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In the Star Wars franchise, they can travel through hyperspace to other systems and planets. But Han in Star Wars: A New Hope said they needed to make the jump to lightspeed. And there have been several other instances where a similar phrase was used and they would say "...jump to lightspeed" or "...make it to lightspeed"

Now, this doesn't make sense as they are obviously traveling to locations multiple light-years away. And if they want to make it to their destination in less than 50 or so years, they have to be going faster than the speed of light. I mean, the Millennium Falcon is even said to be able to go ".5 past light speed" according to Han.

I am aware that they don't always say "lightspeed" but sometimes are known to have said "... jump to hyperspace" but why do they say "lightspeed" at all?

I am looking for specific examples of the term "lightspeed" being explained. And why it is said.

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    Lightspeed does not mean the single speed of light. It means faster than the speed of light.
    – Paulie_D
    Aug 9, 2021 at 18:03
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    That makes no sense
    – Firestryke
    Aug 9, 2021 at 18:04
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    Every day people use hyperbolic language to describe speed - I’d say it’s less common to be literal when talking about speed. Aug 10, 2021 at 4:55
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    Because Stars Wars is fantasy with spaceships, not science fiction. Might as well ask why their spaceships can bank and explosions go boom, despite the fact that they're in space. And don't forget the infamous "made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs".
    – jamesqf
    Aug 10, 2021 at 5:20
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    The idea of having a ship that can either reach or exceed that speed is so contrary to everything we know about physics that we're happy to lump "at the speed of light" and "faster than the speed of light" into one concept called "lightspeed", because both seem equally fantastical, and presumably rely on some magical-to-us, hitherto-undiscovered thing that enables them. Aug 10, 2021 at 12:19

2 Answers 2

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In the Star Wars universe, the term 'lightspeed' doesn't literally mean "traveling at the speed of light" (something that's actually scientifically impossible), it's simply shorthand for crossing something called the 'lightspeed barrier', a theoretical top speed for travel in realspace, into hyperspace.

But Tiran’s Theory of Universal Reference did not prohibit anything traveling faster than light-it only disallowed traveling at the speed of light. If the “lightspeed barrier” could somehow be bypassed, one could theoretically shift easily from realspace to hyperspace and back.

Star Wars: Medstar I

Elsewhere in the EU it's been referred to as "The Big-L" and the "L-Barrier"

Big L: The lightspeed barrier, as in, “Once we jump the Big L...”

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (2nd Edition)

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    I’d often wondered if it was a moniker for going to hyperspace too. Kind of like today we say we are going to “jump on the freeway”. The freeway is another name for the highway and vice versa. “Need to jump to light speed” is just another moniker for going to hyperspace to get around the SW galaxy. Aug 10, 2021 at 3:48
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    "Elsewhere in the EU it's been referred to as "The Big-L" and the "L-Barrier" There is an official European Directive about that, if I could just find it. Aug 10, 2021 at 9:37
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    @MissouriSpartan Alternatively, I’d always seen it as a kind of analogue to the use of the term ‘supersonic’ in the real world aerospace industry. The intricacies involved in safely transitioning from subsonic to supersonic speeds (physics gets rather strange between about Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2) actually kind of mirror the implied complexities of jumping to hyperspace. Aug 10, 2021 at 11:48
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    @AustinHemmelgarn: which I think illustrates why "lightspeed" feels like a decent term for travelling faster than light. If my vague understanding is correct, it's not like, physics-wise, you're fine up to about 80% of the speed of light, and then things get iffy — it takes a really, really large amount of energy to get anywhere near it, and going beyond it is, as far as we know, impossible. So to travel even near the speed of light probably involves figuring out a workaround to physics, including the speed limit. Aug 10, 2021 at 12:31
  • Note that in Star Wars the speed of light seems higher then the real world. The Falcon made the travel from the outskirts of Hoth to the Bespin System in weeks, despite no working Hyperdrive (the West End RPG explained it with ships having much slower emergency hyperdrives). The Mandalorian did something similar. And Han could watch Starkiller Base destroy planets in another System live. Nevermind the shoots themself travelling through realspace in the first place. Aug 11, 2021 at 10:46
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Star Wars was released in 1977. Movies and TV from that era didn't lean towards scientific accuracy, as sci-fi wasn't a big thing back then.

The TIE Fighters make their distinctive engine screech... in the vacuum of space.

In The Empire Strikes Back, when the Falcon lands in the "Asteroid Cave", the protagonists walk about with no gravity issue and no pressure suits. For this to happen the Exogorth they were actually in would have to be a sealed environment, and produce its own gravity or the asteroid would have to be roughly the size of... well, a planet, to allow them to walk around normally.

Early sci-fi films don't stand up to modern scientific scrutiny. Although to please the community there have been attempts to describe or retcon various things to try and make it fit our science, rather than hand wave it away as "Movie Science".

As a side note of annoyance, even the Star Wars movies of modern age seem to do things that don't work scientifically:

  • Specifically the scene in The Last Jedi in which the First Order are chasing the Resistance ships in space stands out. Their main cannons seem to firing in an arc... like artillery on a planet where gravity applies... which is of no consequence in space.
  • And when some of the small ships "run out of fuel" they appear to stop moving... disregarding the concept of inertia.
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    The lack of inertia could be (retro-)explained by the possibility that they were using subluminal warp engines, rather than classical Newtonian ones. The upside would be you can achieve very high apparent acceleration without turning your crew into pink mist every time. The downside is you have to spend continuous power to maintain velocity - plus you still need conventional engines to negate the relative motion of your starting point and your destination, but those can fire the entire journey and don't have to be particularly powerful. Aug 10, 2021 at 12:48
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    @JohnDvorak - Ships in the Star Wars universe travel through a mystical substance called ether. It explains how noises transmit and why ships have a top sublight speed
    – Valorum
    Aug 10, 2021 at 16:05
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    Also the main character can lift a ship with his mind... Aug 10, 2021 at 19:43
  • They are inside a giant space slug, so it might actually be pressurized (though unlikely). Aug 11, 2021 at 1:22
  • "which is of no consequence in space" - well, not exactly. If you fire a canon in low Earth orbit the projectile will still follow a curved path. Same is true for any gravity well. It wouldn't look anything like TLJ though, unless maybe they were in low orbit around a black hole or something, or firing really slow projectiles.
    – Corey
    Aug 11, 2021 at 4:41

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