Myths: Star Wars
Last Revised: 1999.04.25
There are a number of myths which are widely held among Star Trek fans and even some Star Wars fans, regarding Imperial technology.
For some incomprehensible reason, the "vs" newsgroups are full of trekkies who claim that Imperial starfighters are limited to very low speeds (100-300 m/s), and very low weapon ranges (2-3 km). They make these claims in spite of the fact that Rebel starfighters were seen to traverse more than 300,000km in less than 5 minutes just before the battle of Yavin (ref ANH), a feat requiring accelerative capabilities on the order of at least 13,000 m/s². They make these claims in spite of the fact that the massive Death Star was able to traverse more than 200,000 km over that same 5 minute duration. Furthermore, they claim that starfighter weapons are limited to a mere 2-3km in range because starfighter combat normally occurs at that range.
Interestingly, they have never even considered the possibilities that the speeds and accurate ranges of starfighter combat are limited by:
The limitations of the human body and mind, since those fighters are controlled by human pilots.
The presence of massive jamming, as described in SWICS, SWEGWT, and numerous novels.
The maneuverability of enemy starfighters, which do not politely sit still for an attacker.
Not only are these ridiculously low speed claims refuted by the canon fact that starfighters can easily achieve orbit (see the general Myths page and its discussion of the energy requirements to achieve orbit), but the weapon range claims suggest truly freakish behaviour on the part of the weapon. Real lasers do not mysteriously dissipate after a mere 2 km in the vacuum of space. Projectile weapons (even primitive bullets, shells, and missiles from the Earth's 20th century) do not mysteriously lose all of their kinetic energy after travelling for 2 km in the vacuum of space. And turbolasers have never been seen to mysteriously dissipate after 2km (only 25% longer than the hull of a Star Destroyer) in the vacuum of space (in ANH, the ISD Devastator was much farther behind the Tantive IV than 2km). Furthermore, the obsolete DF.9a anti-infantry battery has a range of 16km (ref. SWEGWT) in atmosphere, and it's a mere anti-personnal ground weapon!
The official literature is vague and contradictory on the issue of the Empire's power generation technology, probably because much of the relevant information is classified. As a result, many trekkies have taken liberties with the text, seizing upon certain items as gospel while ignoring others. However, if they want to lay claim to rationality, they should be attempting to rationalize all of the evidence at once:
The Star Wars Technical Journal claimed that the Death Star was based on a fusion reactor, while Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections and Star Wars Visual Dictionary both claimed that the Death Star was based on a hypermatter reactor.
The canon film ANH showed the Death Star performing feats that are impossible for any weapon powered by a nuclear fusion reactor.
The Star Wars Encyclopedia claims that all hyperdrives are based on fusion reactors.
Dark Empire describes World Devastators using black holes to generate power.
The central reactor of a Star Destroyer is described as a "miniature sun" in virtually all of the official literature.
If we examine these pieces of evidence one at a time, we can see that the evidence is heavily self-contradictory. The SWTJ claims that the Death Star was based on a fusion reactor, but SWICS and SWVD claim that the Death Star was based on a hypermatter reactor. The canon film ANH proves that the Death Star was capable of imparting 1E38 joules of energy to the planet Alderaan, and the official literature is subordinate to the canon film. Therefore, SWICS and SWVD are valid because the characteristics of hypermatter reactors are not known and may be compatible with the known capabilities of the Death Star. But SWTJ is clearly incorrect because it contradicts the canon film, unless "fusion" refers to a process other than nuclear fusion. There are other reasons to weigh SWICS and SWVD over SWTJ: "majority rules", or "newer literature overrules older literature", or "literature from Lucasfilm employees overrides literature derived from a RPG" etc. But the canon film is the only arbiter which is truly necessary.
The Star Wars Encyclopedia claims that all hyperdrives are powered by fusion reactors, but whatever this may mean (keeping in mind that "fusion" may not actually mean "nuclear fusion"), it clearly indicates that the "fusion reactor" in a hyperdrive system is part of the hyperdrive, and not part of the ship's main power generation system. The Death Star, World Devastators, and Star Destroyers all have hyperdrives, yet they have three different power generation technologies: hypermatter reactors, black holes, and solar ionization reactors. How can this be the case, if all starships are powered by fusion reactors? Clearly, the "fusion reactor" is either a completely erroneous reference, or it refers to some process within the hyperdrive that has nothing to do with the ship's power generation technology.
