In the universe of Star Wars, many ships (excluding the X-Wing - the large circles on the front are retro thrust nozzles) appear to lack forward-facing thrusters or retro thrusters.

TIE Fighter breakdown

The TIE fighter has 2 engines, both which face backwards. So, what slows it down?

I read on Wookieepedia that they turn using etheric rudders, and read on a chat forum (I do not remember which) that they can use etheric friction to slow down, but I couldn't find any references to this. Do they perhaps use special repulsors to slow down? In this question many people answered that they use special repulsors to control their flight and direction, so perhaps could the same technology be used to slow them down?

So, how do Star Wars ships slow down?

To clarify, I want answers based on the Star Wars universe, not real-life physics. I am also willing to accept answers based on the Star Wars Extended Universe (now named Star Wars: Legends).

  • 1
    Related, not dupe; How do the star fighters in Star Wars fly with no side thrusters?.
    – Valorum
    Dec 29, 2016 at 10:00
  • @Valorum do all ships have these? e.g darth vader's tie fighter doesn't appear to have them (img.lum.dolimg.com/v1/images/…). If they do, then it does answer my question.
    – Restioson
    Dec 29, 2016 at 10:04
  • @Valorum ah, I understand. I will do so. Thanks :)
    – Restioson
    Dec 29, 2016 at 10:16
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    I see I'm not the only one who read the Popular Mechanics article (but laziness got the better of me :) Good Q Dec 29, 2016 at 19:08
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    I'm pretty sure repulsorlifts were exclusively used by crafts and 'furniture' to counteract gravity, giving them the ability to hover.
    – arkon
    Sep 15, 2019 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


Ships in the Star Wars universe travel through a property known as "ether" which acts as a dragging force. This explains a considerable number of issues including why ships have a top speed, how explosions can be heard in space, why there's no overt worries about relativistic effects, why ships need to burn fuel constantly to maintain their speed, how tight turns are made and why TIE-Fighters don't need retro-thrusters.

Pablo Hidalgo (Head of the Lucasfilm's Star Wars Story Group) spoke to this in a recent tweet

PH: If you need to, you could say the interstellar medium in Star Wars does have an ether, which would explain such pulpy things as sound, concussion rings, visible drag, and such odd tech callouts as "an etheric rudder" from Heir to the Empire. Only if you ⋆really⋆ need to, though.

Like if it helps you sleep at night and whatnot.

That all being said, there's some weak evidence in the non-canon (but still awesome) TIE Fighter Owners' Workshop Manual that the magnetic constrictors on the TIE engines are capable of manipulating the output of ions to create reverse thrust. So much so that pilots are warned against doing it too harshly for fear of ripping the wings off.

As the TIE fighter's engines generated and released charged ion particles through aft vents to propel the craft, pilots used the flight controls to direct the particles in almost any direction, giving the craft excellent maneuverability. Expert pilots could not only execute tight loops, rolls, and spins, but maneuver at high speeds around obstacles and through access tunnels. Despite the TIE fighter's remarkable agility, pilots exercised caution when reverse thrusting to brake their speed during atmospheric flights, as sudden stops could cause severe structural damage to the wing spars and support pylons.

  • Thanks for finally putting this question to rest :)
    – Restioson
    Jan 1, 2018 at 12:51
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    @Restioson - Honestly, I've know the answer for a while. I just needed a better source than Wookieepedia and a bunch of Legends novels.
    – Valorum
    Jan 1, 2018 at 13:12
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    Never thought we'd be turning to Twitter for a reputable source, haha
    – Restioson
    Jan 1, 2018 at 13:14
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    OK - I completely commend your answer. But it does suggest that Star Wars exists in a completely different universe and not in "a galaxy far far away". :)
    – Steve Mc
    Dec 27, 2019 at 13:48
  • @SteveMc - That was discussed with Pablo Hidalgo. He wanted to address the issue of time dilation in relation to going near to black holes in the Maw. He made it clear that their physics isn't our physics.
    – Valorum
    Dec 27, 2019 at 13:53

Short answer: Nothing. Star Wars is scientifically inaccurate, you just have to accept that. I view Star Wars as a fantasy story rather than a science fiction story because it has nothing to do with science.

If you want to stop in space you have to apply the same impulse towards the opposite direction to slow down. Which means if you have one main engine in the back of the ship: You have to turn your ship around. If you don't want to do that you have to have an engine just as powerful as your back engine in the front or have a weaker engine burn much longer than your main engine.

The fact alone that the engines are constantly running is a flaw because in reality this would keep accelerating the ships indefinitely.

There are many, many other flaws such as space stations and ships not having any orbital velocity, sound in space (!), X-Wings having to put their wings together in order to be faster (reduce drag in space? :D ), laser/light sabres neither consisting of lasers/light nor being sabres, parsecs being a measure of time rather than a distance (just because a parallax second has "second" in it, doesn't mean it's a measure of time) etc.

For those who downvote this answer because in one referenced answer there is a description saying an X-wing has reverse thrust: That's irrelevant for this question because:

  1. Bigger ships don't have that and the question isn't about X-Wings alone
  2. You NEVER see an X-Wing use reversed thrust in ANY of the movies.
  3. It is also stated that repulsorlifts are responsible for maneuvering but if they were they would have to have nearly as much thrust than the actual engines which makes absolutely no sense.
  • 4
    @TheLethalCoder Did you even read my comment? I told you that the craft in Star Wars mostly use ION engines and with ION thrusters there is no "if its lit up it doesn't mean it's producing thrust", it is exactly that. Ionized and accelerated gas = emitting light + producing thrust. But maybe NASA, Newton and Einstein are wrong and you're right, who knows. nasa.gov/centers/glenn/technology/Ion_Propulsion1.html
    – Broco
    Jan 11, 2017 at 14:22
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    Sad to see a perfect honest answer get donwvotes just because it relies on logic instead of citing some silly Phlebotinum from some canon/demi-canon source. Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan and love the franchising but if one needs a canon citation please add it to the tag and explicit it.
    – jean
    Jan 11, 2017 at 15:14
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    @Broco I was looking for a canon answer based on star wars physics, not real life physics. I understand the confusion, though. I've edited my question to reflect this.
    – Restioson
    Jan 13, 2017 at 6:04
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    @jean I felt it was quite obvious to provide an answer relative to Star Wars, not to real life physics. I have edited my question, though
    – Restioson
    Jan 15, 2017 at 9:32
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    @Restioson well if you want the question answered inside the Star Wars lore you will still be disappointed. Star Wars has no consistent underlying own physics the way e.g. Star Trek has. You may list repulsorlifts or the retro thrusters in the X-Wings but if repulsorlifts have enough thrust to slow a ship down, why does it even need a main engine? There are so many weird things about Star Wars physics that I stopped trying to explain them, it simply makes no sense. Don't get me wrong, I love SW but not because of the accurate and consistent physics ;)
    – Broco
    Jan 15, 2017 at 22:21

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