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Read This: Get a handle on the history of analog sci-fi control panels

The Empire Strikes Back

Hopes & Fears has assembled some of the most iconic, analog control panels from the last 50 years of science fiction. Unlike their digitally-rendered descendants, such as Minority Report’s arm-taxing, gesture-based UI and the Engineers’ space maps in Prometheus, these instrument panels were defined largely by their analog physicality.

As the article points out, for films like Star Wars, a lack of budget prevented a more fantastic set of knobs and screens, and helped create the “used future” that defined much of the late 20th century’s science fiction aesthetic. Others, like Star Trek and War Games, were the result of experts bringing real-world experience to borrow from existing technology, such as airplane cockpits and actual supercomputers. In movies like Alien and Blade Runner, the goal was to give the user interfaces a practical, lived-in look that established the credibility needed for effective suspension of disbelief.


Of course, it wasn’t all retro dials and monospaced screen fonts. eXisTenZ, for example, created an unsettling hybrid aesthetic for its controls, combining organic tissue with mechanical operation. The most recent entry, 2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy transitions to a look that combines classic retro with more futuristic lines, well after Lucas began offering CGI controls (and CGI everything else) in his Star Wars prequel trilogy.

So key in the backdoor password, fire up the thrusters, and launch your way through this collection of physically constructed panels, displays and controls that helped shape some of sci-fi’s most memorable moments.

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