The central reactor of a Star Destroyer is invariably described as a "miniature sun" in the official literature. Many trekkies interpret this to mean that the reactor mimics the operating principles of a star, so it must be based on hydrogen fusion. However, they have absolutely no evidence to indicate that this phrase refers to the operating principle of the reactor rather than its sheer power output, and it originated in the SWTJ which also claimed that a Star Destroyer would consume more energy in a single hyperjump than a planetary nation will consume in its entire lifetime. Does the phrase "like a miniature sun" mean that it operates like a miniature sun, or does it mean that it creates the kind of vast power output one would expect of a miniature sun? Since this very phrase is also accompanied by the statement about a single hyperjump consuming more energy than a planetary nation will consume in its entire history, clearly the "like a miniature sun" reference must describe the sheer power output, rather than the operating principles.
One trekkie even e-mailed me in an attempt to "prove" to me that I was incorrect. Quotes from the resulting debate can be found here. Needless to say, the e-mailer turned out to be another teenager who refused to acknowledge that my university degree (although not a doctorate) makes me more of an authority than a high school student who reads a lot of magazines. A disrespect for the value of education is not uncommon among the more fanatical trekkies, who sometimes go so far as to claim that training and education are irrelevant to this debate! It is a sad statement on society (and the not-so-subtle efforts of the media) that people think "acting" and sports proficiency are skills that demand respect, but scientific knowledge is not. But if I may pose a rhetorical question, let us suppose you want to build a bridge. Let us further suppose that you intend to drive over this bridge yourself every day, and trust your life to its strength. Would you rather have a certified professional engineer design the bridge, or a high school student who reads a lot of architecture magazines?
"Appearances are only skin-deep". This maxim has always been true with respect to people, and it can also be true with respect to technology. In the 20th century western consumer markets of Earth, product performance was emotionally connected to product appearance. Vast sums of money were expended by industry to produce products that had just the right "look". But this "look" did not necessarily have anything to do with technological development or measurable performance.
In the military market, the outward appearance of warships, fighter aircraft, and ground vehicles changed very little from decade to decade. Those products were designed for performance, without regard to marketability. So too, are Imperial vessels. Smooth, polished finishes are irrelevant in the vacuum of space. Rounded, aerodynamic shapes are meaningless without an atmosphere. The demands of warfare require utilitarianism, not fashion statements.
Trekkies have a tendency to assume that Federation user interfaces (also known as Okudagrams) represent the ultimate ergonomic development in user interfaces. Therefore, according to their logic, anything which deviates from this "ideal" must be inferior, and indicative of inferior technology. There are three reasons for changing user interfaces:
Technological development. Technological development is a non-factor here: touch-screens (the only technology necessary for implementation of Federation-style Okudagrams) have been in use for years, and are obviously within the technological capabilities of an advanced spacefaring civilization like the Empire.
Ergonomic improvements. Some believe that touch-screens are ergonomically superior to "primitive" switches, buttons, etc. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The human mind responds more strongly to a combination of visual, audio, and tactile feedback, which is provided by physical switches and buttons but not by touch-screens. The modern fighter plane is widely regarded as the environment where ergonomic performance is absolutely critical, perhaps more so than in any other situation. In that situation, despite the availability and miniaturization of touch-screen technology, it is never used.
Fashion and cost. This is the obvious reason for the total adoption of Okudagrams throughout Star Trek. They are cheap, easy to make, and people seem to like the appearance. That's fine, but when they try to use this fashion to "prove" that SW interfaces are "primitive", they are clearly confusing fashion with expediency. Touch-screens are fashionable in Star Trek, and they're cheap to make. They are not ergonomically superior.
One of the oldest trekkie arguments is that electrical sparks from damaged bridge and control-system components indicate that Imperial technology is based on 20th century Earth electrical technology. Therefore, the argument goes, since Federation technology has "graduated" to plasma conduits, it is more advanced.
In reality, this only demonstrates the weaknesses of Federation starship design. Electrical power systems are far safer for low-powered systems (like bridge and control-system components) than plasma conduits, because electrical power always arcs to ground in the event of an open circuit. Plasma conduits, on the other hand, undergo explosive decompression in the event of a conduit rupture, resulting in the infamous "exploding console" problem on Federation starships. A control panel is not a high-powered system- it does not require exotic power supplies, and if its power supply system is known to be a potentially lethal safety hazard, then it is quite clear that the basic design philosophy should be reviewed immediately.
