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In Rogue One,

Vader arrives at the battle and witnesses the escape of the Tantive IV into hyperspace.

At the beginning of A New Hope, we see Vader's ship chasing the Tantive IV, eventually overpowering it. How was Vader able to find the Tantive IV? Presumably through some method of tracking the ship through hyperspace, but this raises more questions:

  • If ships can be tracked through hyperspace, why do the Imperials need to place a tracking device on the Falcon?
  • Why aren't Rebels chased through hyperspace more often? (E.g. after successfully destroying both Death Stars, or after practically any engagement in the SW:Rebels show)
  • Does Vader himself use unconventional means to locate the Tantive IV?

So my question is thus: Can ships be tracked and chased through hyperspace without the use of a planted tracker or Force shenanigans?

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    pure speculation, but all it would take is for the Imperials to put out an APB equivalent, and someone to spot a similar looking ship near Tatooine, and report it. This would also explain why Leia thinks she might be able to deny being involved with any rebels. – zod Jan 10 '17 at 11:47
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    I believe the radio adaptation put an Imperial spy on the Tantive IV; but I don't think there's been a canon explanation yet – Jason Baker Jan 10 '17 at 14:11
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    Now I'm wondering: Is there even a concept of "position" in hyperspace? – Twinkles Jan 10 '17 at 16:05
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    In the canon novel Twilight Company, the Thunderstrike is tracked through hyperspace due to a damaged hyperdrive leaking hyper-particles (or some such hyper-thing). However, I assume hitting an enemy's hyperdrive in such a way that it leaks but still functions is incredibly difficult to do on purpose. – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 10 '17 at 17:29
48

Yes, they can, if they have an exit vector.

In ESB, after the Falcon disappears, Vader commands Admiral Piett to:

Calculate every possible destination along their last know trajectory

Vader clearly cares about what their last trajectory is as well and believes he can find possible destinations from that information.


If ships can be tracked through hyperspace, why do the Imperials need to place a tracking device on the Falcon?

Imagine that Leia had been smart enough to tell Han "hey by the way they probably will try to track us, maybe we should make some decoy jumps/stops first?"

Suddenly, any visual track through hyperspace becomes worthless.

Can ships be tracked and chased through hyperspace without the use of a planted tracker or Force shenanigans?

Yes. This happens elsewhere in the Star Wars universe. For example, after the Vader example above, Fett tracks Han to Cloud City this way by lingering after all Imperial ships leave, we see him observing Han's exit vector and the Imperials/Fett immediately head to Cloud City and in fact arrive before Han.

It's pretty clear that Fett got enough information from the Falcon's lightspeed jump to identify his target location well enough to tell Darth Vader, "Han Solo will be on Bespin." Given Fett's reputation, it seems unlikely he would tell Vader this on a whim or speculation.

Keep in mind that if you know the precise exit vector of a ship there are fairly few planets that would be feasible destinations, assuming you make a direct trip.

Why aren't Rebels chased through hyperspace more often?

Generally, it's good tactics to make hit/run from a temporary staging point. This entirely negates any advantage of following a hyperspace jump (especially if the Rebels use a deep space rendezvous point, like at the end of ESB).

Interestingly, Leia seems involved in nearly all "track from exit vector" situations in Star Wars... so... maybe because they didn't involve Leia most of the time? ;-)

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    Fett tracking Han to Cloud City doesn't really apply because the Falcon's hyperdrive was inoperative at the time. The reason that Han decided to go there was that it was close and that he could get the hyperdrive repaired there. The implication is that they traveled all the way to Cloud City without the hyperdrive. – Robert Columbia Jan 10 '17 at 15:15
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    I believe one of the novels explains the Falcon had a backup hyperdrive that like a spare tire, was painfully slow but could be used to get it to the nearest service station. Going to Bespin from Hoth without one would surely take years. BTW some kind of hyperdrive tracking is present as early as ANH: "I told you we'd lose those Imperial slugs" Han said, after some time had passed: Luke+Ben went behind while Han stayed in the cockpit after the first jump to light speed. He must have been piloting evasive maneuvers, which would be unnecessary if they couldn't be tracked at all after the jump. – Adam D. Ruppe Jan 10 '17 at 16:59
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    You should check out this post on the time taken to travel between Hoth and Bespin without an operational hyperdrive: reddit.com/r/MawInstallation/comments/5mk2xm/… The theory is that it's not the hyperdrive that's broken, but the nav computer as without hyperdrive it'd take millenia on sublight. But by taking lots of little jumps they were able to make it only slightly before Luke has completed his several week training. – Daniel Jan 10 '17 at 18:38
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    @Daniel That's a nice theory (I know it's not yours, so I'm not questioning your inclusion of it here), but it doesn't seem to make sense with the way the hyperdrive fails to work in ESB. They pull the hyperdrive levers (presumably after making all necessary calculations - in SW they pull the levers last right before actually jumping) and then the jump engines almost engage but don't. They don't fiddle with a computer for a while and then give up in frustration. What I find strange is that somehow someone thinks they know the "real" distance from Hoth to Bespin when that's not in the movie. – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 '17 at 4:14
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    This sounds the most plausible. Tracking someone's jump in SW is probably easy, given their exit vector. Multiple jumps, however, could make tracking an impossibility if you're unable to keep up. I think this fits in quite nicely with the films at the very least. – Rapscallion Jan 11 '17 at 9:10
18

"Chased" yes, "tracked" no

We see this very clearly in the canon novel Tarkin, where Tarkin and Darth Vader are forced to pursue Tarkin's (stolen) ship on a package tour of Imperial installations. Initially, Vader is able to track the ship through the Force (his meditation sphere being loaded in the cargo bay) but, once that is jettisoned, Tarkin remarks:

"They have jumped to lightspeed," Vader said.

