From our friends at the Institute for Study of the Ancient World:
Ancient Archives, Modern Libraries, and Star Wars: Rogue One
by Gabriel McKee — December 21, 2016
Despite the movies’ opening assertion that it was “a long time ago,” the world of Star Wars would seem to have little to do with antiquity. And so I was surprised to find significant overlap between the most recent film in the franchise, Rogue One, and the world of libraries, both ancient and modern. Fair warning: spoilers for Rogue One abound ahead.
Rogue One tells a story that takes place immediately before the original Star Wars, detailing how the Rebel Alliance obtained the plans to the Galactic Empire’s super-weapon, the planet-destroying Death Star. The movie’s eponymous squadron is an ad hoc team of commandos who, in the film’s climactic sequence, infiltrate the imperial stronghold on the planet Scarif and make off with the secret plans that will enable Luke Skywalker to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon.
It’s worth noting that Scarif is not just an Imperial base, but is also the government’s archive: the final battle of Rogue One takes place in, around, and over a library. The spire of Scarif’s central structure is a silo in which information cartridges are stored, accessible through a robotic retrieval system. The collection seems to be poorly cataloged for a culture that has invented the hyperdrive—the Rebels essentially need to guess the title of the file they’re trying to locate. It’s possible that the Imperial officer that the Rebel robot K-2SO knocks unconscious upon entering the spire is an archivist, who presumably would have access to a finding aid for the collection. (Granted, the cataloging of classified military documents is dicey territory, but if the Defense Technical Information Center can establish guidelines for the US Department of Defense, it is hard to imagine that this is beyond the organizational powers of Emperor Palpatine.)
ReCAP have 30-foot tall shelves, and use a forklift to retrieve bins of books. Some libraries use a robotic retrieval system to surface items in storage, as seen here in videos from Macquarie University and the Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University.Aside from its poor search interface, the Imperial archive’s retrieval system—a robotic arm that travels around the storage column to retrieve information cartridges—is actually not too different from the storage and retrieval systems used in many libraries. Facilities like Columbia and Princeton’s
Unless you happen to be one those humans who doesn’t know what happened in the first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope), it will come as no surprise that the rebels ultimately succeed in retrieving the Death Star plans. Far more surprising is the reaction of the Death Star’s commander, Grand Moff Tarkin, to the attack on the Imperial archive: he fires the Death Star’s main cannon on the planet, destroying the library entirely (and a sizable chunk of the planet along with it). The destruction of the Imperial archive raises lots of interesting questions: Did the Empire have a data backup plan? What else was stored there, and was any of that data backed up elsewhere? Did Tarkin have authorization to, for lack of a better word, deaccession the entire archive? And could anything of Scarif’s archive have survived such apocalyptic weeding? Is this where the story of Star Wars merges with that of Mr. Robot, with the Empire to suffer the fate of E Corp?