If you've been holding out hope that some Ewoks survived the end of "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi," you should probably squash it, some scientists say.
In that 1983 film, you probably recall, our heroes destroyed the second Death Star (the first having been obliterated in 1977's "A New Hope"). The final scenes of "Jedi" revealed that a large chunk of the superweapon had fallen on the forest moon Endor, the Ewoks' home world.
In the intervening decades, scientists and fans alike have used this evidence to propose an Ewok extinction, the idea being that the falling debris cataclysmically altered Endor and wiped out the adorable little furballs.
Ewok lovers got a straw to grasp recently, however: Trailers for the new film "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," which comes out nationwide Friday (Dec. 20), have shown a large chunk of the Death Star II in the oceans of Kef Bir, one of Endor's neighbor moons. (Confusingly, the planet these satellites orbit is also called Endor.) If some of the metal moon wound up on Kef Bir, these optimists have said, Endor may have avoided serious damage. Some Ewoks may have made it through the fire!
But astrophysicist Sean Raymond doesn't think so.
"If a chunk of the Death Star escaped the gravity of Endor (the moon), a corresponding chunk was kicked in the other direction and must have rained down and killed the Ewoks," Raymond, who's based at the University of Bordeaux in France, told Space.com via email.
"And most of the rest would have crashed down on Endor (the moon) anyway," Raymond added, using an expletive to sum up the critters' fate.
No wormholes required
According to Wookieepedia (opens in new tab), the planet Endor is a gas giant that hosts nine moons, the largest being the forest moon of the same name. The ocean moon Kef Bir has also been listed as a satellite of the giant planet.
Since the new trailers were released, some have theorized that a wormhole was responsible for moving the Death Star II, and potentially the emperor, to Kef Bir. But Raymond and other researchers said this is a stretch.
According to "Star Wars" fan Stephen Kane, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Riverside, the realm of gravitational influence of terrestrial moons around giant planets is small. In our own solar system, for example, much of the volcanic material spewed from the Jupiter moon Io winds up orbiting the gas giant.
"It's not surprising that much of the material from the Death Star II would have ended up elsewhere," Kane said, referring to places other than the moon Endor. "So, the idea about warping stuff to Kef Bir is cute but not really needed."
In order to escape the moon Endor's gravity, Raymond said, the Death Star would have hurled material with "considerable speed" — more than had been calculated previously by David Minton, a researcher at Purdue University who wrote a paper about the Ewok apocalypse in 2016.
According to Raymond, if the Death Star II were relatively close to the outer gravitational limit of the forested moon, a chunk of debris could have been kicked hard enough to be captured in orbit by the planet Endor. (Raymond also pointed out that, as a satellite of the moon Endor, the Death Star was a "moonmoon.")
"During the explosion, a chunk of the Death Star would have been kicked hard enough to escape Endor's (the moon's) gravity and could possibly have orbited around Endor (the planet) for a while before it ended up bashing into another moon in the same system — preferably Kef Bir," Raymond said.
But he questioned whether such an enormous chunk of the Death Star II could have survived to land on Kef Bir. Much of the planet-destroying weapon would likely have been vaporized or broken into pieces as it crashed down on the moon, Raymond said. And many of the chunks that did make it through the atmosphere would probably been buried in the crust.
Similarly, the massive collision should have vaporized some of the water in the ocean, Raymond added, though he said the amount of water would need to be calculated.
"To have such a big chunk of the Death Star be carried off and survive the fall onto Kef Bir seems pretty unlikely, but the process itself — at least from an orbital dynamics point of view — is not impossible," Raymond said.
Kane shares Raymond's opinion about the Ewoks' fate. And Kane doesn't seem to be shedding any tears; he called the Ewoks cannibalistic because of their willingness to eat sentient life-forms such as humans and Wookiees.
"Although some of the [Death Star II] material would have ended up elsewhere … much of it would have ended up on Endor," Kane said. "More than enough to give those furry cannibalistic" creatures, he said, "the comeuppance they deserved.
"So despite the emperor's fancy walk-in wardrobe and beer-can collection ending up on Kef Bir, the Ewoks still" got destroyed, Kane added.
But this view isn't universal among the science set. For instance, Minton said the Kef Bir revelation offers Ewok huggers a new hope.
"The moment I saw the remains of the Death Star II in the trailer for 'The Rise of Skywalker,' I knew that my hypothesis about the fate of the forest moon of Endor was disproven," Minton told Space.com. "Clearly, my assumptions about how physics works in the galaxy far, far away must be mistaken!
"I'm glad to know that the Ewoks probably survived," he added. "I'm happy to see my prediction for the demise of those ferocious little teddy bears was in error!"
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