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The Masked Man Reviews the Star Wars Movies
The Masked Man Reviews the Star Wars Movies
The Lone Ranger
Published by The Lone Ranger
01-07-2007
Default The Return of the Jedi: Strange Physics and Astronomy


Strange Physics and Astronomy:
In the opening scene, we saw Darth Vader’s stardestroyer approaching the Death Star v2.0. The Death Star was “in orbit” around the “Forest Moon” of Endor. Since the Forest Moon had a very Earth-like atmosphere, climate, and surface gravity, it seems reasonable to assume that it was approximately the size of Earth. But wait a minute. As we saw the Death Star hanging over the Forest Moon in the opening scene, the moon’s curvature was barely evident. That means the Death Star must have been only a few hundred miles up at most. What was holding it up?

It couldn’t possibly be in orbit! At that altitude it would take the Death Star less than 2 hours to complete an orbit of the moon, and you would have clearly seen it moving across the sky from the moon’s surface. Admiral Ackbar stated at the Rebel briefing that the Death Star was in orbit around the Forest Moon, and the graphics he showed seemed to indicate the Death Star was in a geostationary orbit (that is, it orbited the planet at the same rate the planet rotated). If the Forest Moon took less than 2 hours to complete a rotation, sunrise and sunset would be less than an hour apart, and the sun would appear to race across the sky. Clearly, this was not the case! Also, if the moon were spinning that fast, centrifugal force would have caused it to be obviously bulged at the equator and flattened at the poles. Since the moon did not show any such distortion, we can confidently conclude that it did not have such a ridiculously fast rotation.

Clearly then, the Death Star was not in orbit, but was hovering directly over the surface installation that generated its shield. Presumably, either the installation or the Death Star itself (or both) were generating some sort of repulsion force to hold the Death Star up and prevent all those trillions of tons of metal from crashing to the moon’s surface. Talk about a ridiculous waste of energy! Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to have constructed the Death Star in a higher, geostationary orbit? (Assuming the Forest Moon was the same size and mass as Earth, with the same rotational period, that would be at about 36,000 kilometers’ altitude.) That way, there would be no need to expend energy to hold it in position.

“Wouldn’t that make it harder for them to project a shield around the Death Star?” I hear you ask. Well, yes, but I’d be willing to bet it would be a lot less costly than the energy expenditure of holding it in place over the shield-generation facility. Besides, why not just build the shield generator in space, on or near the Death Star? It could be powered by matter/antimatter annihilation, or by power generated on the Forest Moon and beamed directly to the shield generator. Such a space-based shield generator would be far more energy efficient, and would also be more difficult to infiltrate and sabotage, I should think.

Where was Endor? It was repeatedly claimed that the “Forest Moon” was a moon of the planet Endor, but we saw no planets in the Forest Moon’s sky. Even when we saw the Rebel Fleet approaching the Forest Moon from a distance of at least several million kilometers away, Endor was not visible – just the Forest Moon and the Death Star. So why did they keep referring to the Ewoks’ home as a moon if it wasn’t in orbit around a larger planet? Perhaps the Death Star destroyed Endor to test its superlaser, but that would have disrupted the Forest Moon’s orbit, and debris from Endor's destruction raining down on the Forest Moon would have devastated its ecosystems, leaving the moon a ruined wasteland. You’d think the Rebel strike team would have noted Endor’s absence and the devastation of the Forest Moon, put 2 and 2 together, and realized that the Death Star was operational.

Not long after the Rebel strike team landed on the Forest Moon, we saw Chewbacca shoot a fleeing Trooper off his speeder bike. It’s interesting that Chewie’s “laser bolt” followed a flat trajectory. This raises the question of what the heck it is that those guns actually fire. A laser beam would indeed follow a flat trajectory like that, but would not be visible, and it would move far faster. If the guns were firing projectiles (e.g. bullets), the projectiles would be expected to follow parabolic (not flat) trajectories in a gravity field. If the guns fired plasma, the plasma would begin to expand rapidly the moment it left the gun’s barrel. Among other things, this would mean that the guns would have extremely limited effective ranges. So what did those guns fire?

