Looking For an in-Universe Answer/Explanation; Please No Armchair Speculation or Narrative Theories

I was rewatching Return of the Jedi (1983) and wondered about something during the scene where the shuttle Tydirium approached Endor: Was the cockpit window on that shuttle transparent or tinted or even some kind of one-way mirror?

I realize in many shots in this scene the cockpit of the shuttle seems completely black… But then, how can anyone inside that shuttle look outside? And then I realized for other ships in the series—such as X-Wing fighters and TIE fighters and even the Millennium Falcon—it’s clear when they were studio 1:1 scale models on a set, you could look inside of them… But not too clear about what happened past that?

The out-of-universe answer/explanation—of course—was that since special effects were done in the pre-CGI age of filmmaking, compromises had to be made and issues had to be avoided. So I am looking for an in-universe answer/explanation with citations.

Part of my curiosity with this is how casually the Rebels are dressed in that cockpit. While the code clearance is being discussed on the bridge, it seems the shuttle is passing so close to the Star Destroyer “Executor” that someone just casually looking in could clearly see none of the piloting crew were Imperials

The shuttle Tydirium scene from Return of the Jedi below for reference.

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    How easy is it for someone inside a partially lit room in a spacecraft to look through a transparent window across outer space and see people inside a partially lit room in another spacecraft through another transparent window? Only astronauts and cosmonauts know. And how far away can you see any details about people inside a window here on Earth? And wouldn't the shuttle have been ordered to change course or be vaporized if it flew that close in front of a moving spaceship, causing collision danger, anyway? Feb 11, 2018 at 6:42
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    I don't know about this particular ship, mostly they seem to be transparent. Anyhow, I don't think the childish mind of Lukas thought that far, but please consider the speed and size of a spacecraft as well as distances in space. There is no way a person can spot the uniforms by casually looking out of a window
    – Raditz_35
    Feb 11, 2018 at 13:19
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    Possibly the inside of these ships are just darker than they appear in the movies? kind of like driving a car at night, after all not being able to see outside could be problematic in a star fighter
    – Ummdustry
    Feb 11, 2018 at 14:10
  • At least some of the ones in The Last Jedi were transparent.... you could see "hyperspace" going by.
    – Skooba
    Feb 11, 2018 at 15:06
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    @Ummdustry Equally likely is the light from the nearby star outside of the ships is much brighter and harsher than it appears. Feb 11, 2018 at 15:45

2 Answers 2


According to the Transparisteel page on Wookieepedia:

Transparisteel or transparasteel was a hard and completely transparent metal alloy. This made it a commonly used material for starship viewports, and the windows of strongholds, and other buildings where security was a must. In starship viewports, transparisteel could be made phototropic to become more opaque near bright explosions, while traveling through hyperspace, and such. A major component in the make-up of transparisteel was lommite.

It's plausable that the shuttle Tydirium's windows are made of the same material.


Theoretically, the Empire may have developed some form of cockpit windows that would appear dark from the outside, yet could be seen through on the inside. Shielding from cosmic radiation might be why. Of course, that raises the question of how the rebels survived in their space ships with no shielding... presumably the rebels wouldn't have access to better technology than the empire.

In truth, this is a dramatic tool used by Lucas. The good guys are open and visible, while the bad guys are not visible, and therefore, not quite human in the mind of the viewer. It's a good example of the subtle touches a film director uses to create a mood in the mind of the viewer. Vader with his Nazi inspired helmet, the storm troopers being completely covered while all of the rebel forces had their faces visible are other examples of this implied dehumanization of the opposition.

True that the TIE fighters appear to have clear windows, but they are so small that you almost never see into them from the outside, while the X and Y wing fighters have the good guys prominently displayed and definitely visible. You do see a few shots of operators inside the TIE fighters, but they're completely covered up, and thus less human.

Note also that this particular shuttle is the only one that gets a name, making it appear slightly more 'friendly' to the viewer. None of the empire ships, not even the big ones, are ever referenced by a specific name in the first three films, thus dehumanizing the empire more. Just this one lowly shuttle that just happens to have good people on board. (you'd think that might have been a clue to the empire forces around Endorn... something suspicious about that shuttle that has a name...)

Even the death star doesn't have a specific name, it's just the Death Star. You'd think they might name it the Death Star Palpatine, or something like that... This enhances the 'individual effort versus anonymous giant collective' theme that plays out in the first three films... remember that all were made when the communist USSR was the major opposition in real life, so this plays to the 'individual hero versus rigidly controlled collective' theme that permeated much of the capitalist versus communist conflict.

Imagine Han Solo flying a cargo ship with no name, just a model designation. Wouldn't be nearly as memorable a moment if Han had said on Hoth: "never mind, I'll get her out on the piece of junk".

Note that this isn't the first time that Lucas used subtle touches to enhance the difference between bad and good. In American Graffiti, bad guy Bob Falfa's 55 Chevy was black, while John Milner's deuce coupe was yellow, and Richie Cunningham's Buick was white.

Edit: on further reflection, there would be a scientific reason for the blacked out cockpits. If you go back and review the film 2001, probably the most realistic fictional space scenes ever put on film, you find that the spacecraft, viewed from the outside, have very bright exterior illumination with very black shadows. Until the camera got close, the cockpit of the lunar shuttle appears to be dark when viewed from the outside.

Or, if you look up some of the actual Apollo films of the LEM when it was near the CSM, you find that the windows appear to be blacked out, until the two craft get very close.

The reason for this is - no atmosphere, no sky, and therefore no backscattering of the sunlight to illuminate shadows. It's why the space scenes in 2001 have that stark, sterile look to them. That's what spacecraft actually look like in space.

Keep in mind that most science fiction films are done with entertainment in mind, they present a fictional story with familiar cues... as in spacecraft that are illuminated like airplanes in flight because we're familiar with airplanes in flight, and even tend to fly like airplanes in flight while there's no atmosphere. They want you to understand the story, not struggle with something you might not quickly comprehend.

Kubrick went for the ultra realistic space cinematography (in 1968, mind you, when there were very few films of actual spacecraft in space), because it made the familiar unfamiliar to the viewer, and thus made it seem more realistic. Then again, 2001 wasn't your typical sci-fi film.

However, this would apply to all ships in space, not just the bad guys. So, yes, there is a reason cockpits on spaceships might appear dark... no atmosphere to backscatter the sunlight, and what little light that's inside would be overwhelmed by direct sunlight, especially if the spaceships are operating near a class M planet (as they usually are in the SW scenes) where sunlight is fairly bright.

As for why the rebels could be seen in their cockpits... either they had massive floodlights installed inside to match ambient sunlight, or the director was using that technique to enhance their good guy nature.

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    +1 for background, but the OP is looking for an in-universe answer/explanation with citations.
    – Mr Lister
    Feb 11, 2018 at 15:19
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    "None of the empire ships, not even the big ones, are ever referenced by a specific name in the first three films,". not quite true, There's the line "Sir, we have a priority signal from the Star Destroyer Avenger." in Empire Strikes Back. Though offhand I think that's the only time any imperial warship is ever namedropped in the franchise. Dec 5, 2022 at 10:45

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