Tatooine and the Three-Body Problem

I recently ran across a blog post that pointed out that Tatooine (the Star Wars planet of double-sunset fame) could never exist because of the problems inherent to the 3-body problem. Specifically, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion get all wonky when you are dealing with more than the two bodies: the planet and the sun. In fact, orbital patterns can start to look a little crazy, and yes, in situations like that, Tatooine would not survive long enough to even form, let alone be settled by sand people, Jedi, and various assorted scum and villainy.


Except that this doesn’t have to be the case. There are a variety of cases where a planetary orbit can be quite stable in a binary star system, provided it’s in the right place.


Yeah, that’s right, it’s all about orbital real estate. The sweet spots seem to be either very close to one of them, or very far away from both.

orbit_1star_stable1When the planet is much closer to one star than the other, the distant star does not have much gravitational influence on the planet’s orbit. It can orbit the smaller star in a nice circular orbit, almost as though the other star weren’t there at all. Well, it looks like a circular orbit from the point of view of the nearby star. From the point of view of the system’s center of gravity, it’s more akin to a spirograph. (And yes, I know that this dates me, but spirographs were cool!)

orbit_1star_stable2Here, instead of Tatooine’s double-sunset, you’ll have half the year with no night at all. Sure, one sun will set, just as the other one is coming up. I imagine that will be summer, regardless of the planet’s tilt, because overnight lows only come when there is night. It might make for an interesting place to live, but the seasons could be a little intense.

A more Earthlike (or at least Tatooine-like) experience will come if you can get far away from both stars. Put them together in the center of the system, spinning merrily around each other, and stay out in the suburbs where it’s cool and relatively steady.

orbit_2star_stable2Here, your orbit is stable, close to circular, and any seasons you have will be due to axial tilt, not varying proximity to the great fiery balls in the sky. Plus, you know… the infamous double-sunset.

But this isn’t just me jerking around with a gravity simulator. Nope, it’s backed up by actual observations. Now that we have a decade’s worth of observations from the Kepler satellite telescope, we have actually found a number of planets orbiting in binary systems.  So far, we have found at least five planets orbiting tight binaries, much like Tatooine.

So, don’t throw away your Star Wars travel plans. Tatooine is very likely out there somewhere, possibly in a galaxy very nearby.

If I Had Bought Star Wars…

Unless you’ve been hiding out in the desert canyons of Tatooine, you’ve heard the news that Disney bought out Lucasfilm for $4 billion and change. In addition to running Vader all over Disneyworld, they’re promising a new Star Wars film (Episode VII) in 2015. Every fanboy in the world is taking his turn as backseat driver, and I’m no exception. So, grant me a few moments to be R2 and tell Luke what I would do if I had bought Star Wars.

The very first thing I would do is to rerelease the original trilogy on Blu-Ray in its completely unaltered form. I would take the best scan of the films (probably already existing at 4K as source material for the special editions), make sure they were clean, and put them out on Blu-Ray. No special edition. No Greedo shooting first. No Hayden Christensen on Endor.

Every fanboy of my generation has been lusting for precisely this since before Blu-Ray even existed, and is ready to shell out hard cash for this. Doing this simple act would generate $2-$3 billion right off the bat. My math? 50 million fan boys (world-wide) at $50 for the trilogy comes out to $2.5 billion. Play around with the pricing, add more fan boys, start talking net instead of retail… the numbers move around. But clearly, this one simple act that Lucas has blocked for years would repay a decent chunk of the purchase price.

I would follow that up with a Blu-Ray release that was a mix of original and special edition. This would be for the true aficionados, who insist that Han shot first but liked some of the cleaner special effects that came with the special editions and might like some of the deleted scenes as in-line bonus material. Fine-tuning this would be a fan-by-fan project, but the options available on modern Blu-Rays should allow viewers to pick and choose. This would sell far fewer copies, but you could easily charge more. It won’t finish paying off the Lucasfilm mortgage, but it will shave off a few more points.

Mind you, this is money George could have had himself but chose to thwart the fans. I don’t expect Disney will leave that money on the table.

Then we have to start talking about the other movies. I can see the commercial logic of Disney wanting to start afresh with the later chapters, but if I were running the show, I would start with the prequels. Yes, they’ve already been done, but they were done wrong. I don’t expect much disagreement on that.

I don’t fault the general arc of the story. Specifically, I’m fine with finding Anakin as a kid (though I’d start him post-puberty), seeing him grow to be an undisciplined Jedi, and all the while seeing Palpatine manipulate events to build his power. That stuff is okay. Where it failed was in other areas:

  • It was meant for kids, not the adults who had grown up on Star Wars.
  • Anakins’ motivations were lame, both surrounding his mother and Padme.
  • Anakin was too much of a whiner, hardly the precursor for Darth Vader in the original trilogy.

How would I have fixed all that? There are the obvious choices of removing Jar-Jar entirely and making Anakin older when we first meet him, but beyond that, I would make Anakin’s character much deeper and thoughtful. Instead of him becoming a victim of his own emotional immaturity, he would make rational choices based on enlightened self-interest. He would act for himself, for the Jedi, and ultimately for the good of the galaxy.

