Hi there, long time no see. I kind of took an extended mental health break after the election but I’m back now and it’s to whine about one of my biggest pet-peeves: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s movie commentaries.
Normally I just ignore him because his commentaries are just loaded with lots of nothing. They give online media the opportunity for click-bait headlines like “Neil deGrasse Tyson debunks ‘Star Wars’ science on twitter.”
Now, I understand the corollary between familiarity with a subject and interrupted verisimilitude. I get it, historians are always going to point out historical flaws in movies and scientists are always going to bawk at bad science. I really get it. But I do ask two things from those who seek to stand so high and mighty over us – make sure you know what you’re talking about, and stay curious.
Here he is commenting on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and an old Star Wars error that people love to go on about.
So, his response to this is, hear an error, call the error out. He does this with another part of the film that I have to give a spoiler warning for.
The new death star in this movie (it has another name, I don’t really care) aparently couldn’t exist in our world. Now here’s where my two rules come into play.
First: know what the heck you’re talking about. The whole Kessel Run business has been established for almost two decades now. The Han Solo Trilogy of Star Wars novels retconned the idea that the 12-parsec claim was not a claim about time but about distance. Parsecs don’t mean something different in this universe. They are a unit of distance and by being curious you can figure out why. The idea is that the Kessel run is a popular interstellar route for smuggling operations and that it is 18 parsecs long. So the claim, is that Han Solo’s piloting skills and intuition with the Millenium Falcon are how we found a 12 parsec route of the Kessel Run. Its like knowing how to navigate New York City in rush hour. The impressive nature of the time is only important in that it shows how talented you are at navigation.
Now what does this have to do with curiosity? Well, to go back to my problem with how he approaches movies: spot a problem, call it out, is that it misses a really important step in understanding art, and really the world. When you spot something weird, instead of just whining about it, ask why. What purpose does this have? Is there a reason for this anomaly or is it just shoddy story telling?
The parsec thing in the original Star Wars was shoddy detail checking, but the Star Wars fan community dealt with it almost 20 years ago and we don’t need to keep whining about it.
But for the death star planet sucker thing, this really grinds my gears. Because instead of asking, “why does this not make sense” and realizing that the answer is narratively important because this shows how strong and technologically advanced the First Order is you just don’t get to that point. This is a fantasy film with bits of sci-fi thrown in so it doesn’t require a peer-reviewed explanation of how every mechanic works. Not only that, the film even makes your point for you and explains it in universe. The whole final sequence of the film is about destroying the technology that keeps the planet from being vaporized.
Curiosity leads to wisdom, and as long as the film gives an in universe explanation, it isn’t an error.
The reason Neil deGrasse Tyson pisses me off can be summed up in this part of an interview he did for The Dissolve a few years ago.
The Dissolve: In Star Wars, sound travels in a vacuum.
Tyson: Which is fine! I don’t put out a list of critiques on Star Wars because you can hear the ships in space, or that Han Solo explains how fast he can make a run on the Millennium Falcon in parsecs, which is a unit of distance. It’s fine, it can be what it wants. But if you’re going to try to make it right, I’m going to be right there with you.
The Dissolve: Well, it is a galaxy far, far away. Maybe the laws of physics are different there.
Tyson: Sure! Nobody likes the movie less for that. People think that when I offer a comment, I don’t like the movie.
He’s a click baity twitter hog that seems to get some kind of sick pleasure out of criticizing things when either he knows the answer to his criticism, or could with a simple google search. He doesn’t care about any of this, heck he probably even likes the movie. But people are expecting him to be snippy about parsecs and the kessel run and he delivers as expected. That’s what pisses me off.