Maggie A's Meanderings




October 16, 2011

Star Wars, Einstein and When Lucas Got It Right

I'm going to dive deep into my geek side for this posting.............

There are many deluded people out there (Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" is one) who think that "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best Star Wars movie.

The best Star Wars movie was "Star Wars" (which you better believe I do not call "A New Hope" or think it's the fourth Star Wars movie). "The Empire Strikes Back" is where the "Star Wars" series jumped the shark, not the prequels....."Empire" ---- aerial shark crossing.

"Star Wars" was a classic and classically simple movie: Peasant discovers he's something special and saves a Princess and the day from evil with the help of a mentor and sidekicks.

"Star Wars" was the first PG movie I'd ever seen; I almost missed the movie phenomenon of my generation because my parents thought I was too young to watch it. But I begged, and my father made an exception to the "Rated G movies only" policy. Like all the kids, "Star Wars" had a big impact on my childhood play. One of the advantages of having been an original "Star Wars" fan was being around when all the behind the scenes info came out from George Lucas at the time. Info like the fact that Owen Lars was Obi-Wan's brother which was a neat bit of trivia. Not trivia in the Star Wars universe was the information that Darth Vader was supposed to die in the Death Star battle. Vader's ship gets blown to hell. But, it was decided Vader was such a great character to have his ship go spinning off into space instead. Meaning Vader was not supposed to be Luke's father. He was going to be dead; ergo, no father-son storyline because he wasn't the father. In fact, if you watch "Star Wars," Vader isn't even the chief heavy. Vader's the muscle. The chief heavy was Grand Moff Tarkin who clearly outranks Vader; so Vader isn't #2 in the Empire.

If anyone was #2 it was Tarkin, though the structure of the Empire's pretty vague at that point. Other than dissolving the Senate the emperor's a non-entity in the first movie, so much so that in the novelization all you read about the emperor is "the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic. Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears...........the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions." The Emperor was a puppet; it was the administrators like Tarkin, an Imperial Governor, who actually ran the Galactic Empire. (The novelization has George Lucas' name on it as author even though Alan Dean Foster ghost wrote it. Still Lucas had to have approved it for it to go out under his name. And since that quote is from the very first page of the novelization, I'm pretty sure Lucas read that far.)

So from a simple and beautifully classic plot in "Star Wars" then we get "The Empire Strikes Back" and let the shark jumping commence with the line, "No. I am your father." I was still a kid when I saw Empire.....and even as a kid I had the taste to discern that this sucked. The plot of Empire sucked so badly I would argue with people over it. But I was still young and naive enough to have faith in George Lucas and believed he would straighten it all out in the third movie. Instead we got Leia as the sister making for the retroactively revolting incest kissing scene of Empire. (Though I began to realize what kind of man Lucas was when he denied that the third movie had ever been called "Revenge of the Jedi" when I'd seen the trailers for it. I began to realize he was a man who would lie about anything and think he could get away with it. Amazing he didn't go into politics.)

There were the events in Cloud City which completely confused me. The Imperials spent a lot of "Star Wars" torturing Leia trying to get information from her about the location of the Rebels. Reprehensible, but understandable. Leia was only allowed to escape as a ploy to track down the Rebel base. In "The Empire Strikes Back," the Imperials have captured Leia, who's a leader of the Rebellion. But they don't even ask one question about where the Rebels evacuated to or the location of the Rebel fleet. Huh?! You'd think the Imperials would be interested in that, No, they're not interested in the Rebels in "The Empire Strikes Back." Makes you think that entire raid on Hoth was all to find Luke Skywalker especially since Vader stated prior to ordering the raid, "And I'm sure Skywalker is with them." Even the opening crawl said, "The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space…." The obsession must explain why all of a sudden they don't care about getting any information whatsoever about the Rebellion from one of its leaders or from two other people who've been with the Rebellion for three years. Apparently Vader's never heard the saying "Kill two birds with one stone." No, their only interest in having captured Leia, Han and Chewie was to make them suffer so that Luke will sense it and come to Cloud City. Except, wait, they want to make their captives suffer but they never torture Leia. They tortured Han and Chewie, but not Leia.......who Vader had no problems torturing on the Death Star so we know it's not ethical concerns. What? Does he have a one per customer limit on torture? It was in watching "The Empire Strikes Back" I thought maybe that lava fried Vader's brain too. (And we already knew it was lava because that was also information Lucas released after "Star Wars": After Darth turned to the Dark Side, he and Obi-Wan battled; Obi-Wan defeated him and he fell into lava.)

