The Hows and Whys of the Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections
Once, both sides in the Vs. Debate were generally talking about the same things. Any casual fan could 'log in off the street' and jump into the debate at alt.startrek.vs.starwars with little problem . . . even just casual fans.
Then, a group of SW fans scored some little coups. They took their numerical advantage, organized into a bloc, and declared the SW non-canon valid in the debates at ASVS, backing this up by voting themselves into authority and codifying the declaration in their rules. No longer could a casual fan just waltz in . . . an unfamiliarity with the SW books became yet another cause for flames. Time passed.
In 2001 the SW bloc launched an attack against the validity of the Trek technical manuals, an attack which the pro-Trek debaters conceded to (and rightly so). In 2002, however, everything changed. While the attack on the Trek technical manuals had been valid, similar questions about the validity of the SW non-canon began as participants realized the ASVS declarations on what was canon were on shaky ground. These were confirmed when Lucas declared such materials to be part of a "parallel universe" in June.
Meanwhile, the Star Wars Episode II: Incredible Cross-Sections appeared as a new addition to that non-canon. This was a children's book which had text authored by former pro-Wars Vs. Debater Curtis Saxton, who was highly revered by the pro-SW debater community to which he was still affiliated. Saxton's inclusion of inflated firepower figures (calulated in part by the pro-Wars bloc) rendered the book the SW bloc's tech bible. In their mind they'd scored the final coup by having their numbers canonized . . . only to see this simultaneously stripped out from under them by the statements of Lucas.
Today, the pro-Wars debaters are no longer on the battlefield, though they do keep up the sound and fury. No longer do they follow the canon policies of the creators or owners of Star Trek or Star Wars. As example, the Trek technical manuals are used on their webpages as evidence, and they hold childrens' books from a parallel universe as their highest source of information, re-imagining events from the Star Wars films to conform to the juvenile literature.
And now, the same small faction of Star Wars fans is doing all it can to push their understanding of Star Wars on a fan base that is resistant and uninterested, causing divisiveness within Star Wars fandom itself.
In this article, we'll take a look at that work.
The Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections books were part of a long line of similar non-Star Wars cross-sections books by publisher Dorling Kindersley, all of which were aimed at pre-teens (1, 2, 3, 4). These were part of the DK children's 8+ line-up which also featured Essential Guides to Disney characters, Guides and Encylopedias to children's animated series, Lego books, et cetera. The ICS books themselves are intended for 8-12 year old children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (see DK's selected press reviews), 6, 7) and marketed alongside Star Wars sticker books, picture books, and so on.
The first two in the Star Wars ICS series were the Original Trilogy book and, in 1999, the Episode I: Incredible Cross-Sections, both written by David West Reynolds. Neither of those contained any sort of firepower claims, and thus both were largely ignored in the Vs. Debates. It was the next in line . . . the Episode II: Incredible Cross Sections (E2:ICS) . . . that had firepower claims, and lots of them.
When the book appeared, people on both sides of the debate were astonished. The author, Curtis Saxton of the Star Wars Technical Commentaries site, had injected firepower figures well in excess of those on his site or even the "mainstream" rabid pro-Wars side of the Vs. Debate. Questions were quite rightly asked about where this had all come from. Although the pro-Wars bloc (now hailing from StarDestroyer.Net instead of ASVS) attempted to characterize these simple questions as character attacks against Saxton, evidence of desperation, and any other evil spin that they could think up, the simple fact is that people had every right to wonder where Saxton's figures had come from. The situation would be akin to a respected U.S. politician claiming his party was a thousand years old, or a respected physicist claiming that Hiroshima was an exaton-yield event.
In short, seemingly off-the-wall claims were being made, and confusion naturally followed. We're told of 200 gigaton weapons aboard capital ships of the Old Republic, kiloton-level fighter and anti-fighter weapons, et cetera . . . not to mention unusual theories such as the notion of invisible lightspeed turbolasers as the source of the bolts we see. Several of the weapons given such huge yields were never seen to fire in the canon film, and those which were seen to fire did so without anything remotely resembling the tremendous effects Saxton claimed we should see.
