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Many of the spaceships in Star Wars, e.g. X-wings, have wings as part of their design. If there's no air resistance in space, why would wings be at all beneficial? Wouldn't it be better to have a small, compact shape to a make a star fighter easier to cram through small spaces?

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    Many of these ships are also designed to fly inside an atmosphere, ie they are multipurpose, hence the more complicated design.
    – Hans Olo
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 13:52
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    Because in Star Wars, space has structure called Ether. Space planes like the X-wing fly through it like a plane flies through air
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:45
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    Because the designers think wings look cool. Just like spoilers on your average consumer car.
    – pboss3010
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 15:11
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    "Set attack wings to "Sell Toys!" position"
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 16:04
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    LOL valorum's post....very funny...
    – MrInfinity
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 5:21

5 Answers 5

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Watsonian

  1. Heat dispersion. Having extended ‘foils’ (the structures you refer to as wings, at least on X-wings, are called S-foils) provides greater heat dispersion, both by surface area, and by distancing the heat-producing cannons from the cockpit. In Legends canon, TIE fighter radiator panels serve the same purpose.

  2. Stabilization. Allegedly, the s-foils provide in-atmo stabilization, and damage to them is frequently shown to cause a loss of atmospheric flight control. This suggests they are used for in-atmo stabilization. Based on the fact that fast-moving helicopters IRL have wing stubs partly for this purpose, it’s not too outlandish.

  3. Greater weapon carrying capacity. See again helicopters, like the Russian Mi-24 enter image description here carry additional weapons on their wing stubs, just as X-wings do. Fitting those cannons under the protected fuselage will require a bulkier body, which presumably is undesirable.

Doylist

They look cool.

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You might as well ask this of most spaceship designs in any science fiction work, it's not specific to Star Wars at all. However, there is a very simple reason and one you have overlooked. Whilst Star Wars as a whole plays with physics, most spaceships do have to fly in a planet's atmosphere. We see them going in and out of planets all the time and even flying and fighting inside of them. For example, at the Battle of Takonda in The Force Awakens we see X-wings and TIE Fighters in the atmosphere fighting. Wings are beneficial here.

X-wings flying over a lake

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    An X-wing's wings are not shaped to generate lift, and a double wing design like this creates a lot of drag that would be bad for a conventional aircraft. The wings are not beneficial from a classical flying machine point of view. And a Tie-fighter's wings are vertically orientated. Nice picture though...
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:56
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    @Jontia Sure the actual out of universe reason is because it makes them more recognisable. The more drag is handwaved away with Star Wars physics... I don't know enough on this sort of thing though to comment properly myself.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:58
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    Remember too: Lucas (and his army of writers) could get away with this because it's another galaxy far away from ours and long before ours. Thus their physics may be completely different from ours. This gave Lucas and his writers that ultimate freedom. Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 19:09
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    @MissouriSpartan How many billions of years does it take to change physics?
    – Zev Spitz
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 22:00
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    @ZevSpitz quite a few
    – Bergi
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 23:51
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Another factor is weapon placement. Wings or similar structures are perfect spots to put the ships weaponry to allow it to concentrate heavy firepower on the front.

A compact fighter simply doesn't have the width to mount more than 1-2 guns in most universes (there are of course sci-fi universes where weapons don't take up a lot of space), so having another 2-4 guns on the wings allows the fighter to bring more firepower to bear while keeping its own hitbox as small as possible.

You often see capital ships not having wings, as those use flexible turrets, while star fighter type ships use fixed gun emplacements with a high amount of manouverability.

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    Wings or similar structures are perfect spots to put the ships weaponry - Actually, experience with the P-38 in WWII shows that nose mounted guns are ideal because they shoot straight rather than triangulated. But wings do let you carry more guns.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:29
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    @gowenfawr Well, if you'd quoted the other half of the sentence: "to allow it to concentrate heavy firepower on the front", i.e. put a lot of guns on the ship, which is also the point of the rest of the answer. Also in a sci-fi universe, you can reasonably allow a targetting system, which nullifies the natural advantage of shooting straight.
    – Dulkan
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 6:10
  • @gowenfawr At least in Legends, X-wing cannons could be deliberately set to have one of a number of ‘converge’ points at a specific distance directly in front of the ship, thus mostly negating the advantage of shooting straight.
    – Daniel B
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 19:46
  • @Dulkan I'm not sure you can reasonably allow a competent targeting system in a cinematic universe founded upon the singular act of a farmboy listening to the voices in his head and turning off the targeting computer to score a decisive hit.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 0:38
  • @gowenfawr My point was general, not specific to Star Wars, as this question may arise in a multitude of sci-fi universes
    – Dulkan
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 6:03
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Ships in the Star Wars universe travel through a property known as "ether" which acts as a dragging force. This explains a considerable number of issues including why ships have a top speed, how explosions can be heard in space, why there's no overt worries about relativistic effects, why ships need to burn fuel constantly to maintain their speed, how tight turns are made and why X-Wings have actual wings

Pablo Hidalgo (Head of the Lucasfilm's Star Wars Story Group) spoke to this in a recent tweet (now deleted)

PH: If you need to, you could say the interstellar medium in Star Wars does have an ether, which would explain such pulpy things as sound, concussion rings, visible drag, and such odd tech callouts as "an etheric rudder" from Heir to the Empire. Only if you ⋆really⋆ need to, though.

Like if it helps you sleep at night and whatnot.

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    That tweet link gives me a 404.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:48
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    @TheLethalCarrot - Pablo Hidalgo regularly deletes his tweets older than a few months. It's annoying but I like to leave the links in in case someone is trying to manage an archive
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:54
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    Fair enough, on that note though aren't Pablo's tweets semi-canon so to speak? (Upvoted anyway just thought I'd seen something along those lines before).
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:56
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    And archived link for proof.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 14:57
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    @TheLethalCarrot - He certainly claims they aren't. I think it's mostly so people won't keep bugging him
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 15:19
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These are both out-of-universe answers, but 1. The Rule of Cool, and 2. SW is a fantasy with slight sci-fi tropes, so it often doesn't conform to standard space rules. As other answers have mentioned, this applies to sound in space and also things like the bombers losing speed and falling in The Last Jedi. Why did that happen? Cause SW is a fantasy and George Lucas based his dogfights around WWII dogfights.

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