Sometimes, trekkies notice the superficial resemblance between some of the components inside Imperial devices like light sabres (as seen in SWVD) and 20th century electrical technology. Again, they claim that because there are superficial similarities, Imperial technology must be limited to the capabilities of 20th century Earth. There are two obvious reasons why this thinking is invalid, and misguided:
Obviously, light sabres are beyond 20th century technology. In fact, they may also be beyond the capabilities of Federation technology. To date, they have never produced a device with the characteristics of a light sabre- able to cut through dense metals with minimal effort, deflect energy weapons, etc. If light-sabres were truly 20th century technology, then 20th century Earth scientists would have been able to build one.
"Ensigns of Command". In this TNG episode, Lieutenant Commander Data removed a "neutral sub-processor" from his own body and installed it in a Type II Federation hand phaser. He noted that the ambient "hyperonic radiation" was randomizing his phaser beam, and he planned to use the neural sub-processor to "continuously recollimate" the beam. It is important to note that Data's "neural sub-processor" had the outward appearance of a 20th century circuit board. Since Data is the most sophisticated piece of android technology in the entire Alpha Quadrant, his existence (and the presence of "archaic-looking" circuit boards in his body, light-emitting diodes under his skullcap in his brain, etc) disproves the ridiculous trekkie claim that the vaguely archaic-looking components in a light sabre denote a general technological level that is beneath the Federation's technological level.
This is the oldest, and most often repeated trekkie myth about Imperial technology. They make this argument, month after month, year after year, for the same reason: they know that the Death Star is an awe-inspiring example of firepower, industrial capabilities, manufacturing technology, logistical strength, propulsion technology, materials science, power generation, and many other important fields of science and technology.
Its mere existence is irrefutable evidence that the Empire has capabilities that far exceed the Federation in all of the aforementioned areas. Its capabilities are canon. Its implications are binding and incontrovertible. Scaled-down versions of its technology are most likely present in most Imperial starships. Small wonder then, that trekkies seem to spend every waking hour coming up with yet another scientifically invalid "explanation" of how the Death Star might have employed some "trick" to destroy Alderaan. Several examples of these explanations follow (beware: dry technical material follows!), but to reduce the bulk of this page, the individual myths are debunked on separate pages. Click on each myth to see more.
The "Gravitational Potential Energy is not real" Myth: This myth is more of a misunderstanding than a myth. Some people have difficulty with the idea of "potential energy". It is easy for them to believe that "potential energy" is somehow not the same as "real" energy.
The Electromagnetic Repulsion Myth: This myth deals with the concepts of electromagnetic attraction and repulsion. Some trekkies think that the atoms of a planet are in a state of constant electrostatic repulsion, as if a planet is a bomb waiting to explode.
The "Mass-lightening" Myth: Although this myth is probably held by only a tiny minority of trekkies, it is so funny that it had to be included in this list.
The Fission/Fusion Myth: This myth is based on the idea that the Death Star might have somehow induced nuclear fission or fusion in the planet Alderaan. On the surface, this is by far the most reasonable of the trekkie "explanations". It is the only one in this list that does not rely upon violations of Conservation of Energy. However, it is not feasible because the energy costs of inducing fission or fusion will exceed the yield.
Believe it or not, these are among the most reasonable myths. Some even wilder claims have been made in the past, such as "maybe Alderaan was a tiny moon which was carefully disguised to look like a full-sized planet, complete with oceans and continents, and then equipped with an artificial gravity generator to hold the atmosphere in place", or "if you remove all of the interior mass, the crust will fly apart due to centrifugal forces", or even worse. Frankly, myths that descend to this level are so ridiculous that they aren't even worth discussion. If you can't see the problems with such claims immediately, you aren't looking hard enough.
In conclusion, there are literally countless explanations that have been forwarded, to explain how the Death Star could have destroyed Alderaan without having to supply an energy well in excess of 2E32 joules as calculated on this website and others. However, those theories are invariably incorrect, and in some cases, they should be considered downright embarrassing to whoever had the temerity to post them on the Internet. The tactics vary: some think that gravitational potential energy is not "real" energy so Conservation of Energy doesn't apply. Others think that a planet is essentially a bomb waiting to explode (whether due to electrostatic repulsion, nuclear fission, or nuclear fusion), and that only the slightest nudge will "set it off". But every proposed "trick" invariably turns out to be an attempt to ignore the laws of physics in favour of a dogmatic assumption that the Death Star can't possibly be as powerful as it seems to be. If these people put half as much effort into learning real science as they did toward the creation of pseudo-science theories about the Death Star, they would be immeasurably better off.
