One of the best things about making your own game or movie franchise is that everything is your call. What you don’t show, the audience doesn’t need to know – in fact, it’s none of their damned business. Your universe, your rules.

Well, up to a point. It turns out that the tools of physics, biology and chemistry give us some very handy building blocks for answering the pop culture questions nobody ever asked. Should you have the time and inclination, here are the five most memorable.

## Star Wars: Guess Yoda’s weight

If you’re trying to convince your sullen teenager to stick with science, what better way to prove its merit than with useful real-world applications: namely, you can use the power of physics to figure out Yoda’s weight.

“Yoda weighs -43.7kg. In short, Yoda is using the force to hold Luke up. Mind blown.”

This Wired feature outlines the steps that Rhett Allain used to figure out the little green chap’s vital statistics. Making some assumptions about the gravitational force of Dagobah, the weight and height of Luke Skywalker and standard human body measurements, Allain used the scene where Yoda sits atop Luke’s foot in the swamp to make his calculations, and the results are pretty surprising.

Yoda weighs -43.7kg. In short, Yoda is using the force to hold Luke up. Mind blown.

Or it could just be that George Lucas didn’t do these complex mathematical equations when he was planning the scene, and didn’t realise the discrepancy? Either way, isn’t physics fun?

## Star Wars: The Death Star vanity project bankrupts the galaxy

Death Stars aren’t cheap to build, if a paper from Washington University it to be believed. The paper, brilliantly titled It’s a trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill, calculates the Death Star would have cost a whopping \$419 quintillian once materials, R&D and construction costs are taken into account.

Worse, the Rebel Alliance’s pesky habit of destorying the damned things is causing serious problems to the galactic economy. According to financial engineering professor Zachary Feinstein, the GDP of the entire Galactic Empire is \$4.6 sextillion per year, and the Battle of Endor would have seen a 20 percent drop in the market and all insurance deposits lost. The Rebel Alliance would unlikely have had the resources to bail out the galactic banks, which would have had to stump up the capital, and Feinstein concludes that “it’s likely the Galactic economy would enter an economic depression of astronimical proportions.” Bleak.

## The Lord of the Rings: How much lembas bread in a ration?

“Hobbits need 1,800 calories per day, while elves can get away with just 1,400.”

Almost as useless is knowing exactly how big a packed lunch to make for a hobbit making the trek from Rivendell to Mordor. To be clear, there’s no real-world application for this knowledge whatsoever, and yet a University of Leicester study has put the answer to paper. All nine members of the group would need a total of 1,780,214.59 calories to function as required. That means the Fellowship would need a total of 675 lembas loaves for their travels.

You may think that particular study was a stupendous waste of time, but what if I told you that, in order to make the calculation in the first place, they had to do some additional sums? That’s right, they previously modelled the BMR of all the species in Middle Earth. Hobbits need 1,800 calories per day, while elves can get away with just 1,400.

So now you know.

## Marvel: A real, working hammer of Thor

In Marvel comics, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, can only be lifted by the worthy. That definition, it turns out, generally only extends to Thor and a handful of others for plot expediency. Nobody else can lift it off the ground.

Is such a device possible in real life? Yes. Electrical engineer Allen Pan has managed just that on his YouTube channel, getting loads of people to fail spectacularly while easily lifting it himself.

“Plus, he had plenty of time on his hands – the most valuable superpower of all.”

How did he do it? Magnets. In the head of his homemade Mjolnir, a transformer electromagnet from a microwave produces a magnetic field, keeping it firmly anchored to any metal surface. The handle, meanwhile, has a capacitive touch sensor attached to an Arduino Pro Mini board and solid state relay that can switch the field on and off. A fingerprint sensor completes the trick, making Pan not so much worthy as good at electronics. Plus, he had plenty of time on his hands – the most valuable superpower of all.

## Back to the Future: Whoops, Einstein is lost in space

“Einstein would actually be lost in space, had Doc Brown’s time machine worked as described.”

Time travel isn’t possible yet, as you might have noticed, and in the 30 years that have elapsed since Back to the Future hit our screens, we haven’t got any closer. Still, in the DVD extras, respected theoretical physicist Michio Kaku explains why the film comes a lot closer to how time travel could theoretically be possible. “Back to the Future, to my knowledge, is the only film that gets it right,” he explains:

So the physics of Back to the Future is sound? Not so fast there, chum. In a lengthy post on his blog, physicist Aaron Adair finds a few holes in the film, even assuming that time travel were possible. The whole post is worth reading, but my favourite bit outlines how loveable dog Einstein – the first DeLorean test subject – would actually be lost in space, had Doc Brown’s time machine worked as described:

“When the DeLorean traveled back in time, the Earth would have moved in that time. The orbital speed of the Earth is measured to be about 30 kilometers a second. In the first time travel scene from the movie, Doc Brown’s dog, Einstein, is sent into the future by one minute; in that time the Earth should have moved about 1,800 kilometers. The time of the experiment was around midnight local solar time, so that distance would be pretty much do tangential to the orbit of the Earth about the Sun, and Einstein would be well out in space.”

Despite Soviet experiments to the contrary, dogs don’t belong in space. Speaking of things that don’t belong in space…

## Super Mario Galaxy: calculating the mass of the planets

Super Mario Galaxy is a brilliant take on platforming games, where Nintendo’s chubby, moustachioed mascot makes the giant leap for mankind into space.

As you may remember from the game, Mario can run around various 3D planets with gravities much the same as Earth’s, despite their differing sizes, as shown in the video below.

Now, for gravity to work in the same way it does here, the physics of Mario’s world must be pretty different. How different? Four University of Leicester students attempted to find out in a paper brilliantly titled It’s a-me Density!

“The slight lack of resistance to upwards blood flow would inflate and redden the subject’s face. It is possible that this is the source of Mario’s baby-like complexion.”

Their damning verdict? Nintendo’s land of make-believe just isn’t possible. “The degeneracy pressure far outstrips the gravitational pressure by eleven orders of magnitude. The outcome of this discrepancy is that if constructed, the planet would survive for only a very brief moment before violently destroying itself,” they write.

Mario himself wouldn’t fare much better: “The slight lack of resistance to upwards blood flow would inflate and redden the subject’s face. It is possible that this is the source of Mario’s baby-like complexion.”

Turns out that Mario would need some kind of spaceship. Here’s how gaming spaceships have evolved through time.

Images: Mario Antonio Pena ZapataSilver TDAngelo Yap, Anastasia Alen, Aren’tyouAlex-Spencer, The Conmunity and Mooshuu used under Creative Commons

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