I have seen many questions about the physics of the Starkiller base. My question is this:

Why didn't General Hux and any stormtroopers who watched the beam from the surface of the Starkiller base go blind?

It consumed a star and shot a beam across the galaxy. It seems to me that General Hux should have gone blind and/or had a really, really bad sunburn from being that close to the beam. Am I missing something?

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    George Lucas logic would state that there was some energy field around the viewing area that lessened the blow but still allowed the glow/shockwave sweep over the viewers. J.J. Abrams logic would be it just looks cool and why are you even asking about that? – JakeGould Dec 30 '15 at 20:34
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    The current question title "Why didn't General Hux go blind?" is bound to lead to some interesting jokes in the comments. Just sayin'... – Omegacron Dec 30 '15 at 20:47
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    It's a LASER, y'know. – wogsland Dec 30 '15 at 20:54
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    Because the majority of the weapon's energy was in hyperspace. – Gaius Dec 30 '15 at 21:01
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    With so much light, even a minor J.J.Adams lens flare might be deadly ... – Hagen von Eitzen Dec 31 '15 at 7:47

The thing that makes beam weapons like that so powerful is how focused they are. The vast majority of the energy powering the beam is going directly at the target. This is very different from, say, lava or explosive weapons, where lots of heat energy is radiating away in all directions all the time.

The only reason a beam like that is visible at all is because some tiny fraction of the energy radiates off in random directions until it reaches the eyes. (In reality, such a beam weapon would probably be invisible in space; for example, we can only see laser beams when there's intervening smoke or other particles to scatter them.)

The focus on the weapon was clearly good enough that only a nominal amount of energy diffused away: enough to see it (perhaps scattered off space dust, atmosphere, etc) but nowhere near enough to cause harm to nearby organisms.

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    FWIW, didn’t this weapon devastate the forest and landscape around the iris of the weapon itself? – JakeGould Dec 30 '15 at 21:10
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    it did, but that just means all the excess energy got blown off right up front, like the excess heat/noise/etc of a gunshot. (Approximately; it is science fiction, after all.) – KutuluMike Dec 30 '15 at 21:12
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    Probably side effects from any atmosphere above the gun being ripped apart by the beam and that being visible rather than the beam itself. – Tim B Dec 31 '15 at 8:30
  • The beam would probably be visible in space, too. There isn't much matter in outer space, but there is some and the beam is immensely powerful. – John Dvorak Dec 31 '15 at 12:11
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    In the movie they are very vague about how it works. In the novelization, though, it's explained that it's somehow "using the star's power to collect dark energy". What it actually fires is called "phantom energy", but what that is is unclear (given that dark energy, by definition, isn't visible and doesn't interact with matter) – KutuluMike Dec 31 '15 at 12:53

Here is how the weapon’s operation is described in the Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of The Force Awakens as presented in this article exploring how Starkiller Base’s weapon theoretically works; bold emphasis is mine:

At incredible velocity and accelerating exponentially, the concentrated volume of quintessence escaped, transforming as it did so into a state known as phantom energy and following the artificial line of egress that had been provided. Assuming that the rotation and inclination of the planet had been taken into account, the released blast of concentrated phantom energy would travel along a perfectly linear path, punching a small Big Rip through hyperspace itself until it left the galaxy.

Unsure about how “phantom energy” works in the world of Star Wars, but what’s interesting about that description is how much it attempts to meld real world “dark energy” theory into the arbitrary logic of the Star Wars universe. Knowing that, then the big, bad, seemingly red beam of energy that Starkiller Base emits is basically created out of pure, concentrated dark energy. So since dark energy—according to Wikipedia—is defined as:

…an unknown form of energy which is hypothesized to permeate all of space…

Then what we might assume is the red “glow” we are seeing is perhaps not the actual core of the energy weapon’s punch, but possibly a side-effect glow created by the concentrated, dark energy of the weapon interacting with shields and atmosphere during it’s emission. And maybe that glow was nowhere near as dangerous for a viewer to witness at a reasonably safe distance—with some kind of shield in operation—than it seems on screen.

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    So, magic then. – Valorum Dec 31 '15 at 0:31
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    I want to give out two accepted answers. :( – Gerald Howell Dec 31 '15 at 4:11
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    dark energy is apparently the new dark matter, which was the new tachyon, which was the new etc. As far as we know, you can't "collect" dark energy -- it's merely a property of space time and not even really "energy" in any meaningful sense. Plus, by definition, you can't see it and it doesn't interact with normal matter at all. :\ – KutuluMike Dec 31 '15 at 12:55
  • Actually, @MikeEdenfield, that's the thing. We don't know what dark energy is. Or what dark matter is. We know a tiny fraction about some of their properties, but nothing else. There are a number of theories which predict other properties of dark matter/energy, but nothing definitive yet. It could be one thing, or it could be thousands of distinct things. That's the problem with studying something that has been most closely detected thousands of light years away from the people doing the studying. – Theo Brinkman Dec 31 '15 at 15:01
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    we don't know what those things are, but we know a lot about what they are not... – KutuluMike Dec 31 '15 at 15:22

You can certainly try to explain it by the beam having at least some laser-like properties: a true laser beam is invisible from the sides, because all the light is traveling in the same direction. However, I think it's actually simpler than that: General Hux and the other soldiers who watch the beam do so from a command & control center, which is presumably shielded from any damaging effects of the beam.

  • Still doesn't explain how they prevented the planet's entire atmosphere from being vapourised. Nonsense movie. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 31 '15 at 17:32

It just wasn't bright enough, apparently. However, it was so bright, and so powerful, that some stormtroopers had to shield their eyes, and others were knocked down by the blast:

Deep within the mountain, engineers and techs concluded the final firing protocol for the new weapon.

A last connection was made. Above, the rally ground was silent. Then, at a great distance, an impossible blast of light shot into the sky. Despite the remoteness of the actual firing zone, the light was so bright that despite their protective masks a number of the troopers had to cover their eyes.

The blast was followed by a terrible concussive roar as a vast column of atmosphere was displaced. In spite of the distance, everyone was pushed back and many were knocked down by the ground tremor that followed. Airborne creatures by the thousands took fright and took flight.
- Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Force Awakens

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