The Endor Attack Hyperspace Trip

One of the constants of location shooting is that it is more expensive than studio shooting, and is thus even more tightly budgeted and scheduled.  This commonly results in a shooting schedule wherein daytime shots are all crammed together in a haphazard fashion, with little if any rhyme or reason between the time of day being shot and the time of day intended.  (For example, all of the exterior town scenes for "A Fistful of Datas"[TNG6] had to be shot in a single grueling day by director Patrick Stewart, and they literally shot from dawn until after sunset.)

With that thought in mind, I never expected to be able to perform the same type of rigorous daylight-angle analysis I did for AoTC's Tatooine-Geonosis trip on the Endor scenes from Return of the Jedi, since, although the former were all done on soundstages and with CGI (thus allowing control of light), the latter were all location shots.

To my surprise and delight, I recently noticed that the Endor scenes showed a very high level of sun angle continuity.   (This was partially aided, no doubt, by the fact that it was often overcast during the shooting.)  Thus, we can employ the same methodology used to establish how long the AoTC trip took to establish how long the trip to Endor took.

A word of caution . . . this page is a slow download.  I've reduced the pics where possible, and have even split this page up into two pages, but this won't be small.

Quick Links, Page One:
Endor Daylight Time, Scene Order, Analysis

Quick Links, Page Two:
Putting it All Together, Conclusion, Objections, Appendix A, Appendix B

In the seventh chapter of the novelization of "Return of the Jedi", we are told the following:

  "The vast Rebel fleet hung poised in space, ready to strike. It was hundreds of
light-years from the Death Star -- but in hyperspace, all time was a moment, and the
deadliness of an attack was measured not in distance but in precision.
  Ships changed in formation from corner to side, creating a faceted diamond
shape to the armada -- as if, like a cobra, the fleet was spreading its hood.
  The calculations required to launch such a meticulously coordinated offensive at
lightspeed made it necessary to fix on a stationary point -- that is, stationary relative to
the point of reentry from hyperspace. The point chosen by the Rebel command was
a small, blue planet of the Sullust system. The armada was positioned around it, now,
this unblinking cerulean world. It looked like the eye of the serpent."

Previously I had ignored most of this passage, since in the film there is no indication that the fleet was in orbit of Sullust.   Thus, the somewhat embarrassing computer limitation in the third paragraph could be ignored.  Further, since all we had was Vader's rather non-specific comment that the fleet was "near Sullust" (relative nearness and farness being related to scale and criteria), the difference in position meant that the actual trip length was also an unknown.

However, the fact remains that the novel's implication, based on the proper treatment of lesser-canon materials, is that Endor and Sullust are hundreds of light-years apart (and, incidentally, that the computers were indeed shameful).   If we then choose to assume that the Rebel fleet was within a light-year or two of the Sullust system, then we will have assumed a total distance for the Rebel fleet's trip.  The lower limit would be 200 light-years, that being the smallest value which one could reasonably call "hundreds".   The upper limit would be 999 light-years, since otherwise we'd be dealing with "a thousand".

Since, of course, speed is merely distance divided by time, the assumption of a distance brings us halfway home, in theory.   In reality, though, going home will take us a wee bit longer.

Endor Daylight Time

As luck would have it, it's much easier to establish that all of the events which take place on Endor are taking place in the same timezone, as opposed to the demonstration required for Coruscant.  With Endor, we know that all the events are occurring within the shielded area of Endor near the shield generator for the Death Star II, along with the related shield control systems and power taps that were the target for Han's strike team. We are shown the relative size of this area during Admiral Ackbar's briefing:

 Is Mon Mothma checking out Ackbar's butt?

Though opinions on the size of the Death Star II differ, it is at least clear that the area being covered consists of many square kilometers of the forest moon.   The Death Star is shown during the briefing to maintain a geostationary orbit over the origin point of the shield, which appeared based on the moon's rotation on the holographic display to be somewhere near the lower temperate or equatorial region.  

This means, for our purposes, that wherever the Death Star is, the Rebel strike team is below.   Well, except in this case:

What you're seeing is the stolen shuttle with Han's team aboard heading down toward its landing on Endor.  The lower section of the Death Star is visible at the upper left, which suggests that there should be a morning or afternoon landing.   And, indeed, the landing does occur during daylight on the surface.

(It's worth noting here that the Rebel holographic projection may not have been perfectly accurate.  It shows a straight upward shield projection from the surface, whereas the shield generator dish was invariably pointing up and to one side, as seen in the shots below.  Though it's possible that the generator dish needed to be cocked off to one side in order to project directly upward, that would not seem intuitionally valid.  In any case, the dish is cocked at the same basic angle every single time we see it, and we seem to see it from the same basic direction each time.  So, even if it isn't a straight-up shot, the aim is generally static.

  This one is too pretty to shrink.

The two night-shots are from Vader's landing.  (The shuttle taking off in the later day shot is not Vader's, incidentally, unless it moved from where it landed sometime during the night.))

