In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon is reported as being too small for a cloaking device:

TRACKING OFFICER: Captain Needa, the ship no longer appears on our scopes.

NEEDA: They can't have disappeared. No ship that small has a cloaking device.

(Source: http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Star-Wars-The-Empire-Strikes-Back.html)

According to Wookieepedia, the Millennium Falcon is ~35 meters long. (I am not sure how accurate this information is, though.)

This is the tricky part.

Consider Darth Maul's spaceship, the Scimitar. He owned it many years before the events of SW:TESB, yet again according to Wookieepedia, it has a cloaking device. And it is only ~26 meters long. How can this be? Is this a continuity error?

As always canon answers are great, but ones from legends are also acceptable.

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    Other small ships with a cloaking device: the transports used in The Last Jedi. You hear someone say "Cloaking device activated" as they board them, and the First Order does a "de-cloaking scan" to find them. – Plutor May 3 '18 at 15:35
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    @Plutor I figured that was a recent technological advance that would not have been available during the time period of ESB. – Robert Columbia May 3 '18 at 15:45
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    @RobertColumbia Oh, that's certainly possible. – Plutor May 3 '18 at 15:46
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    the starwars wikia has a few smaller ships that have cloaking devices, but they are all from Legends. – JohnP May 3 '18 at 16:50
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    Needa does not say "No ship that small can have a clocking device." Rather, the statement is, "No ship that small has a cloaking device." Saying that it cannot is claiming it is impossible to do. Saying they do not allows that it is possible, just not done. In the later case, if it was done it would be unexpected, and of great tactical advantage. – Gypsy Spellweaver May 4 '18 at 0:11

If I recall correctly, almost all of Darth Maul's ship was dedicated to the cloaking device, leaving a very small habitable space. (This was in the DK Star Wars Episode I: The Visual Dictionary, which I read many years ago.)

In other words, it's not that the Falcon was too small to be cloaked, it's that the ship wasn't large enough to contain a (very large) cloaking device.

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    This image seems to corroborate this answer, despite not explicitly stating the trade off: i.ebayimg.com/images/g/iNEAAOSwd3dXFmzb/s-l1600.jpg – ZAD-Man May 3 '18 at 18:50
  • @ZAD-Man Yes, that looks like it's from the same book. I'll see if I can find more detail. I seem to remember it being explicitly stated in Maul's case. – Mike Harris May 3 '18 at 19:30
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    Additionally, as the Empire had boarded the ship before and the ship was of a fairly standard layout, they knew the entire was not overwhelming modified to have one. – Mark May 3 '18 at 20:04

The Millennium Falcon is not too small for a cloaking device, in theory. It is too small for one in practice.

Other sources, to varying degrees of canon, indicate that there are smaller ships with cloaking devices. Although it also seems that having a cloaking device on a smaller vessel, including the size range of the Millennium Falcon, significantly reduces, or removes, the utility of the vessel for "normal" usage. How useful is a transport ship with 90% of its useful capacity dedicated to a cloaking device?

Also, notice that Capt. Needa did not say, "No ship that small can have a cloaking device." The Capt. only asserted that, "No ship that small has a cloaking device." The first would be stating a technical fact, an impossibility. The second statement allows that it is possible, just that it is not done. "They don't" is not the same as "they can't."

Needa's statement could have included the qualifier "... that we know of." That, however, would have been suggesting that the information of the Empire was incomplete. That's probably not a good way to impress the boss; a boss who has been known to be unfriendly when displeased.

Capt. Needa presumably was relying on knowledge of cloaking technology, and its space requirements, in the claim. The Millennium Falcon was known to be a "usable" vessel, which reduced the likelihood that it would also have a cloaking device. Capt. Needa probably felt safe making that assertion, though there were other things on the Capt.'s mind at the moment anyway. Needa probably didn't want to consider the "what if it does have one" scenario anyway. The assigned task was not going well, and further complications are easier to not think of than to consider as possible.

