Ever since Han Solo blasted into hyperspace and out of danger in A New Hope, the hyperdrive has been a sort of ace-in-the-hole in the Star Wars universe. In The Last Jedi, that trend gets turned up to 11 as hyperdrive technology plays a central role in the conflict. And even though Star Wars has never played by the rules of science (cough cough fire in space), one of the most epic scenes from the film — and probably from all of Star Wars — is remarkably accurate when it comes to depictions of how stuff works in space.
This article contains gratuitous spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
In one of the most pivotal moments from The Last Jedi, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) uses the hyperdrive on the Resistance star cruiser, the Raddus, to ram it through Supreme Leader Snoke’s flagship, a mega-class star dreadnought. The audience — and the other characters — slowly realize what Holdo is doing as she turns the ship to face the Supremacy and then makes the jump to lightspeed. The theater goes silent for about 10 seconds as the aftermath of the spectacular collision plays out in slow-motion onscreen. And while the silence is an artistic choice that underscores the emotional impact of the scene, it’s also the most scientifically accurate depiction of space battles in the entire saga, Smithsonian Magazine pointed out Wednesday.
“Sound requires a medium to move from one place to another,” Georgetown physics professor Patrick Johnson, the author of The Physics of Star Wars, told Smithsonian in an interview. “And in space, there’s mostly nothing. So it doesn’t have a medium to move through, and it can’t propagate. Therefore, as the catchphrase for Alien was: ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’”
As Inverse previously reported in an interview with Johnson, the physics of this scene are plausible, in the sense that the Mon Calamari star cruiser could have enough force to ram through the massive First Order dreadnought if the smaller ship is going at or near the speed of light. Johnson’s comments to Smithsonian take this scene a step further toward plausibility.
“That’s what it would be like for anybody watching that from afar,” he says. “You watched the ship be there, and then not be there, and Snoke’s ship get cut in half. That is exactly what you would see from a different Star Destroyer.”
The fact that this scene actually obeys the laws of physics in terms of how sound can travel in space is a first for Star Wars. We’re used to seeing TIE fighters scream through the void and blaster bolts impact with a boom, and we even saw the Executor, the Imperial super star destroyer, burn in flames in Return of the Jedi.
That being said, the flames we see in the aftermath of the collision bring us right back into the Star Wars space-fantasy-not-sci-fi wheelhouse.
Check out Inverse’s full story on the physics of that epic hyperdrive scene in The Last Jedi.