian as the badass Boba Fett TV series that GenX Star Wars fans have always wished for. The Star Wars universe is so big and so old that kids can now grow up in it and turn their fanfic into canon.
In fact, thanks to Disney magic and Disney money, you don’t have to be an A-list movie director to travel to the canonic Star Wars universe. The Disney theme parks in Anaheim and Florida now both have Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, entire lands dedicated to the story. The Florida park will also have a Star Wars-themed hotel. Visitors will be able to assume a Star Wars character, and the “cast” of the Land and hotel will react to them in-story. The planet Batuu and the town of Black Spire Outpost, where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge “happens,” were creations of Disney’s Imagineering team, but with the collaboration of the Story Group. Everything in those lands, including the E-ticket rides Millennium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run and Rise of the Resistance, are ostensibly, in canon. This means that our universe now at least crosses over with—and in fact may be a sub-universe of—Star Wars. We are all canon.
The particular strength of the Star Wars shared universe—as opposed to, say, the Marvel shared universes, the DC Comics–based shared universe at Warner Brothers (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, etc.), or the ones that other brands have tried to spin up—is its depth. Possibly because of the nostalgia Lucas built into his very first movie for the days before the dark times of the Empire, the Star Wars universe feels like it exists even when you’re not looking at it. In the language of psychology, Star Wars is a paracosm, a complete world populated with autonomous characters. That’s why it’s possible for young-adult books about teenagers training to be Rebel pilots to coexist with half-billion-dollar movies about Rey and Kylo Ren, comic books about Darth Vader, augmented-reality apps that let you insert Stormtroopers into Instagrams, and Barbie-like fashion-play dolls of Jyn Erso, the hero of Rogue One.
But forget about the business side for a second. It’s profound, but these things come and go. To really understand the significance of that vision—of that Force, if you will—take a look at the Twitter feed Star Wars Visual Comparison, a meticulous accounting of all the things that the multiple versions of multiple movies have changed in edits, special editions, new color-corrections for streaming services, updates for new television technology, and so on. It’s hard not to see all of this work as talmudic, or akin to the kinds of religious refreshes as run by Emperor Constantine, or the Council of Nicea—establishing canon and apocrypha, laying out what’s vulgar and what’s holy.
If you want to know how this all ends, you have to watch another movie. It’s not a Star Wars movie. It’s called Reign of Fire, and it’s a kind of wonderfully terrible postapocalyptic story—the last remnants of humanity are fighting the scourge of, no kidding, a sky full of fire-breathing dragons. Pre-Batman Christian Bale, pre-300 Gerard Butler, and pre-Interstellar Matthew McConaughey play the heroes. People skydive from helicopters to attack dragons. It’s as dopey as it sounds.
In the middle of it all, there’s a quieter scene. Inside the medieval castle that’s one of humanity’s few remaining fortresses (stone being fireproof), the battered adults put on a play for the children. A white prince is swordfighting a Dark Lord who breathes with a scary, mechanical rasp … and the Dark Lord tells the prince, “I am your father!” All the children gasp and scream. At the end of days, humans are teaching the last children on Earth one of the great myths of our people.
Sometimes the dopiest movies get things the most right.
In 1999 George Lucas released the first “prequel,” Episode I (13 years after Episode VI came out). *The Phantom Menace* told the story of a young Obi-Wan Kenobi encountering the child who will grow up to be Darth Vader. The movie introduces a very good bad guy, the double-bladed lightsaber-wielding Darth Maul, but also (seemingly) kills him. It also features a comic-relief character named Jar Jar Binks whose dumb slapstick and ethnically offensive accent were not so great, frankly. WIRED’s 1999 review of *The Phantom Menace* agrees.
In 2005, on the eve of the release of Revenge of the Sith—we’re up to Episode III here—George Lucas gave a rare interview to WIRED’s Steve Silberman. Lucas reflects on three decades of Starsing and Warsing, and talks about his desire to expand beyond the franchise with projects like Red Tails, his movie about the Tuskegee Airmen. But old projects still call to him; Lucas was working on the (poorly received) fourth Indiana Jones movie and on yet more tinkering on the original Star Wars films. He’d already released “special editions” of the original trilogy, adding in more visual effects with new digital tools. By the time of this story he’s converting them into 3-D.
Star Wars comes back to movie theaters a decade later, in 2015, with The Force Awakens. By now Disney owns the franchise, Kathleen Kennedy is in charge, and Lost creator (and cinematic Star Trek rebooter) JJ Abrams is in the director’s chair. Because he is the director. But what Kennedy and the Disney machine are planning for Star Wars is something entirely new: a Forever Franchise, an eternally expanding, interconnected universe of movies, TV shows, books, and cultural cruft.
The more Star Wars that gets made, the more canon there is to do exegesis on. And if Star Wars is a sort of ever-expanding set of biblical texts, nerdy publications like WIRED are its Talmud, where scholars and the faithful come together to try to comprehend the Word. Sometimes the Word is … confusing. Because for a heroic band of iconic, lawful-good warriors, the Rebellion is very, very bad at doing military things. In the Disney-era prequel movie *Rogue One*, that’s painfully clear in the dumb way a team of nominally heroic commandos try to storm a fortified Imperial base.
On the other hand, the Empire isn’t actually that great at dominating the galaxy. Two classic WIRED examples: First, in The Empire Strikes Back, Imperial forces have a chance to crush the Rebellion once and for all on the frozen world of Hoth. But the Empire makes a series of errors, including the inexplicable reliance on vulnerable ground forces instead of space or aerial bombardment.
That story makes a series of important tactical criticisms of Imperial forces as led by Darth Vader—so much so that multiple military experts responded. Their overall takeaway? Other Imperial defeats, like the destruction of not just one but two Death Stars, were far worse. And The Empire constantly makes the mistake of letting Vader and the Emperor focus all their resources on Luke instead of, you know, beating the Rebels.
Speaking of Death Stars, according to a bunch of very good designers and architects, the Death Star is a very bad design. And plus, hey, wasn’t blowing it up a war crime? Most of the people on board were just grunts and contractors.
Leia Organa: A Critical Obituary
WIRED isn’t the only place writing metafictional essays that simultaneously critique and revel in the Star Wars universe from inside. Possibly the best example of the form is this obituary for Leia Organa, written in honor of Carrie Fisher’s death, sums up everything wonderous about Star Wars. It recasts the stories in a more adult light and tells them from an almost Rosencrantz and Guildensternian (or Zepponian, if you’re a Buffy fan) perspective, asking what the adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia must have looked like to citizens of the Republic/Empire/New Republic/First Order. More importantly, though, it gives Leia her due as the tactician and leader that, candidly, only books, comics, and fan fiction got right until the Disney era. This lovely piece of writing will make you smile-cry, which is what Star Wars is supposed to do.
This article first appeared in www.wired.com
Guest Author: Adam Rogers writes about science and miscellaneous geekery. Before coming to WIRED, Rogers was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and a reporter for Newsweek. He is the author of the New York Times science bestseller Proof: The Science of Booze.