In the season finale of The Mandalorian, a TIE fighter, piloted by Moff Gideon himself, is coming in to destroy Mando and his friends. The situation is dire. So what does Mando do? He straps on a jetpack and rockets up over the TIE fighter—then uses his grappling hook to latch onto the spacecraft and gets pulled along for the ride. Whoa!
I won’t say what happens next, in case you haven’t watched the episode yet. But we gotta talk about that epic stunt. It got me wondering, what kind of acceleration would a person have to endure to grab on to a TIE fighter in mid-flight? You know, in case you ever found yourself in that situation.
Yes, yes, I know this is a fictional TV show, and it doesn’t need realistic physics for it to be great. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do some real analysis. It’s just what I do.
A Time and a Place for Everything
To find Mando’s acceleration, we need time and position data for both him and the spaceship. We can get that with video analysis software. There are a couple of options, but I always use Tracker. The idea, then, is to create a distance scale based on something in the scene and use that to plot the vertical and horizontal location of objects in each frame of the video. We get the time data from the frame rate.
So let’s start with a known object—well, sort of known. Wookiepedia lists the dimensions of a TIE fighter. Assuming the one in the scene is a standard version, it would have a height of 8.82 meters. Using this scale, I get the following plot of the position of the starfighter as it moves under the Mandolorian:
Since this is a plot of horizontal position vs. time, the slope of the line gives the average horizontal velocity. It’s fairly linear, which means the TIE fighter is moving at a roughly steady speed of 117.3 meters per second (262 mph for the Imperials). Is that fast? Who knows? It’s slower than my previous estimate of TIE Fighter speeds—but surely these things can slow down.
Now let’s look at the Mandalorian as he launches off the ground. Using the same distance scale, I get the following plot of position vs. time:
From this, we find that Mando moves upward with a nearly constant velocity of 26.4 m/s (59 mph). If I mark the spot where he left the ground, I get a maximum height of 24.4 meters. OK, what about this? He’s already up to his maximum vertical speed by the time he gets 10 meters off the ground. That means he had to go from 0 to 26.4 m/s in a space of 10 meters. What would his acceleration from the jetpack be?
Since we know the initial and final velocity along with the distance, we can use the following kinematic equation:
Solving for the acceleration, we get 34.8 m/s2. That’s 3.6 g’s (where 1 g = 9.8 m/s2). Yes, a human could easily survive that level of acceleration. It’s about what astronauts experienced during a space shuttle launch. But this will be an important value to compare with the next part of Mando’s move, when he snags onto the TIE fighter.
Man Lassos Spaceship
What kind of acceleration would he have here? For this part, it’s difficult to see the entire action as the camera cuts from one view to another. I’m going to assume that the elapsed time from Mando’s first connection to the starfighter until he is fully moving is fairly accurate. Looking at the video, this gives an acceleration time of about 1.5 seconds—this is a high-end time estimate. Now we can use the definition of average velocity (in one dimension):
In the horizontal direction, the Mandalorian starts off with a velocity of 0 m/s and ends up with the same speed as the TIE fighter (assuming his extra mass doesn’t slow it down). Using the final velocity of 117.3 m/s, this gives an average acceleration of 76.0 m/s2, or 7.8 g’s. That’s big, but it’s survivable—especially for someone like the Mandalorian.
I’m actually sort of surprised that this is a believable acceleration. But, to be honest, I would have enjoyed the scene just as much if it was totally unrealistic.
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