Though many tried to ask nicely for additional clarification (myself included), few managed to get any answers out of Saxton. The result was the drawing of battle lines . . . those who accept the E2ICS as the Star Wars technical bible (a group almost exclusively composed of the aforementioned pro-SW bloc of Vs. Debaters) versus those who were skeptical, and wondered why the bible's version of Star Wars bears no resemblance to what we see in the films. To this day squabbles between the two camps occur, with ICS apologists attacking those who analyze the canon while those who analyze the canon ignore or return fire against the ICS apologists. So it goes.
In this TheForce.Net interview, we see Saxton's statements that, contrary to the popular apologetic myth, he did not have the completed film at his disposal when making the book. Judging by Saxton's time comments in the linked interview, the book deadline was at least four and a half months before the film was reported complete. Elements of the Geonosis battle sequence were not due for modeling or filming until months after the deadline, and other aspects of the film were not yet finalized (such as the role of the Geonosian fighters, which were virtually absent in the final film but figure prominently in the book). Indeed, it appears that many of the FX sequences were not complete (and in some cases would not begin until months later) when the book's deadline arrived. And so, despite claims by some that Saxton had carefully scrutinized the completed film, the facts show this not to be the case. Working with concept art, unfinished test shots, what elements were considered complete, and so on, Saxton had divined many values without reference to the actual movie. This is, no doubt, part of how Saxton arrived at figures for certain weapons that are hundreds and thousands of times greater than what is observed in the film.
(Incidentally, Wayne Poe has provided a quote which helps to further establish the facts in the interview:
""People might wonder about whether or not interviews are official. Every word I wrote in the interview had to be approved by Lucy Wilson before TFN could post anything." ---Curtis Saxton")
But of course, as noted, many of the ICS firepower values were for ships and weapons never seen to fire in the film.
In certain cases, though, we did see them fire. Take, for instance, Boba's several shots against Obi-Wan on the Kamino platform. In the canon novelization, we're told that these shots drained the energy packs of the weapon.
As you can see, there are impressive pyrotechnics, and Obi-Wan flew about three meters backwards (intentionally, according to the novel, though I doubt the harsh landing we see was perfectly intentional). This would be roughly consistent with a few kilograms of TNT, or around a dozen or two modern hand grenades (at .25kg TNT each). And yet, "... Slave I's cannon went silent, the energy pack depleted for the moment."
The discrepancy rests with the firepower figures given for that weapon in the ICS . . . 600 gigajoules, or 143 tons of TNT, per shot. In other words, Saxton claims that the numerous shots shown above depleted the energy packs of a weapon which is usually capable of firing much more powerful shots. Let's say, just for argument's sake, that the platform explosions were equivalent to 25 kilograms of TNT, and that it was one shot from the guns instead of several. That would mean that the energy packs were depleted by a shot over 5,700 times less powerful than a standard shot.
For a comparison, let's look at one of the nuclear tests conducted by the United States. In December of 1964, during the "Sulky" test, a small nuclear weapon of 0.092 kilotons yield (about 385 gigajoules) was placed 27.1 meters underground. When detonated beneath the granite, it managed to produce sufficient fracture damage at the surface to create a rare retarc, 24 meters wide. With a detonation closer to the surface, this would've been a 24 meter crater, given the "chimney" effect of underground detonations.
Note how, in the platform pictures above, there is no 24 meter blast area, nor anything close to it, even from all of the shots put together. Obi-Wan, standing right next to the explosions, was barely moved by comparison.
Some apologeticists have gone great lengths to try to rationalize this. One of the most common efforts is to claim that the energy packs mentioned in the novel were still charging, though no such statement is made in the novel, nor can such a thing be inferred from it. We're told that "Boba fired up the energy packs and clicked off the locking mechanism of the main laser", and that's it. Even assuming that the packs were not charged, however, they had at least a full second in which to charge up . . . it therefore would've taken an additional 5,700 seconds (95 minutes) for them to have charged to the ICS levels, and that's just for one ICS-level shot. Another maneuver is to attempt to claim that energy weapons and nuclear weapons don't act in the same manner, as if we're supposed to believe that a small area of very high energy density won't expand the same way because of where the energy came from.
