On the implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor.
January 10, 2002 12:11 PM   Subscribe

On the implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor. [From McSweeney's]
posted by adrober (44 comments total)
I mean, he's right and all, but to question Star Wars.. That's just wrong. :)
posted by fnirt at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2002

The next thing somebody'll tell me is that there is no Force and that muppets can't lift X-wings with it. ~Sigh~ Ah well, there goes my career plans for Death Star custodial engineering, right out the window.
posted by Perigee at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2002

And what of the creature that lives in the trash compactor? Presumably, the creature survives because the moving walls do not extend all the way to the floor of the room, where the liquid is.

No, no, no. If I'm not mistaken, there is a moment after Luke wrestles with the creature when it abandons him and disappears. I've always presumed that an underwater door opened, allowing the creature to make its escape, before the walls started closing in. Like a cat at the zoo, which has a "feeding area" separate from its living space, the trash creature is let into the compactor regularly to eat what it can, before being let out, so that the compacting may begin.

Leaving the creature in there while the machinery was is motion would be downright cruel. The empire may be ruthless when it comes to the Rebel Alliance, but I understand that PETA has always had the Emporer's ear.
posted by jpoulos at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2002

posted by jpoulos at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2002

Why would there be overhead lights in the garbage compactor?
posted by ColdChef at 12:26 PM on January 10, 2002

If the Empire insists on ejecting trash into space, why do they bother compacting it? Space is infinite, is it not?

Well, it would make sense to make their trash un-usable by the enemy. Say you threw away a perfectly good (maybe slightly damaged) storm trooper helmet...it would make sense to destroy it before jettisoning it, so that your enemy couldn't retrieve it and repair it.

Doesn't McDonald's have a system for making disposed food inedible so that they won't have "dumpster divers?"
posted by ColdChef at 12:29 PM on January 10, 2002

Why compact it at all? Just throw it out behind, leaving a massive trail of debris. Wouldn't that be quite majestic?

Better yet: Tow it all and dump the current batch on whatever planet it happens to be destroying at any given time. "We will destroy your entire planet!... but not before raining filth upon your civilization." (It works out environmentally friendly-like, too, because then the trash is incinerated!)
posted by whatnotever at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2002

Why would there be overhead lights in the garbage compactor?

Excellent point, Mr. Chef. I commend you on your insight.
posted by jpoulos at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2002

I also enjoyed the "Journal of a New COBRA Recruit" linked below it. Haven't visited McSweeney's in a while, but there's usually some terrific short humor fiction there.
posted by hincandenza at 12:42 PM on January 10, 2002

but I understand that PETA has always had the Emporer's ear.

So PETA is on the dark side?

jpoulous: I totally agree. I always assumed the creature had some sort of non-trash related safe haven or door.

That scene has bothered me in the past as well. However, I think there could be some good reasons for trash compaction, etc.. Perhaps they do not want to leave a trash trail, or anything useful, that, say, Jawas might find and re-use for profit.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:43 PM on January 10, 2002

That link made my day. I can't stop laughing about it. In a few hours, this may turn into a serious problem.

As for the lights, the answer is simple. Because of the video cameras. TNT (Trash Network Television) is one of the most popular channels on the Death Star among male stormtroopers aged 25-49.
posted by witchstone at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2002

How do we know it's a trash compactor anyway? Forgive me if I'm wrong, but does anyone at any point say, "Hey, we're trapped in the Death Star's giant trash compactor"? It could be something else. A beast squisher, or something.
posted by Faze at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2002

Can someone please page Kevin Smith?
posted by Sinner at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2002

This is a trashy thread and should be dumped immediately!
posted by jacknose at 12:58 PM on January 10, 2002

"Wanna go play some more Neil Diamond at the hot chick in cell aa23? She tried to chew through her wrists last time."
"Latter man, the trash is on."
"It's always on, dingus. It's the trash."
"That's what you said about Party of Five, and now it's gone."
posted by dong_resin at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2002

jpoulos nailed it wrt the creature. As to the flatness of the compacted garbage and the question of ejection, we don't know for certain that a second process doesn't happen to form it into another shape. Perhaps statues of the emperor are molded to be distributed to loyal planets, perhaps it becomes fuel for the planet-destroying beam, or perhaps there's a very skinny firing mechanism that launches the large flat pieces at other ships to cut them in half.
posted by mccreath at 1:09 PM on January 10, 2002

How do we know it's a trash compactor anyway?

HAN: (sarcastically) Oh! The garbage chute was a really wonderful idea.
LUKE: The walls are moving!
LUKE: Where could he be? Threepio! Threepio, will you come in?
THREEPIO: We've had some problems...
LUKE: (over comlink) Will you shut up and listen to me? Shut down all garbage mashers on the detention level, will you? Do you copy?

I think that will suffice.

