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In Captain Marvel, we learn that

Mar-Vell, back in 1989, was developing a faster-than-light drive on Earth, intended to help the Skrulls escape the Kree.

However, we also see that

both the Kree task force, and the Skrulls who captured Vers, reach Earth from a planet that's presumably in the Andromeda Galaxy, seemingly within a day.

Although the MCU has been intentionally vague about distances in space, this implies that faster-than-light travel is already possible by other means — for example, using the “jump points” referred to in Captain Marvel, and in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

So why is the faster-than-light drive such a big deal for both races?

  • Does the stuff in the second spoiler block take place in 1989 or 1995? If the latter then I imagine your answer is there. (I have yet to see the film). – TheLethalCarrot Mar 8 at 12:02
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    @TheLethalCarrot: you're reading spoiler blocks? You're not just lethal, you're INSANE!!! Yup, 1995 for the second block. – Paul D. Waite Mar 8 at 12:05
  • @PaulD.Waite It's "Lethal" for a reason :D – Rebel-Scum Mar 8 at 12:45
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+300

Warning: a lot of conjecture and questions, mostly an excuse to draw diagrams.

There are different forms of FTL, each of which exists to a varying degree in the MCU. Each one has room for improvement in meaningful and interesting ways, and Mar-Vell might be working on any of them.

enter image description here

The simplest form of FTL is straight line travel. I fly really really really really fast, and pass through every point between A and B. Think warp drive in Star Trek. I don’t think we’ve seen this in the MCU yet – so if that’s what Mar-Well was building, that’s a novel invention that’s interesting to both sides.

This sort of travel allows very free movement – if there’s a clear path between A and B, I can presumably travel between them. That might make it more difficult to track where I’m going, which is desirable if (say) you’re trying to flee your oppressors from a militant Star Empire.

Mar-Vell was building engines in planes, which travel very fast in straight lines. Maybe she was building this sort of engine?

enter image description here

Another form of pseudo-FTL is wormhole travel. The ship never moves faster than light (relative to the space around it), but a shortcut in space allows you to get from A to B without going through the intermediary points. This is the sort of gate travel that we’ve seen in several of the MCU movies.

So far we don’t know how the gates were created – they exist in fixed spots, but it’s not like the Kree can create gates at their convenience. If you put your massive battle cruisers friendly border guards around all the local gates, you get to control who goes in and out. (And honestly, I wouldn’t be so surprised if the Kree do some of this already.)

If Mar-Vell has come up with a way to easily create new gates, to extend the range of existing gate tech, or even better, close them after you’re done – that opens up all sorts of new possibilities.

enter image description here

Or maybe the ship doesn’t move at all… it teleports to its new location. You don’t pass through any points between A and B. Maybe she was knocking on this particular door?

There’s precedence for this sort of travel in the MCU. Remember, the basis for Mar-Vell’s work is

the Tesseract

and in Infinity War, we see

Thanos uses the Tesseract to teleport himself and a handful of his cronies around the universe. (The visuals look a bit like a very close-range wormhole, but at some point what’s the difference?)

But that’s the only time we’ve seen it used. Since teleportation is apparently allowed by the rules of MCU physics, finding a way to do it without an Infinity Stone to hand would be very interesting to both sides.


Update

I’ve watched the film a couple of times now, and I’m leaning towards Mar-Vell building an engine for straight-line speed.

When Carol is talking to Yon-Rogg, she says that Mar-Vell has “cracked the secret of light-speed tech” (or similar). Odd choice of words if you already have FTL tech – so they don’t think of the gate network as faster-than-light travel. Maybe because you can’t create gates at will, maybe because there are limits to the distance you can travel in a gate.

Maybe it’s a red herring?

This is my other theory. The FTL drive is a convenient cover story, nothing more.

Mar-Vell wants to get the Skrull refugees out of the reach of the Kree. One way is a really fast ship – another is a slow ship that’s hard to follow, and keep going until you’re clear of Kree territory. As we know, space is big. Really big.

Developing a light speed engine on a backwater planet seems like the sort of thing you could sell to the Kree. If it works, you have a shiny new drive. If it explodes when you switch it on, who cares? (See also: US nuclear tests in the 1950s.)

We also know she has cloaking tech – witness her lab, which Starforce never found. Seems unlikely they never looked for it in six years.

I still lean towards the straight-line engine stuff – possibly similar to Ebony Maw's ship – but I don’t think we can entirely discount this possibility.

  • The one FTL example I’m not clear on the nature of is Ebony Maw’s ship in Infinity War. We definitely don’t see the jump point effect when it leaves earth, but we do see some sort of lightning effect, which might indicate something wormhole-y. It’s not super-relevant to this question, as we don’t see that ship until 20 years after Captain Marvel. – Paul D. Waite Mar 9 at 23:08
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    Also: fantastic diagrams. – Paul D. Waite Mar 9 at 23:08
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    @PaulD.Waite After watching both CM and IW yesterday, it looks like the Kree have the cleanest jumps (lots of well-defined hexagons). Which makes sense if they're the law and maintain the network. It looks like the Maw maybe was hacking it or using it without authorization. – Azor Ahai Mar 11 at 23:58
  • @AzorAhai: the precision of their hexagons was the envy of the galaxy! Do we see any indication that Maw's using a jump point? I don't recall even a fuzzy hexagon. – Paul D. Waite Mar 12 at 10:39
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    “Since teleportation is apparently allowed by the rules of MCU physics, finding a way to do it without an Infinity Stone to hand would be very interesting to both sides” — oh, of course Doctor Strange and his sorcerers can do this too, although we're not sure what the range is yet. – Paul D. Waite Mar 12 at 11:18
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The best headcanon-y explanation I have so far (and I'd be delighted to hear alternatives) is that jump points are required (by the races in this movie) for faster-than-light travel, and are thus a choke-point that the Kree could monitor to prevent the Skrulls from escaping.

Different jump points may allow access to different destinations — the “closest” jump point allowing travel to earth was, according to the Kree task force looking to retrieve Captain Marvel, 22 hours from Torath. The Skrulls, however, managed to reach earth in what was presumably less than 22 hours. Maybe they knew of a different jump point?

At the end of the movie, we see

the Accusers's ships leaving earth using the familiar hexagonal jump-point effect.

A faster-than-light drive

(especially one that utilised the powers of the Space Stone, and thus probably enables travel waaaaaay faster than light)

would presumably give the Skrulls an alternative way to find a new home planet far from the Kree.

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    I don’t think we know how long passes between Captain Marvel getting captured and her making contact with the rest of Starforce, do we? It’s on the order of hours, not days – but if they head for home and it’s the wrong direction for the Earth, putting 22 hours between them and the jump point used by the Skrulls doesn’t seem like it’d take so long. – alexwlchan Mar 9 at 17:58
  • @alexwchan: it’s true, we don’t, especially as she’s unconscious and then in the memory extraction device. I figured her squad wouldn’t hang around for 22 hours, but then for all we know they spent 11 hours heading back towards Hala before she made contact. – Paul D. Waite Mar 9 at 23:01
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Well, if you remember from Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, you can only use so many "Jump Points" at one time without getting sick (or possibly dead). A "faster-than-light drive" might not have this limitation, thus making it possible to go faster longer.

There's also the fact that waiting 20 hours to get to the next jump point is mighty inconvenient for people who are running for their lives as refugees, or people trying to kill said refugees. A faster-than-light drive would mean that they could keep going at light speed the whole time, making it easier and faster to travel.

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According to the Marvel prose novel Thanos: Titan Consumed FTL engines do exist within the MCU but are rare, costly and prone to failure.

Most interstellar travel was performed through jump gates or naturally occurring wormholes. Faster-than-light engines were expensive, fragile, and difficult to maintain. The Golden Berth’s sublight engines were far more common, though Googa had done poorly at keeping them healthy and running.

Thanos: Titan Consumed

We can assume that an engine fuelled by an Infinity Stone would be extremely cheap to run (since it would never run out of power) and, barring enemy action, pretty robust.


Additionally, not every gate comes out somewhere especially useful. Some are several light years from the intended destination, forcing people to spend weeks or even months in slow sublight journeys. A consistent, cheap FTL engine would revolutionise space travel.

Sanctuary had no warp engine—it was a dart-yacht, designed for joyrides and party cruises around local moons. But it was sturdy and could withstand gate travel. There was an artificial wormhole near Xandar that would take them to within a few light-years of Alfheim. Then it would be a long, slow trek to the outpost itself.

Thanos: Titan Consumed

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    For the record, the author of this book wrote it in full cooperation with Marvel Studios. At the very last minute (within days of the publishing date) they declared the events non-canon but I think we can assume that surface details like this are still accurate – Valorum May 7 at 6:27

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