Mythbusters fans seem to look down their noses at the show’s forays into “movie mythbusting” apparently, which seems a bit silly. This isn’t Scientific American (or even Bill Nye The Science Guy) veering wildly from its mission in order to pander to sci fi geeks. Mythbusters is a reality show, and if fiendishly clever and capable hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman debunk the idea that, say, the Green Hornet’s car could be launched out of its grave by firing its missiles into the ground while Seth Rogen chuckles embarrassedly, I don’t see the problem, as long as the show continues to apply its rigorous gearhead scientific method to the stunts, and the pop culture intrusion doesn’t derail the ‘splosions with a surfeit of jokey gladhanding. The show’s Star Wars-themed special passes both tests, but with reservations.
For starters, the show stays appropriately grounded in scientific fact (or at least conjecture), so lightsabers, TIE fighters, hyperspace, and the Force are left to the sort of “could it ever happen?” conjecture of a Doctor Who special —leaving the hosts (and their trio of less-interesting underlings) to cast their skeptical peepers upon three, more physics-based stunts from the original trilogy. (The prequels are never mentioned—perhaps because “could LucasFilms’ GCI render this convincingly” falls outside of the show’s purview.) Why these three? Well, one is iconic, the other gives sub-hosts Cary, Tory, and Grant something to do, and the third is super-gross. I can think of worse criteria.
The first challenge is to see whether Luke could have landed that grappling hook toss and swung himself and Leia across that Death Star bottomless chasm, and here, I’m the one casting doubt—especially on the methodology of the tests. Sure, it’s impressive how well Jamie can replicate Luke’s exact hook in his workshop, but the toss-test is done in isolation from the chasm-swing. Jamie’s able to land the hook on an identical pipe (after many, many tries, with the hook resting precariously in place), but his initial swing (with a Leia mannequin) using a standard belt like Luke’s is done separately, as is the final big swing (using a modified belt harness that would have made Luke’s leggings look very lumpy indeed). Each element is deemed “plausible: but unlikely” on its own, but it seems the whole enterprise would have more integrity if those elements were combined.
The middle segment, farmed out to the show’s lesser triumvirate, seeks to replicate the Ewoks’ double-log smash on the Imperial AT-ST “chicken walker” from Return Of The Jedi, and is largely an exercise in watching numerous hardhats construct a giant frame while Kari, Tory, and Grant make lame Star Wars jokes and laugh nervously. Honestly, whenever these three are left to their own devices, I keep waiting for the grown-ups to step in and take charge. This segment, while largely anticlimactic, does have the Mythbusters virtue of what the SCTV farm report guys would term “stuff blowin’ up reeeal good!,” with first a van and then an armored truck being satisfyingly smushed between the two laboriously winched-up giant logs. Again, I’m being that guy, but it’s not much of a surprise that two 10,000-pound eucalyptus tree trunks would cause some damage—introducing some element of timing into the experiment would have provided some much-needed tension.
It’s in the third segment that Mythbusters’ Adam and Jamie do what they do best, creating what Adam calls “the most complex and sensitive experimental rig we have ever built” in order to see whether Luke would have survived inside that tauntaun long enough for Han to rig up a proper Hoth-proof shelter. Going all out, the guys utilize their fully circulatory “thermoboy” from their Titanic episode, an impressively detailed tauntaun crafted by Adam, and some homemade, delightfully squishy, heat-conducting creature guts made by Jamie to approximate the conditions (inside a dry ice-filled industrial freezer) of the harsh Hoth nighttime. Given time to show their work, we even get to see the hosts deal, with signature dogged perseverance, with the problem of maddeningly unreliable tauntaun intestines. It’s in the guys’ straightfacedly practical approach to the fiendishly difficult, decidedly silly problems they make for themselves that the true heart of Mythbusters comes through—at its best, it’s two grown-up little boys with a big budget testing whether cool stuff they heard about actually works.
As to the prejudice against basing the special’s experiments on the flashy stunts in movies, it seems instead that those are exactly the way that such myths come about in an age when urban legends, old wives’ tales, and oral traditions have largely ceded their power to movies and TV. I know that when I tried to replicate Luke’s daring escape by tying a clothesline to our backyard apple tree and swinging to the jungle gym, my bruised butt and rope burns were a direct result of my credulous mind thinking that since someone said such a thing was possible, it was. I really could have used a Mythbusters in the 70s.
- Jamie wears Dark Helmet’s helmet from Spaceballs at one point.
- Of course, the implausibility of each stunt can be explained away by appending the word “space” to every material used. I’m sure Luke’s space belt could have handled the stresses just fine.
- That’s Chicago P.D.’s Sophia Bush as Leia’s stand in in the grappling hook test. A self-described “huge Mythbusters fan,” she’s certainly a gamer.
- I will say that these movie-themed episodes really bring out the worst in the performers and writers. We are not tuning in to Mythbusters to check out the underlings’ comic stylings.
- Also, whoever wrote the narrator’s line “Jamie needs a whole ‘Yoda’ practice” should be used in place of the next crash test dummy.