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No Sleep Till Bespin – On Hyperspace Travel Times

Hyperspace_falcon

One of the best selling points of the canon reboot has been the opportunity to revisit troublesome details in the worldbuilding of the Galaxy Far Far Away that were either ill-conceived to begin with, or became overcomplicated as the years went on and new stories piled up. One detail that was confusing from the get-go is exactly how fast hyperspace is. For one thing, the film characters call it “light speed”, when it’s clearly got to be way, way faster than that—in fact, the films also tend to suggest each transit takes no more than a few hours; no one brings a change of clothes before departing Tatooine for Alderaan, and Luke doesn’t seem very stiff or grubby when he exits his X-wing on Dagobah.

So maybe you can’t blame the Expanded Universe for never really ironing out these inconsistencies; they didn’t have much to go on. When I raised this topic to the others, David Schwarz pointed out that West End Games’ original table for the transit times depicted in the original trilogy (below) actually contained a typo that suggested all these trips took a matter of days, not hours—which might have been more sensible, but certainly doesn’t seem to be the films’ intent, and isn’t that more important?

Meanwhile, one of my own favorite examples dates all the way back to Heir to the Empire—the Star Destroyer Chimaera, with a hyperdrive faster than even the Falcon‘s, takes five days to travel from Myrkr to Wayland. Look for those two planets on the Essential Atlasgalactic map and you’ll find them practically right on top of each other at the coordinates N-7. So if it takes five days to go that tiny distance (and it’s not a freak detail; multi-day hyperspace journeys factor into the Thrawn trilogy alone on multiple occasions), how the hell did Luke survive a trip from Hoth (K-18) to Dagobah (M-19) without his body eating straight through that flight suit?

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Top: The original table. Bottom: Correction.

The EU’s answer, in part, was hyperlanes. Major paths like the Perlemian Trade Route and the Hydian Way are like eight-lane interstate highways—straight and clear of obstacles and easily facilitating speedy jumps halfway across the galaxy (as Captain Needa might say) in relatively short times, as long as you’re going from, say, Denon to Christophsis. Once you stop at Christophsis, though, getting to Iskalon just a bit farther away is like driving along rural backroads—you know, “turn left at the goat” territory—and therefore can be much slower even though you’re not covering as much distance.

My question to the gang, then, was whether this was a good enough system, or if it warrants further streamlining. As we’ve discussed recently, a big part of the GFFA’s essence is its huge, far-flung, Wild West-y feeling, and that feeling is severely diminished in my opinion if people in the Outer Rim can pop down to Coruscant for a long weekend. So is it possible to respect the films’ apparent intent without losing the idea that this is an entire galaxy we’re dealing with?

Rocky: Now that we know the whole story of Star Wars, we realize just how much of a backwater Tatooine really is. Hyperspace travel certainly happens, but how common really is it for those who live on the planet furthest from the bright center of the universe? On now-decanonized galactic maps, there are areas designated as ‘Wild Space’ and the ‘Unknown Regions.’ This has a great real-life analogue; when I lived in the rural Midwest, my address was ‘a mile south of the old barn and over the tiny rickety bridge that can’t support a truck.’ There are still plenty of places in the world that are difficult to reach, places isolated from much mainstream culture, places where it can take you an hour to drive to the grocery store if the roads are passable. It makes sense for rural areas of the galaxy to be the same way.

The unmapped areas, tricky hyperspace lanes, and planets so rural that space travel is wondrous are all part of the feel of OT Star Wars. Yes, it’s easy to get across the galaxy if you really need to, but there’s a lot to be said for letting there be unexplored areas. A galaxy is an enormous place. Look at what Shmi Skywalker mentions- though slavery may be illegal in the Republic, the Republic has very little jurisdiction in the Outer Rim. The areas of the galaxy that are still less civilized, the Wild West feel, give life to a galaxy that otherwise could be too civilized. Letting some of the less refined parts show through is a constant theme to Star Wars, especially to the OT. The galaxy needs to feel lived-in.

It really does add more mystery and adventure to the GFFA if everywhere isn’t easily accessible. There’s an even greater call to adventure if you live on a rural planet where few ever get away, where Coruscant is just a fancy story, where you dream every night of getting to see other places but don’t know if you’ll ever get there. Suddenly it’s all the more important that Biggs got off of Tatooine and went to the Academy, and it makes more sense why Luke is thinking of doing the same despite knowing that the Empire aren’t the good guys. For all of the characters who are from the middle of nowhere, suddenly getting a chance to see the galaxy is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let’s retain that sense of wonder.

celanon

Jay: Honestly, the way the old EU did it was great. We have the expansive, remote, wild west setting. We know Tatooine is remote, we know Dantooine is remote, and we know it’s not easy to get a quick ride to Alderaan. Yeah it doesn’t take weeks but it’s still a hard thing to do. The EU introduced the concept of “hyperlanes” — trade routes that came about because astrogation is not only clear of navigational hazards, but it’s actually faster on those lanes.

