We’ve all seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens now, right? I mean, aside from our dipshitty friends who like to remind us, smugly, they never cared about Star Wars. The movie provided a pretty rich look back into the Star Wars universe, full of familiar places and objects and ideas. But there was one glaring omission: where was Podracing?
Nowhere. And in all honesty, that’s probably a good thing, because Podracing was the most horrifically terrible idea in the entire galaxy.
Now, let me be clear, I’m interested in Podracing in the Star Wars universe for two reasons: first, as a motoring journalist, I’m interested in all sorts of engine-motivated racing. And second, because in The Phantom Menace, Podracing was made out to be a Very Big Deal among all those beings that lived so long ago, in that galaxy so far away.
It’s also worth noting that Podracing, as a motorsport, was a colossal shitshow, at least from what we could tell in the movies. Everything about that sport—I mean everything—was a churning soup of chaos, bad planning, and terrible ideas.
If you mixed together the 24 Hours of LeMons, 1950s Grand Prix racing where everyone (including spectators) died all the time, Sprint cars, spaceships, and the family-friendly thrill of watching a public execution, you’d get something close to Podracing.
Podracing was engaged in on numerous planets, yet if there was any governing body or rules, they sure don’t seem to have been enforced. The biggest issues, of course, were safety-related.
Right from the start, the fundamental Podracer design is terrible, at least for those racers whose post-race plans don’t involve a hasty burial. Allegedly evolved from animals-pulling-vehicle races, the basic Podracer design stuck with the model of a separate propulsion system towing a passenger vehicle. StarWars.com adds some more historical detail:
The birth of modern Podracing took place when Gustab Wenbus entered a race with a special pod designed by a mechanic called Phoebos. Phoebos’ Podracer combined a repulsorlift pod with flaming jet engines, a combination that would propel Podracing into an incredibly fast and dangerous sport.
Ah, yes, the basic Wenbus-Phoebos design, the default by which Podracers have been designing their craft for ages.
It’s shit. Wenbus and Phoebos were either idiots, or sickos who craved well-cooked Podracer meat.
A Podracer. What a garbage idea. Photo credit Wookiepedia
See, the basic design places the passenger pod right within the exhaust paths of those huge jet engines directly in front. This is objectively a terrible design. Not only would exhaust flow impingement issues likely affect engine performance, those things impinging exhaust flow are the racers themselves, almost always in open-cockpit pods. How did they manage to not get broiled or incinerated during these races?
I mean, sure, mostly they tried to mount cables in locations that would try and keep the pod above the exhaust flow, but we all know that with all the acceleration/deceleration and motion involved, those pods cross into the exhaust flow plenty.
Whatever organization runs Podracing seems to not have been capable of giving a brace of Bantha shits about this, because there seems to have been no safety inspection whatsoever. Some racers wore helmets, but these varied wildly in design and effectiveness; if there was a minimum standard, no one seemed to care.
The pods lacked any sort of roll cage, and in some cases, even the most basic of safety harnesses. Those things were deathtraps, and if the sport wants to be taken seriously, they need a minimum set of safety criteria.
While I do applaud the Podracing community for being open to all manner of alien species, there should be someone involved in race organization who has some sort of little chart that shows at what age a given species can be considered old enough for a pro-level Podrace.
Then there’s the issue of security. Why can’t the Galactic Podracing League do something to keep Tusken raiders from shooting at the racers as they pass, just for the hell of it? This is a colossal failure from a security standpoint, and a needless extra hazard to racers.
There’s also rampant, unchecked cheating (use of ramming, flame throwers, etc), and, from what I can tell, zero class divisions, meaning racers with pods with all engine sizes are competing together. This makes no sense and makes for bad racing.
In later years, noted Podracers such as noted Dug racer Sebulba, reflected back on their early Podracing days with a mix of nostalgia and shame. From Sebulba’s memoir, The Sand, She Stings, Sebulba writes:
With the long lens of old age at my mind’s eye, I find I can no longer look back on what I once would have called my wildly successful podracing career without a painful wince of shame and disgust.
I killed to win. Not once, but many times. I found myself so focused on the goal of victory, so intoxicated by the drug of speed, that I wouldn’t even think twice about ramming an opponent into a rock wall, or cooking the flesh off their snout with a jet of flame. It wasn’t a moral quandry, because at the time, I was incapable of possessing morals at all. I was like a droid designed to win, and that’s all.
Now, that disgusts me. The race organizers could see all this, but they chose to look away, because I sold tickets. I’m guilty, absolutely, but I had a very willing accomplice, and her name is The Galactic Podracing League.
So, overall, maybe it’s not a bad thing Podracing seems to be gone in The Force Awakens. But what happened to it?
The Clone Wars, and then the later Rebellion and war against the Empire most likely put a lot of Podracing on hold, but you’d think there’d still be some. After World War II on our own planet, people in Europe were picking themselves out of wreckage, and from that wreckage one of the first things they did was build some racing cars.
Rey seems to have scavenged a viable vehicle, and it wouldn’t take much to turn that into a Podracer. So what happened.
Not surprisingly, StarWars.com has an explanation:
Podracing was already banned on many civilized systems when it faced, more than ever, an uncertain future during the Separatist Crisis. More and more criminal aspects of the sport were exposed and several famous Podracers were arrested for serious crimes.
To make matters worse, Podracing became outlawed in the Core. The Ratts Tyerell Foundation, established by Deland Tyerell, the eldest son of the diseased Podracer Ratts, campaigned to ban the sport completely, right before the start of the Clone Wars. Reports showed that attendance had dropped more than 50 percent compared to 10 years prior. Though Podracing never completely ceased to exist, its popularity faded away.
So, it looks like Podracing has died a long, slow death, and likely one it had coming. Other forms of racing, like Swoop racing, land-and-airspeeder races seem to have filled the void left by Podracing in the Star Wars universe. It’s probably for the best.
With engines who’s exhaust expels behind the driver, real safety equipment and standards, and rules preventing 9 year old racers (annoying prodigies or not) from running, a new Podracing could be just what that fictitious other universe needs.
Just no nine-year-olds this time.
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