October 28, 2011

Note: Big assist on this post from Reinman’s younger-er brother, the Hermit (a.k.a. BB2, a.k.a. Manny Ramir-Andrew Bank One Ball-Andrew).

I love The Empire Strikes Back. Obviously. But there is one moment that doesn’t make a lick of sense.

So, following the Dumbest Battle in Movie History, Han Solo and company are fleeing from the Imperial fleet. With four TIE fighters and a Star Destroyer already hot on their tail, Han sees two more Star Destroyers heading straight toward them.

“Great. Well, I can still out maneuver them,” he says, throwing the Falcon into a twisting “dive.” (I love that in order to make the Falcon go “down” Han first has to pull a special lever, as though “up” and “down” aren’t mapped to the normal flight controls.)

What follows is a wonderful little sequence — the Falcon momentarily escaping, while the three Star Destroyers nearly collide. I love the chaos we see in the Star Destroyer bridge — the howling (distinctively Imperial) alarm, the grinding noise as shields slam against shields, the crew losing their balance from the impact — it all reinforces the immense size of these ships.

And then we cut from the chaotic to the ordered. From below, we see — for, really, the only time in the trilogy — the wedge-shaped Destroyers in their full geometrical glory. They crawl toward one another, looking not as though they’re accidentally ramming into each other, but rather as though they’re completing some grand, celestial puzzle — of course they’re supposed to fit together like that.

But here’s the nagging question — how did the Star Destroyers get that close to each other in the first place? Maybe the Destroyer captains simply forgot that ships can go “up” or “down” in space. Maybe they were using flat, table-top charts, having not yet invested in those fancy “three-dimensional” charts that the rebels use in Jedi. Slashes to military spending and all.

Even so, let’s take the engagement to its logical conclusion. Let’s say the Falcon did not suddenly dive down and continued on a straight course. If that were the case, the Star Destroyers…would STILL collide into one another.

Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that colliding into each other was the plan all along.

Here’s what I think happened. I think the captain of the middle Destroyer saw the other two ships coming toward him, and he saw a golden opportunity to not only take out the Falcon but to do it in style — he decided to physically “crunch” the Falcon in between the hulls of the Destroyers.

And his plan might’ve worked, too, if one of the Destroyers hadn’t chickened out at the last moment.

My theory isn’t as ridiculous as it seems. By this point, we’ve already seen the fingerprints of that renegade Imperial officer. As a young lieutenant on the Death Star, he was the one who decided to try to crunch Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie in the trash compacter rather than, say, posting three squads of stormtroopers outside the only escape hatch.

Piloting a walker during the battle of Hoth, he was the one who decided to take a half an hour to try to crunch Luke underfoot rather than, say, shooting him. Vader — who is obviously a fan of not only killing but killing with style — appreciated the attempted crunching and immediately promoted the officer to Star Destroyer captain.

(In the original cut of Empire — before Lucas started screwing with the film — you can see the pilot ejecting straight up into an awaiting shuttle right before the walker’s head explodes. And no, I don’t know why the head explodes when Luke throws the charge into the middle of the walker’s underbelly.)

So, the accidental, near-collision of the Star Destroyers wasn’t an accident at all — it was an inspired plan, a work of true genius. And so now only one question remains — what is the name of that daring young officer, that brilliant captain?

I won’t tell you his name, but if you search your heart, you’ll find you’ve known the answer all along.

— Reinman



  1. …and with his dying act, he rammed the super star destroyer into the second death star, knowing there might be a chance he crushes the rebellion assault within the tunnels.

  2. The Hermit’s conclusion was the general consensus of those of us who hadn’t read the comment, but were standing around the kitchen while the Colonel read the post for the first time. How astute. Bravo, Reinman!

  3. I’ve always thought that Han threw that extra lever, just to get a bit more performance out of the Falcon as he dove. he actually did that a lot. Believe it or not, I rmember being REALLY impressed in the theater (no VCRs yet, back then) watching the Original.