Folks always asked me to explain what that meant and how that made sense, and I would say that I hadn’t a clue but it didn’t matter. They’re space highways, like real world highways or trade routes or caravan routes or whatever you want. It adds authenticity to a setting because it’s a familiar part of adventure stories, and the fact that it doesn’t make a lick of sense belongs there with sound in space. If you’re thinking way too hard about it, you’re missing the point. So long as there’s an explanation in place and it’s not stupid — and this one isn’t because it fits the genre — then let’s roll with it.

Lisa: I want the expansiveness of the galaxy to come back but maybe not in the way you’re thinking. I’ve honestly never thought/cared about the travel time between the worlds. It’s never been something that I have watched on film and wondered how many days passed while they were going from point A to point B or felt like it popped me out of the fantasy of the film wondering about the time of travel. However, I want to see more of the galaxy. I feel like the movies didn’t explore enough planets given how big the galaxy supposedly is.

The EU took us all over the place, especially the beginning part of the EU, and I’m hoping going forward the new stuff is going to do the same. I was so worried that the planet in the first The Force Awakens preview was Tatooine again. I’m done with Tatooine. I was relieved to hear at Celebration that it was actually a new planet! I am realistic and understand that Coruscant is the center of the galaxy but I feel like the prequels explored that planet and I’d rather see a different one going forward.

I would like to see the expansiveness in a sense of numerous planets and not the same ones used again. Rather than worry about how long it takes to get from one planet to the next, I just want new planets.

David: I’m a big fan of long travel times. Just by existing, they make the galaxy feel like a larger place (and we know that’s something that Star Wars is often lacking, due to the obsession with revisiting the same worlds over and over). That said, I’m not sure that the movies support it; I don’t even know if the universe itself can support it. The trip from Tatooine to Alderaan, according to the first edition old roleplaying game, lasted seven days –even though they never changed their clothing or even got to know each other. Many of us grew up with that version of hyperspace, thinking of long interstellar trips not unlike the great sailing expeditions of yore, with short-range ships sometimes having to stop halfway on particularly long trips to refuel. But how much sense does it really make? The roleplaying game itself very soon changed that, and decided it was actually a seven hours long HydianWaytrip, and it’s not surprising, as it caused some strange situations at the game table. Isn’t space travel something where, well, stuff should be happening instead of just sitting there playing dejarik for days? It’s not like the Old West at all: a hyperspace trip has no breathtaking vistas, no meeting with merchants, no local tribes to meet, no obstacles to avoid. And also, are we to believe that X-wing pilots spend days inside their starfighters and they emerge from hyperspace combat-ready? You probably will believe me that the idea of X-wing pilots disposing of several trucker bombs just after arriving an the Battle of Endor amused my players to no end.

It’s all a matter of personal preference, as there’s nothing that can’t be explained with one convoluted retcon or fifty. I’d say I love long space travel, but I don’t really like ludicrously long space travel in Star Wars just like I don’t like Sidious being able to hop on a starship at Coruscant and get to the Outer Rim in five minutes. I’m okay with space travel taking a few hours, maybe a couple of days from the Deep Core to the far reaches of the Outer Rim, with exceptions made tailored to specific tales (good hyperspace routes make the trip shorter, hypermatter fluctuations make it longer). It makes for the best balance between marvel and adventure.

Ben C: For me, having flexibility on travel times is key. On the one hand you don’t want to have a story hamstringed by the restrictions of travel, but in other cases some level of restriction is needed i.e. why can’t the Rebel fleet just jump to hyperspace? Why can’t the Empire just drop a gazillion Star Destroyers on the Rebellion to wipe them out? (Yes, all of them.)

The one unique aspect to travel in SW is the nature of the starships. You can have slow barges, heavy cruisers, even hyperspacing Death Stars, but the best option is always the modded-to-the-max super-spaceship. It’s the same basis as a supercar except this one bombs between the stars faster than capital ships ten times its size! This is the enduring appeal of the Millennium Falcon. Limits? Don’t tell Solo about the limits, he and Chewie’ll be tinkering with it to break precisely those limits. I can well imagine this:

“Solo! I got a great deal for you.”
“No way, the last thing you sold me near killed me.”
“Got you there faster, didn’t it?”
…..”What is it?”
“Hyperdrive booster. Switch it on, go in the right direction and all anyone gets is your exhaust in their face!”
“Go in the wrong direction?”
“You smash into a planet and are geography…. Of course, the planet’ll be toast too.”
“I’ll take it.”

The other concept that needs to be preserved for me is that of navigation which requires terrain. Space doesn’t have that but it does have gravity, and objects’ mass in that varies, as does their influence on the surrounding area. It’s navigation that gives that structure that prevents a free-for-all anarchy, but keeps the door open for the short-cut from hell. (Indeed the Goodwin-Williamson run built a entire story around that very concept, as the Rebellion fled from Darth Vader’s kill-everything Super Star Destroyer.)

