SithBusters – MythBusters take on Star Wars

If I’m writing about it, it must mean that Discovery Channel’s MythBusters did another pop culture themed episode. These people have figured out how to make me tune into their show at least a few times a year with this type of scheduling. This time, Jamie, Adam and the crew tackled some myths from the original Star Wars trilogy. As loyal readers know, I’m not really a Star Wars fan – I didn’t see any of the films until I was in my 30s and was underwhelmed – but I was curious enough to see what myths they would be testing to tune in. Plus I always enjoy when people dress up in costumes; I may not dabble in cosplay personally, but I’m intrigued by people that do.

Given that I have only seen A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi one time each, I was hoping that they myths that they were going to be testing wouldn’t be things that you would have to be a die-hard fan to appreciate. Thankfully, they decided to check out some pretty iconic stuff from the films, so that even a novice like me with a limited working knowledge of the Star Wars universe was very familiar with. Sadly, they did not examine the plausibility of Hans Solo being frozen in Carbonite. That would have been really interesting. Instead, the MythBusters examined Luke and Leia’s swing across a chasm in the Death Star while being chased by Storm Troopers, the ability of the Ewok’s swinging log weapon to destroy an AT-ST and Luke ability to stay warm inside the carcass of a tauntaun while on the planet Hoth.

***Spoilers on the success of the myths are below; if you don’t want to know how it turned out, skip these paragraphs.***

The first myth examines the logistics of the scene, dubbed “the swing to freedom” where Luke and Leia use a grappling hook to swing approximately 30 feet to escape peril. I couldn’t find any footage of this from the film (thanks for nothing, Lucasfilm), so instead enjoy this recreation using LEGO action figures to give you some idea of what they are talking about:

 

Jamie and Adam actually broke this down into three testable hypotheses: Could Luke even make the necessary throw to secure his grappling hook around a piece of the Death Star to allow the swing? Was Luke’s utility belt strong enough to support such a swing? Could a swing of that distance successfully be made with Luke holding on to Leia?

Jamie was able to successfully recreate the throw to secure the grappling hook (a model built to approximate the one used in the movie), but unlike Luke he was unable to do so on his first try. In fact, it took many, many attempts to finally get it right and that was in a low pressure situation. They were skeptical that when being chased that Luke could have been so successful with his first throw, but they deemed that part of the myth plausible. They also found that the utility belt would have worked in a pinch, but it was an extremely painful undertaking as it cut into Jamie’s ribs when they attempted a much smaller swing and when holding a dummy to represent Leia. So while the utility belt’s strength was found to be plausible, they abandoned it for a more traditional harness when attempting the actual 30 foot swing so as to not cause unnecessary damage to poor Jamie.

For the recreation of the swing to freedom, MythBusters superfan and actress Sophia Bush joined in to play Princess Leia, complete with the iconic bun hairdo. Not to be outdone, Jamie donned Luke Skywalker’s outfit, which was kind of hilarious to see.

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They were also joined by a bunch of folks who had created authentic Storm Trooper costumes; they didn’t add a whole lot to the actual execution of the operation other than visual accuracy, but they were cool to see nonetheless. Jamie and Leia were able to make a successful swing across the same width that Luke and Leia did in the movie, though since they altered the conditions a bit by using a harness, the myth was ultimately deemed plausible, if highly unlikely.

While Jamie and Adam were getting their swing on, the rest of the Mythbusters were trying to recreate the log battering ram that the Ewoks used to crush the presumably reinforced and durable AT-ST that was attacking them. Since Endor doesn’t exist in real life (that we know of), there was no way of knowing what kind of logs were used in the movie; the team substituted Eucalyptus as it as the hardest wood available in this galaxy. A complicated rigging structure was built to hold the 10,000 pound logs and to attempt to swing them at a 45 degree angle, similar to what was depicted in the film. The myth that they were testing was not whether little Ewoks were capable of constructing such a weapon (that’s probably highly unlikely, but I guess don’t underestimate an Ewok), but whether the weapon could do the amount of damage that it was alleged to be able to do. As elaborate as the structure was that was built to support the logs, on the first test they were unable to come anywhere near a 45 degree swing as the strain on the support structure almost caused the whole thing to collapse. Even with the limited momentum, however, the logs easily were able to do some serious damage to a van.

A second test was conducted after additional reinforcements were made to the support structure to better handle the swinging logs. This time, the team attempted to destroy an armored truck and the logs made quick work of destroying that as well. It was pretty impressive how potent the weapon was, though I guess unsurprising given physics.  However, the team conceded that it would have been very difficult in normal circumstances to time the swinging of the logs just right to hit a moving AT-ST, so the myth was deemed plausible.

The final myth was the one that I was most curious about – was Hans placing Luke inside the body of a recently killed tauntaun the best decision to protect Luke from the bitter climate of Hoth until Hans could construct a shelter? For this myth, they brought back our old pal “Thermoboy” who was constructed during their Titanic themed episode to test the effects of hypothermia after the shipwreck. He would serve as a stand in for Luke and would allow the team to monitor his “vital” signs to see if the tauntaun provided enough warmth to prevent death from temperatures that ranged from -30 to -60 degrees Celsius (sounds like Albany this weekend).  A replica tauntaun was constructed and faux internal organs were created and warmed to the temperature of polar bear (the best comparison to a tauntaun). “Luke” was also warmed to a core temperature of 95 degrees, the reasoning being that having been left for dead the early effects of hypothermia would have begun before Hans found him. The tauntaun, with Luke implanted in his belly, was then placed in a confined box atop a bed of dry ice within a meat locker that was within the range of the alleged temperature of Hoth. It was approximated that in the conditions set out in the film, it would have taken Hans approximate 2.5 hours to fashion a shelter, so that was the time period that Thermoboy was monitored for.

The results were somewhat surprising; not only would Luke have survived according to the experiment, but his core temperature only dropped a few degrees in the process. He came nowhere near drop dead temperature of 80 degrees. I expected a bigger change in his temperature over the course of the 2.5 hours, but apparently a tauntaun makes a pretty great refuge from the cold in a pinch, assuming you can find one (and have a lightsaber handy to split it open). The replica tauntaun wasn’t all that fancy, but it certainly got the job done. If they sold a kit on how to make one, I bet that would be a best seller. I’m not even a fan and I wouldn’t mind my own tauntaun. It would certainly freak out my cat.

***End of Spoilers***

I certainly enjoyed this episode far more than the recent The Walking Dead themed episode; though I’m not necessarily super invested in the outcome of the myths, they at least approached them from a more realistic standpoint. There were of course concessions that had to be made given the fictional content that they were examining, but overall there was at least some attempt to ground their experiments in reality. Everyone on the team seemed to be having a lot of fun testing out these Star Wars related hypotheses – some of the cast even worked on the newer movies (though we won’t hold that against them; even I know the newer movies are crap). I may not have geeked out like they did over the source material, but I can appreciate good science and I was especially impressed with the complicated experiment that they created to test the tauntaun myth. There were a lot of moving parts in that one and they seemed to think through all possible contingencies. This episode of MythBusters didn’t make me want to watch the Star Wars films again, but it did make me respect that at least some parts of the film weren’t made up completely out of whole cloth. I’m still not a regular viewer of the show, but I’ll continue to check in as long as they keep pumping out the pop culture related episodes.

The SithBusters  episode of MythBusters will air again Saturday January 11th at 10 pm. Check your local listings for additional airings.

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