Steelcrete Trade Federation Bridge Doors

Qui-Gon's lightsaber has always puzzled me, and it seems I'm not the only one.

Estimates of the power of the lightsaber against the Trade Federation bridge doors and additional blast doors in The Phantom Menace range from around 30 kilowatts to over one gigawatt . . . a mere difference of 34,000 times or so.

I've never really messed with that example because, well, it confused the hell out of me.  The problem was that Qui-Gon has his hand all up in that door's personal space like it was a hot date, and indeed, it was hot . . . glowing hot, in fact.   And until droidekas show up and ruin the quality time, Qui-Gon is doing his best smooth, chill, Barry White play, totally unaffected.

See, that's just how pimp Qui-Gon is, because most people with their hands a couple of inches or less from a big giant thing of molten metal would be snatching their hand back like they'd been bit.  Or, more accurately, burned.   Because they would have.  A lot.

However, methinks now the whole problem is that everyone has just sort of rolled with the idea that what they're seeing is some dense metal because, well, okay, it sorta looks that way, and the idea of a "blast door" implies a big honking heavy solid metal immovable object, to our modern thinking.

But, short of imagining lightsaber hilt shields or some sort of mysterious Force SPF 5000 Suntan Lotion, there just hasn't been any way to really reconcile the non-smoldering, non-blistering, non-why-can-I-see-my-bones-now hand problem.

Except, maybe there is.   The assumption of metal might be wrong.  The material might be something more like the tiles of a space shuttle, which can be glowing red hot but still be held in the hand.

And the fun part is that you can actually have it both ways, here.  See, the door that was glowing right next to Qui-Gon was the normal bridge door.  There's no great reason I can think of why this door need be metallic, at least (or especially) on its outer layers.  If anything, a mere security door need only be blaster-proof . . . which would, presumably, mostly involve being heat-shielded.

So let's check our reasoning against the script and novel . . .

QUI-GON makes his way to the bridge door and begins to cut through it.
The CREW is very nervous as sparks start flying around the bridge door.
QUI-GON and OBI-WAN are on the view screen.
NUTE : Close the blast doors!!!
The huge, very thick blast door slams shut, followed by a second door, then
a third. There is a hissing sound as the huge doors seal shut. QUI-GON tabs
the door with his sword. The screen goes black as a red spot appears in the
center of the blast door.
RUNE : ...They're still coming through!
On the door, chunks of molten metal begin to drop away.
NUTE : Impossible!! This is impossible!!
So far, so good.   We have definite confirmation of the blast doors (which are on the bridge side of the normal bridge door) being metal.

Now let's check the novelization:
"I want destroyer droids up here at once!" Nute Gunray screamed, watching as one of the Jedi began cutting through the bridge door with his lightsaber. He felt his throat tighten and his skin begin to crawl. "Close the blast doors! Now!" One after another, the blast doors began to shut and seal with hissing sounds. The crew stood transfixed as on the viewscreen the Jedi continued their attack, lightsabers cutting at the massive doors, melting away the steelcrete like soft butter. Mutters of disbelief were heard, and Nute screamed at them to be silent. Sparks showered off the blast door under attack by the Jedi, and a red spot appeared at its center where the larger man plunged his lightsaber into the metal almost up to its hilt. The viewscreen suddenly went blank. At the center of the door, the metal began to turn molten and drop away. "They're still coming," Rune Haako whispered, gathering his robes as he backed away further.
Viceroy Nute Gunray said nothing in response. Impossible! he was thinking. Impossible!
Aha!   Steelcrete. It's not the air-filled ceramic we were looking for, necessarily, but at least we weren't told the bridge door was metal.   The doors being observed on the viewscreen as being under attack were steelcrete . . . the metal doors were the blast doors which they didn't need the viewscreen to observe dropping molten chunks.

The steelcrete could still have the properties we were hoping for, especially if it is akin to the "hydrofoamed permacrete" inasmuch as solidity is concerned.   But as a precaution, I've searched for steelcrete elsewhere in the scripts and novels and it is nowhere to be found . . . Wookieepedia seems to agree that it doesn't appear in any other canon source.   So, not only have we solved the Qui-Gon mystery, but in the process we have learned something about steelcrete which was otherwise just a big giant question mark.

And really, this is the perfect end to the story, because we get to have our kilo/mega/gigawatt lightsaber without the mess and fuss of trying to rationalize how Qui-Gon could still be a magic-fingered pimp when by all previously-held rights the notion of him still having fingers ought to have been doubtful.

My TV Interview Invite

I'd mentioned a couple of times lately that I was once invited onto a national TV show but declined on the grounds that I didn't want my foes to know my face.   

After all, they were then at the heights of their psychotic behavior where they were threatening my life over a frickin' internet debate about science fiction technology, so that last vestige of anonymity -- given that they'd already been calling my home, distributing my address, workplace, and discussing 'home visits' -- was my remaining tactical advantage in the event they ever made good on their plans.  Well, that and the crappy .380 I used to have.  (Fear not, I now have a much finer selection.)

In any case, I'd been trying to recall details about it and searching my e-mails to try to find it, but for some reason I kept having trouble locating anything even close to it.   Of course, the fact that my e-mails are absolutely swarming with references to "tv", "show", "producer", and whatnot wasn't helpful.

