Tuesday, November 20

Screening Science: Looking at light speed and lasers in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’


(Nicole Anisgard Parra/Daily Bruin)

(Nicole Anisgard Parra/Daily Bruin)


Not long ago in a galaxy nearby, a notorious smuggler started his series of heists and gambles.

Releasing Friday, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” chronicles the adventures of “Star Wars” pilot Han Solo. Taking place before “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” the film will show how he came to acquire the Millennium Falcon and meet his beloved friends Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian.

Considering how ingrained the “Star Wars” series is in the science fiction genre, I can’t help but wonder how scientifically accurate any of the fiction actually is. For example, is it possible for Solo’s iconic Millennium Falcon to navigate the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Some aspects can be explained by modern academia, but others are left ambiguous by the films.

First off, it depends on how we look at parsecs, a unit that measures distance, not time. According to the lore, the Kessel Run, a famous smuggling route, spans 18 parsecs, or almost 59 light years, and bends around a cluster of black holes. To perform the run in 12 parsecs, Solo would need to travel through the cluster and avoid being shredded due to the forces within the black holes. The successful completion of the test would illustrate either how fearless he is or how fast the Falcon can fly to avoid the gravitational pull of black holes.

For the Falcon to avoid being dragged in by black holes, it would preferably need to travel faster than the speed of light. In “A New Hope,” Solo claims his ship can travel “0.5 past light speed.” However, any object moving faster than the speed of light always encounters time-related issues. According to the time dilation equation, objects experience less time the closer to the speed of light they move.

In Solo’s case, if he navigated the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, it would take him less than a day, but somebody observing his ship would notice that it takes nearly 40 years to complete the run. Sure, he finishes the run quickly, but everyone else is already 40 years into the future.

Besides his famous Falcon, Solo is also known for his iconic DL-44 heavy blaster pistol. Although Solo almost always manages to hit his target, most notably Greedo the bounty hunter in “A New Hope,” his enemies aren’t as lucky with their aim, which can be attributed to the material from which blasters are made.

Blaster ammunition can consist of either plasma or laser. In the case of the former, the gun would need to be able to contain plasma at nearly 360,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the average estimated temperature at which all gases become plasma, which modern materials can’t withstand. However, plasma is extremely sensitive to electromagnetic fields, so it can be contained by manipulating electromagnetic fields. It also means it can be manipulated when fired, as electromagnetic fields are a property inherent in every planet or star.

Even if an electromagnetic field on another planet is weaker than Earth’s, a beam of plasma traveling around 73 mph, an estimate of blaster speed in the “Star Wars” films, could stray 1.5 feet to the left or right if the target is 33 feet away. This property of plasma explains why Stormtroopers and Greedo frequently miss their targets, but doesn’t explain why Solo is seemingly unaffected.

In the case of lasers, a shot from a laser beam would definitely hit its target because it’s more difficult to redirect light. Visible lasers are categorized into four classes, with Class 4 being the most harmful, causing burns, igniting flammables and damaging vision. Most likely, all of the blasters in the films would have to be Class 4 to create the level of damage seen throughout the series. However, as seen in the films and in the trailer for “Solo,” the blaster shots move rather slowly and don’t hit their targets instantaneously, suggesting that blasters and Solo’s DL-44 are plasma-based weapons.

Although some characteristics of Solo and his equipment can’t be explained, modern scientific academia still provides some answers for his Millennium Falcon and his heavy blaster pistol. A ship moving faster than the speed of light is theoretically possible, as are plasma-based weapons. As for how Solo remains unaffected by electromagnetic fields and time consequences, perhaps the upcoming film will unravel the mystery.

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