'Mythbusters' Star Adam Savage on the "Controversial" 'Star Wars'-Themed Finale, Lucasfilm's Stipulations

Savage tells THR how the series has changed since paring down its cast and why it's tough for it to win an Emmy.
'Mythbusters'

There is no reason for Star Wars fans to have a bad feeling about Saturday's Mythbusters season finale.

In the unscripted Discovery Channel series' episode, stars Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman take a second look at the beloved film franchise to test whether it's possible to dodge Stormtroopers' laser blasts and if having higher ground really is an insurmountable advantage, as Obi-Wan suggests. The show had previously examined Star Wars scenes in a 2014 episode as well.

Savage — who previously worked on sets and props for Star Wars: Episode I and Episode II — spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about Lucasfilm's requests for the episode, how the series has changed since losing several cast members before the start of the season and the latest on the CBS scripted series that he and Hyneman are involved with. 

This is your second Star Wars-themed episode. What made you return to that world, and what's different about this episode?

It's controversial that we do this because Star Wars is a fictional universe, and it definitely ruffles some feathers that we test some stuff within it. But I'm a movie buff, and I love the challenge of finding something testable inside the fiction. One of the things that we always wanted to test is that we noticed that you could see Stormtrooper laser beams moving through the world when they're shooting them, and we thought, "If it's something we can see on film, then [it has] a measurable speed, therefore we could potentially test some things about it." That was the metric we started with, and we ended up having a lot of fun with it.  

In your first Star Wars episode, all three myths were determined to be plausible. Were you surprised by the outcomes of this new episode?

I was definitely surprised. The other story that we tackled in the Star Wars episode was what Obi-Wan says to Anakin at the end of Episode III. He says, "It's over, Anakin — I have the high ground." The way Obi-Wan says it, he says it as if it's a fait accompli. So we brought in a lightsaber specialist — one of the fight choreographers of the Star Wars movies. We covered our bodies in wire mesh, so that any time a lightsaber hit our bodies, it would light us up, so then you knew who was the one who won the fight. Then there was this added little bonus, which was, if the lightsabers touched you in the wrong way, the holder of the lightsaber got an electric shock, so we had to insulate that out as well. It was full of a bunch of little surprises along the way. 

Did you have to work with Lucasfilm on the episode, and was that tricky?

Yes, we get Lucasfilm involved. No, it's actually not tough to work with them. Lucasfilm is wonderful to work with — I myself was a little surprised, given how important and lucrative the Star Wars franchise is. They had a couple of restrictions. We weren't allowed to animate real lightsaber effects onto our lightsabers while fighting. Besides that, they wanted to make sure that we weren't going to do something too far off from what a character would do. I don't think they wanted us to twerk with a Stormtrooper or something like that. 

After working on a show like Mythbusters, is it tough for you to still watch a movie and suspend disbelief?

I'm totally able to suspend my disbelief. What helps me do it is a good story. The science in Interstellar is — for the most part — very, very rigorous, whereas the science in Gravity is not very rigorous, and yet I think of Gravity as the far more enjoyable film, simply because I think the story's better. 

What has been the most memorable moment of this Mythbusters season for you?

The moment that stands out for me this season more than any other was getting to fly in a U-2 spy plane, what's called the Dragon Lady. We aired that episode about three weeks ago. I got to fly to over 70,000 feet — that's the precise phrase I'm allowed to say: "I flew above 70,000 feet," but the actual flight I flew to is classified. I was able to see the blackness of space above me and the curvature of the earth below me. I was wearing a full space suit while doing it. It was completely amazing. 

Mythbusters' cast was recently pared down. How has that impacted the show?

On the most basic level, we were very sad that Kari [Byron], Grant [Imahara] and Tory [Belleci] left the show. We weren't part of that decision — we wanted them to stay. The biggest change for us was that, immediately overnight, Jamie and I became responsible for 100 percent of the content in every episode, but we have roughly the same shooting schedule. So it made the mental work of making this show almost twice as difficult. On the actual production side, I think we're making the best episodes we've ever made. One of the things that happened over the years on Mythbusters is that we went from telling very simple stories to more complex stories as Jamie and I became more interested in the deeper science. And one of the casualties of that was a lot of the long-build sequences from the early days. And now with it just being Jamie and I, we're able to put that process back into the episode, and for both of us, that process is one of the favorite parts of our job. 

The show has been nominated for an Emmy in the scripted reality program category. What are your thoughts on the Emmys?

(Laughs) At this point, I've gone to L.A. and lost six times at the Schmemmys. It's wonderful. I'd certainly love a statue, but on the grand scale, it doesn't really matter very much, and I get to go the Governor's Ball and meet of all my TV heroes. Two years ago, I sat down and talked to Bob Newhart for a while. Sitting through the Schmemmys and losing is just part of the cost of admission at this point. 

Do you think the Emmys categories should continue to be adjusted?

I think that the Board of Governors changing and expanding the reality categories is a totally excellent move in the right direction and a necessary move, but honestly it's just still not enough. The different shows nominated in our "scripted reality program" [category] themselves encompass three or four different genres, if you really looked at them. There's not a lot of core connection between Shark Tank and Mythbusters. And frankly, as long as network shows like Shark Tank and Undercover Boss are nominated in a category alongside Mythbusters and Antiques Roadshow, neither Mythbusters or Antiques Roadshow has a chance of winning because we have a fraction of the viewers that the primetime networks do. 

What can you say about the recently announced CBS scripted series that you and Jamie are working on?

I'm really, really excited about it. [Producer] Gail Berman has been our shepherd through this process. I've always thought that the [1986] movie F/X was one of the greatest ideas and one of the poorest executions of a great idea ever, and I look at this semi-dramatic series that we're looking at making as a chance to fix that. It's a great chance to illuminate real, genuine genius instead of genius that's so far out there that you can't really approach it. It's a couple characters based on Jamie and I working in special effects who end up doing some work for the CIA, so it's a little like FX, a little like [the 1992 Robert Redford film] Sneakers and a little MacGuyver

Speaking of Star Wars, what can you say about Force Awakens?

(Laughs) I've already gotten in trouble for revealing secrets about Force Awakens! I'm not saying a darn thing. [But] everything I hear is that it's going to be fantastic. I'm actually incredibly excited — J.J. [Abrams] is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I can't wait to see it. I have [seen some footage, but] I will say nothing. (Laughs)

Mythbusters' season finale airs Saturday at 9 p.m. on Discovery.

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@THR.com
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski

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