Scribbler’s Saga #42 – How Much Food Was in the Freezer?

Posted: August 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Now that I occasionally style myself an unemployed script doctor, let’s go whole hog and go after George Lucas. No, better scribblers than I have pored over Episodes 1-3 and walked away scratching their heads. I don’t really want to pile on when everybody and his dog enjoys beating the crap out of any movies featuring Jar Jar Binks and probably the two most mismatched romantic leads in cinema history (honorable mention to 50 Shades of Grey). I can’t fix these movies without making some kind of Faustian deal. And I’m already flagellating myself redoing Return of the Jedi as a writing sample (more later). No, I’m going after good Star Wars, specifically, Empire Strikes Back

To be fair, I couldn’t then and can’t now find very much wrong with the movie. The Empire chases the heroes around the galaxy. Luke ducks out for Jedi School. Han and Leia fall deeply in love and even deeper into the sheep dip. Luke takes a beating from his father and the heroes just barely get out with skinned knuckles. But, what didn’t come off well sticks out like a sore thumb.

How long does it take for the Millennium Falcon to fly to Bespin after eluding the Star Destroyer? There, a plot hole worthy of my time.

When Han yanks the docking clamp and floats away with the other garbage, the Falcon is completely sub-light and can’t fix with the parts on hand. With Boba Fett tracking the Falcon’s every move, the Empire has Han, Chewie, Leia and the droids under complete observation at all times. On the surface, a good way to keep setting up a hero team for more trouble according to dramatic theory (see Save the Cat, etc.). But, the crew dropped the ball with minute details mostly fixable with dialogue that potentially muddied up the whole middle of the movie.

When choosing a course for Bespin, Han says – “it’s pretty far but I think we can make it.” Okay, point one for someone thinking Dude, what do you want, calendars? They acknowledged the issue!

Now, what does I think we can make it mean? Food, mostly. Star Wars physics seems to make a big deal that no point in the galaxy is more than 30-40 hours in hyperspace from any other point. I certainly play from the assumption that New Hope starts about six hours after Rogue One, a reasonable amount of time to allow the Empire to analyze the records from Scarif.

True, Han’s assertion could also mean a run out of gas problem because we’ve never really asked anybody about energy usage on starships. Does the Falcon on its way to Bespin burn her engines the whole time? Does Han spool up to the highest sub-light speed possible that wouldn’t create relativistic time-dilation (70-percent C give or take) and then drift into Bespin?

A constant burn approach uses fuel at prodigious rates that requires an answer from Mister Lucas ruling about fuel efficiency and fuel availability before entering variables into the “cold equations” of fuel management. We would need to know if starship fuel uses thimbles of matter in each reaction allowing ships to fly vast distances on a single tank. Or we would need to know if fuel were nearly freely available in the form of interstellar hydrogen waiting to be ingested with a Bussard scoop.

Assuming Mister Lucas ruled for either possibility, the reason for constant burn is comfort. Most ships run supporting machinery off the engines which also drains fuel. In the Falcon’s case, this includes the kitchen appliances and the heater/AC that regulates cabin temperature during the months in space. Most importantly, the magic floor device called Artificial Gravity/Inertial Dampener (the best scientific opinion says both are the same machine) also runs off the engine.

Filmmakers embraced the AG machine as a way to save money to avoid depicting zero gravity with either wires or putting the set into the back of jets designed to make unwary space travelers puke. But, the magic floor also serves an in-story reason for it being turned on. Long term space flight without gravity inputs has a tendency to cause osteoporosis in astronauts and cosmonauts that stay too long.

Given that Leia walked off the Falcon suspicious of Lando’s smooth operator ways, we can assume that fuel consumption was not a problem. We can all surmise that constantly burning the engines provided a thrust based artificial gravity towards the back wall or more likely kept regular artificial gravity down towards the floor. So we circle back to Food.

The US Navy reports that nuclear vessels return to port when they reach the intersection of low food, low medicine and spouses ashore threatening divorce. They don’t run out of nuclear fuel and can get all other supplies delivered. It follows that food determines how long one can stay out at sea or space.

