Testing Star Wars: An Interview With Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage

The prequel model-maker turned TV buster-of-myths on the high ground, cosplay, and more.

Adam Savage is best known for his role as co-host on Mythbusters where he was a more animated and exuberant counterpart to Jamie Hyneman‘s straight-faced and straight-forward demeanor. Together they made one cool myth-busting team that was able to entertain us for an incredible 13 years. In addition to showing us just how awesome and accessible science could be, Savage was responsible for giving us some great catchphrases (“I reject your reality and substitute my own” and “The difference between screwing around and science is writing it down”) that we all know we’ve used at least once in our life. Before becoming a beloved TV host, he spent his childhood loving Star Wars and later lent his talents to Episodes I and II of Star Wars as a model maker. StarWars.com sat down with Savage to get the story on how he became a Star Wars fan, what it was like to combine Mythbusters with a galaxy far, far away, and which Star Wars character is his favorite to cosplay.

StarWars.com: What’s your earliest memory of Star Wars? How did you become a fan?

Adam Savage: I saw Star Wars the summer it came out in 1977 in a drive-in movie theater in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with my parents. I remember, keenly, driving away feeling like my life was changed. I had never seen anything like it and I remember my dad hated it. [Laughs] He was like “what a piece of crap,” but you know that summer was the fever of Star Wars so everything was Star Wars; for my birthday that year I got all the action figures. I collected all the Starlog and special-effects magazines and carefully poured over them for details and information. I was a Star Wars fan from the get-go.

0064_04_E

StarWars.com: When you started working in the film industry and you got to work on the Star Wars prequels, what’s one memory that stands out to you from your time working on those and can you speak a little bit about being able to make your own contribution to the Star Wars universe?

Adam Savage: I worked on Episodes I and II. I had a reputation at Industrial Light & Magic for being quite fast and that afforded me some really cool jobs. One specifically I remember was on I think it was Episode II and my supervisor, Brian Gernand, came to me and said “George [Lucas] needs a shot of a Jawa hangar in the Star Wars trailer that they’re cutting right now and they want to release it next week, so I need the Jawa hangar from you by the end of tomorrow.” It was like 5 o’clock that afternoon, so I built, painted, and lit a complete Jawa hangar in one day flat and there was this really cool moment. I had sort of built this rust-roofed outdoor sort of storage unit and when I was painting it, I had a digital drawing of what it ought to look like; I had put a lot more detail into it and I wanted some good painting references, so I looked at one of my favorite Star Wars models which was the Jawa sandcrawler, thinking I’d put some touches on the hangar so there were some similarities between it and the sandcrawler. I went into the painting booth and I was doing a sandcrawler kind of paint treatment on it and Steve Gawley came in — and Steve Gawely is one of the original ILM model makers who worked on Star Wars — and he said, “Oh, what are you doing?” And I go, “I’m painting this hangar,” and he goes, “This is a lovely technique.” And so he showed a couple of his other painters what I was doing so that they could put out a model that they were building for him. Steve is the one that painted the Jawa sandcrawler, so for me it was the ultimate encomium for my painting technique.

You know, working on Episodes I and II, it was absolutely heavenly. The community, and I’m sure you’ve gotten this from a lot of folks taking about it, but the community and the camaraderie of the model shop at ILM is legendary and it’s well deserved. I found a group of like-minded crafts people who were wonderfully interested in how to do their craft better, so there were situations where like, if you were working on a model and you were implementing a new technique, everyone in the shop would file past your desk to see what you were doing and ask things like, “How did you develop this,” and “How does this work,” and then your technique might get used by someone else on another job and that was thrilling. Then at the same time somebody like Steve Gawley or Loren Peterson would walk up and see what you were doing and go, “Oh, that’s really cool,” and then they would tell you a story about a model that they built for Star Wars, which for a fanboy like me was amazing.

StarWars.com: While working on Star Wars did you learn any new skills that kind of translated when you started working on Mythbusters?

Adam Savage: It is impossible for me to quantify that. I mean, I’ve gathered my skills from everything I’ve ever done from fixing the carpet in a rental property to working on Star Wars. So it all has gone into the large melting pot of my brain. I will say that one of the reasons that I was fast in the film world was because I had cut my teeth in the commercial world and they’re very different spaces from the special effects point of view. A place like ILM is a very robust and big shop, it’s a large machine and they get big budgets and they take their time to make something perfect. In the commercial world it’s very different. In the commercial world, you have a day and a half at the most to do stuff and you have no budget and no time and very little resources. I enjoyed the pressure of not enough time and not enough resources. It’s invigorating to me and, consequently, I think it was more my commercial work than my ILM work that ended up getting used on Mythbusters, except for some of the key costumes that I wore on Mythbusters. I dressed as Han Solo for a couple of our Star Wars episodes.