And that is the biggest disappointment I had with the prequels and how I would have done them differently. I want to see Anakin make a rational choice to turn to the dark side. I want to see him split from the rest of the Jedi over a matter where it was possible to take two sides. I want to see him take Palpatine’s side on this issue because he believes in it. And finally, I want to see him take up the dark side because he needs its power to carry out his vision for the galaxy. He might still be Palpatine’s chess piece, but he would be elevated from pawn to knight.

That is the kind of back story that lets Vader be the man he was in the original trilogy: dedicated, ruthless, and willing to turn on his master when the time came.

And then I would turn to the follow-up movies, and just like my reboot of the prequels, I would make these for adults, not for the kids. It doesn’t have to be rated R, but it needs a serious, adult theme. And for that, I would choose the deliberate genocide of the Jedi and Sith.

What? That’s right. The Jedi and Sith must be exterminated.

At least, that will be the position of the newly restored Republic. It was their faith in the Jedi that allowed their downfall. It was the rise of powerful Sith lords that crushed them. Without them, the Republic would have continued. Its politics might have been corrupt, but at least they had a political voice rather than the force choke of Palpatine and Vader. Wouldn’t they be better off with these mutants out of the picture?

But doesn’t that make our heroes from the original trilogy (especially Luke and Leia) the bad guys? No, in a search for scapegoats and revenge, the Republic has become insane and evil. The Republic is now the enemy, casting out or heroes and hunting them down along with their children. Even if we throw midichlorians out the window, it is well known from the first films that the Force runs strong in Luke’s family. Throw in the children, siblings, and cousins of the old Jedi order, and you have a genetic pool of would-be Force-users who will be on the run.

Thus, our heroes are thrown back into the role of the underdog. They are stripped of many of their allies. They have to survive, form their own resistance for mutual support, and train a new generation of Jedi in secret. Then, by the time the third film comes along, a new danger will threaten the Republic, and these Jedi, old and new, will have to step up and become the guardians of the Republic once again.

It is a tale of revenge vs. redemption.

Anyway, that’s what I would have done if I had bought Star Wars. What would you have done?

The Right Order

I recently ran across an essay on the right order to watch the Star Wars films. Rather than settling for release-order or chronological-order, he prefers what he’s calling Machete Order which treats the prequels as a flashback between “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”.

The idea is to tell it as the story of Luke (not Anakin) and then take a time-out in the middle to explain how [SPOILER] came to be. Notably, he also leaves out “The Phantom Menace” entirely, so you can save yourself from Jar-Jar. Go ahead and check out the link above. He makes a convincing argument for that as the best through-line for the story as well pointing out a couple of glitches along the way.

I was originally going to show Star Wars to my daughter in release order, but as she is now freaking out over Empire’s ending, switching over to Machete order might be a good idea. (An official hat-tip to Shanna Swendson for pointing this out.)

This also got me to thinking about the right order to read/view other multi-episode series. For most series it’s a moot point. Release order and chronological order are the same, and other than intentionally skipping a low point (i.e. Rocky 4, Aliens 3, Star Trek 5, etc.) there’s very little to be gained by mucking around with the order. But some series weren’t written in chronological order.

Notably, the Asimov’s unified Robots and Foundation series was not written in chronological order. Much of this was because they weren’t originally the same story, but in time he decided to patch them together. Frankly, I’m not a fan of the patchwork that was done – it has far too many retcon’s for my taste – but if I had to recommend it to someone, I would urge them to start with the original Foundation trilogy (i.e. the collected Foundation short stories & novellas) and then proceed in publication order. Anything else, and too many secrets and surprises are compromised.

Another one was Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai and related novels, a.k.a. the Childe Cycle. They jump forward and backwards in time, and it’s great seeing things from multiple perspectives. Alas, it doesn’t look like he was actually able to finish it before his death, so I haven’t gotten myself to go past “The Chantry Guild”. I think this one should be read in release order, not chronological order, because some of the prequel books make a lot more sense once you know what happens in the later Dorsai stories.

I have been told that Bujold’s Vorkosigan series was written in non-chronological order, but I flamed out after a book and a half, so I don’t have much of an opinion on the proper order to read this one.

There have been a few TV series that have suffered from being shown out of order. Notably, Fox messed around with Firefly, showing the episodes out of order. The Babylon 5 series Crusade was also shown out of order when TNT ordered a new pilot and different sets and uniforms halfway through the aborted first season. I don’t have strong opinions on the order in which those should be viewed.

I recently asked an author friend about his series. Should I read it chronological or publication order? He said his official answer was that it shouldn’t matter, that he worked to make each of the books sufficiently stand-alone that they did not need to be written in order. My disappointment in his answer must have been obvious in my face because he quickly amended it to say, “But the consensus among my fans is that they should be read in publication order.”

So how about the rest of you? What series have you run into that can – or should – be consumed out of order?