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I have seen The Force Awakens twice and don't have access to the scripts, but...

Re-watching last night, it occured to me that while Han, Chewie and co were working to bring down the shields on Starkiller Base, the group of X-Wings seems to have been waiting in hyperspace. Is this possible?

The shield is brought down by the team, the message is received by the Resistance leaders and relayed to the pilots, and the attack group of fighters drops out of hyperspace at the base. One of the pilots actually says something along these lines: "Message received, dropping out of hyperspace now." Bear in mind that they were in hyperspace at the time.

Perhaps my understanding of hyperspace is wrong, but I don't think any ship can wait in hyperspace, or fly slowly in hyperspace and suddenly speed up, or fly around in circles in hyperspace. So how is this possible? Or is my understanding of hyperspace or the scene wrong?

To be clear, I'm 99.9% certain they didn't just jump into hyperspace and then right back out again as if it was a very short trip from a nearby system. They definitely appeared to be waiting in it as if they had been there for at least a few minutes, then dropped immediately out into the right place.

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    You can definitely fly around in hyperspace. It wouldn't make any sense otherwise: you enter hyperspace, then you stay there for a certain amount of time, travelling through the universe, and then you drop out of hyperspace at the right moment for where you want to end up. In other words, if you don't drop out, you'll just keep flying around through the universe. Whether it's realistic that the X-wings happened to be in just the right place to drop out of hyperspace and end up where they were supposed to when they received the message is another matter. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 16 '16 at 17:22
  • That is exactly what I am asking. I think you have confirmed my understanding, so the chances of them being in the right place to just drop out immediately must be minute? – ThruGog Jan 16 '16 at 17:27
  • Actually there are so many scientific inaccuracies and inconsistencies in Star Wars that I've stopped paying attention to scientific things at all, I just enjoy the story and see it more from a "Fantasy" than a "Science Fiction" point of view. – Broco Jan 11 '17 at 10:25
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In short, yes. They DID (1) wait in lightspeed as you noted, and (2) communicated in lightspeed, as confirmed by WGA script. And that hasn't ever been seen before in Star Wars; and #2 hasn't yet been explained or retconned as far as I could find.

First, to confirm your observations from WGA script:

OFFICER
General, their shields are down!
C-3PO
Thank the Maker!
LEIA
Han did it! Send them in!
ADMIRAL STATURA
Give Poe full authorization to attack.
REAR ADMIRAL GULCH
Black Leader, go to sub-lights. On your call.
INT. X-WING - DAY
At LIGHTSPEED, Poe pilots:
POE
Roger, base -- red squad, blue squad, take my lead.
INT. X-WING - DAY
Nien Nunb pilots, acknowledges order in alien language. INT. X-WING - DAY
Another pilot, ZOLO ZIFF.
YOLO ZIFF
Dropping out of lightspeed.
EXT. SPACE/STARKILLER BASE - DAY
With CONCUSSIVE BLASTS, the X-WINGS APPEAR and ROAR PAST CAMERA toward the Starkiller Base planet!


Foster novelization (as usual) is slightly different and way more coherent, but doesn't address some of the problems:

In another command and control center, on another planet in another system, there was a spontaneous outburst of excitement, followed by a hurried response. “General,” the head tech cried out, “their shields are down!”
“Oh my.” Threepio leaned toward the relevant console. “So they are!”
“You were right,” Leia said to Statura. “Send them in!”
“Give Poe full authorization to attack,” Ackbar informed a junior officer stationed at another console. “All available ships, no hesitation. He knows he’s not likely to get a second opportunity.”
“Black Leader,” the officer declared to the pickup that would send out the command via the identical set of relays, “go to sublight. Attack, attack. On your call.”

It was the order Poe had been waiting for. While unsure it would come, he had nevertheless run over the strike schematics in his head a dozen times. Timing was critical. Having plotted the vector to the planet that was home to the Order’s Starkiller Base as an arc, both to deceive any long-range sensors as well as to delay arrival and emergence from lightspeed, now they could revise the route and head straight for the target.

“Roger, base.” Hitting the controls necessary to alter course within a lightspeed run, Poe addressed the rest of his flight. “Red squad, blue squad—follow my lead.” At his touch, their revised vector entered the flight computer of every ship in every squadron, and the X-wings promptly adjusted as a single unit.

Note that the X-Wing emergence in novelization clearly wasn't instantaneous - after the shield was brought down, Kylo Ren and his team had a chance to examine the Falcon, and he leisurly sat down in Falcon's cockpit after that. Only then...

His deliberation was interrupted by a thunderous roar as squadrons of X-wings dropped from the sky, rocketing toward the hexagon-shaped bulk of the containment field and oscillation control system. Rising from the seat, he rushed out in time to see the Resistance fighters drop toward the massive structure—and begin their bombing runs.


So, if you take the novelization as a retcon:

  • The fighters were not waiting stalled at lightspeed. Instead, they were on a long arc course towards StarKiller, basically a typical aircraft circling pattern over the target/aifield.

  • They did recieve the orders in lightspeed (as far as I'm aware, violating existing prior canon)

  • Then, they - while still in lightspeed, changed course to head directly for Starkiller.

enter image description here

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    That is a superb answer and excellent diagram! So in theory if it had taken Han longer, they may have been flying in circles around the destination. Something else I hadn't expected from hyperspace travel. Do these novelisations basically fill plot holes regularly?? – ThruGog Jan 16 '16 at 18:51
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    Nice diagram, but why weren't the circles hand-drawn? :-P And I've done my best shot at a DVK-ish list answer here: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/115348/31394 – Rand al'Thor Jan 18 '16 at 11:42
  • It's possible technology has advanced since Endor. In any case, the fighters are deployed to hyperspace to wait there, as opposed to inside the hangar back at base, to save time. It's like a squadron circling around above the clouds, out of detection range, waiting for a saboteur to do his job before dropping in for the strike. If you take off only when the saboteur is done, the enemy has more time to finish whatever they're doing and/or detect what the saboteur has done and take actions to rectify it. – thegreatjedi Jan 22 '16 at 7:16
  • @ThruGog And I think you may have some incorrect perceptions of hyperspace. It's not actually a "fast-travel" mechanic you see in some games like Elder Scrolls. It's just a different dimension (from what I told) existing in parallel with the subspace dimension that allows for FTL travel. You traverse it by entering coordinate checkpoints. The "fast-travel" concept is when coordinate entering has been automated by the navigation computer, but it isn't part of the default physics of hyperspace. So yes, you can plot a path through it like a ship in the ocean and change it midway. – thegreatjedi Jan 22 '16 at 7:20
  • @thegreatjedi I wasn't thinking they should be waiting around at home. What seems the usual approach would to be waiting in the next system or whatever would be just out of sensor range. I agree with your analogy that they were sort of circling the area, but wasn't aware that could be done in hyperspace. – ThruGog Jan 22 '16 at 20:16
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The X-Wing squadrons initially traveled to Star Killer Base in hyperspace and upon arrival drop to orbital light speed around the Killer Planet's Star. They had to wait for confirmation that the shields were down, until that point they had to maintain a system orbit at light speed. When the Hyper Comms relayed that shields were down, command was giving to the squadrons to begin their assault and they dropped out of light speed. Hyperspace is for galactic travel, light speed is travel in or around star systems.

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