Turbolasers are the primary energy weapons mounted on ships in Star Wars. These weapons are usually placed on starships, space stations, and sometimes, as ground defense turrets. Normally, they consist of an invisible lightspeed beam with visible bolt that travels along the beam.
For years, the nature of turbolasers had been a mystery to technical debaters, as the behavior of the bolts does not coincide with any real-life phenomena.
A naive interpretation of the name "turbolaser" led many to believe they were simply pulses of photons. In technical circles, this idea was derided due to the obviously slower-than-light propagation of the visible bolt.
Attempts to explain the behavior typically included the idea of a plasma bolt somehow contained by a magnetic jacket. There was no explanation for how the supposed magnetic containment field was maintained, nor could the supporters explain the purpose of the plasma given the energy requirements of the containment field itself. Nor could it explain instances of the target receiving damage before the bolt impacted.
Various printed sources attempted to explain the nature of turbolasers and blasters, but the various descriptions conflicted with each other.
In the end, everyone had to simply agree that the nature of the bolts was unknown.
The release of Attack of the Clones: Incredible Cross-Sections spurred more research into the nature of turbolasers. Dr. Curtis Saxton asserts that turbolasers consist of an invisible lightspeed beam that is the primary damaging component and that the visible, slower-than-light bolt traveled along the beam as waste glow.
Some initially considered the description silly and dismissed it. Obviously, they thought, the delay between the activation of the weapon and the destructive output (which usually coincides with the arrival of the bolt) means that the weapon's output did not travel at lightspeed.
Others proposed that a turbolaser cannon fired a weak beam that ramps up in power, and that the visible bolt's apparent velocity is timed by the targeting computer to arrive at the target when the cannon's beam had finally ramped up to a damaging output level. The Ramp-Up Theory was born.
The Ramp-Up Theory explains several peculiar instances of turbolaser behavior:
- Bolt vector redirection from an ISD firing on an asteroid (if the beam is redirected, the bolt must travel along the changing path of the beam)
- A turbolaser bolt fired by the Executor harmlessly travels through an A-wing (the beam was still ramping up)
- Damage before impact on an asteroid (mistimed bolt meant the beam ramped up enough to be destructive before the bolt arrived)
- Relatively consistent timing between firing and impact (typically 3 or 4 frames), regardless of range
- Bolts remaining in front of Wedge's X-wing in Return of the Jedi despite the X-wing pulling up (another instance of bolt vector changing in mid-flight)
The turbolasers found on the Acclamator-class are rated at 200 gigatons per shot in the AOTC:ICS.
The main turbolasers of a Venator class Star Destroyer have a maximum combined output of approximately 860 teratons per second (RotS:ICS).
Various calculations have been performed on turbolaser power over the years. Some were conservative estimates based on the destruction of asteroids in The Empire Strikes Back. Others were based off of the energy required to perform a Base Delta Zero operation.
- Picture of turbolaser bolt passing through an A-wing
- Animation of Wedge attacking TIE Interceptor
- Shadows of the Empire, page 326