To prove that I need to get a life.
posted by dwivian at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2002

since star ships have to deal with all the mass/inertia physics stuff, it makes sense that they should eject trash before jumps.

the death star is so huge that it could probably afford to carry some reusable items around before recycling...just like smashing* your beer cans to save space.

*do not attempt to save space with Bottles by smashing them, they won't give you the money.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2002

Nah, folks, it can all be explained.

The "creature" was an employee. The light was on so the employee could see.

Why are there air vents? to prevent buildup of methane to explosive levels. (Garbage does that.) Why into the cell block, so the fumes could get in? To punsh the prisoners with the stench.

Why did it compact so slowly? Because high-force systems are low-speed. Why did the rod slow it? It didn't.

Why have trash compactors and storage at all, instead of just continually dumping? Because the trail of garbage could be tracked. (Even our carriers now store their garbage and unload it en masse onto a companion ship which hauls it away.) You use the compactors to store the stuff until it can be dumped safely. (In TESB it's mentioned that they eject garbage just before going into hyperdrive. That's because the garbage couldn't be used to trace them.)

Wouldn't the ejected trash become a navigation hazard? No more so than any of the rest of the space junk. Remember in TESB how the ships were blowing up asteroids which threatened them? It's clear that this is routine whenever anything is on an collision course, and they'd do the same if they encountered older garbage someone else had dumped. But there's no point in wasting the energy to do this for all their garbage at dump-time.

Why not have separate systems for organic and inorganic garbage? Too much work; why bother? It's not like the Empire is a "green" organization interested in recycling, after all.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2002

I could be a little off target here, but i see a couple of problems with the jettison scenario
First, due to the immense mass of the Death Star, wouldn't it have it's own significant graviational pull? Ejected trash might just begin to collect on its surface; and
Second, what about the defense shields?
posted by nagchampa at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2002

Oh, yeah-- McSweeneys. That was quite good for a few months until it turned into a huge inside joke. I kept reading it even though it was hit-or-miss, but then the entertainment industry purchased Dave Eggers and it became unbearable.

Anyone who wants issues 3, 4 and 5 of the McSweeneys journals should contact me. Hint: you don't want issue 5.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2002

"its"... sorry
posted by nagchampa at 1:43 PM on January 10, 2002

Harry Hopkins' Hat -- shouldn't it be Harry Hopkins's Hat? Or are you the singular possesion of many Harry Hopkins?

I am intrigued.
posted by jennak at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2002

*Sigh* Yet another Star Wars Plot Hole.
posted by ilsa at 1:57 PM on January 10, 2002


I didn't really consider it. I just wanted to use the name of my favorite New Dealer. Now I've made a public grammar error, and it's tearing me up inside.

I hope that you're happy!
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 1:58 PM on January 10, 2002

jennak and Harry---I always thought that if you have a name ending in an "s" and you need to show possession, simply adding an apostrophe after that terminal "s" was acceptible, i.e., the Jones' dog, or, Harry Hopkins' Hat, for that matter. Maybe someone's looking it up as I type this?
posted by rio at 2:00 PM on January 10, 2002

The companion article can be found here. Please keep in mind that these people have way to much time on there hands, and forget that this all takes place a long time ago, in a land far, far, away…
posted by plemeljr at 2:05 PM on January 10, 2002

Thank you so much, Steven Den Beste, for your succinct explanations. I was worried there for a minute. Trauma averted.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:00 PM on January 10, 2002

I could be a little off target here...

Stay on target. Stay on target.
posted by jacknose at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2002

Doesn't McDonald's have a system for making disposed food inedible so that they won't have "dumpster divers?"

This is too easy, but here goes anyway: They do this by making the food inedible to begin with.
posted by kindall at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2002

I always thought the snake thing was a pest. Like zebra mussels or something. The empire didn't put it there, and, as noted previously, it escapes somehow when the trash is being compacted. Maybe they threw some stuff away with snake larvae on it.

It's like that part in Jurassic Park: "life...will..find...a way".
posted by jeb at 5:04 PM on January 10, 2002

OK. rio, jennak, Harry_Hopkins'_Hat:

"Gregg Reference Manual, 7th Edition, Sabin, 631 says:
To form the possessive of a singular noun that ends in an "s" sound, be guided by the way you pronounce the word: (a) if a new syllable is formed in the pronunciation of the possessive, add an apostrophe plus "s," e.g., Mr. Morris's eyeglasses; Miss Knox's hairdo; Mrs. Lopez's term paper...(b) If the addition of an extra syllable would make a word ending in an "s" hard to pronounce, add the apostrophe only, e.g., Mrs. Phillips' comment; Mr. Hastings' bike...