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    And it is likely that nobody actually knew of the Infiltrator, being a one-of-a-kind ship developed by a faction nobody even knew for sure existed. (Actually, what even happened of the ship? It must have been stranded on Naboo after Maul's death... Did Palpatine quietly have it destroyed before anybody could find it?) – T. Verron May 4 '18 at 11:25
  • @T.Verron As Supreme Chacellor and Senator for Naboo, he could probably claim it as salvage/reparations for assignment to his new Bodyguard - and then quietly wipe any incriminating data or arrange for an "unfortunate accident" – Chronocidal May 4 '18 at 11:55
  • I don't quite remember the details of what the circumstances were, but what happened to Darth Maul's ship is discussed in the book Labyrinth of Evil. – Davidw May 5 '18 at 3:25
  • @Davidw I have read this book many times and I don't remember that. Guess I need to read it one more time. – T. Verron May 7 '18 at 11:33
  • @T.Verron I believe it isn't actually referred to by name. – Davidw May 7 '18 at 16:28

It must be a power trade-off.

Captain Needa doesn't say, I've been on board the Millenium Falcon and I know it has too much habitable space to contain a cloaking device. He has about 2 seconds reaction time, maximum, and then he says that a ship that small couldn't have such a device.

This doesn't suggest that a cloaking device must have a minimum size, though, not really.

It only suggests that the power-generator for the device must have a minimum size, and that the Falcon is too small to contain a generator large enough to power a cloaking field, on top of the power needed to run its hyperdrive.

Hence it's a power trade-off: a generator small enough to install in the Falcon would be powerful enough to run either the hyperdrive or the cloaking field, but not both. And since the hyperdrive is essential, logic dictates that the ship can't be running a cloaking device.

We are entitled to assume, IMHO, that a generator is a generator: that there's nothing special about the generator used by a cloaking device. Any generator will do, provided it's powerful enough. But a generator of the size mounted on a Star Destroyer would not fit inside a freighter.

Darth Maul's ship might not be simply a continuity error. As Solo uses the Falcon for carrying freight, possibly even legitimate freight (carried to provide camouflage for the items he's smuggling), there must be freight bays or cargo holds within the ship: the presence of that much free space inside the ship makes the installation of larger generators impracticable, but that is a restriction which will not apply in the case of a vessel that is not designed as a freighter.

Hence, the probability is that it's a trade-off between power generation and freight capacity. And between the power requirements of the hyperdrive and a cloaking field.

  • Why do you need to power the hyperdrive and the cloaking device at the same time? Cloak. Thrusters. Wait a day, Decloak. Hype out. 100m/s is not so bad after a day. – Joshua May 4 '18 at 18:07
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    I agree, it's not power so much as usable space. The MF is a freighter. It needs to maximize its cargo carrying capacity in order to keep the owner from going bankrupt. – Ross Presser May 4 '18 at 18:31
  • @ Joshua : It's absurd to install a cloaking device that is useless when the vessel is in motion, since the primary function of such a device is to conceal the ship whilst it is fleeing a more powerful enemy. For smuggling (a.k.a. blockade-running) it might seem to be useful, when, in fact, the opposite is true: the presence of a cloaking device is a dead giveaway, since, if boarded, its presence actually advertises you as being a smuggler. – Ed999 May 8 '18 at 6:13

It's possible that Needa just doesn't know about the Scimitar. It's not like Darth Maul made a habit of bragging about it. Given the immense strategic advantages of such a device, it seems fair to assume that the Empire would keep a very tight lid on the secret. (Even Imperial ship captains defected now and again, although I don't recall any Star Destroyer captains specifically who did so before Endor.) Needa has no pressing need to know about miniaturized cloaking devices, and so he doesn't.

After all, it's not like it would do him any good even if he assumed the Falcon had cloaked. Aside from firing blindly, according to the Thrawn Trilogy the only real way to find a cloaked ship would be a high-resolution gravitic sensor like the CGT array, which he doesn't have.

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