But finally, I found it.   Turns out it was for a show on TechTV (which later became G4techTV, then just G4).
Unscrewed With Martin Sargent reveals the pop culture side of technology: what's new, what's hip, what's hot. The ultimate showcase for the darker, funnier, sexier world of the modern technophile, Unscrewed With Martin Sargent pushes the boundaries of late night television. Hosted by the funny and forthright Martin Sargent from The Screen Savers, with his sidekick, the lovely Laura Swisher, this outrageous 30 minutes promises to go where no other show on television has gone. Sargent mingles with tantalizing guests in studio and remotely.
The show apparently once featured an interview with Maddox of "The Best Page in the Universe" fame, so I would've been amongst august company (at least to hear Maddox tell it).

Anyway, here's the e-mail . . . and yeah, it says posting permission was "no", but (a) it's been over a decade, (b) the show and network are gone, and (c) it was business and not a personal message from a reader, so I don't think it's important anymore.  Nevertheless, as is my custom, I will redact all personally identifiable whatzits:

From: Sean [redacted]
To: g2k @ st-v-sw.net
Date: Mon, Sep 22, 2003 at 6:34 PM
Subject: ST-v-SW.Net Feedback 
redirect: http://www.st-v-sw.net/STSWhi.html 
source: Went to it. 
posting+permission: No. 
comment: Hi 
My name is Sean [redacted], I am a television producer working with the booking manager for TechTVs newest show 'Unscrewed with Martin Sargent'. It is our goal to 'unscrew' the top off the internet and show our viewers the people and places that make the internet so interesting. I came across your website and thought you would make a perfect guest. We w like to conduct this interview via netcam (If you do not have one I am more than happy to send you one for free). 
We would like to talk to you about how you got started, what the response has been to your website and what plans you might have for the website in the future. The interview itself will only take a few minutes so hopefully this will be as painless as possible. 
We shoot all of our shows on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:00pm-10:00 PDT. 
Thanks very much for your consideration and pleasel free to call or email me with any questions or concerns you might have, or contact Unscrewed's booking manager, Adam [redacted]. 
Adam [redacted]
Booking Manager/Guest Producer

I look forward to speaking with you. Please email me back with a phone number and the best time to call. 
Sean [redacted] 
About TechTV
TechTV is the cable network that showcases the smart, edgy and unexpected side of technology. By telling stories through the prism of technologechTV intrigues viewers with everything from help and information to cutting-edge documentaries to outrageous late-night fun. TechTV viewers are highly interactive and passionate about engaging in the television experience and log a monthly average of 1.5 million unique visitors to techtv.com. Owned by Vulcan Inc., TechTV is currently available in nearly 40 million homes in the US and distributes content to more than 70 countries.



In the RotS novelization, we hear of the Invisible Hand using "hydrofoamed permacrete" and, later, a note about "a pile of rubble: shattered permacrete, hydrofoamed to reduce weight."   Indeed, Kenobi, unconscious, was Force-launched by Dooku "into the wall so hard the hydrofoamed permacrete buckled and collapsed onto him", though as Anakin found later, "no bones were broken: this was a concussion, no more."

Needless to say, then, this hydrofoamed permacrete doesn't sound like some super-tough, super-dense material.  It would certainly be more substantial than the normal styrofoam we're all used to, but it doesn't seem any more substantial than, say, a sheetrock wall, and given the complete collapse it seems as if it wasn't especially well framed.  (Meaning, a sheetrock wall is anchored to framing studs that are spaced fairly closely, meaning even if you launch a guy through the sheetrock in-between the studs, you'll usually just have a guy-sized hole in the sheetrock rather than a collapsed wall of sheetrock or, worse, collapsed wall altogether.)

I am reminded of other similar techniques used today.  I've seen foam sections used as building material for ornamental purposes, covered in stucco or similar to provide the finishing touches.  And indeed, there is a material commonly referred to as 'eps concrete' where, instead of using sand and rock for the aggregate material of the concrete, simple polystyrene foam is used instead, reducing weight.  "Hydrofoamed" is a word of not perfectly clear meaning, though it suggests something involving water.  Perhaps ice was used as aggregate for a low-temperature concrete mix and then, once hardened, the water is melted, and the wall was dried?   That would be an interesting technique for low-cost, low-weight concrete if your hydrofoamed concrete factory is located in arctic climates, anyway.  Maybe I should patent that.   The last few sentences are hereby copyrighted!

In any case, we know of permacrete from other prequel novelization references, too.  For instance, on Naboo the palace at Theed featured permacrete on the interior that was blasted into shards along with the glass by Panaka's blaster, and the ray shield preventing Obi-Wan from reaching Qui-Gon was said to be as good as a three meter wall of permacrete insofar as keeping Obi-Wan out, suggesting that a wall of such impressive proportions is sufficiently impervious as to keep a Jedi out for an indeterminate length of time.   In the later prequel novelizations, permacrete seems to be referred to as walkway material for Coruscant, the landing pads of Kamino, and the Separatist landing platform of Utapau.  The buildings of Coruscant are said to be durasteel and permacrete canyon walls after the Battle of Coruscant.  The stuff's even slippery when wet.

In short, we have no great reason to suspect permacrete is terribly much stronger than concrete.   Stronger, yes, insofar as it allows for the multi-kilometer buildings of Coruscant, but relatively simple steel-reinforced high-density concrete was used for the base of the Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) in this century, and that building is almost a kilometer in height.  I say "relatively simple" because although it was an engineering challenge to get the mix and pours just right, it did not require a totally unprecedented material bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the concretes that had come before.   We might not be able to extend that to a multi-kilometer structure today, but I also rather doubt that it would take a thousand years of development to arrive at such a solution.

There is also reference to "duracrete" in the novelizations, identified as the material of the plaza around the Senate building in the RotS novel, but with no other information provided.  But given the presumable age of the plaza, I would presume it is a lesser material than permacrete.