Amazingly, I routinely get mail from fans of both Star Wars and Star Trek, insisting that turbolasers must be lasers. The usual justification is that they have the word "laser" in the name, so they must be lasers, right? Well, this idea stems from an extremely simplistic and close-minded interpretation of language. A language grows over time, rather than being invented or created. As a result, it will invariably incorporate countless archaic meanings, holdovers, cultural references, etc. One could probably expend huge amounts of space describing the various archaic terms in the English language, but a few examples are easily applied to the turbolaser issue.
In both Star Wars and Star Trek, engineering schematics are invariably described as "blueprints". That is the same linguistic convention used today. But where did it come from? The answer is one which I have personal experience with. Before large-format photocopiers were invented, engineers used to reproduce drawings with a machine called a "blueprint machine." This machine operated on principles which were completely different from a modern photocopier or printer. To use it, you would put your drawing on top of a piece of specially coated yellow paper. The blueprint machine would then shine an ultraviolet light on your drawing, and the light would get through the white parts of the drawing (thus breaking down the yellow coating underneath) and be blocked by the black parts of the drawing. The result was a piece of paper which had yellow lines where all of the black lines on the original drawing were. This paper was then passed through an ammonia-based chemical process which made the yellow coating turn blue. The result was a reproduced drawing that was quite literally blue.
These machines were beastly and unpleasant. The ammonia smelled terrible (although it was good for clearing out sinus congestion), you had to draw on special vellum paper which was translucent rather than opaque like heavy bond paper, and the copies were always "dirty" because the UV radiation was not 100% effective at breaking down the underlying coating layers after passing through the vellum drawing. But they produced copies of drawings at a time when there was no other way. Of course, modern engineering photocopiers produce black lines on white paper without requiring special paper or ammonia treatment, just like any other photocopier. And since most modern engineering drawings are generated in CAD systems, a photocopier isn't really required. Drawings can be simply printed in multiple copies on a large-format laser printer. But the term "blueprint" has persisted to this day, even though the vast majority of the population has absolutely no idea where it came from. When the TM describes the blueprints of the Galaxy Class starship, should you assume that they are using primitive blueprint machines to reproduce their engineering drawings? I wouldn't.
Science fiction is replete with cannons. Phaser cannons, turbolaser cannons, isokinetic cannons, disruptor cannons, laser cannons, ion cannons, and various other permutations upon the word "cannon" are liberally sprinkled throughout various science fiction series such as Star Wars and Star Trek. But what is a cannon?
Cannons are primitive projectile weapons, which hurl projectiles through the air after being ejected from the barrel through gas pressure, which is created by combustion of explosive chemicals. Does this mean that we should assume that every science fiction "cannon" is therefore a primitive projectile weapon? Of course not- in the science fiction world, the term "cannon" obviously has grown to encompass beam weapons as well as projectile weapons.
Have you ever noticed that Imperial stormtroopers carry blaster rifles, and Federation troopers carry phaser rifles? This may not strike you as odd, unless you ask yourself what a rifle is.
A rifle is a type of projectile weapon. By cutting spiral grooves into the inner surface of a gun barrel, it is possible to direct the bullet so that it has a significant spin as it emerges from the muzzle. This spin changes the aerodynamic characteristics of the bullet, and tends to increase its range and accuracy. Therefore, a rifle is a projectile weapon with spiral grooves cut into the inner surface of its barrel.
However, the concept of rifling is completely inapplicable to an energy weapon, or even a particle beam. Therefore, it is quite obvious that neither phaser rifles or blaster rifles can possible be rifles. In the language of the Empire and the Federation, the word "rifle" has obviously changed from the very precise, specific definition of "gun with grooved barrel" to a much more generalized, vague definition such as "large handheld weapon".
In conclusion, although there are countless examples of archaic terms in the English language, the above examples are highly applicable to science fiction and demonstrate the foolishness of trying to guess what something is, based entirely on its name.
It is actually very easy to determine that turbolasers cannot possibly be lasers. Lasers are merely a coherent assembly of photons, and photons have several important characteristics:
They always travel at the speed of light in vacuum, which is hardly surprising since they are light.
They do not interact with one another. If two lasers intersect, an interference pattern may appear in the region of intersection, but they will not impede one another in any way. The beams won't "bounce off" one another, stop at the collision point, or change direction or speed. They will continue as if nothing had happened.
