69

One thing that has always confused me about Star Wars: A New Hope is that at the beginning of the attack on the Death Star, Red Squadron gives their callsigns in random order.

Red Leader (presumably Red One) asks for everyone to report in. Then we hear Ten, Seven, Three, Six, Nine, Two, Eleven, and Five are all standing by.

This seems like an incredibly impractical way to report in, as it's hard to keep track of whom you have heard from and whom you are missing (indeed, Red Four and Red Eight didn't report in, despite both being present, but I bet you didn't notice that).

Why didn't they count off in numerical order? Something like this:

Red Leader: All wings report in.

Wedge Antilles: Red Two standing by.

Biggs Darklighter: Red Three standing by.

[Silence]

Red Leader: Red Four? …Are you there Red Four?

  • 9
    This was also asked on avition SE aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/13094/… – jean Mar 6 '15 at 19:49
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    Perhaps it is code. The digits are 1073692115. According to wookiepedia (starwars.wikia.com/wiki/1973) the movie American Grafitti came out on the 1st of August of 1973. Lucas uses such things as names in one movie in others. THX 1138 works that way (starwars.wikia.com/wiki/THX-1138_(landspeeder)). The first 4 digits might be referring to that movie. I suspect this is an easter egg. – EngrStudent Mar 8 '15 at 16:24
  • @EngrStudent I'm not seeing how the sequence relates to THX 1138. Could you please elaborate on that? – Thunderforge Mar 8 '15 at 17:24
  • THX-1138 was the first film directed by Lucas, from 1971. It is also the cell block on the first death star from which Chewbacca was allegedly being transferred, and shows up in a number of other star-wars related places. (starwars.wikia.com/wiki/1138) I am not asserting this is a 1138 easter egg. I am asserting this is an easter egg similar in form - that references to previous Lucas work show up in later work in the form of number sequences. – EngrStudent Mar 8 '15 at 17:53
  • Purely conjecture, but would it not be conceivable that other members of the squadron are not just acknowledged verbally, but also by an ID in their transmission - which would allow for very quick acknowledgement in which the order would not matter. (?) – MrWhite Mar 9 '15 at 12:37
10

According to the new (canon) junior novelisation of A New Hope, the pilots were calling roll in the order that their names appeared on the flight roster.

“All wings report in,” Red Leader called.
They moved down the roster. Biggs chimed in as Red Three, Wedge as Red Two.
“Red Five standing by,” Luke said when it was his turn.

“Lock S-foils in attack position,” Red Leader said

Since Luke is called last, the obvious implication is that the muster sheet is either in order of seniority or longevity.

86

This is a common point of confusion. The Indo-Arabic number system that you are used to is not the number system that was used in that distant galaxy, long ago.

Several other differences can be observed throughout the series, including the numbering of the films: 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, [7, 8, 9], and the use of units that are for us measures of distance (parsecs) for measures of time.

It is very likely that these differences arose as a symptom of the galaxy in which Star Wars was set having very different physical properties from our own [Milky Way] galaxy, as is evidenced by the observations that objects can travel at faster-than-light speeds without experiencing relativistic time dilation and without infinitely increasing their mass, soundwaves can travel in a vacuum, individuals can move objects with their thoughts, and incestual romance is not taboo.

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    Is there any actual source adressing this ? Or is this just an assumption ? – Dagon313 Mar 6 '15 at 6:58
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    I see what you did there! – Schwern Mar 6 '15 at 7:16
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    Clever, if not wholly accurate... :-) – Valorum Mar 6 '15 at 8:01
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    +1 Does not answer the question, but too cleverly funny to ignore. – Eight-Bit Guru Mar 6 '15 at 14:22
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    More realistically, while I appreciate the fact that some universes simply have 'different' means of counting or expressing themselves, and the fact that sometimes authors just don't do math right, I feel this answer doesn't contribute much to the question, funny though it may be. – Zibbobz Mar 6 '15 at 16:08
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In Episode IV, and (from the EU) prior to the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance is more of a collection independent cells with very few experienced military personnel seasoning their ranks.