When I watched "The Empire Strikes Back" as a kid besides "the father-son so Obi-Wan lied" storyline and confusion over the Imperials complete lack of interest in the Rebellion that stole their Death Star plans, destroyed it ("You sank my battle station!") and was still fighting them, there were two other things about Empire that drove me bat-shit crazy. One was that creature in the asteroid field. Yeah, like that's possible for it to have lived there. What did it breath? What did it eat? (Don't think it could live off starships landing inside it. Really, how often would that possibly happen.) How did it survive the temperature, vacuum, etc? (I reacted pretty much the same way to that damn Sarlacc three years later. Yeah, right something that size could live in the middle of the desert by waiting for food to fall in its mouth.)

The other thing that drove me bat-shit crazy was the timing of the movie. I'll allow editing cuts switching back and forth between the action in two different locations. But do you seriously expect me to believe that Luke could travel to Dagobah and become an almost fully trained Jedi Knight in the time it took the Millennium Falcon to escape from the Imperial fleet and travel to Bespin? Wow! That's quicker than matchbook correspondence classes. Not much training to being a Jedi Knight. Here I thought it would be hard and require many years of training like a Shaolin monk. (Yeah, I watched "Kung Fu.")

Then one day it occurred to me.........Lucas was right. Now that was a shocker. Though I bet my last dollar he wasn't right on purpose. He was right accidentally. But he was still right. (And I would also be shocked if in the past 30 years this hasn't been mentioned more than once in the world of Star Wars fandom, but I've never been in that world.)

You see, one day I was thinking about "The Empire Strikes Back" and I recalled:

Very simply put, the closer a ship gets to the speed of light, the slower time moves on the ship relative to time for everyone they left behind who isn't traveling that fast.

The classic sci-fi example of this is a ship leaves Earth and returns centuries later while only a few years have passed for people on the ship. A good story version of this for juveniles is Robert A. Heinlein's "Time for the Stars" whose premise is based on relativistic travel. A teenage boy explores the stars in a sub-light ship. He returns to Earth still a young man and marries his twin brother's great-granddaughter so much time has passed on Earth.

Check out this page if you want to explore the effect.

The Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive was broken. So it had to travel at sub-light speed to get from the Hoth system to Bespin. That invokes Special Relativity and Time Dilation. That means time would have passed faster for Luke than it did on the Falcon. (As for what Boba Fett was doing during all this, who knows? How long did he followed the Millennium Falcon crawling through space?) Luke could have spent years training on Dagobah while much less time passed on the Falcon. How much time depended upon how far away Bespin was, how fast & long the Falcon accelerated/decelerated and the final speed it attained.

But since Luke didn't appear to age during his training at most only a few years would have passed for him. But the Time Dilation Effect still gives him those years to study the Jedi arts which makes a lot more sense. While for Han, Chewie, Leia and Threepio it might have only been weeks.

So using the Time Dilation Effect, a reasonable amount of time could have passed for both the Falcon and Luke for Luke to master Jedi skills while Leia and Han step off the Falcon not having mastered their relationship or even figured out if they had a relationship.

Which just leaves the questions of how Luke got away from Hoth so easily without encountering a single Imperial ship from the blockade and how he was flying around the galaxy in a single-seat fighter even if it did have hyperdrive. They must have perfected the technology of recycling human waste to reusable air, food and water for that to be possible.
Based on the images, those fighters had artificial gravity, so they must have also perfected the prevention of deep vein thrombosis and bed sores (or, in this case, chair sores). I can only hope they've learned to handle body odor just as effectively or I can only imagine the stench when Luke opened that canopy.