They do not radiate energy in any direction other than their direction of travel. In other words, you will never see a laser in vacuum until it hits something. This is how laser pointers work- you can see the red dot but you can't see the beam. When lasers are filmed for dramatic purposes, they are invariably filmed in an extremely smoky or dusty environment, so the viewer will see the laser scattering off the dust and smoke. In a vacuum, a laser will always be invisible.
Obviously, turbolasers cannot possibly be lasers. They exhibit none of the characteristics of lasers. They travel much slower than the speed of light, they interact with one another (as demonstrated by the combining Death Star beam), and they are visible in vacuum. To put a twist on an old saying, if something doesn't walk like a duck, doesn't look like a duck, and doesn't quack like a duck, it probably ain't a duck.
I suppose it should have been obvious that once SW-hating trekkies finally began to accept the stupendous firepower (and by extension, supporting technologies) of the Death Star, they would still insist that the Empire is primitive by claiming that the Death Star is some sort of freakish anomaly, and does not represent the general state of technology in the Empire. In the AOL discussion boards (where the signal-to-noise ratio appears to be even lower than in the newsgroups), another unidentified AOLer with a cute handle ("karpeeka", which apparently doesn't come with a real name attached) posted the following nonsense:
"Here's my theory- Qwi Xux was the supergenius that thought out the theoretical physics and such, and Bevel Lemelisk was the engineer that applied it. Kinda like Oppenheimer was a scientist for the Manhatten Project, and Leslie Groves was an engineer that helped put it together.
If Bevel was the better supergenius, it begs the question why HE was taken with Tarkin and not left behind to do Xux's work.
Lemelisk was credited with inventing the the Death Star, but according to the Jedi Academy Trilogy he just used the blueprints created by Qwi Xux, an alien supergenius acquired by Tarkin in the Outland Regions. She was also responsible for the black hole powered molecular furnaces that powered the World Devestators, which Mr. Lemelisk also passed off as his own designs."
Again, we have a clear demonstration of why laypeople should not attempt to even discuss science and technology, unless they are prepared to accept guidance and correction from someone who knows what he's talking about. When they strike off on their own and refuse to accept corrections from people who know better, they can end up looking foolish in their arrogance. People who hold bachelor's degrees have no problem accepting corrections from PhD's- why do some people with high school diplomas refuse to accept corrections from a BSc or BASc?
An old joke in institutions of higher learning is that it takes years for you to learn just how little you really know. The problem with some people who have never even set foot in a university is that they still carry around the arrogance of a high school student, and they never get taught any humility. Is this why some high school students refuse to accept corrections from people with superior training, citing their own "independent research" skills? It is impossible to know what truly motivates such people, but regardless of why people like this make such wild statements, they seem to continue doing it. These particular trekkie statements are wrong on so many different levels that I'm not sure where to begin:
Supergenius. What is a super-genius? Someone beyond a genius? This is an interesting term- he obviously cooked it up to suggest that a one-in-a-billion freakish anomaly of a life form designed the Death Star, and no one else in the Empire could have possibly done it. He seems to believe that the Death Star's design was the result of a single super-genius rather than the collaborative work of hundreds of thousands of people. Anyone with even a vague, superficial knowledge of real engineering projects knows that no single person can design something as complex as a hard drive or an automobile suspension, never mind a moon-sized planet destroying battle station. As a result of this laughable assumption, he seems to claim that either Qwi Xux or Bevel Lemelisk must have been the sole designers of the Death Star, so if it wasn't Lemelisk, it must have been Qwi Xux! Nothing could be further from the truth- both of them undoubtedly could have been killed and it would have caused only minor disruption to the project.
Theoretical physics. A theoretical physicist works with theories and mathematical equations to test the feasibility of new theories or expand upon existing ones, by working out the math and comparing it to observed data. Qwi Xux, who was one of Bevel Lemelisk's subordinates (and apparently endowed with an overblown sense of her own importance, since she claims that the hundreds of thousands of staffers at the Maw facility would have accomplished nothing without her), spent her time designing portions of the Death Star. Theoretical physicists do not design things- that is a job for an engineer. I would think that if someone presumes to be an expert on science, he would at least bother to learn the distinctions between theoretical physicists and engineers. Qwi Xux was no theoretical physicist. She designed things, therefore she was an engineer.
Oppenheimer. He claims that Oppenheimer was responsible for the physics behind the atom bomb, and implies that without him, the project would never have happened. This is nonsense. Oppenheimer was one of the leaders of the atom bomb project, but if he were killed, it would have undoubtedly continued to fruition without him. This is the case for two obvious reasons:
Oppenheimer was part of a very large team. He was not holding out special knowledge from the rest of the team. Does this trekkie believe that large-project scientists work alone, hiding secret knowledge from other team members?
