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We all remember the classic A New Hope scene where the Millenium Falcon gets caught by a tractor beam and Obi Wan-Kenobi has to switch it off. Considering it's a major plot point of the movie which led to a sacrifice of an important character, it's surprising that the thing seemingly disappeared from the universe and was never seen again. Or after.

Not that it would be useless. I'm not a fan of the series, and there are some instances where the lack of it seems justified (for example when Falcon escapes Tatooine, since such a device probably wouldn't be available on such a backwater place), but I can't help but notice that for a device with considerably strong applications it seems to be conspicuously absent:

  1. When Naboo Royal Starship tried to run through the Federation blockade,
  2. When the Invisible Hand crash-lands on the Coruscant, seemingly a pretty technologically advanced planet,
  3. When a "fully armed and operational" battle station is a target of a massive last-ditch effort attack and most likely the last attempt to bring it down,
  4. When Finn and Poe Dameron run away from that place they were held in in the first act of TFA,
  5. When stuff... Happens on the surface of the Starkiller Base.

Clearly it's not a piece of technology that is useless or unheard of. Han Solo effortlessly identifies it when they get caught in it, and points out that he could never outrun it. Obi, despite being on some terrible backwater planet for decades not only instantly knows how to shut it down but is also it's not simple to turn it back on so that they'll have time to run away (heck, clearly it wasn't back online for the battle over Yavin). So why do we never see one again?

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    We do see them again. They are used consistently... – amflare Mar 19 '18 at 18:52
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    Han uses one to capture the Millennium Falcon in TFA – Valorum Mar 19 '18 at 18:54
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    A tractor is used on the first transport away from Hoth (before the Ion cannon is used to knock out the Star Destroyer) – Valorum Mar 19 '18 at 18:55
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    Vader hoped to catch the Falcon in a tractor at the end of ESB (spoiler, they escaped) – Valorum Mar 19 '18 at 18:56
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    I'd say this is still a valid question. Just remove the assumptions of it never being used, and ask why it wasn't used in places where it seems like would have been an obvious choice for it (the list you gave in your question). – Mwr247 Mar 19 '18 at 19:26
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As people have mentioned in the comments already, the tractor beam-tech has been used many times throughout the Star Wars saga, besides just in A New Hope. (Honestly, this answer is more or less a recap + further exploration of the things people have already mentioned, but I'm gonna give it a go anyway.)

First of all, we have to keep in mind that fact that tractor beams are not really meant for the purpose of re-capturing escapees, holding off attackers, or reducing the effects of crash landings. They're meant for helping large ships dock inside of smaller ones, helping to ships dock together, moving cargo around, etc. So while they can be tactically useful in a pinch, that's not what they're really known for.

Also, tractor beams don't work well unless you're in relatively close range to them.

I would also assume that those things take quite a bit of energy to run, and even though I'm sure amped-up tractor beams, or at least a similar type of tech, could be pretty useful to hold up a blockade, would the cost really be with the benefit? Sure, a ship or two might escape, but the norm is that they won't, because who ever decided to make a blockade in the first place probably made sure they had the firepower to blast most ships that might try running it.

Next up, I would imagine that most tractor beams probably can be broken out of, if you have the power and/or speed to do so. I'm pretty sure I remember this happening or being mentioned as a possibility at some point in the Star Wars universe, but I can't quite remember exactly what part of the films, Rogue One, The Clone Wars, or Rebels it might have been in...

And again, as someone else has already mentioned, they do use tractor beams quite frequently in Rebels, so it's definitely not a case of them making up something for a plot point and to fix the problem the heroes are facing only to drop it after that and it never be used again.

As for your specific moments:

  1. & 2. These are both dealing with something that's already got a lot of speed and is going to be pretty unpreditable (the guys on that Naboo ship knew they wanted to break through the blockade, so they made sure to gather plenty of speed and plan the best spot to get through; the Invisible Hand was, as you mentioned, crash-landing, on top of the fact that it's an enourmous ship and was traveling at a very high speed. Also, I feel like there probably were some smaller tractor beams in use on that landing pad, and they probably did reduce the crash quite considerably.)

  2. You've got tons of starfighters out there, trying to attack a station the size of a small moon. They wouldn't have tractor beams surrounding the entire station. There probably were a couple located in specific places (like the places where you're actually supposed to enter with your ship), but the Rebels obviously would have made sure to avoid those.

  3. The First Order didn't know they were running away until they actually did it. They probably didn't have time to turn on a tractor beam, get it going on full power, and catch that traitor and runaway before they got outside of its range. Besides, trying to use a tractor beam to catch Finn and Poe would have made it impossible for any First Order-loyal TIEs to also go after them. That would be a problem if they did somehow manage to get away from the beam, as there would be no other way to catch up to them then.

  4. Ya mean that trench-run redo? Same thing here as with question #3.

  • I think this is a pretty solid answer. I'd just add, in some cases there'd be a non-zero risk factor to consider. I'd be willing to bet at least someone in the rebellion has left a juicy target out in the open rigged with explosives before (if you can take down a whole Star Destroyer using a single ship, that's a pretty small price to pay). They'd either have to be pretty desperate or else 100% sure any tractor beam target was not likely to try this gambit. – delinear Mar 20 '18 at 11:48
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    Exactly. And something of this sort actually did happen in Rebels, in the episode "Homecoming". I'm not sure if they ever specified whether a tractor beam was involved or not, but members of the Rebellion rigged a smaller ship with a ton of explosives, then set it to drift right in the path of a large Imperial ship, detonating the explosives as soon as it for in range. It worked quite magnificently and the people of Ryloth got a fireworks display that day. – Elven Padawan Mar 20 '18 at 15:49
  • Thanks a lot! The fact that they're probably less wieldy and convenient than the alternatives (and probably not fit for combat) is a great point (looking at it now, the Death Star one was probably way better than others anyways). I'm surprised that people on wookiepedia chose to write about breasts than explain such an important device in more-than-rudimentary detail. – VienLa Mar 23 '18 at 16:06
  • Legends examples: In The Courtship of Princess Leia, the Millennium Falcon shakes a tractor beam by launching concussion missiles, causing the beam to lock onto those instead of the ship. In Iron Fist, a tractor-beamed fuel tanker is rigged to explode, dealing considerable damage (Iron Fist was fine, but a lesser ship could easily have been destroyed). And in Wraith Squadron, a Star Destroyer closes to well within turbolaser range preparing to tractor, implying that it's short-ranged; in the same book, it's shown that smaller ships mounting them have to give up a lot of guns, too. – Cadence May 6 '18 at 22:44

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