Battle of Britain

What follows below is the version of the page as it existed on January 6, 2003.  I have created these back-ups for the sake of historical accuracy, since my site and its pages will continue to evolve long after StarDestroyer.Net's attempted "attack on [my] credibility" is forgotten.


The (Not-So) Long and The (Very) Short of Star Wars Weapons Ranges


Example One: The Millennium Falcon

In A New Hope, the Millennium Falcon drops out of hyperspace near Alderaan's former location, and is then surprised by a lone TIE fighter in space. The TIE fires on the Falcon from behind, then passes the Falcon and makes a run for "a small moon". Han hopes to destroy the fighter before it can report back to base, and begins pursuit. He manages to gain on the fighter. Why not simply fire, and be done with it? One reason, stated twice. As the pursuit begins, Obi-Wan says that the fighter is too far out of range. As the pursuit ends (shortly before they realize they are charging toward a 120km battlestation), Han says "I think I can get him before he gets there . . . he's almost in range."

The following picture is graphic, and may disturb some readers, for it shows us clearly just what "out of range" means.

A hair to the right of upper center

Some Warsies claim that the Falcon fired on targets much further away than this. Unfortunately, this is not true. From the scenes when we saw the Falcon firing its turret guns come these pictures:

In case it isn't obvious, I've taken the TIEs out of each picture to construct the following shot:

As you can see, the TIEs the Falcon is firing on are larger than the TIE referred to as being "out of range", meaning that the TIE which is out of range is at a greater distance.

Some imaginative Warsies have tried to claim that the distance of the camera from the viewport within the ship is so greatly variable that these pictures are meaningless. The most entertaining display of desperation was when one debater tried to claim that we have to blow up the entire "out of range" picture until Harrison Ford's head is the same size as in the first firing picture! This is patently foolish . . . blowing up the picture will distort true distances, especially the further away an object is. Instead, one should try to imagine the camera moving forward a meter or two, which will bring the TIE exactly a meter or two closer, instead of making the TIE appear dozens of meters closer like the "Poe Method" will.

Sorry about that tangent, but that objection was so foolish I just had to note it. Now, as for trying to estimate the distance to the TIE, a few things must be known. First, the size of the TIE fighter. TIE fighters are generally stated to be 6.08 meters in length, and are about the same width. We'll use six meters. Second, it would help us to know something about the camera. Star Wars live-action was shot in 35mm Panavision with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio (though, for some reason, the screenshots provided by Wayne Poe above are only at a 2.2:1 aspect ratio, which is weird, but not really relevant for what I'm doing since it implies that part of the picture has been cut out . . . but, it is still the same film). Effects sequences were actually shot on a modified 35mm platform called Vista Vision, where 35mm film strips were turned sideways and bonded. This allowed for higher quality effects shots for compositing, since more surface area equals more possible detail given the same film quality. T his allowed Lucas to mangle the film in all sorts of ways to get the effects he needed, and so by the time he was ready to transfer the effects shots back to normal 35mm film, he'd lost just the right amount of quality to make the new 35mm film look like normal. However, don't be confused by this . . . it's still 35mm film. It's just turned sideways, and the film speed is different.

To determine the distance of something photographed, you use the following:

ObjectDistance/ObjectLength = ImageDistancetoLens/ImageLengthonFilm

or,

OD/OL = ID/IL

Now, I measure the width of the TIE object in that first picture above. I will not correct for the slight roll angle of the craft, but will instead use the smallest distance possible (upper left wingtip to lower right wingtip) to be as generous as possible. When doing so, the TIE is 10 pixels wide out of the total 320 pixel width of the frame . . . but, correcting for the funky aspect ratio of the pic, there should be 340 pixels of width in the frame (and even if I'm wrong and that last bit of film was soundtrack, it will still increase the range estimate, making this a conservative guess). This gives us 1.03mm for the image length on the film. So:

OD/6m = 35mm/1.03mm

OD/6m = 34

OD = 6m x 34

OD = 204m

Holy crap. I'm writing this as I'm doing the calcs, and I'm shocked . . . I had no idea the distance was so small. Canonically, the Millennium Falcon's weapons range is no more than about 200 meters. We have never seen her fire at ranges further than this, so there's nothing in the canon to overrule it.

However, I have decided that the above figure is just too small. I mean, really. Sure, that's what the math came up with, and I don't see anything faulty in my logic, but puh-leeze! Even as a pro-Trek debater, I'm not willing to suggest that 200 meters is the maximum. That's not even close to a fair fight.

So, here's what I'm going to do. I'll take the largest object the Millennium Falcon would probably ever shoot at, and plug that number in. In other words, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the fighter wasn't out of literal, linear range, but was instead out of the reliable targeting capability of the Falcon, because it was a small target at that distance. The effect of putting in a larger craft, such as a Star Destroyer sitting broadsides, while keeping the same relative object size will be to increase the linear range, while keeping the targeting capability idea a constant.

So:

OD/1.6km = 35mm/1.03mm

OD/1.6km = 34

OD = 1.6km x 34

OD = 54.4 kilometers

Ouch . . . that's still tiny, but closer to making sense. If the Falcon can't reliably target anything smaller than however-many-arcseconds, that's horrible. That is no better than a guy with a pistol. However, the math has spoken . . . and, well, then I overruled it and made it say something nicer . . . but you get the idea.


In The Phantom Menace, Amidala's royal yacht was fired on by a Trade Federation battleship as it ran the blockade. A somewhat quick-and-dirty scaling of the events suggests that the Trade Federation ships opened fire at about 60 kilometers. The shots were wild and inaccurate at that range, though, and didn't get much better, even as the yacht approached the battleship and passed right over the guns. Warsies commonly argue that the battleship was targeting the droids on the hull, but to my knowledge there is no canon evidence for this, and judging by the shots going wild all around the yacht, it doesn't follow.


More to Come . . .


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