For example, we see Luke Skywalker planted in a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter because of his familiarity with Incom standard controls from his T-16. At this point, growing up on a backwater (backsand?) planet, he would have had no training in military procedures or protocols.

It's likely that this random callback is a symptom of the lack of training across the Alliance.

Of course, by Episode V and beyond, the Alliance has grown into a professional, combat seasoned organisation with multiple capital ships in their fleet.

out-of-universe: probably just because of editing

  • 1
    I feel your answer is just about as good as any we're likely to get. But the events of Episode V happen very shortly after the end of Episode IV. Far to soon (IMO) for them to become professional. Seasoned, yes; veteran, yes but it takes lots of training to become professional - and I feel that "just surviving" wouldn't do that. But of course my comments are just my opinion too :) – Jim2B Mar 6 '15 at 3:04
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    @Jim2B - the Battle of Hoth (epV) was 2 years after the Battle of Yavin (destruction of the Death Star I). The Battle of Yavin was a trigger point causing more defection from the Empire to the Alliance, bringing more material and trained personnel. In the real world, it took the US only 2 years to create a professional military of 10 million men for World War II. – HorusKol Mar 6 '15 at 4:26
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    How about the possibility of using this as a tactic to potentially confuse any eavesdroppers and hide the true strength of their numbers and/or battle prowess? (Perhaps with the goal of getting the Empire to underestimate the Rebel forces). To quote an old Chinese dude: "All warfare is based on deception." – nothingisnecessary Mar 6 '15 at 5:22
23

Red Squadron isn't a cohesive military unit.

Red Squadron was cobbled together from pilots from the Dantooine Squadron, the Ecliptic Evaders, and the Tierfon Yellow Aces for the assault on the Death Star (via Wookiepedia, sourced from "Galaxy Guide 3: The Empire Strikes Back")

As such, they never practiced flying together and weren't used to each other.

In addition, some of them were NOT trained combat pilots (including, as @HorusKol's answer notes, Luke Skywalker. Another one was Wedge's new trainee).

Their unfamiliarity with communications protocols is even further shown in the infamous:

Wedge Antilles (Red 2): Look at the size of that thing!
Red Leader: Cut the chatter, Red 2.

... and this is a hot shot veteran Wedge Antilles.


An additional point: The reporting isn't so much to check who's there and who isn't (like, they all SHOULD be there :) but more to sound off if anyone has issues with the fighter - in other words, what matters isn't who and when says "standing by" but who say anything else.


UPDATE: I also asked about out of universe angle of this on Aviation SE. So far, it was confirmed that real military fighters would use correct order (and wait for "missing" call sign to respond instead of responding willy nilly)

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    Agree. I don't think the reporting-in was strictly necessary because the film shows that the command staff had a HUD of positions of the fighters in the fleet, and obviously have enough data being sent to know when Luke turns off his targeting computer. In-universe, the reporting in is perhaps a way of getting some team cohesion, and as a 'comms test,' and out-of-universe it is just a device used by the filmmakers to introduce the various fighter pilot characters to the audience. I would love to hear an actual fighter pilot's opinion on this. Anybody here from the Air Force? – nothingisnecessary Mar 6 '15 at 16:15
  • @nothingisnecessary - asked: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/13094/… – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 6 '15 at 16:47
  • Awesome, thanks. FWIW During the summers between college I drove a pea harvesting combine to earn dough, and when we started the shift we all reported in to make sure our CB radios were working (we used them for emergencies, calling over mechanics and the loader trucks, etc.). We did it in number-order (each combine had a number 1-7, and coincidentally were painted Red) so that we knew if somebody didn't report in. Apparently we were more organized than the rebels. – nothingisnecessary Mar 6 '15 at 17:33
  • @nothingisnecessary - did you succeed in blowing up something big? Also: Peaceful Soviet Tractor... – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 6 '15 at 17:34
  • @nothingisnecessary - same with military radio networks - the network controller would periodically check in on callsigns, and you'd follow the assigned order (alpha-one-zero, alpha-two-zero, alpha-three-zero, bravo-one-zero, etc) to make sure you didn't miss anyone – HorusKol Mar 6 '15 at 21:12
7

It's only impractical if you assume that every attack formation has all the X-wing pilots organized in a specific formation every time, and that they always call out their call signs in numeric order.