In short, none of the "answers" work, either for the platform scene or elsewhere. (For further example, take a look at the megaton-level Slave I main guns firing 20 gigajoule shots here.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the fundamental disagreement between Saxton and Lucas as to what Star Wars really is. Saxton's technical commentaries rely heavily on EU literature, gaming manuals, comic book drawings, and other similar sources, often to the exclusion of film material. Saxton feels that it is a "fundamental fact that entire SW saga occurs in the same universe". Lucas, however, has made it abundantly clear that he places the "other world" of the EU in a "parallel universe" to his own. Therefore, Saxton's conclusions which utilize elements of the Expanded Universe are not 'just shy of canon', like some claim, but are in fact based on "interpretation and speculation", to borrow from Cerasi.
Logical inference and back-engineering
have also been brought into play to try
to answer the many questions ICS produced. One such back-engineering
effort was confirmed by some SpaceBattles posters who claimed to have e-mailed
Saxton and learned where he got his 200 gigaton starship cannon yields. You see,
if you count the non-canon Base Delta Zero, then take the most
energetic possible mixture of the definition and other comments, and then
insert a few baseless assumptions, you can get
up into the 200 gigaton range for capital ship weapons depending on how many
guns you divide it into. For example, if you take 64 heavy ISD guns
(as per old non-canon sources) and 200 gigatons per shot, use Saxton's
1.7e24J BDZ firepower figure, and assume that the heavy guns
fire once every minute, you get a half-hour (actually, 31 minute)
BDZ. All you need is total planetary slagging within an hour, if not
minutes, which is what Saxton argues for on his site's BDZ page (because he picks from
the air the value of one orbit for a BDZ).
Thus, it seems pretty clear that Saxton's 200 gigaton figure is BDZ-related . . . fan-inflated non-canon in the place of canon fact. This must also have been how he determined that the Delta-7 Jedi fighter had one kiloton weapons . . . it's something of a compromise between the lack of such effect fighters have in the films, versus the requirement that fighters be at least capable of mildly annoying a capital ship.
Others have questioned the result from Dr. Saxton's colloboration over the years with pro-Wars and Warsie debaters heavily involved in the Trek vs. Wars debates, such as Wong and Poe. We know that Saxton was assisted by them in developing the firepower figures used in the ICS, given the mention in their private anti-Trek mailing group that they calculated figures for the ICS. The group had a stated goal of making Star Wars look better than Trek, technologically. And, of course, there is Saxton's own participation in Vs. Debates in years past, in which he derided Star Trek fans and pro-Trek debaters. The pro-Wars side of the debate contributed greatly to the upward revision of the definition of "Base Delta Zero" which Saxton uses, as well as Jedi fighter firepower numbers based on false assumptions of later fighter firepower, and many other inflated claims. In short, Saxton's work was sullied by falsehoods and may even have been intentionally geared towards inflating Star Wars beyond Star Trek levels.
The fans not graced with Saxton's replies were left without any direct explanation of how Saxton arrived at these figures . . . until now:
One person Saxton has responded to was Wong's cohort "Ender" from the SD.Net BBS, who had this to say:
"I emailed him about how he achieved the values for the 900 Gigajoule
Blaster at the tail of Slave 1. He said that he went by the damage it is
shown to do to other vessels in the comics in battles and assumed that Boba
dialed down the power in the movie [...]. He chose official over canon."
If indeed the choice was made to accept a comic book over canon, then (a) our point is proved and (b) that's just awful. It's even worse when you consider that, if it was determined that what Slave I had done to other vessels represented almost 0.15 kilotons of firepower, then similarly inflated EU values (in line with the inflated BDZ calcs, and as opposed to even the pre-existing canon) must have been used.
Saxton's work is of interest on its own, but his writing in the ICS not only isn't canon, but also bears no resemblance to the canon . . . nor does it even try. Whether this ignoring of the Star Wars canon is due to accident, intent, or Saxton being misled by his comrades is irrelevant. The simple fact is that Saxton's work serves as little more than another proof of Lucas's statements that the EU is a parallel universe.
It's a shame that the otherwise delightful and visually stunning ICS books were marred by polemics.
Thanks to "Crossover Maniac" for having pointed out the Sulky test in an online discussion forum. And extra-special thanks to Ender for the report on Saxton . . . and also for flipping out like a madman when he saw his quote being used here.