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[FAQ] Star Wars Technology FAQ version 4.0 (1 of 2)

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Eric Lee Cline

Sep 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM9/20/97

Star Wars Technology Frequently Asked Questions List Version 4.0

This is a compilation of the explanations of Star Wars technology
provided by West End Games (makers of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 2nd
Edition, Revised and Expanded), Bantam and Del Ray's Star Wars
publications, and Dark Horse Comics Star Wars graphic novels and comic
books. All passages are direct quotes from said publications, and as
such are property of their respective publishers and/or Lucasfilm,
Limited. Almost all grammatical and spelling errors are probably theirs.
This FAQ started back in the fall of 1995 or the winter of 1996
on the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.starwars.misc, as a reply to the Star Trek
Technical Manual. Trek and Wars fans often debated Star Wars vs. Star
Trek. The Trek Tech Manual gave them an advantage, since they could
look in one place for fairly consistent technical information.
Responding to the claim that Star Wars blasters were lasers of
the kind used on Earth today, I printed the lowdown on blasters from
Cracken's Rebel Field Guide (the first bit of info in the FAQ proper).
From there, I decided to keep it on file, and add to it as I found
descriptions of other technical aspects of the Star Wars universe...
thus was born the FAQ.

NOTE: This isn't done in the traditional FAQ format, but I'm not going down
this list and putting "What is hyperdrive?", so please don't complain.

This FAQ is maintained by Eric Lee Cline (, elclin0@ It was last updated on 09/19/97.

Table of Contents
A Note on the Canon, Spoilers, and Errors

1. Abbreviations

2. Blasters

3. Proton Torpedoes and Concussion Missiles

4. Ion Cannons

5. Shields

6. Sensors

7. Sublight

8. Hyperdrives

9. Cloaking Devices

10. Repulsorlift

11. Communications

12. Computers and Droids

13. The Size of the Galaxy

14. Lightsabers

15. Pre-modern Technology

16. Cloning

17. Holograms

18. Thermal Detonators

19. Medicine

20. Other

Revision History

A Note on the Canon, Spoliers, and Errors

Many debates have broken out over what is and is not canon
(i.e., official) in the Star Wars universe. The only definite fact
is that the movies are the essential canon of this universe, and are
the FINAL word on anything. My view on the rest of the Star Wars
material is thus: Everything in the following list marked CANON is
canon where it does not contradict the films, but the ones on the
NON-CANON list are not to be considered unless brought back into the
continuity at a later date. NOTE: These are MY views on the subject,
but feel free to ignore them.

ABSOLUTE CANON (Can be used in the FAQ)
Star Wars IV: A New Hope, Special Edition
Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Special Edition
Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, Special Edition

CANON (Can and will be used in the FAQ)
the Bantam/Spectra Star Wars novels
the Bantam/Spectra Young Jedi Knights series
the Bantam/Spectra Junior Jedi Knights series
the Han Solo Trilogy
the Lando Calrissian Trilogy
the Dark Horse Comics' Star Wars comics
(except where noted below)
Splinter of the Mind's Eye
West End Games Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game products
Star Wars: The Customizable Card Game
The Star Wars Encyclopedia, Second Edition
The Illustrated Star Wars Universe
The Essential Guides

the Ewoks made for TV movies
(generally not considered, but contain no glaring
continuity errors)
the Star Wars Technical Journals
(contains numerous inaccuracies, but will be used for
completeness' sake)
all Bantam/Spectra Star Wars children's novels
(contain several continuity errors, will not be used unless
they are the only reference for that thing)

Marvel's Star Wars comics
(contain numerous errors, and though some attempt has
been made to bring them into the canon, the actual
comics cannot be considered)
Dark Horse Comic's Star Wars: Devilworlds
(not canon by their own admission)
Other Star Wars comics
The Star Wars Holiday Special
(from Lucas' own mouth)
the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series and comics
(made for children, and contain errors)
all other material not mentioned


It should be noted that as this FAQ grows, some data that comes
from novels may contain spoilers, that is, relevant parts of
that novels plot. Consider yourself warned.


As in all large fictional creations (Star Trek in particular) inaccuracies
and continuity errors can slip in. Usually, I consider the most used
or best defined example as the correct one, but take your pick.