    In the dogfight as they leave the Death Star, Han is swinging back and forth in that cool Turret Chair. (Nerd test: Was Han Dorsal or Ventral?) On one of his swings to his left, he reaches up and flips one of the hundreds of switches lining the wall and ceiling of the gun turret, then goes back to fighting. I remember thinking, “Wow, what possible difference could flicking that one little switch make? here’s a guy that really knows his ship.”

    Then I remember imagining that George was probably such a good director that he said, “Harrison, on your next swing to the left, reach up and flip ions of those switches. It will add a sense of realism to the scene and reinforce how well Captain Solo knows his ship.”

    Now I figure Ford just pulled the move out of his rear end. Ah, the innocence of youth.

    • Typos. Almost impossible to be accurate on the stupid iPad.

    • And you left out the best part — once Han flips the switch during the TIE Fighter attack, his and Luke’s accuracy noticeably improves (though I think I only know that because you once pointed it out to me).

      Another classic “switch” moment is when the Falcon drops into Alderaan’s meteor shower. As they’re trying to figure out what happened, Han notices another ship nearby, Luke says something useless, and Obi-Wan identifies it as an Imperial fighter.

      Han then reaches up and flips a switch a millisecond — I mean, a MILLISECOND — before the Falcon is hit with laser fire.

      Do I think the Falcon would’ve been destroyed if Han didn’t flip that switch? No. Clearly the Falcon already had shields up — otherwise it would’ve been pulverized by the meteors. Rather, I think the switch did something like momentarily increase the strength to the dorsal shields — the dorsal side, of course, being Han’s side.

      Finally, I always suspected, as you suggested, that the “special lever” increased the Falcon’s performance — allowing for an almost perpendicular dive rather than a normal, “sloping” descent. I didn’t say as much in my post because typically when I write, I’m much more interested in making jackass comments than saying what I actually believe.

  4. Havoc, you were right about George. He tells a story like no other. Not only was Vader Luke’s father, but he also created C3PO. Magnificent!

  5. BB2!

  6. Since we’re on the topic of confusing Star Wars battle encounters, I’ve always wondered about how the rebel fighters, including Luke, escaped the massive explosion of the death star.

    So, let’s take a look at the situation.
    (1) Luke fires a proton torpedo into the thermal exhaust port shaft.
    (2) The torpedo travels to the center of the death star, where it sets off a chain of explosions.
    (3) Kaboom! . . . Note that by this time, the rebels have escaped to a safe distance, many DSR (Death Star Radii) away from the explosion.

    From my experience of playing tens or hundreds of hours of Tie Fighter as a child, I observed that when an X-wing fires a torpedo at you, it travels at roughly the max speed of your ship, or faster.
    In any case, the torpedo travels much faster than the X-wing that fired it. This is also clear from the scene. I.e., the torpedoes were traveling faster than Luke’s X-wing, and he was still in the trench when they entered the shaft.

    Based on these facts, Luke would have been at a distance of perhaps 1 DSR (probably closer) when the death star blew up. Judging from the radius of the explosion (several DSR), he and the other surviving fighters should have been consumed in a giant fireball of self-sacrificial glory.

    Nevertheless, the movie shows them easily escaping at a safe distance before the explosion happens.

    What gives? Did it take a really long time for that chain reaction to eventually result in the grande finale? This doesn’t seem to be the case, since the imperials are all sitting there either contemplating the ethics of planetal genocide or pulling levers while they wait for the death start to charge up. There isn’t any commotion or concern about massive internal explosions. It’s just business as usual.

    So really, how did they get away?

    • Great question — with all my “Star Wars”-obsessing over the years, I can’t believe I’d never considered this.

      All right, first, are we certain that the proton torpedoes traveled all the way, unimpeded, to the reactor? Rather, after entering the thermal exhaust port, the torpedoes may have impacted against — I don’t know — tibanna gas pipes, setting off a chain reaction that led to the reactor.

      The question would then become, do “explosions” travel slower than proton torpedoes?