7 thoughts to “No Sleep Till Bespin – On Hyperspace Travel Times”

  1. “…the Star Destroyer Chimaera, with a hyperdrive faster than even the Falcon‘s…”

    Uhhhh I feel the need to be nitpicky here. In that novel the hyperspace speed of a ship was something like, “point four past the speed of light” = 10^4 times the speed of light. I’d have to check the text, but they actually say how many light years separate those two worlds and the travel time needed, so it would be easy to see. The Falcon is about 10 times faster than the Star Destroyer in that book, if I’m remembering the numbers correctly…

    I think it was later when the “point five past the speed of light” phrase was reinterpreted as the (now) well-known hyperspace multiplier that tells you the amount of time it takes for a given trip, instead of the speed.

    [/nerd][/astrophysicist]

    1. The whole “point four” thing—which, yes, is the Chimaera‘s given speed—doesn’t actually have a set relationship with the speed of light (though the distance given in the book, incidentally, is 350 light years—I’d love to know the math there if you care to figure it out). I’m actually not sure what you’re saying in that last sentence—all I do know is that lower numbers = faster speeds, therefore .4 beats the Falcon‘s .5 Maybe that was decided post-HTTE, but if so it would be news to me.

      And anyway, it’s immaterial to what I was saying. =p

      1. Zahn did seem to have had a clear sense of what the speeds are in HttE3 – point 3 is a speed that an ISD can spin up to for a short tactical jump; it’s about 0.3 ly/hr
        – point 4 is the top speed of a Dreadnaught Cruiser, the cruising speed of an ISD, and the standard speed of an X-wing; it’s about 3 ly/hr
        – point 5 is the top speed of the Falcon, and a VSD in a real hurry can sustain the same speed; it’s about 127 ly/hr

        Point 4 is thus the maximum speed of what WEG call a Class 2 hyperdrive, and the cruising speed of a Class 1 hyperdrive. Point 5 is the flank speed of a Class 1 hypedrive, and a more comfortably sustainable speed for a Class ½ one…

      2. Well I’m not gonna second-guess all those numbers, but that throws the whole decreasing-number system into question—was that something WEG imposed later on? All this time I’ve assumed the Chimaera was faster than the Falcon.

        EDIT: well, how about that—ya learn something new every day. Guess it’s all the better that it’s Legends now. =D

      3. That’s just Wookieepedantry. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen ANYONE use the “one past lightspeed”, “two past lightspeed” terminology for the slower speeds that you’d use if you applied the WEG “class” numbers to the line in ANH…

      4. My last sentence was just referring to the use of “x2 hyperdrive” as “takes twice the time as the x1 hyperdrive”, and “x0.5 hyperdrive” as “takes half the time as the x1 hyperdrive” 😛

        Regarding the actual numbers in HTTE… The phrase is “It took the Chimaera nearly five days at its Point Four cruising speed to cover the three hundred fifty light-years between Myrkr and Wayland”. However, that corresponds to 10^4.4 times the speed of light (not 10^4).

        Then in Dark Force Rising there’s a statement saying that 47 hours at Point Four means no more than 150 light-years. This is about 10^4.4 times the speed of light, again.
        And also in the same book the “127 light-years per hour at Point Five”, which would correspond to… 10^6 times the speed of light.

        Anyway, I was trying to find the source where I read about that kind of logarithmic scale for the first time and now I saw this: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2aa1kh/im_timothy_zahn_star_wars_novelist_and_author_of/cisye42
        So in his formula, 0.0 was stopped and 1.0 was infinite speed. I’d have to recalculate things but I’ll do it in the future… 😛

  2. Nice discussion….

    I’ve never felt that there was any real “problem” with the way that travel times are handled in off-screen STAR WARS – in fact, I’ve always felt that it’s an advantage.

    In the movies, it’s possible to imagine that the pacing is heavily “edited” to cover up narrative gaps caused by days-long transit times (it might make sense to imagine weeks-long gaps in the narratives of RotS and ESB, and a good few days from Yavin to Alderaan)…

    … but there’s clear evidence that at least some of the implicitly “fast” times depicted in the movies are legit (the “great day for the Empire” including both Alderaan and Yavin is the clearest example of this)… and if you accept that, then you need some way to reconcile that premise with the idea of a Galaxy which still has backwaters, outback, and frontier – a Galaxy with “distance” in it.

    So when you combine the requirement for “fast” routes, whose cartography is dictated by the movies, with the basic premise of a “big Galaxy” that can sometimes take a long time to travel through… well, you end up with exactly what the stories gave us, don’t you?

    And if you’re stuck on the wrong side of Dantooine, Myrkr or Belsavis… well, you’re walking it.

    After all, one of the most fun, tense, dramatic and downright memorable journeys in what we used to call the STAR WARS canon is a hike of maybe thirty miles through a wood in _Dark Force Rising_….

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