So Han dips into the stored food in the freezer to feed Leia, a Wookiee who thinks with his stomach and himself for months on end. Okay, I’ll go with that because the sub-light trip really serves the purpose of giving Luke enough time to train on Dagobah with Yoda. Without being clear on how long Luke has to train, we Star Wars geeks have endlessly argued all over the map – “so he had, like, a week of training before running off to fight Vader.” – or “it had to have been a year.”

And now we get to where George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett could’ve dropped in dialogue (none of these thoughts affect the deeper story structure) to make things more clear. If Leia has been stuck on the Falcon with Han for months at a time eating frozen stew and those Insta-bread packs we saw in Force Awakens, she’s going to be grumpy about food arriving on Bespin. When Lando turns on the charm kissing Leia’s knuckles, she has an opportunity to at least tease Han that she’s ready to fuck Lando for BBQ bantha steak and a real salad. Such thoughts might’ve allowed Carrie Fisher to hold the moment longer milking Lando’s suave demeanor; a good scene as is, but a better scene playing up any sort of jealousy on Han’s part. A missed opportunity.

The dialogue that really serves to murk up how long Han and Leia were stuck sub-light on the Falcon comes at the reveal of Lando’s treachery – “they arrived just before (italics mine) you, I’m sorry, but I got my own problems.” Okay, if the Empire arrived the previous day we have another timeline problem.

The Empire is probably like many other fascist government entities valuing efficiency and competence. This means that arriving the day before the bucketheads are going to run around saying a lot of – “hide!” – as they get ready to spring their trap. Or would the Empire prefer to roll up to Bespin several weeks or months in advance ready to spring a better trap with no rushing about? They have Boba Fett’s constantly updated position data following in Slave One, how long does it take to figure out he’s going to Bespin? Especially since Boba Fett, legendary bounty hunter, has Jabba the Hutt’s file on Han likely to include Known Associates. He’s going to Bespin because he thinks he can trust Lando Calrissian.

The Empire arriving on Bespin earlier than stated gives Lando more motivation without changing much dialogue. “This deal’s getting worse and worse all the time.” If Darth Vader shows up with the boys three months earlier to wait, the temptation for the bad guys would be to interfere with a profitable gas mine.

Lando’s dialogue could also refer to the bribes paid to various Imperial officers just below Darth Vader to stay out of his business. How much would Admiral Piett demand to schedule fewer safety inspections designed to regulate the gas mine into oblivion? I think 20,000 Imperial Credits to start. Another moment missed.

Meanwhile on Dagobah, Luke has several months to train with Yoda. Luke cuts his own head off confronting Vader in the swamp cave. He has Force visions of Han and Leia’s torture – “it is the future you see.” Okay, Luke has the visions while the Falcon is still in transit, so call this one a point for the what more did you need camp.

Similarly, Luke has learned “so much since then” when he can no longer avoid confronting Darth Vader. This generally suggests the passage of enough time since the swamp cave for Luke’s body to be strong and limber enough to survive the demands placed on it by the Force. Point in favor of the movie doesn’t need fixing camp.

Luke needs the time to train with the Force because he knows a few tricks married to a body that is exercise adapted to be a fighter pilot. Fighter pilot Luke can pull Gs through turns. Jedi Luke needs a different set of muscles ready for saber fights.

A real world example, black belts; it takes a lifetime to get Tenth Dan Black Belt in any art, but about three years to get a First Dan black belt. The body needs to catch up to the mind. Similarly, without extensive training, Luke loses more than his hand because his girly-man body won’t cooperate.

Here we are at the end of a rant about a movie that was generally brilliant but has a bit of a fuzzy timeline concerning an important thread, Luke’s training time. I would’ve preferred clarity so I don’t spend the intervening 37 years asking this question. I’ll move on now…

Except to answer how long do I think Han and Leia spent together on the Falcon? Eight months, an arbitrary amount that balances getting the narrative over quicker with giving Luke enough training time to be believable as a Jedi. I’ve written such into my Return of the Jedi script, but you shouldn’t use Jedi to fix the one thing off about Empire Strikes Back. Though if Leia is stuck with Han for eight months how is she not already pregnant with Kylo Ren? A question for another day.

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