I would expect that a capital ship the size of a Star Destroyer would have shields capable of blocking a single fighter's fire. Possible explanations I can think of:

  1. The shields weren't powered at the time. This would be the simplest explanation, but if the First Order know Finn's escaping, has a ship, and is willing to fire on them, wouldn't they activate the shields as part of the combat readiness procedure?

  2. The shields were engaged, but not at full power. This would be the case if they had deflector shields or something to prevent damage from micrometeors and other space debris, but which were separate from the combat shields. But again, wouldn't the First Order turn on the combat shields when they heard someone was shooting at them?

  3. The TIE fighter is sufficiently armed to penetrate the shields. This seems outlandish, considering the size difference of the ships. Also, since it's likely a Star Destroyer would have some of the most effective shield systems available, it would mean that capital ships are incredibly vulnerable to fighter swarms and their usefulness in ship-to-ship combat would be limited.

Is there a canon explanation for how this occurred?

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    I haven't seen the mover, but another option is that the shields don't act like a skin on the hull but are projected a distance away, and the fighter was able to get inside the defensive perimeter.
    – Xantec
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 18:19
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    The answer is "with great panache"
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 18:39
  • 4
    @Xantec Since the fighter came from within the ship it attacked, it didn't even have to get inside the defensive parameter, it startet there.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 18:41
  • @Richard - the novelization does NOT use the word "panache". I think. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 18:49
  • 3
    Terrible plot as with every question in this silly film Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 21:15

3 Answers 3


The Foster novelization doesn't seem to explain that clearly, but it does explain that the soldiers on board were not exactly in a highly-alert state: most people were described as sluggish in their response when the alarm was raised after the fighter escape, because they considered this "a drill".

A large majority of those alerted responded slowly and reluctantly, confident that what they were responding to was nothing more than a drill

(to top that off, the situation is repeatedly described as "chaotic" and "confused" as well)

Throughout the Finalizer, confusion expanded exponentially... Contradictory commands flew back and forth between bemused sections

This is plausible to interpret that the ship wasn't in a high-alert mode overall, which would possibly mean that the shields were offline, since there was absolutely no reason to keep them online above a "backwater" system with no enemy presence.

This is reinforced with this quote:

Departments were alerted that normally went unexcercised while the ship was in orbit around peaceful planets

Again, this isn't clearly stated, merely a plausible interpretation.

  • 1
    I agree with the other answer and the comments that "it was inside the shields" is another plausible theory, but I'm unwillling to include it in my answer because I don't have any canon backup for it in the form of the fact of the SD shields staring only a certain distance from the hull. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 18:51
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    There is some circumstantial evidence for that, in that later in the movie the Starkiler base's shields are shown to work in exactly what way, starting some distance from the base and offering no protection against attacks that come from inside them. Of course we don't know if these shields are the same.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 5:50
  • @Nathaniel - planetary shields very explicitly - at least in EU/Legends canon- start at altitude. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 5:53

I think the TIE fighter was inside the shields. That's why we have things like TIE fighters and X-wings, so they can get in under the shields.

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    Is there any indications in canon where off the surface of SD the shields start? (might be a good separate question) Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 18:45
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    @dvk we see time and again how starfighters destroy giant ships easily. Return of the jedi.....they destroy a shield ball on a star destroyer another despite shields up crashes into and destroys the bridge of a super star destroyer,...
    – Thomas
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 19:39
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    @Thomas - the latter crash was after the shields went down, explicitly. The former - they repeatedly targeted shield generators, which means they simply ran down the shields first (you can see them first firing with no effect on the structure, with only subsequent runs exploding the generators). Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 19:41
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    @DVK More exactly, the latter crash was after a section of the shield went down, as explicitly stated by the bridge crew. They tried to compensate by shifting the other shield segments, but couldn't do it in time. The important point is of course that the shielding of an SD is segmented (although we have no idea how big those segments are) - there isn't a single Trek-style "shield bubble". If the crew wasn't battle ready (and honestly, most people wouldn't take the threat seriously - the Death Star's demise was likely top secret), it's possible the shield wasn't at 100% coverage.
    – Luaan
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 2:38
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    it would seem that fighters can't get through active shields - the RotJ novelization has three fighters destroyed by impacting the death star shield when they pull out of the attack after realising it is still active.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 12:44

The only real clue we get is in the film's Junior Novelisation which states that it was somehow down to the proximity of the TIE fighter to the turbolasers.

If one assumes that the energy from the TIE fighter's laser cannons dissipates with distance, then being really really close to their target evidently makes them super-duper effective.

Instead, Poe skimmed the fighter along the gigantic Star Destroyer’s hull, presenting a more difficult target. The destroyer gunners risked hitting their own ship when shooting at the TIE. Finn also needed to be as close as he could to inflict maximum damage.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Junior Novelisation

  • 1
    @DVK - Hence somehow. It's the only thing that gets mentioned in context of why they were effective.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 19:40
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    I'd argue that distance (or rather, variations of distance as minimal as those would be implied) wouldn't matter for either blaster-type (plasma packet) OR laser-type (ray) weapons, except Lucasphysics :( Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 19:43
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    There's also the quote in RotJ about the effectiveness of engaging the enemy at "point-blank range".
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 19:45
  • 1
    I'll need to check but I think that was about defensive tactics and not weapon performance? Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 19:50
  • 2
    @DVK Lasers still dissipate over distance because you can't focus them perfectly. There is a thing called self-collimation, where photons stay together because of their own gravity, but that might work for the star destroyer beam, not for ordinary laser weapons. As for balls of plasma trapped inside self-induced magnetic fields - those things won't stay together forever either. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 7:36

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