It’s May 4, what a happy day of Star Wars: may the fourth accompany you!
One of the iconic scenes of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi is the battle of Tatooine in the well of Sarlacc, the home of a huge creature who only waits to eat the things that fall into his sandbox. (No spoiler alert: It’s been almost 30 years since The return of the Jedi it hit theaters. If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably won’t.
Luke Skywalker is being held captive by Jabba the Hutt’s guards. They are in a skiff above Sarlacc’s well, and Luke is standing on a plank, about to be pushed into the creature’s jaws. R2-D2 is some distance from Jabba’s sailboat, and has been retaining Luke’s lightsaber. Now for the best part: at just the right time, R2 throws Luke’s lightsaber at him as he flies through the pit for Luke to grab him. When this happens, Luke jumps off the board and turns around. Grab the edge of the board and use it to make a trampoline toward the skiff. Now the battle begins.
I’ll look at these two moves — the throwing of the lightsaber and the twisting of the iron — and see if it’s possible for a normal human to do that, or if you have to be a Jedi like Luke. But I’ll make a big guess about this scene, and you might not like it. I will assume that the planet Tatooine has the same surface gravity as Earth, so g = 9.8 newtons per kilogram. This would mean that a jumping human and a drawn lightsaber would follow similar trajectories to the two planets.
Oh, I get it: Tatooine is not the same as Earth. However, in the movie looks it looks a lot like Earth (you know why), and that allows me to do some real calculations. Let’s do it.
Movement of a lightsaber
I’ll start with the lightsaber throwing R2-D2 at Luke. What can we deduce from this part of the action sequence? Well, let’s start with some data.
I will first get the total flight time as the lightsaber moves from R2 to Luke. The easiest way to do this is to use a video analytics program; my favorite is Tracker. With that, I can mark the video frame that shows the weapon coming out of R2-D2’s head (which is a little weird when you think about it) and then mark the frame where Luke reaches. This gives a flight time of 3.84 seconds.
I guess it’s not the real time flight. Because? First of all, it takes a long time for the lightsaber to be in the air. Also, there is a lot going on during this dam. In the sequence seen in the movie, R2-D2 shoots the sword and we see it go up. I cut Luke by making a front turn on the skiff. Cut to the landing on Luke, then a shot of the lightsaber falling on him. The final shot shows Luke’s hand grabbing his weapon. There are a lot of cuts, so it may not be a real-time sequence. Don’t worry, it’s okay. This is what film directors do.