Posts Tagged ‘star wars mysteries’



Star Wars Mysteries: Exacting Executor Measurements

Pablo Hidalgo | October 9, 2013
Star Wars Mysteries: Exacting Executor Measurements
Etiquette dictates that to avoid upset feelings or arguments, there are three things you never discuss at the dinner table: religion, politics, and the lengths of Super Star Destroyers. The last one, in particular, is a topic fraught with controversy with impassioned opinions that have sparked many a damned fool idealistic crusade. This blog is one of them.
What’s the kerfuffle about? In case you haven’t heard, the size of the Executor has, for years, been a contested thing. Today’s era of computer-generated visual effects offer an advantage, in that there are set numbers that define the “real” size of CG starships. Sure, some shots may fudge things in the composite, but in general, all the elements within a CG shot are to scale with one another, and by opening up the assets on a computer, you can find out how big a model is supposed to be.
Motion control models, however, aren’t as rigidly defined. Yes, they’re built to a certain scale, but in the set-up of an optical composite, the arrangement of ships can be composed to the frame, rather than true perspective, and it gets harder and harder to establish what the true size of any given object can be.
That’s a long way of saying it’s hard to measure a ship by looking at the screen. And that’s what’s spawned all sorts of debate on what the intended size of Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer should be. And it shows in the spin-off books and guides that have come after The Empire Strikes Back, in that the size of the Executor has varied over the years.
If we accept that a regular Star Destroyer is a mile-long, then we have an accurate “yardstick” by which to measure the Executor. But the problem is that shots in Episodes V and VI rarely line up the ships perfectly for us to measure. Shots like this give us the closest clue:
[image]
But even here there are camera-based unknowns like lens type and focal length that could affect how big the objects in the image appear.
So we are forced to turn to text and see what’s been written about the Star Destroyer length. Does the script say anything on how big the Star Destroyer is supposed to be? Alas, no. It just says the following:
Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer, larger and more awesome than the five Imperial Star Destroyers that surround it, sits in the vastness of space. The six huge ships are surrounded by a convoy of smaller spacecraft. TIE fighters dart to and fro.
We can take it as canon that the Executor is indeed more awesome than a regular Star Destroyer, but specifics about size are lacking.
The next source to weigh in on anything quantitative is The Art of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) which tells us, rather unhelpfully, that Vader’s Star Destroyer has “twice the destructive capability of any craft in the Imperial fleet.” In 1983, in The Empire Strikes Back National Public Radio Dramatization has Lando Calrissian eyeball Vader’s flagship to be about three times the size of Cloud City, a measurement that is no help given that Cloud City’s size is never specified. For those doing the math nowadays, based on how big we understand Cloud City to be, that puts the Executor at a whopping 48 kilometers in length, or 30 times the size of a regular mile-long Star Destroyer.
The first source to attempt to say anything definitive about a Star Destroyer length is A Guide to the Star Wars Universe, written by Raymond L. Velasco and published by Del Rey Books in 1984. It says, quite firmly, that the Executor is five times the length of a regular Star Destroyer. This locks in the size of the Executor at eight kilometers long (five miles), and for years after that, it was the accepted length. West End Games, publishers of the Star Wars roleplaying game at the time had to adhere to this. So did the video games that followed in the ’90s, the size charts in the hefty Star Wars Chronicles book, and the first edition of The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels.
To this day, I don’t know where Velasco got the five-mile length from, but he had to have good reason. He cites in the Guide as his sources for that entry The Art of The Empire Strikes Back and The Empire Strikes Back itself, but neither source makes that claim. It wasn’t until The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels that this size got bumped up to 12,800 kilometers in length, and the most recent measurements that came courtesy of later era cross-section books and published blueprints have settled on 19,000 kilometers in length. My how has it grown!
But what was the intent of the modelmakers? Is there any way to figure that out?
During the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, there were two principal scales for the Star Destroyer model. ILM used a 91-centimeter long model originally created for A New Hope for some shots, as well as a much larger 259-centimeter long version for Empire. These allowed them to get different types of shots, including wide shots that wouldn’t require trucking the camera a long distance away. You can tell the difference between the two scales of Star Destroyers by looking at the detail on the engines.
[IMAGES]
But the enormity of the Super Star Destroyer created a wrinkle. It was built a relatively manageable 282 centimeters in length. Capturing the whole thing was possible on stage, but in order to put a regular Star Destroyer in frame with it, you would have had to have a huge floor space to get far away from even the 91-centimeter model so that it scaled properly.
To save money and studio space, ILM built a small Star Destroyer out of brass to share the shot with the Executor. It was built of brass so that a hot light source could run from inside the small model without melting the dense little ship.
The important thing about the brass Star Destroyer is that it was built to be in scale with the Super Destroyer model. So if the little brass ship is supposed to be a mile long, then we know how long the Executor truly is supposed to be. I found the brass Star Destroyer at the Lucasfilm Archives and was able to measure it.
It is 33.5 centimeters long. Compare that to the Super Star Destroyer’s length of 282 centimeters long, and that suggests the intended size of the Executor of 8.418 times the size of a regular Star Destroyer. In other words: 13,469 meters long.
I say intended size, because I’m not about to weigh in here with a canonical size of the in-universe vessel after all these years. I’ll let someone else duke it out to settle that statistic. But now you’ve got another data point on the ongoing debate.

Etiquette dictates that to avoid upset feelings or arguments, there are three things you never discuss at the dinner table: religion, politics, and the lengths of Super Star Destroyers. The last one, in particular, is a topic fraught with controversy with impassioned opinions that have sparked many a damned fool idealistic crusade. This blog is one of them.

