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I understand that blasters are not lasers - and it makes sense that a bolt of plasma would have the damaging, explosive effects we see in the show (and reasonable that they are moving slower than light). However, things get a bit fuzzier when we look at the stun setting. From the wikia entry for the trusty E-11:

The power settings ranged from stun to kill. The rifle also had a rapid-fire mode with an expanded fire area, at the cost of poor accuracy. The stun settings could also be set to varying levels, including humanoid, depending on the target. When in stun setting, the blaster fires a blue concircular ring of energy, a product of the stun setting's wasted photonic energy byproducts. However, the stun bolts have a larger aperture than standard explosive bolts.

Which begs several questions - like can the E-11 shoot a stun bolt before firing a normal bolt if it is a "byproduct"? How does a circle of "photonic energy" short circuit someone's nervous system as opposed to just burning them?

And how does it maintain its circular structure in flight? It sounds like a stunning smoke ring, but behaves like solid energy. Ahsoka deflects many of them in the (excellent) Clone Wars season five finale, and they maintain shape and then turn into a cloud when struck:

enter image description here

To keep this from being multiple questions at once, let me sum it up with: is there any more specific explanations in-universe as to how the stun setting works?

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    It's possible that the blue ring is the visual artifact of the 'stun bolt' within it. The blue energy could just be the byproduct of whatever mechanism keeps the energy together, though that wouldn't explain why it's a ring instead of a sphere. – Jeff Mar 31 '14 at 20:43
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    If there is a guiding (invisible) beam of positive protons, they might surround it in a ring format rather than a sphere... – Thaddeus Howze Mar 31 '14 at 20:52
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    @Jeff: Yeah, like the visible condensation we see when steam cools. That stuff people call steam coming out of a kettle is not steam! – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 20 '14 at 14:40
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Short answer: The focal length of the weapon is altered enough to emit a cloud of electrons rather than the tightly bound plasma bolt normally seen. This could cause a short lived electrical discharge capable of stunning a target.

Normally:

The E-11's long barrel produced a tightly focused and very powerful particle beam, and had a maximum range of three hundred meters and an optimum range of one hundred meters.

It is unlikely you will get anything more cogent from the wikis.

  • I doubt if anyone has ever put a significant amount of energy even deciding how blasters work beyond what is necessary to explain how they could be deflected (slower than light) and how they explode (particle beam packet).

BUT (acknowledging supposition on my part):

  • If a blaster can emit a condensed and tightly focused bolt (tightly packed cloud of particles) of plasma (matter in a superheated/active state), there is no reason you couldn't change the focal length and emit a more loosely-directed burst of particles (electrons, most likely) held together briefly by a short-lived magnetic field.

  • This could explain the electrical shock damage (since lightning and electrical discharges are just electrons trying to ground themselves.)

  • Using a pre-direct burst of ionized particles the electrical cloud could be directed toward a target and envelop the target with a cloud of electrical energy stunning their nervous system.

Yes, this would be filled with "hand-wavium" but given the nature of how compact and powerful the weapons of the Empire are and the fact they can create batteries powerful enough to maintain light-sabers, there should be little to dissuade anyone of the idea of changing the focal length of a plasma weapon to get a variety of discharges including ionized clouds of electrons capable of stunning a target.

  • Great answer! Minimum characters. – Paul Sep 15 '16 at 13:07

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