There will always be controversy on this "style" issue, since some style guides call for only an apostrophe followed by the letter "s." Some are more concerned with the way a word looks in print, others with the way it sounds when spoken. "

From http://www.webgrammar.com/FAQ.html
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2002

On possession apostrophes and words ending in S: It's a matter of style. Strunk & White, for example, insist that one should use 's regardless, with a single major exception. Hence, the Jones's daughter; Jesus' mother. There are dozens of well-known style guides, from the University of Chicago (mainly academic writing) to the Associated Press, and they do not universally agree. AP style would use apostrophe, no S, in most cases. The important thing is to select one (if that hasn't been done for you by employer or client) and stick to it.

As for trash compactors, clearly the chute into the prison area is for the convenience of the torture squad.
posted by dhartung at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2002

Since a lot of the death star is hollow, it wouldn't have nearly the gravity of an equivalently sized planetoid.

There's nothing that obviated the existence of another pair of mashers that mashed horizontally after the vertical mashers had done their bit.

Leia might have knowledge of the garbage from hearing guards talk, or maybe she just smelled it. It would be just like the empire to torture prisoners with such an odor. Why do you think they had that revolving door at the entrance to the detention cells? Not just for security, but also to keep the stench out. Imperial guards, luckily, had those masks to filter it out.

I'm pretty sure the death star had its own rules are far as what it did with its garbage. It's obviously not even close to being in the same class as a star destroyer.

Overhead lights: because they're paranoid.

"Later, man, the trash is on." Aw, jeez, that was funny.
posted by Poagao at 7:14 PM on January 10, 2002

once again, SDB makes sense out of the world. i was never too fond of the scene anyway. even as a kid, it was obvious that the main characters wouldn't be killed by some just-introduced monster, let alone in a trash compactor. i just wanted them to hurry up and get the whole deal over with so the real story could continue.
posted by lotsofno at 7:27 PM on January 10, 2002

The ultimate answer to this is simple: The (albeit fictional) Death Star was built by whatever construction company in that galaxy was the lowest bidder. It was a rush job. Darth Vader and the Emperor were slave drivers, insisting on twice the effort for no change in pay. In fact, the evil empire is metaphorically akin most corporate interests in this real world.

Next time you see an error in your bank balance statement, or a terrorist finds a way to sneak through security, or your computer frizzes out for a reason that's hardware related, or the sanitation workers don't make it to your block that day, or you find a fly in your soup, remember that. One gets what one pays for. Without incentive, anyone will do whatever they need to get by.

I think this intense scrutiny of Star Wars just makes it a more believable concept for a story than it had been before. If McSweeny's intent was to diminish the enjoyment of this film, he failed marvelously. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 10:08 PM on January 10, 2002

God, you people are so dense.

The creature in the garbage system is a parasite. It exits the compactor when it senses the slight vibrations that indicate the system has activated. How does it activate? Though the pipes! The liquid waste has to go somewhere.

Further, the Death Star is powered by a fusion reactor (that the Emperor was ultimately thrown into). Upon compaction, waste is funneled into the reactor core and converted into energy (like the reactor on the DeLorean in Back to the Future Part II).

Now then, shall we go into the relative merits of warp drive versus hyperspace?
posted by aladfar at 11:11 PM on January 10, 2002

Why did they put the controls for the tractor beam way out on a thin platform over a deep, dark pit? That's not user-friendly design. Hey, maybe the Death Star was designed by Microsoft!
posted by ColdChef at 7:02 AM on January 11, 2002

if it was designed by microsoft the tractor beam would have shut itself off.

exception error module 09192k38199283-1999110011
no drivers for spaceship model falcon

posted by th3ph17 at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2002

I hope I can clarify some of the questions. As an architect, I agree with much of what has been stated, but there are a couple of items:

1) Lights are needed in case someone needs to go down there and recover or repair something, just as lights are required by code to be installed at the bottom of elevator shafts. They would not be on all of the time, as shown in the movie, however.

2) The vehicles (star destroyer) can eject their trash without compaction since they are constantly moving to other locales. They would probably aim it at the nearest star. The Death Star is stationary and ejecting trash would cause many problems with space traffic, radar, communications, etc. Therefore, it would need to compact and transport trash. Probably using a "garbage truck" ship similar to that used in the short-lived children's TV series "Quark" (1970s or 1980s).

Carry on...
posted by OldGuard at 10:02 AM on January 11, 2002

Doesn't McDonald's have a system for making disposed food inedible so that they won't have "dumpster divers?"

Yes they do. They cook it.
posted by schlaager at 2:41 PM on January 11, 2002

I take no pride in demonstrating total geekhood, but pedantry compels me to mention that the creature in the trash masher is called a dianoga, or sometimes a Dia Nogu. Yes, I am ashamed I know that.
posted by Allen Varney at 10:33 PM on January 11, 2002

But what about all those zebras? It's never covered in the flims. They just leave them there on the hat containing device.
posted by davidgentle at 12:41 AM on January 12, 2002

Flim Springfield?
posted by hellinskira at 4:58 PM on January 16, 2002

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