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I've always been puzzled by the speeds of space craft in Star Wars. The Millennium Falcon was said to travel at "point 5 past light" - which I guess is 1.5c:

HAN: She'll make point five beyond the speed of light. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. I've added some special modifications myself.

And it was said by Han Solo to be the fastest ship in the fleet.

HAN: Look. I want you to take her. I mean it. Take her. You need all the help you can get. She's the fastest ship in the fleet.

But at that speed it will take years to travel between solar systems.

Is this a mistake in the Star Wars universe?

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Why the close votes? This is a good question, which has an interesting accepted answer pointing to retcons and even some justified guesswork about what the hyperdrive classes are. –  Andres F. Feb 21 '13 at 2:12
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I think the problem lies with your assumptions of what point five past lightspeed means. No, George Lucas isn't great with physics and real-world applications in his science fantasy epic, but we already know that. So, to assume it means anything without any other references to hyperdrive capabilities... –  Thom Brannan Feb 21 '13 at 6:56

5 Answers 5

up vote 84 down vote accepted

Yes. This is a mistake in the Star Wars universe. George Lucas had no understanding of space travel or physics. Which is why his starfighters swoop about the way World War II fighter planes did.

In modern explanation the "past lightspeed" bit has been retconned away. Instead there are the hyperdrive classes with a reverse scale. The higher the number the slower the ship. So a Class 1 hyperdrive is one of the fastest, but the Millennium Falcon has a 0.5 class hyperdrive. Twice as fast as a Class 1. Just how fast a Class 1 is is never really explained.

Though if you really want to go into it, get some of the roleplaying books. They'll have charts for travel between star systems (and possibly distances). You may be able to figure out how fast a class 1 is supposed to be from that.

More information: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Hyperdrive

[edit] Okay this is a ridiculously rough calculation. I went and pulled out my old WEG RPG book and looked at the space travel section. It didn't have a map or distances or anything -- one of them does, but I don't have the time to find it now -- but it did make this statement:

Even with a well traveled hyperspace route the fastest ships, such as the Millennium Falcon, would take several months to traverse the whole diameter of the galaxy.

Elsewhere the Galaxy was quoted as being 120,000 light years in diameter. Using this we can make a really rough guess at how fast the Falcon is, and from that, what the classes really mean. So we'll assume "several" is 6 months. Using that we can find that a class 1/2 hyperdrive would travel at about 28 light years per hour. So a class one's speed is about 14 light years per hour.

I'll find that map and do a better one later. I'll note that the book does say that well traveled hyperspace routes, such as trade routes, can take significantly less time than less traveled routes. Why that would be, I dunno, but it hints that there is more going on to hyperspace than simply traveling faster than light. [/edit]

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"George Lucas had no understanding of space travel or physics." Which also explains why the Falcon can make the Kessel Run in less than 3.702813098×10^14 km (aka twelve parsecs). –  R. Martinho Fernandes Jan 31 '11 at 0:59
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More generally, Sci-fi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale –  Nick T Jan 31 '11 at 3:00
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This makes perfect sense. You are a delivery truck driver, and have to make X number of stops. The stops are not in straight lines, and depending how you go, the distance traveled can be more or less. Solo lived on the edge, going through dangerous space to reduce the distance needed. –  JoeTaxpayer Jan 31 '11 at 5:41
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They (tried to) explain away the parsecs = distance thing in one of the novels - the Falcon was fast enough to fly closer to a black hole cluster than any other ship, allowing it to cut distance. I can't recall if the reduced distance was supposed to be due to the more direct route or the gravitational effects of the black hole cluster, though. –  Jeff Feb 3 '11 at 22:04
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To be fair, even Lucas knew that spaceships don't actually behave like fighters. He ignored that because he wanted that 30s-serial-movie feel. Deliberate artistic choice, not screwup like most of the SW physics. –  Tynam Dec 6 '11 at 15:17

I thought that comparing how fast a ship gets from point A to point B in the Star Wars universe was determined by how good their navi-computer was. (Not sure if I have the term navi-computer right. By that, I mean an computer for navigation (or astrogation if you like that term better).)

Apparently hyperspace has a vast network of routes and the better the navi-computer, the more efficient a route it took through hyperspace thus getting the ship to its destination faster.