Science is not revolutionary- it is evolutionary. The atom bomb was only possible because of numerous supporting developments, which were necessary to make atom bomb research possible. Without numerous pioneering developments in nuclear physics, atom bomb research would have been impossible. Without numerous developments in uranium mining and refining technologies, atom bomb research would have been impossible. Both of those prerequisites required their own supporting technologies, and so on and so on. Science and technology build upon an established base- they do not suddenly leap forward. Science does not leap- it crawls. When it crawls over a threshold that happens to permit the development of a useful new tool, we think that it has just leapt forward. It has not- we just haven't been paying enough attention to it.
Engineering. He seems to feel that an engineer is some sort of final cog in the machine, who designs the technology without understanding any of the physics which underly its operation. By saying this, he demonstrates that he obviously doesn't understand the concept of engineering (not surprising since he also doesn't understand the job description of a theoretical physicist). An engineer applies scientific principles to the job of designing something- that is why engineers get a BASc (Bachelor of Applied Science) degree in university. No matter what some layperson trekkie might think, it is impossible for a scientist to somehow guide an engineer through the process of designing technology based on a scientific principle without explaining that principle to him! The very idea of an engineer applying scientific principles he does not understand is so ludicrous that I can't believe anyone would actually post such nonsense.
Alien. He seems to think that Qwi Xux brought some sort of alien technological base to the Empire. She was actually taken from a primitive society as a child and trained by Imperial educators. Her genetic non-human background doesn't change the fact that she has Imperial education and was therefore working from an Imperial knowledge base. To repeat an important fact, her technological and scientific base determines the extent of her capabilities more than her raw intelligence. Da Vinci would never have been able to build a nuclear weapon even if you told him precisely how it worked, because he didn't have any of the supporting technologies.
Inventing. He seems to think that the Death Star was "invented" by either Qwi Xux or Bevel Lemelisk. What he doesn't understand is that the process of invention involves a new idea. The process of designing and constructing a large project (never mind a mammoth project like the Death Star) involves much more than a new idea. It involves a vast collaborative effort, among people who all understand the science. It is an engineering project of vast proportions, and the mere suggestion that one person might have "invented" it is nonsensical and insulting to the reader's intelligence.
In conclusion, only people who know nothing about science and technology are capable of believing that technology can suddenly leap forward without any sort of support structure, intermediate developments, etc., regardless of how smart any individual researcher is. For example, given the supporting science and technology available at the time the atom bomb was invented, it was really only a matter of time. There was no crucial person who would have prevented the invention of the atom bomb if he had died early. Similarly, Qwi Xux and Bevel Lemelisk could undoubtedly both have been killed right at the start of the project, probably without disrupting it. If they were both high-ranking officers or employees in the Maw facility, then they were probably both managers anyway, who spent little or no time doing actual design work (engineering managers only "tie together" the work of their subordinates, rather than doing all of the nitty-gritty work themselves).
The Death Star is an example of Imperial technology, not a stupendous leap forward from Imperial technology. There are strict limits to how far a new piece of technology can advance the state of the art, because of the inter-related nature of scientific and technological developments. Frankly, this should be obvious even to those with no experience in the field. It is not, as they say, "rocket science." One does not climb a ladder from the first rung to the second rung, and then suddenly leap to the twentieth rung. One does not leap from learning his ABC's to reciting Shakespeare. One does not jump from basic arithmetic to university-level calculus. And Leonardo Da Vinci wouldn't have been able to build a 1999 Corvette no matter how smart he was, and no matter what insights he had. In fact, the combined resources of the entire planet Earth at that time would not have allowed him to build one 1999 Corvette, even if you gave him complete blueprints. There are so many supporting technologies required that the blueprints by themselves would have been utterly worthless.
Footnote: Karpeeka actually E-mailed me later, and agreed that no engineer could possibly apply principles which he or she doesn't understand. However, he or she still insisted that Qwi Xux might have singlehandedly designed "most" of the Death Star, or at least its superlaser. Although I applaud Karpeeka's forthright attempt to address his or her errors, I cannot applaud the insistence on misunderstanding the concept of large project engineering. If he or she seriously thinks that the superlaser is such a simple system that one person could have designed it (presumably, leaving the rest of the battle station to the others), then this is no better than thinking that one person designed the entire structure. The superlaser is the centrepiece of the Death Star, a monstrous object of monstrous power. How anyone can seriously believe that one person designed it is beyond me. How anyone can seriously believe that it was the very first prototype also escapes me- if you were going to try out a completely untested new idea, would you first try it on such a stupendously large scale? It's pretty doubtful- you would try it on smaller scales, and then on progressively larger scales. Anyone with a remote familiarity with real-life engineering would know this. It's only ignorant laypeople who think that someone would "test" it exclusively with "computer simulations" or other such silliness.
