'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Hyperdrive Scene is Mostly Scientifically Possible

Saturday, 23 December 2017 - 11:17AM
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Science of Star Wars
Saturday, 23 December 2017 - 11:17AM
'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Hyperdrive Scene is Mostly Scientifically Possible
Lucasfilm/Disney

Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi below.

No matter how long ago Star Wars is supposed to take place, we're still a long ways away from developing hyperdrive technology. That said, going by math alone, The Last Jedi might be a fairly plausible look at what hyperdrive will look like, once it's actually invented. 

Specifically, we're talking about Vice Admiral Holdo's weaponization of hyperdrive tech. In one of the film's most "woah"-inspiring scenes, the purple-haired Holdo (played by Laura Dern of Jurassic Park and Twin Peaks) turns around the Resistance's Raddus cruiser and boldly sacrifices herself by ramming it into the First Order's Supremacy dreadnought in a burst to hyperdrive. 

Speaking to Inverse, Patrick Johnson (physics professor and author of The Physics of Star Wars) explains that ignoring the fantastical sci-fi technology, what actual science is on display here is accurate:

Opening quote
"If jumping to hyperspace is just super-quick acceleration where you instantaneously — or close to instantaneously — hit light speed, then what is depicted in the film would be approximately what would happen."
Closing quote


His reasoning is as follows: according to the official book Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Incredible Cross Sectionswhich gives detailed stats on fictional Last Jedi tech, the Raddus is 2.1 miles long, while the Supremacy is a much larger 8.2 miles long, with similar materials that make their sizes fairly proportional to their masses. This means that, in order for the Raddus to even make a dent in the Supremacy, let alone rip it apart, it needs to move forward with an incredible force.

Luckily, both the Force and a force is with it: if Holdo's Raddus traveled at even 90 percent the speed of light, then that ship is moving at a force of ~6.8•10^21 Newtons, which is more than enough to rip apart a stationary ship of Supremacy's size. And it only increases as the Raddus moves closer to light speed, which is the whole point of a hyperdrive.

Of course, such a collision would absolutely destroy the moving ship as well, since the destructive energy from the crash would pour into both ships. And this is indeed what happens in the movie — Holdo ended up being much less of a villain than anyone expected (the marketing seemed to set her up as an anti-Leia, which was far from the truth), but she won't be coming back in Episode IX




When the day comes that we make a breakthrough in faster-than-light travel, it's good to know what we shouldn't do. And now we know that regardless of speed, crashing a ship into another ship is a bad idea. So don't do that, because even though the Force won't be with you, the "mass times acceleration" certainly will be.

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