We are nerds. We probably need to get that out of the way early… divers are nerds. Just think how long you can speak about things like dive computers, decompression, underwater cameras. Close your eyes, take a breath, and embrace the nerdiness.
The ultimate nerd arena is, as we all know, Star Wars. As we publish this article it is May the 4th and we know what that means. For a change of pace we are moving from the water into outer space for some surprising scuba-related facts from Star Wars.
The Sith Lord
The most well-known connection to anyone who has ever dived is, of course, Darth Vader’s voice. Admit it, at some point we’ve all imitated it.
George Lucas stated in his Star Wars draft script that “[Vader] speaks in an oddly filtered voice through his complex breathing mask”. This inspired Ben Burtt, the sound designer, to try using several tricks. Burtt recorded himself breathing through scuba dive gear at his local dive shop to create Vader’s famous laboured breathing.
Burtt explained “…I’d edit those breaths into every scene with Darth Vader and try to match the breathing rhythm of the speech, which of course was the voice of James Earl Jones.”
Deep Diving Star Wars Lore
Believe it or not, SCUBA has made it into Star Wars official lore. We have our own representative in the saga, namely the Clone Scuba Trooper. Aside from allowing troopers to breathe, the suits have multiple features. For instance, they are fitted with armour that has 6 underwater propulsion jets.
To survive underwater, the troopers carry a scuba backpack kit equipped with gill grills and a pair of breathing tubes. Much like rebreathers, these tubes circulate oxygen into their helmets.
For fighting the troopers use DC-12U beam rifles. Obviously double-barreled guns equipped with flashlights are just what you need for a solid attack. Luckily they are not something most of us need for our dive trips. White fins complete the ensemble.
You can see Clone Scuba Troopers in the Clone Wars series.
The Swimming Pool On Dagobah
Most Dagobah scenes for The Empire Strikes Back were filmed on a set built on the Star Wars stage, but one part was filmed closer to home for George Lucas.
Remember the dragonsnake? No? You remember something spitting R2D2 across a swamp on Dagobah though, right? Well, that was a dragonsnake. Well, a pick up shot of it rising through the muck menacingly was filmed in the foundation of George Lucas’s own swimming pool.
The bright California sun was much too bright for filming. Consequently, a diffuser screen was rigged to create murkier light. Two scuba divers then manipulated the bog creature for filming in the muddy water.
Scuba for Healing
Also for The Empire Strikes Back, actor Mark Hamill had to learn scuba diving. This time in order to prepare for the scene where Luke Skywalker is unconscious in a Bacta tank. In case you’re wondering, bacta tanks are cylindrical tanks for healing. Patients with major injuries are submerged while breathing on SCUBA.
“They took me to a private school that had a big enough swimming pool because I had never been scuba diving before.” explains Hamill.
“And I said to them, ‘Well I don’t think it’s any big deal. I’ll just breathe through the tank. What’s the big whoop about that?’ And they said, ‘Well, you’d better try it.’
“So, I went to an all-girls school and they had the swimming pool closed as I had my lessons, but I remember, at one point, looking up and on the second floor balcony there were, I don’t know, 50 girls all up there giggling and pointing and laughing,”
“So that was interesting.” he continued. We bet it was!
The stunt inside Elstree was a far cry from the chilling experience on location. According to Hamill himself, it was quite relaxing. He said “It was wonderful because the water was warm enough to be comforting and it was very much like being in an isolation tank. [Luke is] supposed to be unconscious so you’re just floating there….It was surreal because you could look out and see the outlines of Harrison and Carrie and [the director] Irvin Kershner and the crew. It was a unique experience to me. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that since.”
The Jedi, unsurprisingly, also have scuba diving equipment. The “A99 aquata breather” is a small device that allows the user to breathe for 2 hours. It seems Jedi Knights generally carry one around in their back pockets, just in case.
Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi use aquata breathers when traveling to the underwater city of Otoh Gunga on Naboo (see below). Obi-Wan would also use the same A99 over a decade later after he and Boga fell into a sinkhole abyss on the remote planet of Utapau, trying to escape Palpatine’s newly unleashed Order.
Metinks da Gungans dive as wellen
Everyone knows Jar Jar Binks, the Gungan from the planet Naboo. Gungans are an amphibian species who build their homes underwater following the arrival of human colonists on their planet. The biggest Gungan city is Otoh Gunga, a spectacular architectural achievement found beneath the surface of Lake Paonga.
We’re sure you can remember Otoh Gunga clearly from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The bubbles surrounding the city are hydrostatic force-fields that contain breathable atmospheres for the city’s inhabitants. The fields are rigid enough to keep the water out but can be breached by Gungans swimming to and from the city, both handy features.
Underwater Lightsaber Tech
Finally, we leave you with an interesting question…would a lightsaber work underwater?
There is nothing that has not been thought about in the Star Wars universe. Lightsabers CAN be used underwater, but only if they have been modified with the addition of a bifurcating cyclical-ignition pulse. Of course. Without the bcip, a lightsaber would short-circuit!
Several Jedis have adapted their lightsabers as such. These include Kit Fisto, Ahsoka Tano, Luke Skywalker, and none other than the Sith Lord himself, Darth Vader.
And so we can circle out where we came in. With the dark one.
May the 4th be with you!