Welcome to a new edition of Jedi Justifications. After another lengthy hiatus, the series returns with a promised exploration of something that may have been logically troubling about the Star Wars universe!
In case you were baffled by the title of this particular article, it is a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy specific to the nature of the ships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet upon their arrival within Earth’s atmosphere. Douglas Adams brilliantly applies his sarcastic wit to describing the nature of alien super science when it comes to allowing the ungainly spacecraft to hover in the air in defiance of gravity and aerodynamics. While this quip does a remarkable job of conveying an image of titanic machines laying effortlessly on nothing but thin air, it struck me as being ideally suited to the justification at hand. Specifically, how do the intergalactic vessels, large and small, of the Star Wars universe manage to routinely make planetfall or dart freely from solid ground into local airspace and ultimately into the stratosphere of any given planet and beyond in abject defiance of the laws of physics?
From the Rebellion’s fleet of X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters deployed from pyramids-turned-hangars on a moon of Yavin to the laterally symmetrical but decidedly awkward Imperial TIE Fighters, the martial spacecraft depicted in the Saga are ill-equipped against the forces of gravity and atmosphere. Don’t even get me started on George Lucas’ “flying hamburger” when it comes to the aerodynamic challenges presented by that freighter’s design! Simply put, these things have about as much chance of gliding lithely through air space as a cinder block. So how exactly do these technological marvels achieve the opposite effect?
If you have followed this series then you know that the number one rule of Jedi Justifications is that there has to be an on-screen (original trilogy and prequels) cue to refer (or defer) to in making my case. Naturally since no one seems to question the particulars of planetary flight and aerodynamics during the course of the movies, this particular installment is going to rely on a tremendous amount of speculative physical engineering that draws from certain aspects of what is shown. The foundation of all of this is something suggested by a line in A New Hope that provides a basis for all that will follow. I am speaking of Han Solo’s command to “angle the deflector shields” when under attack by Imperial starships. The ability to manipulate the specific configuration of countermeasures to laser attack is further underscored when Rebel X-Wing fighters approach the Death Star and the are admonished to utilize a “double front” arrangement.
So with this in mind one is given a hint at the versatility of the deflector shield itself. In addition to being a lifesaver when your spacefaring vessel is under attack or suffering an inadvertent collision with debris out in the vacuum of the cosmos, the deflector shield is a vital piece of technology when planet-hopping as well. A long standing staple of science fiction spacecraft, the implicit nature of the deflector shield is an invisible blanket of energy that is impenetrable by lasers or other forms of bombardment both natural and technological. Furthermore, the way in which such a force field surrounds the vessel it is protecting can be altered in concentration and placement as suggested by the previous quotes. Therefore it makes perfect sense that the deflector shield also serves a vital purpose when entering or exiting planetary atmospheres or traversing the sky once within the atmosphere itself. How this is achieved is all about projection.
Imagine that the force field’s energy blanket is projected by generators located over the entire surface of a ship and configured to provide a uniform covering of protection. Each generation point saturates a specific surface area above the actual hull and the effective range of each would overlap that of the next at its edges, creating a kind of quilted field of resistant energy. Furthermore, the energy levels could be selectively boosted by redirecting the power from one array or set of arrays to another (hence the “double front” configuration). Such malleability of practical application would allow for the force field to be reshaped as well as reconfigured. By amplifying the power levels in specific ways, the form-fitting blanket that protects the ship in outer space could become aerodynamic in shape when making planet fall.
For example take the Millennium Falcon and a TIE Fighter and surround each in a teardrop shaped bubble, the point of the drop face forward and the bulbous end to the rear of each. This would be one configuration of a force field that would allow each to enter an atmosphere in much the same way a rocket or missile might. Once the outer atmosphere is breached, the deflector array would alter the energy output and “redraw” the bubble in a shape more akin to an airplane’s wings with a forward shape that allows the air to flow over the field in a way that it could not over the shape of the ship itself. Such blanket of energy could be arranged in any necessary shape to allow for the best possible aerodynamics for any given situation.
An additional benefit of such technology is that the “shape” of the energy field has the potential to adapt to any situation. Should a starship within a planet’s atmosphere encounter turbulence, the energy could be configured to adjust for changes in airflow in the way a genuinely aerodynamic vessel like an airplane cannot. Lacking a static form, the energy field can be any shape or form necessary to maintain a smooth flight. This allows for everything from the X-Wing Fighter (with wings open or closed), Cloud City’s trademark Twin-Pod Cloud Cars, the asymmetrical Millennium Falcon, and even the decidedly back-heavy Tantive IV to glide through the air like the most perfectly designed aircraft we know in our reality.
I realize that this edition of Jedi Justifications reads a bit like the kind of post-Star Trek: The Next Generation necessity for scientific explanation of everything. In a sense this was inspired by that imperative that applied to Rodenberry’s creation and, thankfully, is not as commonly applied to Lucas’. The biggest inspiration came from the compliment of TIE Fighters that pursued the Millennium Falcon as Luke was being rescued. While the vacuum of space allows one to “fly” anything from a jet fighter to a brick wall, it is a lot harder to achieve proper flight in a spherical pod flanked by two rigid walls! The best part is that the principles outlined in this justification also allow you to make planetfall in the USS Enterprise and park her in an ocean!