Parsecs: Explanations

Han Solo talks about Parsecs
Han Solo talks about Parsecs

In the very first Star Wars movie, released in 1977, there’s a perplexing statement made by everyone’s favorite rogue space cowboy: “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? …It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.”

Now you and I – respected astrophysicists, I’m sure – know that a parsec is a measure of distance (the distance at which one astronomical unit subtends an angle of one arcsecond: 3.26 light-years, 31 trillion kilometers, or 19 trillion miles). A parsec is a unit of distance, not time. It’s impossible to take a path, especially an established route, with a varying distance.

Or is it?

It comes to light through additional material (such as the book Ultimate Star Wars), the Kessel Run skirts the edge of a black hole’s accretion disk – the closer a pilot dares to get to the inescapable gravity, the quicker they can make the run. Another theory says, because the spice used as cargo is illegal, the pilots must drop in and out of hyperspace to turn, make deliveries, etc. Stopping and starting at the right places cuts the distance traveled.

This is one of two general theories about the line; there is in fact a variance of the route based on the pilot’s skill. The other theory is George Lucas and Star Wars did know the line is wrong. One of two versions persists in this vein: One of them is Han Solo used the line to see how savvy Luke and Obi-wan were – Luke is taken by the line but Obi-Wan isn’t fooled. The other thought is Han doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does – he says the line because it sounds cool, Luke buys it because he doesn’t know either, and Obi-Wan shakes his head in exasperation.

Could this explain away a problem many have pointed out with A New Hope? Perhaps. It might also be retroactive patching of a stupid problem Lucas should have noticed. We hope you enjoyed this short “explanation” of a classic confusing line, and we hope you come back next week for more!

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