Not only would this be impractical (what if Red 4 and Red 8 are both in for repairs?), it would mean each X-wing pilot would have to fly in a specific location in that formation, regardless of where their actual expertise lies.

You will notice, however, that the call signs begin with Red Leader, and end with Luke Skywalker, the brand new recruit to the Rebel Alliance. Without knowing anything about the rest of the call sign pilots, it'd be a fair guess that their call signs are ordered by pilot rank.

Edit Note: DVK suggests that this guess is incorrect - and I cannot comfirm whether it is or not, so treat it with a grain of salt. There may still be some other arbitrary reason for their call sign order - seniority, position in formation, order of first/last name in the alphabet, order of character death/importance...

  • To whoever upvoted this: that las guess is wrong. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 6 '15 at 18:32
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    @DVK I tried to find the ranks of the individual pilots on Wookiepedia, but came up short. If you can reference it, I'll completely remove that guess from this question. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out which pilots were in that run on the Death Star. So I couldn't confirm this. – Zibbobz Mar 6 '15 at 18:35
  • I think this has the same issues as mg30rg's answer... – HorusKol Mar 6 '15 at 21:09
  • Wookieepedia lists the pilots during the attack, but doesn't list ranks. You might have to dig a bit more to see if they even have ranks. – Thunderforge Mar 6 '15 at 22:05
  • @Thunderforge - they did in at least one page. There were IIRC 2 leutenants and a captain – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 9 '15 at 19:22
4
+400

Perhaps they were reporting in following a pattern, such as left-to-right in the formation. The callsigns would be assigned to the person, but they wouldn't always fly in that order. They might fly without all numbers present -- so a 4-ship might have Red 4, Red 2, Red 7 and Red 5 flying in line abrest, and their convention was to check in from left to right.

I don't quite buy the "undisciplined rag tag unit" theory simply because nobody stepped on each other's transmissions. They seemed to know who is supposed to be checking in next, even though it wasn't the next number in sequence.

In a squadron where each pilot has their own numeric callsign, it's entirely possible to have Bozo 10 flight being led by Bozo 62, with Bozo 44 as his wingman, then Bozo 88 as the second element lead with Bozo 32 as his wingman. The usual convention in this galaxy is to check in as Lead, 2, 3, and 4, but evidently their convention is different.

In this galaxy, we also wouldn't check in with "standing by... standing by... standing by..." because it's a waste of time & breath. "Bozo 10 check" "2" "3" "4". But they were in a galaxy far, far away, and clearly our conventions are not their conventions!

2

More a guess than an actual answer, but couldn't it be because they are not checking in in caller number order, but in i.e. the order based on their positions in the attack formation? It would be more logical, because it would ease strategic planning. ("Let's see... we have lost Red-11... he was flying in the middle of the second attack formation, wasn't he?")

0

Likely the answer has more to do with the editing of the film. Imagine yourself watching it while the pilots report in numerical order. By the time you get to three, you're like "Ok, I got it! Skip to ten, please"... but that whole attack on Death Star is pretty close to being done in real-time, so as to accentuate the frantic nature of the dogfights.

But to provide an answer that is motivated within the story, they were probably reporting in in order of seniority... red 5 being last.

-1

All these answers are valid. The thing is Luke was focused and ready to go. He waited for everybody else to check then knew they were ready and checked in. They were all waiting for luke. Once enough people checked in he was letting them know he was ready. Also as far as the rag tag grouo. That's exactly what they are. Hence the name "Rogue" as far as THX and a cookie I haven't heard that theory but it seems valid. If you want to know why people didn't check in...Rewatch the scene and see what they were doing at the time or if they felt the need to check in

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