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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Thursday, August 16, 2012

KESSEL RUNNINGS

"She may not look like much but..."

Remember in Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope) when Han Solo brags that the Millennium Falcon can do the Kessel Run in "less than twelve parsecs?" That line immediately bothered me and anyone else who knows a shred about astronomy and science. A parsec is a measurement: the distance from the Sun to an astronomical object which has a parallax angle of one arcsecond. Its used by astronomers to measure distances by relative movement, and is somewhat obscure but specific.

To put it another way, Han Solo bragged something like this: the Millennium Falcon is so fast it can fly somewhere in less than 12 miles, which makes no sense at all. Now, Star Wars fans have worked long and hard to come up with an explantion why that somehow works or makes sense, usually this one:
The most favoured explanation is that the Kessel Run is a smuggling route that skirts a cluster of black holes (known as The Maw). The standard, relatively safe, route around The Maw is somewhat circuitous and measures 18 parsecs long. Daring pilots can cut closer to The Maw, trimming distance off the route, at some risk to life and limb. Han Solo, being the daring pilot he is, managed to cut so close that he got the distance down to less than twelve parsecs, and thereby making the run in record time.
Now... if you know anything about space, you know that its not on a flat table. And since Star Wars is set in a very large galaxy that spans many lightyears and has planets scattered all around it, it makes no sense whatsoever to talk about a "route" or a special path that is followed. Path from where? Unless Kessel is in the center of a globe of black holes that have to be avoided, then the run will be relative to your starting point. And in a far flung galactic empire, that can be nearly anywhere.

Again, fans come to the rescue: well its "a run from from Kessel to an area south of the Si'Klaata Cluster without getting caught by the Imperial ships that were guarding the movement of spice from Kessel's mines." That works best if read in the voice of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. So its meant to be a specific route one place to another only, and apparently its incredibly famous because Han figured everyone would know what an achievement it was.

However, all this is nonsense. Not just because it is speculation on the part of fans, but because the script says it is. I'll let a Star Wars guy from the comic Darths & Droids explain:
The revised fourth draft of the film script makes it very clear what Han's line means. Immediately after the line, it says:

Ben reacts to Solo's stupid attempt to impress them with obvious misinformation.

In other words, Han is trying to boast, and using a word he doesn't know the meaning of, which makes it obvious to Obi-Wan that he's lying through his teeth. Even in the shooting script, Han's line is followed by a note stating that he is "obviously lying".
Sir Alec Guiness let us down; he didn't react with skepticism at all, which led people to think it was meant to be serious, so they scrambled to find a way to make it work. But the real story is that Han's boast was just nonsense, it just didn't come across at all in the film (the first glimpse of how poorly Lucas directs and handles actors). So this whole mythology built up, with Lucas gladly playing a part such as stating the ship's engines weren't so fast, but the navigation computers were so good they could calculate a better route.

The problem is, from that point on, he's shown as a brilliant pilot who has an incredible ability to get places and the ship is portrayed as incredibly fast. Now the ship is fast, and Han is great, not just a guy with a great computer? So the script is at best inconsistent here.

But then, if you've seen the Red Letter Media videos ripping parts 1-3 of Star Wars to bits, you have seen outtakes and CD extra footage of George Lucas getting the names of his own characters wrong and basically being clueless about his own story. The man was a pretty poor writer with a knack for a great visual concept which worked well for a silly story like Star Wars, but the more seriously people took and the more deep a story he tried to tell, the worse things got.

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