RSA Debate

Round 1, Part 1

(posted Friday, September 13, 2002)

Darkstar, we have many disagreements on many, many, many subjects, but for this debate, I will focus on your so-called "Death Star chain-reaction theory". However, as a matter of basic principle, it is impossible to hold a rational discussion based on the evidence without first determining what the evidence is, ie- what is admissible. Therefore, we must deal with the issue of Star Wars continuity first.


When we try to rationalize a fictional universe, any fan can arguably use any rules of admissibility that he likes, and as long as he is CONSISTENT in the use of that definition, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. I have even dealt with fans who refuse to recognize the Star Wars prequel trilogy! However, objective discussion and analysis is impossible without a widely accepted standard, so we generally defer to the copyright holder. There are TWO kinds of legal copyright: property rights and so-called "moral rights", which go to the legal owner and original creator respectively. In the case of Star Wars, the intellectual property rights are held by Lucasfilm, and moral rights reside with George Lucas. This is a trivial distinction since Mr. Lucas owns Lucasfilm, but it's a much bigger issue with some other sci-fi series.

In any case, you have the following to say on your Canon page:

"Recently, Lucas cleared up the messy issue by explaining that the books, games, and comic books are part of a parallel universe, another world created separately from his own (Lucas in Cinescape). By design, the settings in time of the parallel universe do not intrude on his movie time period, since LucasBooks disallows authors from playing with events and periods of time that Lucas intends to use. LucasBooks tries to use the events in the Canon universe in the parallel universe, but the fact that it is a parallel universe explains why Lucas isn't bound by it (as stated by Sansweet)."

You conclude (in your preface) that "the Expanded Universe is NOT part of the official story of Star Wars". Unfortunately for you, this is a non sequitur. Yes, official material is not canon, but the overall continuity includes more than just the canon! It also includes most of the official materials, as stated clearly by the Lucasfilm continuity editors:

"Gospel, or canon as we refer to it, includes the screenplays, the films, the radio dramas and the novelisations. These works spin out of George Lucas' original stories, the rest are written by other writers. However, between us, we've read everything, and much of it is taken into account in the overall continuity. The entire catalog of published works comprises a vast history -- with many off-shoots, variations and tangents -- like any other well-developed mythology."

Therefore, if you want to dismiss the EU, you must do more than merely show that it is non-canon; you must show that it is NOT part of the larger OVERALL CONTINUITY, whose existence you seem to deny. Of course, you feel that you can appeal to a higher power than Lucasfilm's continuity editors: George Lucas himself. To this end, you chose to reference "Lucas in Cinescape" with phrases taken out of context rather than the full quote. Luckily, I happen to have the full quote here. Mr. Lucas said:

"There's my world, which is the movies, and there's this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe - the licensing world of the books, games and comic books. They don't intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] THEY DO INTRUDE IN BETWEEN THE MOVIES. I don't get too involved in the parallel universe." (emphasis added)

It's pretty obvious why you chose to take the phrase "parallel universe" out of context rather than providing the full quote, isn't it? Once we look at the full quote, we can see that he's actually saying that the official material is valid for all points in the Star Wars timeline other than the movies themselves! Your entire argument is based on a quote which, when viewed in its entirety, directly CONTRADICTS you!

Let us review. You said: "the Expanded Universe is NOT part of the official story of Star Wars". George Lucas said: "They don't intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they DO intrude in between the movies." Sorry, but George's opinion counts for more than yours. Of course, EU material isn't 100% reliable, but the same could be said of ANY historical source, which is why they must be evaluated as such. The canon films can be thought of as footage of "real" events, while the EU is relegated to the status of historical source (equivalent to books, government records, etc. in real life), but it cannot be discarded out of hand the way you would like, because George made it quite clear that the world of the books DOES "intrude" into his continuity.


I will refrain from going over old arguments. You have whined for days that it would be unfair to use your own history against you, and many observers will be unfamiliar with them anyway, so I will make a fresh start. Your basic claim is that the Death Star induces an exothermal chain reaction of unknown properties in Alderaan, rather than simply transferring a huge amount of power into it and destroying it. This strikes most people as absurd; after all, the opening crawl of ANH states quite clearly that the Death Star is "an armored space station with enough POWER to destroy an entire planet" (perhaps you've never watched the film).

In any case, you claim to have conclusive evidence that the opening crawl of the canon movie is wrong. According to you, the superlaser strikes Alderaan (and you deny the existence of its shield) but damages very little of the planet (you picked an arbitrary 20-30% figure out of thin air, as I recall). Instead of heating the planet or directly causing it to expand, you claim that the superlaser creates an "anti-Genesis effect" which moves over the surface of the planet, spreading outward from the point of contact until it eventually covers the entire surface (I have no idea what you're trying to accomplish by introducing Trek-based red herrings, but there it is). As evidence for your bizarre sci-fi technological cross-pollination theory, you cite the fact that the explosion of the far side of the planet lags behind that of the near side, thus implying that the heating/expansion effect of the superlaser's energy transfer is not instantaneously uniform throughout the entire planet's mass and proving the existence of your mysterious exothermal chain reaction (there are some monstrous logical and scientific problems with this "reasoning", but this post will be long enough as it is, so I will restrict myself to discussion of the evidence itself for now).