Numerous trekkies have propagated the following myth, in various forms, over the years:
In ANH, Han Solo said that the Imperial fleet couldn't track him through hyperspace, so SW must not have any FTL sensors. Also, when the Imperial fleet lost the Millenium Falcon in TESB, Vader ordered them to check all possible destinations along their last known trajectory, so they must be incapable of tracking anything at superluminal speeds.
It is surprising how common this myth is, and how easily it is accepted, even by some Star Wars fans. However, although this myth is based on canon evidence (unlike a lot of other myths), there are several serious problems with it:
First and foremost, this myth is flawed because it claims that it is no more difficult to track a 1,000,000c object than a 1,500c ship. Why do I say this? Because it assumes that if you cannot track a 1,000,000c ship, then you cannot track a 1,500c ship. There is no reason to believe that it is just as easy to track a 1,000,000c ship as a 1,500c ship. It is perfectly conceivable that the Empire would be able to easily track a ship which is travelling at only a few thousand times the speed of light, but be unable to track a ship which is travelling at many millions of times the speed of light.
However, the above complaint is really minor, because the Empire does have superluminal sensor technology, and can track an object in hyperspace. It is only limited by range, so its detection time is short (ships in hyperspace move at such a high velocity that they would quickly disappear from range even for a superluminal sensor system). There are several reasons to believe that the Empire has superluminal sensor technology and can track objects in hyperspace.
Misinterpretation of canon evidence
The films demonstrate that the Empire can track objects in hyperspace rather than precluding the possibility. You may find this to be a rather contentious claim, but if you examine the evidence carefully, you will see how the prevailing interpretations are oversimplistic and poorly thought out (much like the ridiculous "shield generator globe" nonsense that sprang out of the climactic ROTJ battle sequence).
First and foremost, Han Solo did not say they wouldn't be able to track them once the entered hyperspace in ANH. He said "we'll be safe enough once we enter hyperspace." That is not a small distinction- to be "safe" might mean they're beyond the reach of sensors, or it might mean that the Falcon's superior hyperdrive speed would allow it to easily outrace its pursuers. Which interpretation is more reasonable? We can get an answer to this question by watching a subsequent scene: Luke's lightsabre practice scene.
In Luke's lightsabre practice scene, Solo marches triumphantly into the Falcon's lounge and announces: "Well, you can forget your troubles with those Imperial slugs. I told you I'd outrun 'em." One could argue that he wasn't being literal here. One could argue that he only stayed at the controls long enough to make sure that his ship was functioning normally, and that the jump into hyperspace instantly guaranteed their escape, as the WEG material claims. However, it is more reasonable to conclude that he spent hours trying to elude his pursuers, before he was finally sure he'd lost them. If he had lost his pursuers almost immediately after entering hyperspace, it would seem rather strange for him to walk in hours later and proudly announce the accomplishment as though it had just happened. Why would he have to outrun them if they can't track him? How would he know he'd lost them, if he can't track them and they can't track him? If one examines the dialogue without being prejudiced by poorly-researched WEG material or fan speculation, it is pretty obvious that Han actually had to outrace Imperial pursuers, who must have therefore had the ability to follow him through hyperspace.
How do we know this scene occurred hours after entering hyperspace? What if it occurred minutes after entering hyperspace? That is possible, but it would not be conservative from my point of view. If he did stay at the controls for only a few minutes before this scene, then the entire trip from Tattooine to Alderaan must have only taken a few minutes! That is because they came up on Alderaan at the end of this scene. The possibility of time dilation does not change this premise- the ship's occupants should experience a much faster rate of time passage than everyone else in the galaxy, so at best, an artificial time-dilation device would only slow them down so that they synchronize with standard galactic time. So, if we accept the proposition that Solo did not have to spend a significant amount of time outrunning the Imperial pursuers, this would mean that they were able to travel from the Outer Rim to a Core system in as little as five or ten minutes. This, in turn, would suggest that the Falcon is capable of at least 1.5 billion times the speed of light!
