The Physics in Star Wars Isn’t Always Right, and That’s OK
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally in theaters (or at least it’s close enough). I wanted to take a moment to clear up a few points. Don’t worry—this will be a SPOILER FREE post since I haven’t even seen the new movie.
A Summary of Star Wars Physics
This might come as a surprise to some people, but I have been writing about Star Wars physics for a very long time. In an effort to share all my past Star Wars posts, I am tweeting them under the hastag #StarWarsPhysics.
— Rhett Allain (@rjallain) December 15, 2015
I think one of my favorite Star Wars posts was the one where I looked at Han Solo shooting Greedo in Episode IV. In case you aren’t aware, the original version showed Han shooting Greedo before Greedo tried to shoot Han. In the new version, Greedo shoots first. I wanted to see if there was enough time for Han to react and shoot Greedo or he had already planned on shooting him. I will let you read the analysis if you are interested, but my favorite part is my speculation on what it means if Han shoot first (from a character development perspective). Perhaps this is what Han was thinking if he shot second.
“Oh, here is that Greedo guy again. I know what he is going through, pressure from Jabba the Hut to bring in someone and someone soon. Well, he is probably a good guy deep down. He won’t shoot me, I know he won’t. But you know what, I will keep my gun out just in case….
What?! Did he just try to kill me? And he MISSED? That is it Greedo, I am going shoot you. Shooting once isn’t enough for scum like you, so I am going to shoot you again. BOOM. You exploded. That’s odd.”
I Don’t Analyze Star Wars as an Attack
Does an art critic hate art? I don’t think so. Instead, the art critic loves and appreciates art. The same is true for my analysis of Star Wars. Yes, it’s true that blaster bolts travel at weird speeds and might have huge masses. But that doesn’t mean I hate Star Wars. In fact, the opposite is true—I think the Star Wars movies are pretty awesome (for the most part).
There is another reason to analyze Star Wars from an educational perspective. Everyone gets tired of traditional physics homework problems—like a block sliding down an inclined plane. That’s just boring. Star Wars and other popular media offer a wealth of interesting problems. They are just simply more fun.
Movies Don’t Need Correct Science
In just about every case, producers and directors focus on one of two goals for their movie: tell a story and/or make a profit. It is not their job to have correct science in their movie. Sometimes, you have to bend the laws of nature (or ignore them completely) in order to tell a story—and that’s OK.
Oh, you might say that movie producers should include more correct science so that normal humans can better understand science. Sure, that would be nice. But if they do that, then scientists should return the favor by including interesting plot elements in their next peer-reviewed journal article. It’s only fair. (Actually, that would be pretty cool.)
Hopefully I also made these Star Wars Physics points clear on my recent appearance on Tech News Today—you can watch the full episode online.
Star Wars Homework
There is one last thing. I had another Star Wars physics post that I’m not going to get to before the opening of The Force Awakens—so I will just leave it here as a homework problem.
I don’t think this is a spoiler, but Luke’s light saber appears in Episode VII. If you don’t recall, this light saber was originally Anakin Skywalker’s but Obi-Wan took it from him after a battle in Episode III. Obi-Wan then gave this to Luke who eventually lost it when his hand was cut off by Darth Vader. OK, maybe those are some spoilers from the previous movies—sorry about that.
So the question remains: How did anyone recover this light saber? The last we saw, it was falling down a shaft inside the Cloud City on Bespin. According to Wookieepdeia, Bespin is a gas giant. Cloud City then floats on the surface of this planet. But what happens to the light saber?
My guess is that the light saber somehow fell out of Cloud City in a similar way that Luke Skywalker was ejected out of the initial shaft. Once outside, the light saber would fall—that seems obvious. However, as it fell it would enter gas atmosphere at an increasing density. Eventually, it would float—it has to. Finally, here is the homework question: Estimate the depth that the light saber would fall and devise a method to both find and extract this light saber.
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