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Why do they call the "turbolasers" from Star Wars that? They aren't actually lasers, as you can see the blast of energy flying through space and it isn't going at the speed of light, yet they still call them "turbolasers".

Does anyone know why they call them that? I am asking why are turbolasers called lasers when in actuality they fire highly energized gas projectiles?

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    Are you asking specifically about the "laser" part, or also about the "turbo-" part? The "turbo-" part is probably from things like "turboprop," where it originally referred to a jet turbine (combined with a propeller) and then came to mean "mega-," "super-fast-," or "awesome." Mar 13, 2018 at 12:55
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    @MissMonicaE I am asking mostly about the "laser" part, but answering about the "turbo" part as well might be helpful, although I understand that "turbo" probably refers to the power of each shot. Mar 13, 2018 at 12:58
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    All I've got is "all cool weapons that shoot colored light are lasers," then. Mar 13, 2018 at 12:59
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    I mean "get called lasers in sci-fi," not "are actually lasers," ie that they're using the term by equivocation. (If someone invented a weapon like this in our world, it would probably get called a laser cannon in popular speech, despite the best efforts of people like you.) Anyway that's my best theory--there may be a more certain answer in canon. Mar 13, 2018 at 13:07
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    @MissMonicaE, the etymology of "turbo"=="fast" doesn't come from aviation, it comes from the automotive industry. Once upon a time, only race cars and hot-rods were equipped with superchargers--big, ugly, expensive machines that boosted the power available from a given sized engine. Then, one day, circa 1980-something, I think, car companies started fitting higher-end production cars with, compact, discreet, and less-expensive turbochargers. They would add the word "turbo" to the badge so that everyone would know you were driving one, and suddenly, "turbo" was a synonym for "fast". Mar 14, 2018 at 0:06

2 Answers 2

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There's a nice description of how the turbolaser works in the Star Wars: Official Fact File #45. In essence, the technology uses lasers to energise the plasma which is then ejected at high speed toward the intended target.

Imperial turbolaser technology uses intensely focused lasers to energize compact pockets of Tibanna gas until the weak molecular bonds of the gas break down. Once that occurs, a second beam of photons is introduced. This excites the free molecules to such a high temperature that the electrons on the individual atoms break away and the gas becomes plasma. These pockets of plasma are retained in a small magnetic bottle at the base of the turbolaser barrel, until the moment the weapon discharges.

The "turbo" prefix seems to simply refer to the fact that the gun is more powerful than a standard blaster or laser, combining the two technologies.


Moving down the canon scale, the New Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology gives us some specifics on the power of a turbolaser over a conventional laser canon. Note that that description of how it works is slightly different from the one above but there's still a laser being used to actuate the blast in the "Galven coils".

Turbolasers are two-stage supercharged laser cannons. The small primary laser produces an energy beam that enters the turbolaser's main actuator, where it interacts with a stream of energized blaster gas to produce an intense blast. The energy bolt's destructive power is incredible, and the barrel's galven coils focus the beam, providing a range that is double or triple that of conventional laser cannons. Turbolasers also can target planetary surfaces for devastating ground bombardments.

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    So Valorum is teaching Darth Vader the inner workings of top-secret Imperial military technology publicly on the Internet. Seriously, the Empire is getting more and more complacent these days...
    – zovits
    Mar 14, 2018 at 12:59
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    Thats a very complicated way to say "it uses lasers to heat the gas"...
    – Odalrick
    Mar 14, 2018 at 13:30
  • If you use a laser to hit the gas, why not just use the laser to hit the target?
    – einpoklum
    Mar 14, 2018 at 14:49
  • @einpoklum The lasers heat gas at an even rate over a long time, then the gas transfers that energy to a target over a much shorter time. Using the lasers directly would require much better tracking and be less effective against targets that change range or become obstructed by other objects. At least, it's a thought. Mar 14, 2018 at 16:18
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    @einpoklum - The text indicates that the plasma (once charged) is then stored before being discharged. That indicates that that laser is inputting energy quite slowly and the gas is acting as a capacitor.
    – Valorum
    Mar 14, 2018 at 17:23
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According to the Wookieepedia entry for Turbolaser:

The turbolaser was the immensely scaled-up version of the blaster and laser cannon.

So it seems to be a catch-all description for very large, high-damage energy weapons.

I say "high-damage" as the disabling Ion Cannons seems to be counted as a distinctive category.

"Order the defense towers to fire ion cannons and turbolasers at will!"

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    Poor Will...shame he had to go that way... Mar 14, 2018 at 6:39
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    @madscientist159 Will was a traitorous Imperial officer and we did not like him. Mar 26, 2018 at 14:49

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