I'm sure velocity is also important though. It seems to me the Millenium Falcon always seemed to be slower than pursuing star destroyers until it jumped to hyperspace. In the "A New Hope" Luke is alarmed at the rate the imperial cruisers were gaining on them as they fled Mos Eisley, for example. Even though in the Cantina Han Solo claims to have outrun imperial ships. (Not the local bulk cruisers, but the big Corellian ships ... just to clarify which ones.... :) )

To answer the question, I like to think the Falcon was a fast ship. Han Solo and Lando Calrisian seemed to think so, although every one else seemed to have never heard of it (Obi-Wan), thought it was a piece of junk (Luke), and offered to get out and push (Leia). I guess it depends on your point of view. (After all many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view....)

So I guess this is a pretty good question that is sure to offer many different perspectives!

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While, I generally agree, remember the Falcon was escaping the effects of the planet's gravity while the destroyers were already clear of it (relatively) and the falcon would presumably need time to build up to full speed. Of course this doesnt address why the bulk cruisers were already up to that speed, but do we really want to open that can of bantha fodder? –  Robert Brim Feb 23 '11 at 14:57
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+1 for the bantha poodoo –  RunnerRick Feb 25 '11 at 22:57
    
For the record, navicomputer is indeed the correct term, though in most EU books I see it rendered in one word. +1 –  SSumner Jan 31 at 14:30

Star Wars uses a reverse scale. The lower the rating, the faster the ship. 0.5 is 2x as fast as an Imperial warship. The scale is asymptotic, with 0.0 being infinite speed, and higher numbers being slower. The next fastest ship is Boba Fett's Slave I, which had a class 0.7 hyperdrive.

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To expand on that, the Imperial ships teknophilia mentioned are referred to as having a Class 1 hyperdrive. The Death Star had a Class 2 or 3 hyperdrive (if I recall correctly) and most civilian ships had relatively slow Class 4 or 5 drives. –  CajunLuke Jan 30 '11 at 16:13
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Still doesn't explain the "past light speed bit". –  Daniel Bingham Jan 30 '11 at 16:13
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It looks like an error on part of the writers. Taken straight from Wookiepedia's "Lightspeed" entry: "Lightspeed was a slang term referring to the speed at which a starship traveled through hyperspace. In reality though, lightspeed, or traveling through hyperspace with a class 1.0 hyperdrive motivator was actually over one hundred million times faster than the speed of light, allowing a ship to cross the galaxy in a matter of days." –  Teknophilia Jan 30 '11 at 16:23
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His words could be taken to mean "Once you pass light speed by entering hyperspace, this ship will make time as well as a class 0.5 would" –  Kevin Laity Jan 25 '12 at 18:07

I've a strong dislike for the kind of EU retconning on display here - it can have a tendency to make something which was a confusing enough mess to begin with even more confusing and even messier. The script didn't say "0.5", it said "point five".

Let's assume that there's a scale of speeds beyond the speed of light. The Falcon is on the fifth point of that scale. It needn't be more complex than that.

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What most people fail to realize is that when making a movie, it is entirely possible that travel times between, say, Tatooine and Alderaan (or the Death Star, as it were in the fourth when Han made the comment referenced above) were much longer than they appeared in actual screen time. You don't question it when a movie skips over a plane trip over the Atlantic, even though that takes several hours. So maybe the Falcon did take a month or two to get from Tatooine to Alderaan and we just were not shown it. Now by all accounts I doubt it takes 6 months to cross the galaxy, probably more like 2 or three. Otherwise the timing would be very off on most of these events, but you do have to realize that Obi-Wan taught Luke a god bit about the force and a lightsaber on that first trip on the Falcon. So it's safe to assume that the travel speeds of the Falcon are more like 40-45 times the speed of light. This means that a class 1 hyperdrive probably goes about 20-25 and a class 4 more like 8-12. Still not as instant as shown in the movies, but that's just Hollywood for ya.

Also I would like to point out that these speeds put Star Wars warship speeds on a par with that of ships from other sci-fi series, such as the mass effect cores in Mass Effect (minus the use of mass relays) and the hyperdrives of the Stargate series.

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