Why shouldn't we adopt this conclusion? There is no reason not to adopt this conclusion. Although it suggests that hyperdrive performance is even greater than I have estimated, it isn't inconsistent with the canon films (note that in the films, no trip, regardless of distance, ever seems to take so long that anyone eats, sleeps, uses the bathroom, or grows any stubble). But if it is true, then a ship like the Falcon must be capable of covering more than 50 light years per second! If we compare this to the 25 light year range of a Federation starship's long-range sensors (ref. TM) and ignore the fact that those sensors don't seem to be able to track a "silent running" ship at that range, then the Falcon would pass out of Federation long-range sensor range in less than ½-second. Clearly, such a vessel would be out of detection range within seconds of entering hyperspace even if its pursuers can instantaneously detect everything within a 100 light year radius.
What about TESB? Good question. Again, poorly-researched WEG material has led to some fanciful speculation which is not supported in the canon films. There are two possibilities, depending on which interpreation you draw from ANH:
If you believe that the Imperial ships pursued Solo for hours through hyperspace in ANH, then they must have the ability to track objects in hyperspace. If this is the case, then why couldn't they track Solo after he disappeared in TESB? Obviously, they don't understand how he got away. They expected to be able to track him, even if he went to hyperspace. If it was impossible to detect a ship in hyperspace, why would there have been confusion over the ship's disappearance? It would be a no-brainer: "Sir, the Falcon must have disappeared from our sensors by jumping into hyperspace," instead of "No ship that small has a cloaking device!"
If you believe that the Imperial ships did not pursue Solo for hours through hyperspace in ANH, then Luke's lightsabre-practice scene must have occured only a few minutes into the trip, and the Falcon's speed is even greater than we had previously suspected. This would mean that they would be out of sensor range in a fraction of a second, even if sensor range is extremely long. By the time the unfortunate Star Destroyer captain asked where they went, they would have already been hundreds of light years away (if they had actually gone to hyperspace). Again, I feel that in spite of the potentially generous possibilities thrown up by this interpretation regarding hyperdrive speed, it is less likely than the first interpretation, which is that ships in hyperspace can be tracked.
Problems with scientific realism
Another serious problem with this myth is that the Empire is known to have superluminal signalling (communications) technology of extremely sophisticated capabilities (Vader was able to communicate with the Emperor from the Outer Rim all the way to Coruscant, a distance of many tens of thousands of light years, in real-time). The development of superluminal signalling technology should be accompanied by the development of superluminal sensor technology. Why do I say this? Well, apart from the obvious historical fact that the development of radar closely followed the development of radio (note that both are based on similar concepts), the ability to send a signal at superluminal speeds carries two pre-requisites:
The spacecraft must have the ability to emit energy which propagates at superluminal speeds, for obvious reasons.
These superluminal energy emissions must interact with physical objects, otherwise they would never be received. If they do not interact with physical objects, then a receiving antenna or similar device would never detect the signal (notice that Vader ordered the Executor to move out of the asteroid field to send a clear transmission).
As the reader, you can probably guess where this is heading. If the ship must be capable of sending energy at superluminal speeds, and if this energy interacts with physical objects, it should be possible to use this technology as a form of sensor, by detecting reflections. This is precisely the same principle which underlies radar, as well as sonar. In the fictional technology of Star Trek, this is the same principle used by subspace sensors. It is difficult to imagine that they would be able to transmit and receive energy signals at superluminal speeds without being able to adapt this capability to the job of detecting objects.
There is no question that the official literature supports the existence of superluminal sensors. Superluminal "subspace" communications and sensor technology are mentioned repeatedly, and seemingly miraculous capabilities (detecting objects ahead of a vessel even at full hyperspace speed, detecting micro-cracks in an underwater vessel from orbit, examining the heart-rate and respiration of people through solid walls, etc) are demonstrated throughout the official literature. One good example is the Galaxy Gun missile that destroyed Echo Base. A sublight rebel spacecraft detected its approach, before it dropped out of hyperspace. Obviously, the official literature supports the notion that hyperspace objects can be tracked.
This myth is predicated not on official literature, but on the notion that the canon films override the official literature and disprove the existence of Imperial superluminal sensor technology. It is true that the films outweigh the official literature, but as I have explained above, the films actually do not disprove the existence of Imperial superluminal sensor technology. In fact, they indicate that the Empire must have superluminal sensor technology.
In conclusion, the films, any reference to real science or technology, and the official literature all support the Empire's ability to track superluminal objects. The only people who insistently deny this capability are the Star Trek fans who obviously wish to concoct a situation in which their ships will have an advantage over Imperial ships.