      I give this a tentative “yes” based on the escape from the second Death Star in “Jedi.” Lando and Wedge blow up the reactor, which explodes behind them as they race back through that slim, ribbed tunnel (the coolest shot in the movie).

      The explosions creep on them as they escape, but they still, of course, make it out alive, so chain-reaction explosions must be only slightly faster than star fighters. Proton torpedoes, on the other hand, look as though they travel at least twice as fast as fighters (and probably faster).

      So, if in “Star Wars,” chain reaction explosions both traveled to, and then back out from, the reactor, perhaps, maybe, that would leave Luke and company enough time to escape to a safe distance.

      But, as you correctly point out, that does not explain the lack of urgency in the Death Star. In “Jedi” there were all sorts of internal explosions, and alarms, and scrambling around, and general chaos (Isn’t that a prequel character: General Chaos?).

      In “Star Wars,” the Death Star tactical room is calm, serene — one second, Tarkin is savoring his impending victory, the next second, he be dead.

      Anyway, bravo, sir. And, obviously, feel free to point out any gaps in my logic (thus continuing the nerdiest comment thread in the history of the internet).

      • Nerds…

      • If you thought that was nerdy . . .

        One thing that our analysis has ignored is that the death star, being a giant, moon-sized object composed of particularly dense materials with high atomic weights would have a considerable mass, and thus, would exert a considerable gravitational force on nearby objects, including the proton torpedoes and the escaping starfighters. Since gravitational force follows an inverse-squared relationship with distance, the proton torpedoes traveling toward the center of the death star would have experienced positive acceleration, while the starfighters would have had to overcome the gravitational attraction of the death star in order to escape its destruction. Given this, it’s reasonable to assume that a conservative estimate of the time the starfighters had to escape is more accurate than a liberal one.

        In light of the apparent inconsistencies addressed above, an alternative explanation comes to light. One (conspiracy) theory concerning the death star explosion is that it did not happen in the way that the rebels speculated at all. Perhaps the torpedoes blew up somewhere inside the death star and caused the expected amount of damage, but nothing more than would be expected, given the surface attack by the rebels.

        So, what really caused the destruction of the death star? As digitally-enhanced footage now reveals, a circular shockwave — invisible to the common eye, but revealed by digital analysis of the original footage (as seen in the special edition of Star Wars) — emanated from a great circle (i.e., largest circumference) of the death star concurrent with the main explosion. Note that the circular shockwave travels away from the death star at a significantly faster rate than the main explosion. From this, we might conjecture that what actually caused the destruction of the death star was not a couple of proton torpedoes, but a large number of explosives circumscribing the death star. The simultaneous detonation of these explosives could explain both the circular shockwave, and the failed structural integrity of the death star that resulted in its ultimate demise.

        But where is the proof? Besides the fact that the above explanation is purely speculative, it also begs the question: who placed the explosives?

      • Good point with the gravitational pull. Although I know I’ve seen somewhere that by “small moon” the Death Star would really be considered SMALL, as in tiny, (though still, of course, massive for a man-made structure). I wonder what the gravitational pull would be (even with the extra-dense materials) — one-tenth Earth’s? one-fiftieth?

        Of course, if we really want to get nit-picky, Science (with a capital “S”) tells us that the massive explosion (ringed or otherwise) wouldn’t make a sound — nor would we hear the whine of TIE fighter engines, nor the scream of their lasers — for in space, no one can hear Fat Porkins’ stomach grumble.

        (It’s one of the reasons I admire the show “Firefly” — the creators remained disciplined to never using audio tracks during exterior “space” shots. It was cool that the show was staying so true to Science — but it was also kind of weird.)

        Finally, if you want to talk conspiracy theories, the Death Star was never fully destroyed. It sustained a massive amount of damage, but reconstruction began almost immediately — at least, that’s what my dad and many other fans thought when they first saw the second Death Star at the beginning of “Jedi” (“Wait — I thought the rebels blew that sucker up…”)

        As for the massive, mysterious ring of destruction, obviously that was a Forerunner Halo.

        For definitive proof, check out these size comparisons: http://www.merzo.net/index.html

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