The Expanded Universe Explains, Vol. XII – Galactic Cartography and Astrogation

jasondan-atlas

While The EU Explains dates back to the earliest days of this site, and thus before the reboot actually took place, that seemed a likely enough prospect that this series was conceived less as “what are the definitive answers to these questions?” than as “how did the Expanded Universe address this?” The EU’s version(s) of the theft of the Death Star plans, certainly, isn’t going to hold up much longer, but if we don’t learn from the past we’re doomed to repeat it and all that—so I feel it’s helpful for both old fans and new to reflect on how these things were dealt with in Legends so that we might gain insight into what might happen in the new canon, and just as importantly, what we might hope to avoid.

To that end, this time around I’m going to realign my targeting computer and use The EU Explains to comment on The Force Awakens directly, and investigate one of the biggest questions that has arisen from the film—not to provide definitive answers, but simply to suggest some. After all, one of the hallmarks of the new canon is not to explain background details when the story doesn’t absolutely demand it, so knowing there are at least possible answers might be the best we can hope for anytime soon.

23. What’s the deal with the “map to Luke Skywalker” in The Force Awakens? Does the Republic not have maps of the whole galaxy?

Like a lot of people, I came away from my first viewing of TFA (okay, first couple viewings) not entirely clear on this. Why would there be a map specifically leading to Luke floating around? Why would Lor San Tekka have had it but not Leia? And even disregarding Luke, why would the Resistance’s map have a big chunk missing like that, if they’re being supported (to some extent) by the main galactic government? Surely something as basic as which planets are where is easily-obtained knowledge by now?

Well, the easiest thing to say about all this is that knowing which planets are where is not the problem—the problem is routes. Lots of people in the Galaxy Far Far Away can likely look into the night sky and point out a handful of neighboring planets based on the stars they see there, but how to get from Point A to Point B in hyperspace isn’t that simple—someone had to try it first. And like in the ancient days of real-life explorers, a lot of people probably didn’t make it where they were going; in the words of Han Solo, flying right though a star or bouncing too close to a supernova. With the exception of, well, that one scene, the films tend to portray hyperspace travel as easy-peasy (at least when the hyperdrive is actually working), but the legwork necessary to get around reliably is the result of advanced computing and years upon years of trial and error.

Gav and Jori Daragon, galactic explorers and creators of one giant mess.

Gav and Jori Daragon, galactic explorers and
creators of a truly phenomenal mess.

By presenting Tekka’s map as quite literally a missing puzzle piece, TFA may not have communicated this in the most intuitive way for fans used to the Legends GFFA, but given that the map showed not just “missing” planets but an actual route through them, I’m inclined to think that that’s the most crucial piece of information Tekka had—the Resistance may well have been able to point out Ahch-To (the tentative name for the planet from the end of the film, if you hadn’t heard) on their own maps, but knowing how to get there is another story. This goes double when you consider that the planet is potentially the site of the original Jedi Temple, a location which there’s every reason to believe Emperor Palpatine would have gone to great lengths to expunge from the Imperial records (which per the supplemental material is where Artoo’s specific map came from). And last but not least, it’s an old planet; without regular attention from the galaxy at large, the movement of the stars over thousands of years could have hidden the route all on its own.

But leaving aside Ahch-To for a moment, why was Artoo’s map so important? Surely the Resistance already had their own that could be compared to Tekka’s? Well, it’s quite certain they did—but a galaxy is a big place, and no two maps that size are going to be identical. Given the Empire’s aforementioned purging of certain records (a detail first imagined by the EU to explain the real-world dearth of knowledge about the prequel era, then happily reinforced by the deletion of Kamino from the Jedi’s map in Attack of the Clones), it’s easy to imagine that even the New Republic is working with incomplete information, maybe even a collection of regional maps that had been retained during the Empire and then spliced together. Let’s apply that idea to the state of Pennsylvania, since that’s where I live: say you have one map of the Pittsburgh region and one map of the Philadelphia region; if you’re lucky, they might overlap just enough to give you a basic idea of the state’s overall layout, but that doesn’t mean you know all the back roads, or even the most direct ones. And if I then handed you a map of my private hunting cabin (lol) and its immediate surroundings, would there be enough there to compare it to the larger maps and figure out exactly where in the state my cabin was? Maybe, but it’s by no means a guarantee. The Empire’s map may have been censored, but it could still have included all sorts of details the Resistance didn’t have.

That leaves one more question: why did Tekka have this information? The main thing we know about him is his membership in the Church of the Force; if anyone other than Luke had cause to be searching for the first Jedi Temple, it’s him. Whether he found it first and shared the information with Luke or vice-versa is a very interesting question, and one I’ll happily leave for Episode VIII to address.

One comment

  1. Eric Brown says:

    I shall now refer to Google Maps on my iPhone as the “navicomputer”.

    Especially when it flies me into a supernova… or through the private property of a nuclear power plant like it did 3 weeks ago.

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