However, let's face it, Time Dilation Effect is not what Lucas intended. Accurate physics was never one of Lucas' priorities for Star Wars. And I'm quite sure people have worked out in detail the timing in the Star Wars universe, and I'll bet it doesn't include Luke having spent years training on Dagobah. But I'm not a hard core Star Wars fan. The last time I sat through an entire Star Wars movie was watching "Revenge of the Sith" at the theater when it came out. For myself, knowing the Time Dilation Effect would have happened gives me some peace of mind about one of my sticking points of "The Empire Strikes Back" i.e. the timing in the movie no longer drives me bat-shit crazy. 
Though nothing changes my opinion it's the movie where Star Wars jumped the shark. (It still has the introduction of the Daddy Vader-"We Are Family" theme which is where Star Wars went wrong long before the prequels.)

Now here's a point where I always believed that Lucas got it right, while many other fans think Lucas missed..............


A friend sent me a link to a fan-made video where the Death Star blew up Yavin rather than getting into position to blow up Yavin's moon. That seems to be a fan favorite "Why didn't they just........" or "This is how Star Wars should have ended." They all think they're being smart. What they're being are smart asses. My friend found out my answer on "Why didn't they just" when I instantly replied.....................

Yavin is a gas giant.

For those of you who don't immediately grasp the significance of that: Jupiter is a gas giant.* Saying that because the Death Star could blow up Alderaan it could blow up Yavin is like saying something that can blow up Earth can blow up Jupiter. You could fit 1,321 Earths inside of Jupiter's volume. (Universe Today) Jupiter's hurricane, the Great Red Spot, is two and half times the size of the entire planet Earth. If you could take every other planet in the entire Solar System and put them on one side of the scale and put Jupiter on the other side, do you know what would mass more? Jupiter.......and it wouldn't be close. Jupiter out masses the combined mass of all the other planets by almost 2.5 to 1. There's less of a difference in size between Jupiter and the friggin' Sun (1:9.68) than there is between Earth and Jupiter (1:11.1) See for yourself. Does anyone out there remember Shoemaker-Levy? Could you imagine the devastation if the comet fragments had hit here on Earth rather than Jupiter?

Lucas actually got this one right. The Death Star should have targeted Yavin's moon rather than Yavin itself. Metaphorically speaking, Yavin would have just laughed at the Death Star.

*In "Star Wars" there's an image of Yavin from the Rebel base moon. (Click here for a photoshopped "filled out" Yavin.)
The size of Yavin in the sky indicates that it's a large gas giant on the scale of Jupiter, not a "smaller" gas giant like Uranus or Neptune. Here's an image of Neptune as seen from its Triton moon for comparison. FYI: Triton orbits closer to Neptune (354,760 km) than Io, the closest Galilean moon at 422,000 km, does to Jupiter. (Further research informs me that Neptune and Uranus are now considered to be ice giants by many astronomers. How times do change: Pluto's no longer a planet, and there are "ice giants" in space instead of as imaginary monsters stalking a frozen wasteland.)

Death Star versus What?! Planet size comparison drawing
You can fit over 65,000 Moons the size of Earth's inside of Jupiter's volume.
Using the Earth's Moon is a fair comparison as it's approximately the same size as two of Jupiter's Galilean moons
Ratio of Earth's Moon to
Jupiter's Galilean Moons
Europa 1:0.90
Io 1:1.05
Callisto 1:1:39
Ganymede 1:1.51
(Jupiter's dozens of non-Galilean moons are all much smaller
with the largest, Amalthea, only having a maximum diameter of 262 km giving it a ratio of 1:0.08)

Addendum: Click to see my completely arbitrary estimate of Difficulty Levels of Death Star Versus Various Astronomical Bodies

For more of my geekiness check out "The Old Yeller Abyss" or "The (Not So) Great Zombie Apocalypse." You can read more about movies or many other topics in the Archive.



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