Note: all frames are digitized from my CLV laserdiscs and then inverse-telecined to the original 24fps theatrical framerate for timebase correction. The screenshots are taken from my best-quality Divx-encoded version of the film, not the lower-resolution low-bandwidth version which I made available for download from the Alderaan page (that one was transcoded from the master copy). If it should turn out that you have misrepresented the evidence, then any conclusions you have drawn from your analyses would be judged accordingly. You only made comments on a handful of frames, but I will include a large number of them for the sake of comprehensiveness, and to demonstrate some phenomena which apparently slipped under your radar:

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 0

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 1
According to you: "The white flash of the superlaser strike." Yes, there's a white flash, but you neglect to mention the "halo effect" outside the atmosphere on the right-hand side, and the unaffected oceans and clouds underneath. Perhaps you weren't paying close attention?

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 2
Rapid propagation of halo effect, which now covers nearly the entire hemisphere despite visibly unaffected oceans underneath. Note rapid propagation of halo effect (perhaps one quarter of the planet's circumference in 1/24 second, which is roughly 0.8c). The halo effect is probably a visible manifestation of the planetary shield's reradiation mechanism.

According to you: "The firey explosion begins, mostly near the beam." Again, I must ask: were you paying attention? There is no fiery explosion; there is luminescence but nothing is being thrown away from the planet, and we can clearly see unaffected oceans underneath. Moreover, your contention that it is "mostly near the beam" is simply absurd; the planetary shield is now visibly glowing over nearly a full hemisphere.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 3
Dramatic intensification of halo effect, which is now so bright that it saturates the video medium. Note that the effect intensifies but does not travel much farther around the planet, which is typical of shield absorption/re-radiation characteristics as seen in TPM; they can only dissipate the energy over a limited surface area around the point of contact. The enormous rate of energy dissipation is obviously going to overload the shield's energy handling limits shortly. Without a planetary shield, it would be extremely difficult to explain why the propagation rate starts off so quickly and then slows down so dramatically.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 4
Slight change in the halo effect's physical appearance, although the coverage area has not dramatically changed (note that the far side is still blue). However, the sudden unevenness and colour changes may indicate that the shield has failed. This would imply that the superlaser is drilling into the planet's mass already, although the sheer scale means that there will be a measurable time lag before the surface expands (even at 5% of c, it would take 1 frame for a lower mantle expansion to breach the surface and 5 frames for a core expansion to breach the surface). Intensification without forward progress is consistent with a shield, but not with your mysterious surface-level chain reaction.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 5
Planetary explosion begins outright. The fire rings must have appeared somewhere between frames 4 and 5, and they are already 1500 km away from surface. Note that they are centred around the planet's core and aligned with the camera angle, not the superlaser.

According to you: "The rings and a band of brightness around the center of the beam appear. The band will encircle the globe". What is this band, Darkstar? I don't see any "band"; at best, there are irregularities in the brightness, which are hardly inexplicable in a chaotic explosion. You also say: "the first ring has appeared all the way around the planet, even though that left side (with atmosphere, even) still seems to be stable. (That's the last frame of the superlaser.) Assuming anyone was still alive at this point on the other side of the planet, they must've wondered what the hell was going on."

In short, there is a blue tinge at the far side which you use as proof that the far side is completely unaffected. However, one should not read too much into a blue tinge, as we can see in the screenshot below:

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 5, with frame 0 inverted and superimposed
We can see that the planet has already been heated up to such an extent that glowing material has been hurled at least 100-200 km away from the surface at all points around the planet, INCLUDING the far side. I doubt anyone would be lazily "wondering what the hell was going on" when the ground beneath his feet has been heated up to such an extent that it has shot up into the sky and out of the atmosphere!

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 6
Continued expansion. Rings expand another 4600 km, thus indicating average velocity of more than 1/3c. Planetary mass continues to expand and heat dramatically, which would be consistent with a blast that expands its mass from within.