1. Abbreviations
West End Games Publications
SWRPG2 -Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, 2nd edition
SWRPG2RE -Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, 2nd edition,
Revised and Expanded
SWSB -The Star Wars Sourcebook, 2nd edition
CRFG -Cracken's Rebel Field Guide, 1st edition
GG9 -Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments from the Rim
GG10 -Galaxy Guide 10: Bounty Hunters
TOTJC -Tales of the Jedi Companion
TLCSB -The Last Command Sourcebook
DFRSB -Dark Force Rising Sourcebook
CSASB -Han Solo and the Corporate Sector Sourcebook
JAS -The Jedi Academy Sourcebook
Del Ray Books
EGVV -Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and
LC2 -Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon
LC3 -Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka
Bantam/Spectra Books
TOTBH -Tales of the Bounty Hunters
BFC1 -The Black Fleet Crisis, Book 2: Shield of Lies
BFC3 -The Black Fleet Crisis, Book 3: Tyrant's Test
TLC -The Last Command, Book Three of the Star Wars Cycle
HTTE -Heir to The Empire, Book One of the Star Wars Cycle
SOTE -Shadows of the Empire
HS1 -The Han Solo Trilogy, Book 1: The Paradise Snare
TJ2 -The Star Wars Technical Journal #2
TJ3 -The Star Wars Technical Journal #3

2. Blasters
(CRFG, page 63)
Every blaster carries a small supply of excitable gasses which are
held in the Gas Chamber. Different gasses provide different power levels
and different colored bolts. On the DL-44, pulling the trigger opens the
Heter-Valve energy concerter valve. A small amount of gas flows into the
gas conversion enabler and is excited by the energy released from the power
pack. The excited gasses are moved to the Actuating Blaster Module and
then released as an intense beam of energy and light. The energy from the
released gas is focused, or galvenned, when it passes down the barrel of
the gun. The light is an unimportant by-product of the operation because
the energy is what gives a blaster bolt its punch.
Orveth, sig, prothium, eleton, tolium, and skevon are the six most
common gasses blasters, and normally cost 50 credits per large canister.
Other gasses, such as spin-sealed Tibanna gas from Cloud City, are just as
powerful but harder to find.
(SWSB, page 9)
While other technologies exist - nuclear warheads, particle beams,
nova generators, and other more primitive technologies - they are usually
found in common usage only in the frontier or isolated regions.
The terms "laser" and "blaster" are synonymous, except that
"blaster" usually implies a smaller, lighter weapon. Ship mounted lasers
and weapons vary greatly in power.
Heavy shipboard laser weapons require immense amounts of power to
cut through the shields and armor of large military craft and to penetrate
planetary defenses.
(BFC3, page 21)
The blaster bolt that had killed Captain Sreas had scooped out a
third of his upper chest, leaving behind a cauterized concavity into which
the burned edges of the hole in his blouse were fused.
(DFRSB, page 129)
Like all blaster technology, ship-mounted lasers fire coherent
packets of intense energy. Laser and blaster cannon are capable of
rapid fire, and are often used in conjunction with targeting and
fire control computers.
(LC2, page 390)
Bolts of high-intensity energy shot from the guns as they
pumped back and forth in their odd pattern, much like the
reciprocating machine guns of old. Only now, it was to avoid a
backwash of power that would have fused the muzzles of the nonfiring
(TJ2, page 17)
Each turbolaser is a supercharged beam weapon that uses a
small laser to exite its main component system to fire.
..three separate cryogenic cooling systems are necessary to keep the
weapon within safe thermal limits.
(TJ2, pages 38 and 50)
The Death Star's superlaser cannon was once thought to be
beyond the capability of Imperial military science. Its faceted
amplification crystal combined and intensified the eight separate
initiator beams into a single laser with all the intensity of a
stellar-core: the impact of this beam could be controlled and
scaled to suit the destruction of any target.
(TJ2, page 78)
Blasters fire intense pulses of focused light, combined with
packets of accelerated high energy partickes. ... Power output can
be varied on most models; the highest setting on most blasters will
vaporize any material short of carbon-fiber-reinforced durasteel.

3. Proton Torpedoes and Concussion Missiles
(SWSB, page 9)
Proton torpedoes carry a proton-scattering energy warhead.
Concussion weapons (both missiles and bombs) carry an armor-piercing
warhead containing a compact energy pack. When they explode, such weapons
give off powerful concussive blasts which disrupt delicate instruments and
equipment, and cause shock and blast damage to more durable targets.
(TJ3, page 18)
Each proton torpedo carries a nuclear warhead rated at just
under one kiloton.

4. Ion Cannons
(SWSB, page 8)
High-energy ionized particles, when fired in sufficient strength,
can wreak havoc with the sophisticated electronics and controls of
(SWRPG2, page 110)
Shields cannot protect a ship from ion cannon damage.
(TLC, page 274)
"Fire negative ion beam," Drayson ordered. "Lowest intensity."
(DFRSB, page 129)
Ion cannons, on the other hand, do not cause direct damage. By
firing high-energy ionized particles at a target, the ion cannon wreaks
havoc on sophisticated electronics and starship control systems. The ion
cannon is meant to render an enemy ship harmless so that it can be
captured or more easily destroyed.