Flame ware in 3... 2... 1...

Flame war in 3... 2... 1...

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Star Wars Mysteries: Who is Wiebba-Wiebba?

Pablo Hidalgo | August 19, 2013

Readers of this blog will know that Jabba’s palace from Return of the Jedi is filled with several longstanding mysteries (like this one, and this one). But this year, the 30th anniversary of Episode VI, I was finally able to answer a question that had been gnawing at me since 1983. Who is Wiebba-Wiebba?

Who-bba-Whatta?

Who-bba-Whatta?

I recently revealed my discovery at Celebration Europe, as part of the Return of the Jedi Creature History panel that’s been described here. It was at the end of a panel that had spent over an hour detailing as many of the creatures created for Episode VI as possible.

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Star Wars Mysteries: Let’s Give Luke a Hand

Pablo Hidalgo | April 1, 2013

hand004

In the spring of 2009, Lucasfilm got the following email (without any sort of visual attachment) from a recent visitor to the Star Wars: Where Science Meets the Imagination museum tour.

One of the items on display which was of great interested to me was “Luke’s prosthetic Hand”. It was a prosthetic of Luke’s hand showing damage to the palm area. The display card with the item states:

“Luke’s Prosthetic Hand. Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back.”

My question is: Was this prop actually used in any of the Star Wars films? I have no memory of seeing it in The Empire Strikes Back (or Return of the Jedi). In Empire, we see Luke’s hand showing damage in the wrist area. In Jedi, we see Luke’s hand with damage to the back of the hand. In none of the movies do we see damage to the palm (if my memory is correct).

So, was the prop on display ever actually seen onscreen in Empire (or Jedi)? Was the prop perhaps built and never used?

Geeky, inquiring minds, need to know! :-) Thanks for any help you can provide.

That question ping-ponged through several inboxes across Lucasfilm, looking for an answer. It landed in my lap, which triggered a few memories. Again, this inquiry came in with no visuals attached, but some very distinctive images popped into my mind.

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Star Wars Mysteries: The Rebel Commando That Wasn’t

Pablo Hidalgo | March 5, 2013

This installment’s hunt for answers wasn’t sparked by any long-burning question. It probably won’t turn your world upside-down like the Max and Wedge posts did. But if I were the kind of guy who really enjoyed photo-supported Star Wars esoterica (and I am), I’d be all over this (and I am).  I stumbled upon this latest discovery while researching the Max Rebo entry. For years now, there was a reference photo in our image archives that had been labeled a Rebel commando. Based on that keyword, this reference photo saw print in a couple of sources like, until a few weeks ago, StarWars.com. But as soon as I learned that this is not a Rebel commando, I had them pull it.

There's something not right about this guy....

There’s something not right about this guy….

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Star Wars Mysteries: Getting to the Bottom of Max Rebo

Pablo Hidalgo | February 20, 2013
Star Wars Mysteries: Getting to the Bottom of Max Rebo
Not since Lapti Nek will Max Rebo fans have their worlds rocked this hard. A few months back, ace illustrator Brandon Bird reached out to me via the magic of the Internet to back up his contention concerning Max Rebo, about something most people don’t know about the elephantine keyboardist. Referencing an online article about the action figure incarnation of Max, Brandon insisted that Max was never ever supposed to have legs. And you know what, he’s absolutely right.
[action figure picture]
This diapered humanoid is how Kenner extrapolated the body of Max Rebo in 1983 for his first toy. It was created with the assumption that he’s sitting at the center of his keyboard. Since that time, the Expanded Universe has run with the idea that that Max has legs. The Ortolan species (which was established by Troy Denning in 1989’s Galaxy Guide 4: Alien Species) has two legs and two arms. But that was never the intent of Max’s original designers.
[Ortoloan artwork]
Below is the maquette that Phil Tippett created for Max to first define the alien. In this early incarnation, he was known as Red Ball Jett. Look at the shape of those limbs. Those are legs. They terminate not at shoulders, but rather to large muscles at Max’s base that look like a gluteus maximus. A butt, if I may be so bold.
Schematic artwork defining how Max could possibly work made it clear he doesn’t have shoulders. The limbs begin at the base. Note though, in the final film the number of performers inside Max changed to just one.
Max doesn’t have shoulders. Those limbs begin at his base.
Then, when we look at some of the schematic art for the creature, the idea
But the real clincher is this blueprint for the keyboard — called the Red Ball Jett organ. Yes, it was built as a donut-shaped instrument because the filmmaking reality necessitated that the performer sit inside. But looking at the callouts in the blueprint, the “ring” that surrounds Max’s non-existent trunk is described as a cushion. It was meant to be a pillow that Max is sitting on, not a
Of course, when the creature was created, it was hard not to see the limbs as arms, because that is what was needed to drive the performance. The peculiar hinging of the limbs – the upward slant of femurs to knee to shins instead became lateral slants of humerus to elbow to forearms. The skinflaps remained. And yes, I can understand why an artist would interpret them as arms.
But that wasn’t how Max was designed.

Not since “Lapti Nek” will Max Rebo fans have their worlds rocked this hard. A few months back, ace illustrator Brandon Bird reached out to me via the magic of the Internet to back up a certain contention regarding Max Rebo, concerning something most people don’t know about the elephantine keyboardist. Referencing an online article about the action figure incarnation of Max, Brandon insisted that Max was never ever supposed to have humanoid legs. And you know what, he’s absolutely right.

Max's legs -- the blue elephant in the room.

Max's legs -- the blue elephant in the room.

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