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In "A New Hope", when the Falcon arrives at the ruins of Alderaan, they encounter a TIE fighter. Someone remarks that such a small ship wouldn't be out that far by itself. However, in "The Empire Strikes Back" we see that Luke's X-Wing, arguably a comparable craft as they served the same purpose, was able to travel to Dagobah on its own. What was it that the characters meant about the TIE fighter, and what made it too small to be out as far as it was?

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    Not an expert, so posting as a guess, but ISTR TIE fighters don't have hyperdrives. May 16, 2023 at 18:04
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    This answer scifi.stackexchange.com/a/111991/101407 provides a source that even First Order TIE fighters still lack hyperdrives.
    – DavidW
    May 16, 2023 at 18:11
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    One of the major selling points of the X-Wing was having a Hyperdrive, despite being a small fighter.
    – Mixxiphoid
    May 16, 2023 at 18:33
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    X-Wings serve the purpose of bringing freedom to the Galaxy! TIE fighters serve the purpose of X-Wing target practice. May 16, 2023 at 19:05
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    @PaulD.Waite - X-Wings are used by anti-government terrorists for their nefarious attacks on legitimate Imperial installations.
    – Valorum
    May 16, 2023 at 22:38

2 Answers 2

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Your comparison to an X-Wing is not actually a great comparison. That’s like comparing a Citroën Méhari to a Hummer H1. They’re both utility vehicles, and they have a handful of other similarities, but they are drastically different vehicles. Similarly, the Incom T-65B X-Wing and the Sienar Fleet Systems TIE/ln are both general-purpose star-fighters, but they are still drastically different.

The key differences that are relevant for this question¹ are that:

  • The TIE/ln has no hyperdrive, while the T-65B X-Wing has a class 1 hyperdrive (which meant that even in hyperspace, it was actually faster than most capital ships).
  • The TIE/ln only has sufficient room for two days of provisions, while the T-65B X-Wing has sufficient room for a full week of provisions.

Taken all together, this means that the absolute furthest that a TIE/ln fighter could be from it’s operational base unless it’s traveling to a different base that can resupply it is one day of sub-light travel. With a stated maximum acceleration of 4100G, no stated max speed outside of atmosphere, and ignoring relativistic effects, that translates to a distance of roughly 37.53 terameters (billion kilometers). This is roughly 1.5 times the distance from Earth to Voyager 1, still nowhere near far enough to get to another star system in a vast majority of cases (despite how obscenely fast it would be going).

That assumes though that all the TIE/ln pilot does is accelerate in a straight line for half a day, decelerate to a stop for half a day, turn around, and do the exact same thing again. Of course, that’s unrealistic for actual operations, with the likely combat effective range (how far it could be away from base and still be useful in a dogfight under the assumption it would have to return to base eventually) probably being at most around 1/3 of that, or maybe 1/2 at best (there is no canonical data I can find about this or any of the things I would need to infer this, it’s just a rough guess based on my limited knowledge of real-life fighter aircraft).

What that means is that from a practical perspective, if you see a TIE/ln fighter patrolling or scouting (which is what was seen in Episode IV), it’s a near certainty that there is either an Imperial military base or a large Imperial capital ship in the same star system as you.


1: For those who are interested, the other major differences are that the TIE/ln lacks shields, that it has only rudimentary life support (that’s why the pilots always wear those bulky full-body suits), and that it costs roughly 2/5 what a T-65B X-Wing does. The cost difference is why the Empire had them designed, the intent was to mass produce them and then rely on quantity of pilots instead of quality.

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    I think the fundamental underlying philosophy difference here was that the Empire was perfectly happy with using human wave tactics, both on the ground and in space (with their small 1-man craft). They presumably had the recruiting base on a galactic level to support that, and didn't mind a few grunt losses if it allowed them to show up to trouble spots with what looked like overwhelming force.
    – T.E.D.
    May 17, 2023 at 20:36
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    @Davislor Actually, most weren’t. After Palpatine’s successful coup, cloning operations on Kamino were shut down (along with all other cloning operations throughout the galaxy) as they were considered a major security risk (the Imperial government was concerned about a rebellion pulling the same thing the Republic did at the start of the Clone Wars), and while a majority of the clone troopers from the Republic military did become stormtroopers, new recruits were almost exclusively not clones. May 18, 2023 at 1:40
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    “ignoring relativistic effects” when accelerating to 5.8 times the speed of light — does this still qualify as sub-light travel? According to space.stackexchange.com/a/960/39231, it could reach Voyager 1 faster than actual light ;–)
    – wrtlprnft
    May 18, 2023 at 19:07
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    @Davislor - And of course New Hope was a generation after the end of the Clone Wars, and clones age twice as fast as normal humans. So by the time of the iconic X-wing vs. Tie battles from the original trilogy, all the clones would have been retirees. Some of them show up in a Rebels episode as old men with white beards, about 4 years before Yavin (destruction of the first Death Star).
    – T.E.D.
    May 18, 2023 at 19:42
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    @FabiosaysReinstateMonica More likely femtoseconds, not nanoseconds. But then, Star Wars isn’t hard sci-fi (it’s not even sci-fi at all, it’s fantasy that happens to mostly take place in a space-opera-like setting), and there are much more egregious violations of real world physics than this. May 19, 2023 at 11:23
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The film's official novelisation gives us a little more insight. Han sees the TIE and guesses (rightly) that this is the short-range version, one known to not have a hyperdrive. Kenobi then scans the ship and confirms this.

Chewbacca suddenly gave an angry bark. A huge flower of destruction blossomed outside the port, battering the freighter violently. A tiny, double-winged ball raced past the cockpit port.

“It followed us!” Luke shouted.

“From Tatooine? It couldn’t have,” objected a disbelieving Solo. “Not in hyperspace.”

Kenobi was studying the configuration the tracking screen displayed. “You’re quite right, Han. It’s the short-range TIE fighter.”

Star Wars: A New Hope by George Lucas

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    It is slightly ambiguous - Kenobi is either describing a characteristic of all tie fighters that they're short-range, or he's saying its the kind of tie fighter that is short-range compared to long range tie fighters. Instinctively we know its the former, because in battle time is short and words are precious. Substitute something like a colour and "red tie fighter" is different to "purple tie fighter".
    – Criggie
    May 17, 2023 at 4:41
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    @Criggie - We know that TIEs come in a variety of flavours including ones that have a hyperdrive as standard
    – Valorum
    May 17, 2023 at 5:32
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    As an example, at the end of the movie, Darth Vader is flying a TIE fighter with a hyperdrive. May 17, 2023 at 14:18
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    @MichaelRichardson - His is a rare model with a low grade hyperdrive
    – Valorum
    May 17, 2023 at 14:25
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    @Valorum It doesn't matter, it remains a TIE fighter, a unique one, but one nonetheless.
    – Inferry
    May 17, 2023 at 15:43

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