5. Shields
(SWRPG2RE, page 109)
Starship shields are electronic energy dampers which help defend a
ship from damage in combat.
(SWSB, page 9)
Particle shielding protects against missiles and space debris, but
it must be temporarily turned off if a vessel wished to fire missiles or
launch or retrieve shuttlecraft. Aside from these exceptions, the particle
shields are on at all times.
Ray/Energy shielding protects strictly against lasers or other
energy beams; it does not stop matter.
(TLC, page 4)
With planetary shields able to hold off all but the most massive
turbolaser and proton torpedo bombardment,...
(DFRSB, page 129)
Because ion particles do not interact with the same shield
frequency that stops laser packets, ships must either employ two types of
shields or rely on speed and manueverability to avoid ion cannon
(DFRSB, page 111)
There are three types of shielding to protect ships and anything
else someone wants to defend.
Magnetic field shielding requires low power output and is the
weakest form of shielding available. It is most often used in space to
seal open hangar bays on space stations and capital ships. Magnetic
fields have the unique property of being able to hold the atmosphere in,
keeping space out, and allowing ships to pass through the field
Particle shielding can perform in two distinct modes: low power
and normal power. Normal power settings provide complete protection
from all types of matter... For a particle shield ship to fire its own
missile weapons or to lauch or receive shuttles or other vehicles ,it must
lower its shields to the low power setting. Particle shielding provides
no protection from energy weapons.
Low power settings provide much less protection to the ship, and
are used only when absolutely necessary. This setting does not have the
power to stop weapons or large space debris from damaging a ship, but it
does provide protection from very small meteorites, space dust, and even
small particles of matter. Except in combat situations or in an asteroid
belt, most ship sensors can detect any masses large enough to damage a
ship on low power setting,... the lower power setting absorbs particles
that are too small to be detected on time.
Ray shielding is a high-energy combat shield which is designed to
block and absorb blaster and turbolaser power. Ray shields do not stop
matter. Because ray shielding requires vast amounts of power, most
vessels refrain from using them prior to combat situations. Ray shields
are designed to take a greater pounding than particle shields because
they absorb rather than reflect the energy striking them.
Because of the unique nature of ion cannons,... ,they can
penetrate directly through all ray shields.
(LC2, page 233)
He reached across the instrument array and flipped the shields
on. ... Normally it was set at a tiny minus value, placing the main
strength of the shields just under the first few molecules of the
ship's skin. There were sound reasons for this,...
(LC3, page 286)
Ordinary space is mostly emptiness, yet there are always a
few stray molecules of gas... Any modern starship's magnetogravitic
shielding kept it from burning to an incadescent cinder and smoothed
the way through what amounted to a galxy-wide cluttering of
hyperthin atmosphere. But the resistance of the gas was still
appreciable through a reduction of the ship's theoretical top
(LC3, page 367)
They even let the military lob a few primative thermonuclear
weapons at them to demonstrate the utter futility of resistance. The
fleet's shields glowed briefly, restoring energy consumed by the
voyage out, and that was that.