Attack of the Clones - Adam Savage working on the Kamino model

StarWars.com: What was it like to combine your love of Star Wars with Mythbusters and having this sort of culmination of two things you’re really passionate about?

Adam Savage: Well, that was the best thing about Mythbusters. We realized really quickly that the best stories that we were telling were stories based on our enthusiasm. That when Jamie and I were interested in what we were executing, the result was better filmically because the audience could see our excitement and they could get more involved in what we were going through. For me, putting on a Star Wars stormtrooper or Chewie or Han Solo [costume] is just me fulfilling my 11-year-old fantasy and, consequently, I’m as involved as I can possibly get.

StarWars.com: How did you approach or create parameters for myths that were created in a fictional universe?

Adam Savage: That was the biggest question and it caused some dissension in the ranks of Mythbusters. I am not such a purist. For me, while it is a fictional world, there are some real things that can be tested. So, for instance, we wouldn’t go towards testing the Force because there’s just nothing to test there and there’s nothing to compare against. But for us, Obi-Wan saying, “It’s over Anakin, I have the higher ground,” as if that’s somehow an unstoppable advantage to have in the confines of Jedi sword fighting… Well, Jedi sword fighting has been developed for the prequels into a fairly high art form and we could bring someone in to train us in the rudiments of Jedi sword fighting and find out if that was actually true within the parameters set by the film. It’s the same thing with the stormtrooper blaster bolts. People kept, in popular culture, calling them lasers but I know within the Star Wars universe they’re called “dispersed plasma” or something like that, but they move at a speed that can be calculated because you can see it on film and that instantly makes it a testable phenomenon. So to me, that exercise of looking at something that is fantasy and finding some handle at which to shake reality loose from it is interesting.

StarWars.com: You mentioned wearing the costumes of the characters and in the past you’ve been known to cosplay at various cons, so have you cosplayed any Star Wars characters? And if so, what’s your favorite part about embodying those characters? What do you find is the most important part about cosplaying those characters?

Adam Savage: I have cosplayed as many Star Wars characters. I’ve been a prequel Jedi for the Mythbusters episodes, I’ve been Han Solo in my stage tour, I was a stormtrooper at [San Diego] Comic-Con, Chewbacca at Dragon Con. For me, I love the accuracy but it’s not just for accuracy’s sake. I love the process of researching and figuring out the definitive way to do something and it’s always interpretive and everyone has the lines at which they consider things canon and non-canon, and mine are not as pure as some but more pure than others. For me, the most important thing is that the accuracy is the fun. And I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the accuracy but I’m just saying for me, the assembly of the costume and then the wearing of it is a deep thrill and, in a way, I think of it as injecting myself into a narrative that meant something to me.

A New Hope - Han on the Millennium Falcon

StarWars.com: Do you have a favorite Star Wars character that you’ve cosplayed so far?

Adam Savage: It’s pretty awesome to cosplay as Han Solo. Han is one of the most important characters in science fiction to me and not just because he’s swashbuckling and he’s handsome and he’s got the greatest non-human partner in film history. But also because I think, if we’re all going to be honest with ourselves, we’ve realized that Star Wars is, as a science fiction, absurd and that’s fine. It’s fantasy and it is really more fantasy than it is science fiction and one of the great things that Star Wars did, and I’m not sure if it was intentional but I expect that it was because the writers were so brilliant, is that within a film like Star Wars it works better if you have someone that’s in the film making fun of the film itself, and that’s what Han Solo does. He’s constantly ridiculing the trappings of the film around him even as he’s playing by its rules and that’s a lovely thing.

StarWars.com: What was the most frightening myth that you did?

Adam Savage: The most frightening thing I’ve ever done was to sink in an underwater car upside down. That was absolutely terrifying in every way and I’m really glad it’s over. It was one of the few cases in which my ability not to panic under pressure kept me alive. It was way too close to comfort for me. We strove to do every story we did on Mythbusters and to execute every stunt that we had in a way that was possible for anyone to do to a certain extent. It’s not like Jamie and I are paragons of physical fitness and that myth was one in which it was a little bit more tight than normal. I now know, thanks to Mythbusters, that I am not an adrenaline junkie.

StarWars.com: Now that the Mythbusters chapter has closed, what’s on the horizon for you?

Adam Savage: I am taking some time to figure out what’s next and it’s a lovely gift to have the space to do that. I’m continuing to do appearances and give talks when people ask me to come, and I’m enjoying the leisure and working hard on Tested.com and doing builds and interviews and stuff for Tested. And thinking about what the next show I’ll work on is, I’m very interested in continuing to be storyteller on television, and what form that might actually take is still up for grabs.

Anina Walas, a recent graduate of Seattle University, is currently an intern at Lucasfilm with the StarWars.com team. She loves pretty much everything Disney, great weather, making/eating really good food, and of course, Star Wars. You can follow her on Twitter @aninaden, but beware, she’s terribly inconsistent about tweeting things. 

TAGS: