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Suppose it is 1996 and I want to know what the "Kessel Run" (mentioned in A New Hope) is, and what does it mean that Han Solo did it in 12 parsecs. Of course, we now know much more about it thanks to Ultimate Star Wars and, of course, the "Solo" movie.

Essentially, I want to know how much lore there was about this Kessel run in the original trilogy and the related old expanded universe.

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These were the ongoing theories I recall.

  1. The writer messed up and meant to use a measure of time.
  2. Han is boasting about his awesome navigation abilities.
  3. Han made up some gibberish to test this old man and his farm boy.

The writer messed up

Very common in sci-fi, even now when you can look this all up on the Internet. Even in universe it's an odd gaffe because a "parsec" is a measure of large distances that only makes sense if you're an astronomer working out distances of objects specifically from Earth. A parsec is how far away an object must be for it to appear to wobble one arcsecond in the sky as the Earth rotates around the Sun.

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This is a very odd unit to use long, long ago in a galaxy far far away. But if we accept that Star Wars is translated from the original Klingon Galactic Basic, a parsec is a sensible unit to use for an Earth audience in the 70s. Now light-years are more common, but in the 70s using parsecs was more common because that's what made sense to astronomers and there was far less pop astrophysics.

There are similar gaffs like Han boasting the Millennium Falcon will go "point 5 past light speed". If we interpret that as 1.5 times the speed of light it would take them years to reach the next star much rather gallivant about the galaxy as they do in Star Wars. There have been all sorts of retcons for this line, but really it's because sci-fi writers have no sense of scale.

Han is boasting about his awesome navigation abilities

The idea here is that the Kessel Run requires navigating some nasty space hazards like black holes or giant space storms or space monsters if we must. This was a popular fan theory even before Solo made it canonical.

elemtilas points out, Han is clearly boasting about how fast his ship is, not how awesome his navigation is. But later Han admonishes Luke that "navigating through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops" listing off various things you can smack into. It may be that "fast" in terms of hyperspace is more about shaving distance off your journey rather than simple velocity.

This can't be used to wave away the "point 5 past light speed" line. No amount of fancy navigation will help Han there; even if stars in the Star Wars galaxy are much closer together than our own, that's still too slow.

Han made up some gibberish to test his passengers

Han perceives Obi-Wan and Luke as a crazy old man and some ignorant farm boy who need a ride on a space ship. Wondering how much he can fleece them, he throws out some valid-sounding gibberish to see how they'll react. Neither Luke nor Obi-Wan seem particularly impressed. Obi-Wan, quite the old hand at space travel, gives Han a particularly incredulous look. Unperturbed like the gambler he is, Han breezes past with a fresh boast now knowing his passengers aren't complete hicks.

This is my favorite in-universe theory. I'm disappointed they went with a more mundane explanation in Solo; it's very much in Han's character to both be arrogant and to bluff.

UPDATE it turns out there is some evidence for this intent, at least in editing. The Revised Fourth Draft of A New Hope contains a note that Han is trying to impress with misinformation.

HAN It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!

Ben reacts to Solo’s stupid attempt to impress them with obvious misinformation.

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    Solo is not what made the Kessel Run going through the Maw canon. Multiple extended universe sources predating the Disney lore reset had already made it canon, Solo was just re-codifying it as such. – Austin Hemmelgarn Mar 31 at 1:39
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  • The farther back in time we go, the less we know. From the original movies, we only know that the Kessel Run was done by Solo in 12 "parsecs"; and that this was apparently something of a feat as he seems to be quite proud of the fact. The books are not helpful in this case, because (as I understand it) the ghost-written novelisations were based on the movie scripts.

Is Star Wars based on a book? No. Though release of the novelization of the first Star Wars film preceded that of the film, Star Wars was always imagined, by creator/writer/director George Lucas, as a film (or series of films). When the book was released (with George Lucas’ name, but ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster), the film was already in production. Each subsequent film in the series has had a novelization released before the film, but was based entirely on the script of the film.

  • What is meant by doing the Run "in 12 parsecs" --- that's easy. It's meaningless gibberish: an example of the author not understanding what a parsec is. A (real) parsec is about three and a quarter light years. So "12 parsecs" is thirty nine light years. Space is big -- there are gas clouds hundreds of thousands of light years long -- so 12 pscs is a pretty short distance. Solo seems to be indicating that a parsec is a measure of time, the fact that the Run was done in only 12 time units was quite the feat!

The parsec (symbol: pc) is a unit of length used to measure large distances to astronomical objects outside the Solar System.

From the original movie, Han's intonation & dialog make clear that speed / velocity is what makes his Kessel Run famous:

Obi Wan & Luke Skywalker Meet Han & Chewbacca.

  • The farther forward in time we go, the even less we know. An obvious script / screenplay / author error gets blown out of proportion as time goes on becoming a matter for speculation, cosmetic cover-ups and bizarre explanations. See this question for more details.
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    This I'd consider the "basal state" of knowledge. I'll hope someone else more familiar with other lore fill in the immediately subsequent decades before the other movies came out! – elemtilas Mar 30 at 16:22
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    Following Solo, my "retconned" interpretation of Han's bragging is "My ship is able to go close to that black hole enough to do the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, so (implied) it has to be pretty fast (to escape from such huge gravitational pull)". I agree that it probably wasn't intended this way 40 years ago. – AnalysisStudent0414 Mar 30 at 16:23
  • We know that in Earth English science terminology, a parsec is a measure of distance, and that the in-universe Star Wars usage is apparently a measure of time. But... although the actors are speaking English for our sake, there are a few coined words that crop up (including, I think, at least one expletive). One might simply dismiss parsec as a mere coincidence that a Star Wars word to express time just happens to sound the same as an English word for distance. – Anthony X Mar 30 at 18:21
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    I recall this line as gibberish to impress a hayseed from a backwater. "I once defrag'ed the NVRAM to clear up registry congestion." – Eric Towers Mar 30 at 19:00

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