6. Sensors
(SWSB, pages 9 and 10)
Many sensors analyze a broad spectrum of data from several sensing
inputs, others focus on a particular type of energy, fields, or objects.
Sensors ranges vary from short (a few kilometers) to extremely long (up to
one million kilometers), with specialized sensors usually having greater
range. Because of size and computer limitations, smaller starfighters must
usually rely upon the broad-range sensors; larger ships have many different
specialized sensors.
Thousands of different sensors exist. Naturally, some are more
sensitive than others. None are perfect; even the best sensors can fail to
detect when they should, or can detect "ghost" images that don't really
exist. Solar radiation, hydrogen clouds, asteroids, strong gravity wells,
and other natural phenomena can interfere or even block sensors. Of
course, deliberate jamming or concealment can also hide things from
sensors. Below is a list of some of the more common sensor types.
Electro Photo Receptors (EPRs)
These are the simplest sensing devices. They combine data from
sophisticated normal light, ultraviolet (UV), and infrared (IR) telescopes
to form a composite holo or two-dimensional picture. Useful only at
shorter ranges. Most targeting sensors use EPRs.
Full-Spectrum Transceivers (FSTs)
FSTs are frequently call "universal sensors" because they use a
variety of scanners to detect all types of objects, energies and fields
- but they are not very sensitive. The size of the receptor determines
their effectiveness; receptor dishes must be quite large to detect
accurately or at long range. Most non-combat ships are equipped only
with FSTs.
Dedicated Energy Receptors (DERs)
DERs detect any electromagnetic emission within range of the sensor
array, including comlink transmissions, navigational beacons, heat, laser
light, and similar emissions. The DER's accuracy is determined by the
skill of the operator, whether person or computer: as DERs collect all
energy emissions, sorting out the important information from useless data
is crucial. A poor operator could mistakenly identify a stray cosmic ray
as a brief energy communication signal; an expert operator may filter
through a screen of static to uncover the signature of a ship trying to
sneak by. DERs are the primary passive sensor device in military sensor
Crystal Gravfield Traps (CGTs)
These expensive sensors utilize a synthetic crystal grid to detect
gravitic fluctuations. High quality CGTs can detect and identify any
fluctuations in the gravity field for hundreds of thousands of kilometers
around. CGTs can be blocked by the presence of a mass. For example, a CGT
will strongly register a nearby planet's presence, but may miss a ship in
orbit on the other side of the planet.
Hyperwave Signal Interceptors (HSIs)
These sensors detect fluctuations in hyperspace. Whenever a ship
enters or exits hyperspace, the local hyperspace field is disturbed - the
mass and speed of the vessel determining the size of the disturbance. HSIs
cannot determine a ship's origin or destination, but they can record the
entry to or exit from hyperspace.
In addition to detecting ships moving into and out of hyperspace,
HSIs can detect and sometimes tap into hyperradio transmissions (such as
those sent by HoloNet or subspace radio). This is important since most
hyperradio communications are broadcast on very narrow bandwidths and are
normally very difficult to detect. Decoding such messages is another
matter entirely,
Life Form Indicators (LFIs)
LFIs aren't actually sensors; they are sophisticated computer
programs which examine the output of other sensors and determine if a life
form is present, and, if so, what the life form is. For example, an FST
sensor might determine that there is a mobile heat source (outputting heat
at 30 degrees Celsius) on that space ship, the source masses at 80
kilograms, the ship's atmosphere contains large amounts of sulfur and the
ship's gravity is set at .96 standard; an LFI program would examine the
data and decide that the ship probably contained a Sullustan.
The quality of a ship's LFI is determined by the sensitivity of
the ship's sensors and the intelligence of its computer.
(CSASB, page 56)
Inlcluded in the sensor array will be an extended range system
of extra-system satellites capable of detecting incoming starships
nearly a full system diameter away.
(BFC2, page 83)
"Three-point-eight light hours - nearly at the limit of
(BFC2, page 325)
The recon-X had the smallest blind spot to the rear of any
Republic fighter... on a normal threat approach - at fifty thousand
meters or more...

7. Sublight
(SWRPG2, page 104)
Starships move at speeds beyond belief in open space, going
thousands of kilometers per second. However, when they are near large mass
bodies, such as planets, or in areas where there is much debris, such as
asteroid belts, they must go much slower to maintain control.
(SWSB, pages 7 and 8)
Though many varieties of sublight drives exists throughout the
galaxy - solid chemical rockets, atomic drives, light sails, ramjets - by
far the most popular in the Empire is the Hoersch-Kessel ion engine.
The Hoersch-Kessel is extremely efficient and extremely powerful.
For most efficient use, the engine draws energy from power cells or
generators. However, it can be converted to draw power from uranium, heavy
metals, or virtually _any_ substance. Liquid reactants, energy conversion
cells, and even ion-collector pods are regularly employed for power.
Unlike hyperdrive engines, which move ships through hyperspace, the
H-K moves ships in realspace via a fusion reaction which breaks down fuel
into charged particles. The resulting energy hurls from the vessel,
providing thrust. The ship's direction is controlled by changing the
exhaust's direction with baffles or so-called "vectrals," or by smaller
H-K engines employed as lateral thrusters.
While the H-K's thrust is mildly radioactive and dangerous at
extremely close ranges, it is safe enough to use in an atmosphere.
(SWRPG2RE, page 116)
While starships move at relatively slow speeds in orbit, they can
achieve incredible velocities in open space. Here are some _very rough_
guidelines for sublight travel times.
Five minutes to fly from orbit to a safe hyperspace jump point.
Half an hour to fly from a planet to one of its moons.
Two to six hours to fly from one planet to the nearest planet in
the system. (Two hours for relatively close terrestrial worlds; the upper
limit is for flying between distant gas giants.
Anywhere from 10 to 48 hours to fly from a star to the outer
limits of the system, depending upon distance and the presence of any
hazards such as asteroid belts or gas clouds. (It takes about 15 hours to
reach the outer limits of a "representative" system composed of a single
yellow star and less than a dozen significant planetary bodies.
Often, pilots find that it's quicker to travel between planets by
making a "micro jump" in hyperspace. While very precise navigation
coordinates are necessary for this type of jump, such trips can be
completed within an hour, compared to sublight "intersystem" trips taking
many hours.

