Just two movies into Disney's new Star Wars, we've already suffered four knockouts – moments when our heroes are rendered unconscious, usually at a very convenient moment for the story. And hey, it's OK, that's just the movies – we're not holding Star Wars, defiantly un-"science fiction" since 1977, to some standards of science.
But one can't help but wonder: How easy is it, really, to get your coconut bonked so hard that you go to sleep for a whole second act? What would be the lingering effects of such an injury? And what might that mean for the final episode of Star Wars?
(Hint: we figured out one very plausible, if not likely, plot twist for Episode IX that has everything to do with head trauma. Read on for that bit.)
**Spoiler Alert: Spoilers for The Last Jedi abound below**
To recap: Rey was first to get KO'ed, at the end of The Force Awakens, when Kylo Ren Force-throws her against a tree. She bounces back quickly, but while she was out, Kylo Ren was battling the overmatched Finn, now coldcock victim No. 2, an injury he'll carry into The Last Jedi. Later, Leia Organa is blasted into space and uses the Force to pull herself back, a sequence that knocks her out for several key scenes. In the final battle, Rose gets in a quick lip-lock with Finn before passing out, where she presumably stays to the end.
To help make sense of all this trauma-induced senselessness [KOs by stun-gun doesn't count], we talked with Dr. Chris Giza, a professor of pediatrics and neurosurgery at UCLA, where he's also director of the Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, which studies the effects of trauma and activities like sports (both good and bad) on the brain.
And of course, as a Star Wars fan, he had some thoughts – primarily of the lucid, cogent and highly expert kind.
Before we get started, what did you think of The Last Jedi?
Dr. Chris Giza: I actually liked it! Better than [The Force Awakens]. It tied things together a little better. To me it was fun, the pace was good, they did a number of nice things with Carrie Fisher's role.
That said, we've got a lot of space-concussions going on here. What's your read?
The truth is, getting knocked out for a period of time involves a more significant injury than a concussion. But getting knocked out for just a few seconds depends on individual susceptibilities. There are just some folks who are easily knocked out.
Is that some form of weakness?
It might actually be better in some cases. They talk about in boxing, the guy with the "glass jaw" vs the guy who can't get knocked out … you'd almost wonder if the guy with the glass jaw will be better off because he doesn't keep getting back up [to take more punishment].
Describe what happens, mechanically and biologically, with an injury like that.
Think about the brain as firm Jell-o, wrapped in a sac of fluid, stuffed in a box, which is your skull. There are some sharp edges and bumps inside there. When you have violent head movement, whether it hits something or not, the Jell-o kind of floats around, and not only bounces off things inside the skill, but like Jell-o, can twist and bend around. And if you shake Jell-o really hard, you can crack it. Now Imagine Jell-o with a bunch of spaghetti inside that's connecting all of the different brain parts. That spaghetti is getting twisted and maybe broken or damaged, and that's mechanically one of the main things that happens.
Yeeee-ouch. Are there any of these Star Wars KO's that seem ridiculous to you?
Well, of those different scenarios, I'm certainly willing to give Leia [who, as we pointed out earlier, may have some Force-powered resistance to injury] a pass. She didn't explode in the vacuum of space … and was able to rouse herself to some level of awareness to transport herself back to the safety of the ship.
Got it, so Leia's sleepytime was probably inevitable. What about Finn and Rose?
Well, they are presumably normal people, right? It remains to be seen what happens to Rose in the next episode. There can be intermittent levels of unconsciousness after significant levels of head trauma. Some people can have a several concussions and lose their memory – they can sort of wax and wane in and out of that. They might be more combative and confused in that moment – then it's off into complete unconsciousness.
But Rose was awake for a while before she passed out. What's that about?
Could be epidural hematoma, an arterial bleed in the head, when there are lucid intervals. At first, the bleeding is occurring but isn't compressing the brain – so sometimes people can be lucid for a period. It can be repaired. Could be she was knocked unconscious by the force of the crash and developed an epidural hematoma. [To survive] she would have to be in an ICU to let the pressure out.
Harrison Ford said that after he crashed his plane, he couldn't remember the events leading up to it. So it seems possible Rose won't remember that kiss?
What he was describing is called post-traumatic amnesia … people might remember things up to or close to the injury – even just with a concussion – and then only sort of come back to awareness minutes or hours later. Each injury is very individual based on all the factors. It's very challenging and difficult to make a diagnosis … but yes, [Rose forgetting the kiss] would be the most believable.
You're saying it's likely Rose might not remember her biggest moment in the film?
Because it's happening in a movie, there's about a 100% chance she won't remember that [laughs].
Did she even have her wits about her enough to know what she was doing in that moment?
Well, each brain cell has a little electrical charge to it, and the membrane keeps that charge separate [from other cells]. But when those cells are stretched or damaged, that charge discharges. That's normal if it's controlled – that's what happens if you're talking or moving your arm or something – but if it happens all over the brain at once, there's this period where the brain cells are trying to reboot. You can't walk straight, you can't remember things, you feel pretty dizzy or nauseated. In severe injury you lose consciousness, too.
If you look inside the skull, the areas that are most rough are the frontal [behind the eyes] and temporal [behind the ears] lobes. They are most susceptible to injury – impulse control and tension are there. You can imagine then, that Rose, who's been keeping these feelings to herself, doesn't control that impulse in that moment.
At least Finn looks a little bit groggy when he wakes up at the start of things.
It's pretty weird. Prolonged unconsciousness means they will have limited ability to control swallowing and breathing reflexes [at first]. Maybe they have advanced tech; he was in that weird water suit – not sure what that's all supposed to do. But if someone has prolonged immobility due to a coma, they're at risk to get bedsores and there are all sorts of inflatable things to prevent that. Or maybe it was just controlling his temperature.
He's back in action soon enough, though.
Steven Seagal had a movie in the past where it looked like he was in a coma for months. And he woke up and immediately kick-boxed his way out of a hotel. That was pretty [unrealistic]. Since we don't know what kind of neurological activity [Finn] had, it's harder to say; it did appear he was at least disoriented and confused.