Bad Science in Star Wars

FORA.tv has a short video of me performing at the recent Wonderfest science festival in Berkeley.  I’m talking about bad science in science fiction movies, and the example in the clip is a classic moment from Star Wars…

Link to video on YouTube

Link to video on FORA.tv

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Discussion

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Malow, Evert Bopp. Evert Bopp said: RT @sciencecomedian: Bad science in Star Wars: old movie, new video http://goo.gl/31An4 [...]

  • John

    7:53 pm
    Dec-6-2010
    Reply

    From reading some of the Star Wars books, I believe that his use of parsec was accurate. The Kessel Run is in a dangerous area known as The Maw. An area full of black holes and other extremely dangerous navigation hazards. There is a “safe route” that is 18 parsecs long. But by cutting corners and daredevil flying, you can skirt the hazards and cut travel distance. He was able to shave 6 parsecs of distance off the trip.

    So, in essence, Han wasn’t bragging about how quick of a trip he took…but rather how skillful he was by being able to shortcut through so much dangerous space.

    As this is only referenced in the Star Wars roleplaying games and in several novels, I wouldn’t expect it to be common knowledge and it is easy to confuse from the film’s spoken context.

    • Greg

      8:11 pm
      Dec-6-2010
      Reply

      Or Timothy Zahn took it upon himself to create a back story to explain the error. It’s not like George Lucas had visions of ‘The Maw’ when he penned that line. It’s a pure retcon.

      • Brian

        8:19 pm
        Dec-6-2010
        Reply

        Exactly. Thank you. Can’t we just admit that… and still love the movie? And laugh at it, too?

      • Brian Amin

        5:22 pm
        Feb-17-2011
        Reply

        I agree.

  • Brian

    8:16 pm
    Dec-6-2010
    Reply

    Yeah, I know. But it seems pretty obvious that this is a rationalization made much later. I even addressed this in the clip – although I guess I described the issue differently – perhaps inaccurately – as having to do with warping space. Although I’ve heard MANY versions of the rationalization.

    But my point is that the book says “time parts” – and the original Star Wars novel is canon if anything is.

    And that suggests that – at the time they were originally released – they perhaps meant “parsecs” as a unit of time. But they invented an explanation LATER.

    Which is fine. Hey, it’s just a joke. I love the fucking movie. I’m doing what any self-respecting geek would do. As are all of the defenders. Geeking out.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • zeronumber

    9:06 pm
    Dec-6-2010
    Reply

    You know, I had this same argument years ago when some hothead in Stars and stripes got goofy on star wars and lambasted Solo for being so blantly dumb. Not so, says I then and now and let him know with a letter to the editor. right you are to note that travel is not a measure of time alone. Yes its about distance too, and Han and his one fast ship did that run and saved the galaxy and got paid very very well, oh yeah and bagged the princess. Fantastic? yes on all accounts.

  • stygyan

    12:13 am
    Dec-7-2010
    Reply

    I completely agree with Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing. Han Solo is just bullshitting the noobs to impress them with some random gobbledygook.

  • [...] comedian Brian Malow rags on what he sees as the most grating scientific error in Star Wars: A New [...]

  • Matt

    11:36 am
    Dec-7-2010
    Reply

    At lightspeed, time and distance are the same thing.

  • [...] comedian Brian Malow rags on what he sees as the most grating scientific error in Star Wars: A New [...]

  • Lupus

    2:29 pm
    Dec-9-2010
    Reply

    We don’t know what the Kessel Run was in the movie. “The Cannonball Run” could actually be completed in fewer miles than another entrant. “Logan’s Run” could have been completed in a shorter distance. “Chicken Run” could be a very long place where chickens work out. “Midnight Run” could have had Charles Grodin caught in a short distance.

    Screw up? Probably, but not necessarily.

  • Pie

    12:26 pm
    Dec-10-2010
    Reply

    Of course what keeps the defence of Lucas eternally alive is another part of the script when the Millennium Falcon is escaping the Star Destroyers orbiting Tatooine, Han Solo says to Luke “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?”. To me, that line suggests that Lucas isn’t thinking of a Hyperspace journey as merely a straight line A to B job. Unlike Star Trek which has Warp Factors to denote speed all the spacecraft in Star Wars travel in Hyperspace with determination of who is faster. So perhaps the “Special Modifications” Han Solo refers to are not in the engines but perhaps he tinkered with the Navi-Computer instead? Just a thought :-) Keep on geeking!

  • Pie

    12:29 pm
    Dec-10-2010
    Reply

    Sorry, there was a missing ‘no’ in my post above. The part that reads “all the spacecraft in Star Wars travel in Hyperspace with determination of who is faster.” should read “all the spacecraft in Star Wars travel in Hyperspace with no determination of who is faster.”

    Appologies.

  • Robert J. Sawyer

    6:03 pm
    Dec-13-2010
    Reply

    As always, wonderfully funny and wonderfully insightful. Way to go, Brian Malow!

  • James Kerwin

    6:42 pm
    Dec-13-2010
    Reply

    Actually the original screenplay was written with the parenthetical direction “(obviously lying)”. The intent was for it to be obvious that Han Solo was just making stuff up and got the info wrong. Lucas later admitted that the bit didn’t read properly on screen, and changed the line to “time-parts” for the novelization. So technically, not a mistake — and the fans’ retconning about him intending to mean distance is also untrue.

  • James Kerwin

    6:51 pm
    Dec-13-2010
    Reply

    (Untrue meaning unnecessary — it’s true that fans have tried to retcon it)

  • Nick

    7:56 pm
    Dec-14-2010
    Reply

    Just look it up in Wookieepedia

  • CVi

    2:28 am
    Dec-17-2010
    Reply

    Can i rationalize the “Standard time parts” bit?
    He never said it was the base unit of time, just a standardized one.
    Now at speeds close to light, you warp space and time. This means that “Standard Time Parts” could be a unit that compensates for that fact i.e. by measuring on a standard clock on a fixed location, or by using the time traversal on that location, and measure form inside the ship and transforming them afterwards.

    What i’m trying to say is that “Standard Time Parts” may be a unit used only for measuring time used to travel interstellar distances at speeds that warp time and/or space.

  • [...] posted a video from Wonderfest (The Bay Area Festival of Science – you should say “Festival Science” [...]

  • [...] Bad Science in Star Wars Posted: December 24, 2010 by The Age of Blasphemy in Bad Science Tags: Bad Science 0 Bad Science in Star Wars [...]

  • PeteB

    5:46 am
    Jan-30-2011
    Reply

    Perhaps he reduced the distance of the run but if parsec is a distance there is no reference to the time it took so it could have taken him all week,unless of course a week is a unit of speed in that Galaxy far away.

  • Brian Amin

    5:21 pm
    Feb-17-2011
    Reply

    Haha, standard time parts…
    ~Tacos

  • [...] 9, 2010  //  News  //  No comments Check out this funny video where Brian Malow, a science comedian, makes fun of the biggest scientific error in Star Wars: A New Hope. The [...]

  • Hilarious! As Star Wars fans we have to suspend our disbelief and accept the bad science. Personally, I don’t particularly mind-the ewoks make it all worthwhile!

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