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  • - I'm totally cool with having light sabers

  • and all kinds of stuff,

  • because it makes a super exciting movie,

  • and besides, that's my favorite movie,

  • so it definitely gets a pass.

  • I'm Andy Howell.

  • I'm a staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory

  • and a Professor of Physics

  • at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

  • I'm also the host of Science vs. Cinema.

  • Today, we're gonna be reviewing some space

  • and science scenes in film.

  • [upbeat music]

  • This is "Ad Astra," directed by James Gray.

  • In this scene, Roy is forced to jump

  • from an antenna at a really high altitude.

  • [rocket whooshes]

  • Okay, so this scene starts off "Ad Astra,"

  • and it's a pretty cool idea of,

  • you think Brad Pitt's an astronaut,

  • but then he goes outside and he's actually on a tower,

  • and then he falls off this tower,

  • and the shot is really cool,

  • and it's an amazing way to start a movie.

  • The problem is it's just not justified at all.

  • What I like about it, though, is it's based on reality.

  • There was a test that the Air Force did

  • of high altitude parachute jumps back in the 50s.

  • And this guy, Joseph Kittinger, actually did a,

  • not a fall off a tower, but a fall off,

  • I think it was a balloon,

  • to see what it would be like to do

  • that exact stunt that was done in the movie.

  • What happened was the air was too thin

  • and he started spinning and he spun so fast

  • he actually lost consciousness.

  • - [Roy] General McBride.

  • I'm in the spin.

  • Atmosphere's too thin to stabilize.

  • - So I really like basing that kind of thing on reality,

  • sort of subverting our expectations

  • into thinking he's just a regular astronaut,

  • but he's in a tower on Earth.

  • The problem is there's no scientific reason

  • to have a tower like that.

  • What they say in the movie is that it's

  • to communicate with aliens.

  • Well, we can already do that today

  • with radio dishes on the ground.

  • With radio, you don't have to put it above the atmosphere.

  • They could have made it so

  • that it was a space elevator, though.

  • That would have been super cool.

  • That's this idea of you build a tower to space

  • and then you can ride it up,

  • and instead of launching a rocket,

  • you can just get off your space elevator into orbit,

  • but sadly, they just went with

  • this uninformed thing of building a tower for no reason.

  • This is "Star Wars: A New Hope,"

  • directed by George Lucas, and in this clip,

  • Luke Skywalker admires the twin suns of Tatooine.

  • [gentle music]

  • Alright, man, do I love that scene?

  • "Star Wars" is my favorite movie,

  • and I would make a case

  • for it being the best movie in history.

  • And that's one of the best scenes from it.

  • I mean, just that John Williams music.

  • Luke, as he's about to leave home and embark

  • on this great adventure, you see these twin suns.

  • So visually you just know we're on another planet.

  • It works so well.

  • And astrophysically, it actually tells you a lot

  • about the world of "Star Wars."

  • Actually, most stars in the sky,

  • maybe not quite half, are binary stars.

  • So we have one star, the Sun here,

  • but many stars are two stars orbiting each other.

  • So the question is,

  • how do you get planets around a two-star system?

  • One possibility is that you have planets going around one

  • of the stars and that's actually the case in "Avatar."

  • And then the two stars orbit each other,

  • but the plants are just going around one of the stars.

  • In that case, you would get sometimes the stars,

  • both being aligned in the sky, like during the daytime,

  • being in the same direction.

  • At other times, you might be in between both of the stars,

  • which, if you think about it, as your planet rotates,

  • means that there will always be a star up,

  • and you'll never have nighttime.

  • So those are quite weird,

  • but they're the kind that we see

  • in "Star Wars" is two stars orbiting each other,

  • and then the planet orbiting the pair

  • of stars from farther away.

  • How do we know this?

  • Well, in "Star Wars: Episode III,"

  • they show the same sunset,

  • and so that's like 18 years earlier,

  • and yet, the stars are about the same size in the sky,

  • and they're both rising and setting together.

  • And the fact that they're sort of yellow

  • and orange stars tells you that they're very close

  • to the mass of our star

  • because the color of the star tells you the temperature.

  • At the time, "Star Wars" was made in 1977.

  • We didn't know about planets around other star systems,

  • but today we have, for example, the Kepler Satellite,

  • and it has found thousands of planets around other worlds,

  • including a planet around a binary star,

  • very similar to what we see in "Star Wars."

  • And in fact, scientists informally refer to it as Tatooine,

  • even though its real name is Kepler-16b.

  • This is "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler.

  • In this clip, Shuri shows her brother T'Challa some

  • of her new inventions.

  • - I have great things to show you, brother.

  • Here are your communication devices for Korea.

  • Unlimited range.

  • Also equipped with audio surveillance system.

  • Check these out.