Tarkin ran a hand over his high forehead. "Then they’ve managed to make themselves untraceable, as well as invisible."

Tarkin Chapter 13: "Soft Targets"

After this, Tarkin is forced to resort to guessing the movements of his quarry. Fortunately, because there are only a finite number of hyperspace routes out of a given system, it's relatively easy to guess a ship's next destination; this becomes exponentially more difficult as a ship makes multiple jumps, however.

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    Given Vader explicitly calls this out as possible in ESB (see my answer for the direct quote) I'm inclined to think that Tarkin is referring to the fact that once someone jumps to hyperspeed a few times, it's very easy to become untraceable. Though the canon sources here appear to disagree (unless there is more context in Tarkin suggesting they didn't get the exit vector?) – enderland Jan 10 '17 at 14:35
  • @enderland I'm in a meeting right now but I'll update my answer later. The tl;dr is that it's not possible to track a ship through hyperspace but, because there are only finite hyperspace routes, it's possible to guess where a ship is likely to emerge. But you're right, that quickly becomes unworkable after a few jumps. The Falcon also doesn't have a cloaking device, which Tarkin's ship does; so no, in this case they don't have an exit vector – Jason Baker Jan 10 '17 at 14:38
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Possibly the Force can be used to track the ship.

From the script of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Amidala's ship can be found after a hyperspace jump using the Force:

DARTH SIDIOUS : Destroy all high-ranking officials, Viceroy...slowly...quietly. And Queen Amidala, has she signed the treaty?

NUTE : She has disappeared, My Lord. One Naboo cruiser got past the blockade.

DARTH SIDIOUS : Viceroy, find her! I want that treaty signed.

NUTE : My Lord, it's impossible to locate the ship. It's out of our range.

DARTH SIDIOUS : ...not for a Sith...

However this exchange leaves it ambiguous as to whether a ship can be tracked through hyperspace by the Force. For example, it may have been that Maul tracked the accompanying Jedi using the Force.

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    Equally likely, Darth Sidious just wanted to sound like the Sith were omnipotent. The ship could have been found by conventional methods - the ship they were in is pretty unique in a universe where most ships look like hunks of junk. – Scott Apr 21 '17 at 6:06
  • If I recall correctly, Darths Sidious & Maul were able to track Padme et. al. to Tatooine due to a received signal from their home planet when an under duress Governor Sio Bibble reported the "death toll is catastrophic, we must bow to their wishes." Upon arriving to Tatooine, Darth Maul has his droids to search for the protagonists. – kchason Nov 21 '17 at 11:38
5

The new (and fully canon) Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View book deals with this particular issue. In short, a hyperspace jump should be untraceable but the Tantive IV's engines were so horribly damaged that tracing them via their "hyperspace wake" should be child's play for the Empire.

“The real problem is what we’re leaving behind us,” the officer continued. “We can’t exactly run quiet with a hyperdrive that’s barely holding together. If the Empire detected any trace of an abnormal hyperspace wake when we jumped to lightspeed, it won’t take them long to use it to track us.”

Raymus sighed; he had dreaded this possibility and had warned Leia of it prior to their setting their escape course from Scarif. Typically a jump to hyperspace meant a clean getaway, a ship’s lightspeed trajectory impossible to track. But the Tantive IV’s impaired hyperdrive was like a leaky oil pan, leaving behind it a residual energy signature that was unique—and traceable. He wondered now how long it would take the Empire, with all their resources no doubt already diverted to finding them, to pick up their trail and follow it.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View - "Raymus" by Gary Whitta


You may also wish to note that in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the ability of the evil Snoke and his fleet to track the Resistance's ships through hyperspace is a key part of the plotline. This was accomplished using a combination of brute-force number-crunching and masses of data.

The First Order tracks targets through hyperspace using a combination of technological advances and brute-force data crunching. The shipboard tracking control complex boasts the data-sifting power of a planetary intel hub, linking huge computer arrays to databanks loaded with centuries of combat reports and astrogation data.

A static hyperspace field generated around the machines then accelerates their processing power to unheard-of levels. A target's last known trajectory yields trillions of potential destinations, but the system can assess them with terrifying speed.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Incredible Cross-Sections

3

They can't be tracked, but can be traced and chased, as they look for a last know trajectory.

In empire, there was a conversation between the top officer(admiral i think) and either Vader or his sub-lieutenant. They wanted to find the Falcon's last known trajectory, and plot a course along that. If they had guessed right, they would have seen a ship on a closer range scanner. Otherwise, they would always know where the Falcon, not to mention the rebel fleet was! The Tantive IV did give them a direction, and raced away. All it really had was a head start.

0

(new answer based on Episode VIII: The Last Jedi)

Before the events of The Last Jedi, a computer could generate a list of possible destinations using a ship's "starting trajectory" - but there was no way to definitively know where the ship was going to exit Hyperspace. It would require massive resources (such as those held by The Empire) to explore all the possible destinations. Even then, if a ship exited Hyperspace in a random part of space (as opposed to a system), there would be no hope of finding them.

However, in The Last Jedi,

The First Order invents a new technology that allows them to actually track the Resistance Fleet through Hyperspace. They are able to arrive at the Resistance Fleet's exact location seconds after they have exited Hyperspace.

We also learn that

This new technology has some limitations: it can only be used by 1 ship at a time, and can be disabled without detection for the length of a "system cycle" (about 6 minutes).

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    It's not exactly new (in-universe) technology: in Rogue One they mention it as one of techs stored in imperial archive. – user28434 Dec 25 '17 at 9:26

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