According to you: "The next frame shows the superlaser target point much darker, with a band of greater brightness around it that reminds me of the Genesis Effect." I must ask: are you watching a different version of the film than the rest of us? Where is this "band of greater brightness" around the superlaser contact point? Are you referring to the fact that the entire planet is glowing and expanding, with two thirds of it expanding at a slightly greater rate? And did you notice that the reddish, or "darkened" region is centred around the MIDDLE of the planet, and not the superlaser contact point as you claim, which was well to the right? Your analysis is certainly starting off on the wrong foot when you seem to develop a case of hysterical blindness while examining the evidence! And what is this "Anti-Genesis Effect"? I don't see any "Anti-Genesis Effect!" All I see is a planet which is rapidly expanding, albeit with a slight asymmetry that is easily explained by energy propagation delay through the planet's mass.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 7

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 8
According to you: "A couple of frames later, the band of brightness has expanded, as have the rings, and the dark patch where the superlaser hit is darker." Again, you seem to be inventing observations out of thin air. The dark patch is now well to the left, while the superlaser was well to the right. And the "band" is white-hot matter shooting into space around the entire planet.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 9

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 10

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 11
According to you: "It is only when the leftmost section of the ring almost leaves the frame that the band of brightness seems to reach the leftmost horizon of the planet." You go on to conclude that the far side of the planet was basically untouched until this point! However, when we superimpose the colour-inverted planet on the frame, we get:

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 11, with frame 0 inverted and superimposed
In this view, it is clear that while there is SOME asymmetry in the explosion, it is easily explained through propagation delays, which are measurable on a planetary scale even at significant fractions of c. Perhaps you have a modified version of the film in your imagination? That is not a "band of brightness"; it is countless billions upon billions of tons of superheated debris flying away from the planet in all directions! The debris field is already 500 km away from the surface at the closest point, and thousands of km away at the farthest point. Again, I must ask if you have some kind of vision problem. This expansion continues for a while, so we skip ahead a few frames to:

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 27
Secondary burst begins (you can see that the initial burst is slightly up and to the left, although it is difficult to discern what's going on through the light and debris). Note that the fire ring has slowed down dramatically. After expanding at a rate of more than 1/3 c between frames 5 and 6, it has covered only 22,000 km in the 21 frames since then, for an average velocity of only 25,000 km/s. This indicates that it is SLOWING DOWN despite the lack of a natural braking mechanism in space! It would be a gross understatement to say that the fire rings are a curious phenomenon.

Of course, you didn't notice that, but you DID have enough time to say "This secondary explosion is apparently much larger than the first, though it doesn't appear as bright in the first moments (it may have on the opposite side of the planet). It appears to be centered somewhere behind the core of the planet. The second ring is also larger and much faster than the first. The secondary explosion also gives us our first observation of large debris material, appearing to come from the former location of the center of the planet, headed in the general direction the superlaser had come from."

Again, I must ask: are you inventing observations in your imagination now? If the second explosion is off-centre, why does its fire ring line up with the first one? And where is this debris heading TOWARD the Death Star that you describe? The next few frames clearly show an explosion that is skewed to the LEFT, not the right:

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 28

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 29
Second "fire ring" appears. Note that it matches the first one in both location and alignment, thus indicating that despite the irregular appearance of the "secondary burst", it is still roughly centred on the planet's original core location.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 30
The second fire ring continues to expand, rapidly catching up to the first one which is mysteriously continuing to lose velocity.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 31

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 32
The second fire ring has nearly caught up to the first fire ring.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 33
The second fire ring meets the first ring.

Alderaan Explosion
Frame 34
The second fire ring has merged with the first fire ring and both are continuing outward. Note the lack of violent interactions between the two fire rings.

After apparently mutilating the evidence in your mind, you conclude: "This suggests that the superlaser only directly destroyed the part of the planet facing it in those first few milliseconds, since there would be no particular reason for a higher concentration of bulk material (from the core or otherwise) to head toward the original location of the beam. It would have to be either because that area of the planet no longer existed (providing no resistance), and/or because something (the secondary explosion, produced somehow by the bands) was giving it a good shove from behind. This also serves to explain why so much of the material of the secondary explosion seemed to fly away and behind the planet, while larger pieces flew forward."

However, since the explosion does NOT hurl any more material back toward the Death Star than it does in any other direction, your "observation" turns out to be a fabrication, along with any conclusions reliant upon it.

Of course, I recognize that you hang your hat mostly upon the "fire rings" rather than these grossly mistaken observations of yours, but we must deal with one point at a time, in a linear progression. Your analysis of the Alderaan blast appears to be based on either serious vision problems, dishonesty, or perhaps a seriously corrupted version of the film (perhaps you watched it on VHS and were unable to distinguish the well-known colour-bleed problems of the format from the underlying movie).

Are you willing to concede that you have either misrepresented the evidence or seen an extremely poor-quality copy of it? I have presented clear evidence that the entire planet is ALREADY expanding in frame 5, its asymmetry is actually skewed AWAY from the superlaser and not toward it as you say, there is NOT an unusual concentration of debris heading back toward the Death Star, the "dark spot" is NOT located at the superlaser contact point, and the two explosions are NOT significantly off-centre from one another. To contest these points would be nearly absurd, since the evidence is in plain view, from the highest-quality available source.

If you are willing to concede that your observations are faulty, we can move onto your "fire ring" fallacies in our next exchange (assuming that you pick up this challenge and continue this debate).

See RSA's response

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