8. Hyperdrives
(SWSB, pages 6 and 7)
The hyperdrive is a miracle of technology. For over a thousand
generations, it has bound the galaxy together. Powered by incredibly
efficient fusion generators, hyperdrive engines hurl ships into
hyperspace, a dimension of space-time that allows faster than light travel.
The theories and realities of hyperspace travel are understood by few but
highly-trained hyperspace technicians in the astrophysics communities,
and even they admit that certain aspects remain a mystery.
Many droids and astrogation computers used on starfighters are
capable of containing data for only one hyperspace jump at a time; others,
such as the Rebel Alliance Y-wing, can hold up to ten jumps without being
Larger starships, such as Imperial Star Destroyers and similar
models, have large onboard astrogation computers capable of virtually
unlimited jump calculations and actually store jump coordinates for almost
every foreseeable destination the ship may wish to reach.
Millions of jumps are made daily - only a fraction fail.
(SWRPG2RE, pages 117 and 119)
Hyperspace is _coterminous_ with realspace - if you head north in
hyperspace, you are also heading north in realspace. Objects in realspace
have a _hyperspace shadow_ - a presence in hyperspace at the same location.
This means that there's an inherent danger in traveling through
hyperspace. Contact with an object's hyperspace shadow results in instant
destruction of the ship. (The object in realspace remains undisturbed.)
Starships have "mass shadow sensors" to detect hyperspace shadows and
avoid collision, although these systems are not entirely reliable. While
deep space collisions are rare, they also tend to be quite deadly.
"Hyperspace routes" are established paths through hyperspace
linking major planets, just as roads link major settlements on planets.
These roads are known to be safe, allowing ships to reach incredible
As a route becomes well-known and its hazards are better
understood, hyperspace journeys can be plotted with more precision at faster
speeds: eventually, travel times between specific planets may actually
decrease. Travel time can increase, as well, if obstacles drift into the
hyperspace route.
Here are some rough guidelines you can use:
Within a sector A few hours to a few days
Within a region A few hours to a few days
Nearby region Several days to weeks
Across the galaxy Several weeks to
several months
(EGVV, pages XIV-XV)
Hyperdrives are rated by "classes"; the lower the class, the faster
the hyperdrive. Class Three and higher hyperdrives are common on civilian
ships. Most military ships have Class Two or Class One hyperdrives. Some
exceptional ships, such as the Millienium Falcon or Dash Rendar's Outrider,
have exceptionally fast Class 0.75 or Class 0.5 hyperdrives.
(BFC3, page 13)
"...but I don't think an Interdictor could cross ninety-one light
years in four hours - not on its best day."
"You are correct," Gant said,...
(BFC3, page 304)
Ordinarily, the most severe challenge to stealthiness was the
Cronau radiation from the entries and exits. But with the probes' zero
space velocity, the Cronau radiation collapsed into a narrow wave cone,
which was carefully directed away from enemy sensors.
(BFC3, pages 320-321)
..."We were trying to learn how to drop bombs from hyperspace.
We never learned how."
..."You see, it turns out that no matter which way you go through
the magic door, you need a hyperdrive to open it. Anything that we
released in hyperspace just stayed there. We even took a drone and blew
it up in hyperspace, to see if that might open the door. None of the
wreckage ever appeared again in realspace."
..."Because it turns out to be very easy to release an object
into hyperspace. One good shove will do it - like the ejection charge
of an escape pod, for example."
With a roar, the escape pod hurtled away into oblivion.
(TLC, pages 1 and 5)
...the Imperial Star Destroyer _Chimaera_ pointed its mighty
arrowhead shape towards the dim star of its target system, three-
thousandths of a light year away.
...,starting a mental countdown of the of the seventy-six
seconds it would take to reach the Ukio system...
(HTTE, page 39)
It took the <i>Chimaera</i> nearly five days at its Point Four
crusing speed to cover the three hundred fifty light-years between
Myrkr and Wayland.
(BFC2, page 89)
Gorath jumped into hyperspace close enough behind the vagabond
to detect her quarry ahead by its soliton wake.
(BFC2, page 108)
"The navigator won't take microjump parameters. And even if
it would, chances are the resonances would shake her to pieces.
There's an entry shock wave in hyperspace, and when you microjump you
have to let it catch you just when it's at its strongest."

(continued in part two)

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