  • - So we've got this laboratory in Wakanda,

  • and it's a great example of Afrofuturism,

  • where in this case, they're imagining a country

  • who had great resources and technological development

  • that was spared the horrors of colonialism.

  • So they didn't have, they weren't set back by

  • all of these bad things that happen in the real world.

  • So I just loved that,

  • and I love seeing all these inventions,

  • and Shuri is just such a great character.

  • Her sort of glee with which she talks about all

  • of her inventions and her relationship with her brother

  • and how she's sort of making fun of him and everything.

  • - [T'Challa] And what are these?

  • - The real question is what are those?

  • Why do you have your toes out in my lab?

  • - You get the sense of humor that scientists have.

  • You get this joy of discovery and of new inventions,

  • and I just really do love seeing a black woman in this role.

  • That is not typically what you see.

  • You usually see a white man

  • in a lab coat, totally humorless,

  • just crazed about technology or something like that.

  • But that's not what scientists are like.

  • I see more of myself in Shuri than I do

  • in most portrayal of scientists in movies,

  • She captures the essence of science better than, say,

  • in "Armageddon" or "Independence Day,"

  • some nerd in a lab coat.

  • One of the things I really like about the narrative

  • of "Black Panther" is it's based

  • on this asteroid that came to Earth

  • and crashed and it's made of vibranium.

  • And so part of the thing here is that there's this culture

  • who has resources that help them sort of get ahead,

  • but then it helps them shield themselves from colonialists

  • who aren't able to come and get it.

  • This same kind of thing has happened

  • on Earth in various ways, almost identically.

  • We've had iron-nickel meteorites.

  • That's one of two types of meteorites.

  • They're either stony or iron-nickel,

  • and before cultures had the ability to mine iron,

  • they were able to mine this meteorite,

  • been able to get the iron from it,

  • and they don't always get a huge technological advantage.

  • They have, in a couple of cases,

  • but they usually have used it to make ceremonial things

  • like daggers and pendants.

  • One of King Tut's daggers was made of meteoric iron.

  • We can tell that by analyzing the composition,

  • and the Inuit, even though people

  • around them had Stone Age technology,

  • there's a case where a group of them were able

  • to make metal fish hooks and spear tips

  • and things like that.

  • It's astounding to me that that kind of thing has happened.

  • But even more surprising is that every time

  • where a culture has had this,

  • colonizers came and took the meteorite away.

  • There's only one case where that didn't happen,

  • and that was 'cause the meteorite was like 80 tons

  • and people couldn't move it.

  • So this thing of getting a technology from space

  • and then colonialists stealing it,

  • unless you hide it from them, that is real.

  • So I really love the fact that they were able

  • to take this astrophysical story,

  • but then weave it into a narrative that is very meaningful

  • for both the characters in the movie,

  • and to a lot of people.

  • It's affected all of our lives on Earth.

  • This is "E.T.," directed by Steven Spielberg.

  • In this clip, Elliott's home gets invaded

  • by astronauts after E.T. falls ill.

  • [moans]

  • - [Elliott] Leave him alone.

  • [dramatic music]

  • [scientist breathing heavily]

  • [scientist roars]

  • [Elliott screams]

  • - Alright, so what's going on in this scene,

  • we've got Elliott and E.T., who are really vulnerable,

  • and at the same time,

  • the scientists are coming into the house,

  • and their faces are obscured.

  • We really have lost their sense of humanity.

  • They're breathing really weirdly,

  • and they're like these home invaders.

  • So they're the real clear villains.

  • These are scientists who just want to study E.T.

  • I mean, wouldn't you want to study extraterrestrial life

  • if it came to your planet after thousands of years?

  • Think about it.

  • E.T. has knowledge of physics way beyond whatever we do.

  • He has knowledge of interstellar travel.

  • It answers the question:

  • Are we alone in the universe?

  • And he can revive things from the dead.

  • Okay, so this could be the key

  • to all of us having immortality,

  • and yet somehow Spielberg makes us root for a kid

  • to keep all of that away from us,

  • by making scientists into the villains.

  • Look, I'm a scientist.

  • All we want to do is study things

  • and make the world a better place.

  • So I think there was room in the movie

  • to make the scientists heroes,

  • and also have this kid and alien relationship.

  • This is "Avatar," directed by James Cameron.

  • In this clip, we're introduced

  • to Pandora's floating mountains.

  • [dramatic music]

  • So I really like a lot of aspects of what we're seeing here

  • and in "Avatar" in general.

  • We've got these Na'vi,

  • these creatures that are like really long

  • and skinny blue creatures,

  • and they've got these sort of horse-like creatures

  • with them going around on these floating mountains.

  • Okay, so everything about that has some basis

  • in what James Cameron was trying

  • to create here with this movie.

  • We're on a moon around a planet around Alpha Centauri,

  • one of the closest star systems.