Ewoks vs Stormtroopers: Let’s talk about how levers work. Arms and legs are levers. A lever has a turning point, called the fulcrum. A see-saw is a good example. You put a certain amount of force into one end of a lever, the lever turns around the fulcrum, and you get the same amount of force out the other end of the lever, assuming the lever is rigid. The force on both sides of the fulcrum is the same – the question is: how does the force come out? The utility of a lever is that it can be used to alter the power and the speed of what you put in.

Picture a see-saw with the fulcrum exactly in the middle. If you push one end down, so that it moves a distance of 2 meters in exactly one second, then the other end will also move 2 meters in one second (in the opposite direction), since it’s a rigid structure. Fine. Now move the fulcrum so that the portion to which you’re about to apply force (this is called the “Lever Arm In”) is exactly half as long as the portion where the force will come out (this is the “Lever Arm Out”). That is, the fulcrum is located 1/3 of the length of the board from the end where you’ll apply the force.

Since the lever is rigid, the end that you push down and the opposite end must take the same amount of time to complete their movements. If you push the short end down so that the end moves 2 meters in one second, the other end (being twice as long) must move approximately 4 meters in that second. So, a lever can be used to multiply speed. But since the force on both sides of the lever is the same, if one end moves faster, that means it must be moving with less power. By varying the position of the fulcrum, you can change the amount of speed the lever generates at the Lever Arm Out (that is, you can change the Velocity Ratio), and you can change the power that it generates (the Mechanical Advantage).

Because VR and MA are inversely proportional, a lever with a short Lever Arm In and a long Lever Arm Out will generate a lot of speed, but little power. (A baseball bat works on this principle.) A lever with a long Lever Arm In and a short Lever Arm Out will generate little speed, but a lot of power (a crowbar works on this principle).

There’s a portion of bone that sticks out beyond your elbow called the olecranon process. This is the Lever Arm In. For creatures like deer, the olecranon process is relatively short, allowing the forelimbs to generate a lot of speed for running, but not much power. For creatures like aardvarks, the olecranon process is relatively long, allowing them to generate lots of power for digging, but not much speed. The same joint cannot produce both high speed and high power.

Given their short arms and legs, there’s simply no way that Ewoks could generate lots of speed. So, they would be relatively slow runners, and they would not be able to swing their arms fast enough to generate the force necessary to hurt somebody wearing body armour. (This assumes that Ewoks’ muscles are not much stronger than those of humans.) Since we could see how fast their arms and legs move in the movie, it’s abundantly clear that they weren’t moving their arms fast-enough to impart enough energy to their targets to do any real damage. In other words, even with the clubs they were carrying, they shouldn’t have been able to hurt armoured Stormtroopers!

It’s possible, if they had relatively long olecranon processes on those stubby arms, that Ewoks were quite powerful. If so, they might have been able to pull the Stormtroopers’ armour off, and maybe even pull off limbs. But we never saw them attempt any such things. Besides, their arms would look quite different if they were so powerfully-built. So, how the Ewoks were able to defeat armoured Stormtroopers in hand-to-hand combat is a true mystery.

By the way, there’s no way that hang-glider we saw had enough surface area to generate the lift necessary to support a hefty Ewok plus several large rocks! (I’m assuming the Forest Moon had an atmosphere and surface gravity similar to Earth’s, which certainly seemed to be the case!)

At one point, an Ewok threw a loop around a speeder bike, causing it to spiral into a tree. It exploded on impact and killed the pilot. No way! Unless the pilot had muscles like Superman, he couldn’t possibly have held on even if he’d wanted to, and so he would have been thrown clear.

The explosion of the Death Star only a few hundred miles (at most) above the surface of the Forest Moon would have caused an ecological catastrophe that would surely exterminate almost all life on the moon. The energy released by the Death Star’s explosion and intercepted by the Forest Moon would have been at least comparable to that of a large asteroid hitting the moon. If the Death Star had much antimatter on board when it went up, the Forest Moon would have been bathed in lethal radiation that would have almost instantly killed every living thing on that portion of the moon from which the Death Star was visible in the sky. This was evidently not the case, but the effects of the Death Star’s destruction would certainly render the Forest Moon uninhabitable within a few days at most, and probably within a few minutes. (Better get those victory celebrations in quickly!) For the Ewoks, the Rebels’ victory would most-definitely not be a cause for celebration. You could argue that the Rebels had no choice, and that sacrificing the Forest Moon served the greater good – but would the Ewoks have made that choice if they’d known the consequences of the Death Star’s destruction to their world?

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