Now all we have to do is the following:

Establishing Time of Day on Endor

This is the fun part (grimace).  Let's take it from the top:

A series of events occur during the period that the Rebel fleet is in hyperspace en route to Endor.  Analysis of these events can therefore give us the ability to determine the length of time required for the trip.  To begin, let's take a look at the various events that occur during that time in the various scenes, using as a starting point the group of shots comprising the scene of the Rebels on the ridge overlooking the landing pad.  Scenes will be marked "S#" for ease:

S0.  Nighttime on Endor.  Han's party that had split up from the main Rebel strike team to search for Leia has found her, befriended the Ewoks, and gotten a promise from the Ewoks that their best scouts (two of them, Wicket and Paploo, as per the novel) will show them the shortest way to the shield generator.  (Luke gives himself up to Vader.)

S1.  Ridge scene.  

Han and the entire strike team are present, as are two Ewoks (Wicket (brown) and Paploo (grey)).  The difficulty of an assault on the front entrance, said to be beyond the landing platform, is discussed, at which point 3PO translates the scouts' report that there is a secret entrance on "the other side of the ridge."

S2. The Rebel fleet enters hyperspace.  This is the scene depicted in the novelization quote at the start of the page.   (The novelization has the order of S1 and S2 reversed, which is naturally overruled by the film.)

S3.  The Rebels and the two Ewoks arrive at the back entrance/secret entrance/bunker, and note the four scout troopers guarding it, with their speeder bikes nearby.  

Paploo rushes off and steals one of the bikes, leading three of the troops on a long merry chase, and he then abandons the bike by vine and escapes into the woods.   Han's comment before he saw the outcome was "there goes our surprise attack".

S4.  Han draws the remaining trooper into a trap, and the Rebels enter the bunker.  

As the novelization puts it, "Soon the entire team was huddled inside the otherwise empty steel corridor, leaving one lookout outside, dressed in the unconscious scout's uniform."

S5. (Emperor-Luke meeting.  Big reveal that the Emperor knows everything that's afoot.)

S6.  The Rebels break into the shield generator control room, and begin to plant charges that will destroy it.  Leia comments that the ""fleet will be here at any moment".

S7.  Outside the bunker and at a safe distance, 3PO sees Imperial officers rushing into the bunker, and exclaims "they'll be captured!"   

The remaining Ewok, Wicket, runs off into the forest.

S8. "You Rebel scum!"  Different Imperials, along with Stormtroopers, capture the Rebels.

S9.  The Rebel fleet exits hyperspace.

They commence and then abort the attack on the Death Star when they realize the shield is still up.

Turning around, they discover that a small Imperial fleet has them sandwiched against the Death Star.   

"It's a trap!"   Chaos ensues.

S10. (Emperor-Luke-Vader stuff . . . Luke watching the fleet combat.  Luke refuses to use lightsaber.)

S11.  Some of the captured Rebels, including Han, are led outside the back door.   The place is swarming with Imperial officers, scout troopers, and stormtroopers.   Multiple walkers are in the area.  We see Han's perspective below:

Then, the Ewok-Imperial battle begins. The little Ewok that ran off, Wicket, is there again, as are all of the Ewok's heavy weapons and traps.  The shield is brought down, and then the final destruction of the Death Star is seen in what the novel calls the evening sky.

As a result of the Ewok trap issue, we have a strong indication that a period of days occurs somewhere between Scene 1, the scene involving the Rebels learning of the secret entrance, and Scene 11 when the Ewok attack begins.  There is no logic in assuming that the Ewok emplacements were present beforehand, since the novel's description indicates otherwise, as does common sense.  

Since we are interested in determining the Rebel fleet's velocity in hyperspace, we need to know where these days fall.   Do they take place before the Rebel fleet's entry into hyperspace in Scene 2 but after Scene 1, or do these days occur afterward, during the Rebel fleet's journey?   Just which scenes are hiding this time between them?

To determine this, we must give every detail our scrutiny.   

Let us Begin:

1.  Stealth requires way more time than the direct approach.  Just keep that in mind.

2.  There is no indication that the battles above Endor or on the surface took days.  

As a result of #2, it makes sense to conclude that the period of time between S9 and S11 takes mere hours, with S11 to the end of the battle being part of the same day.

3.  Han told the strike team, before he split off to search for Leia, that they would meet back up at the shield generator at 0300.  While we cannot conclusively say that he's referring to the next morning period, local time, it does make sense.  The shuttle probably landed during the morning . . .

 . . . since prior to losing Leia, the strike team was indeed enjoying a low sun angle before their first encounter with scouts:

Then there is the speeder bike chase away from the scout's encampment, and the wait for Luke to return on foot.   Then, Han and party split off from the strike team.   Next, we have the on-foot return to the area where Leia had chased the scout to, the capture of the party by the Ewoks, the party being carried to the village, and then the night scenes at the Ewok village.  Then, the next day scene involves Han's party plus the entire strike team. 

I say all of this primarily to suggest that S1, the ridge scene, was probably the morning right after the nighttime Ewok village festivities.   This also establishes, thanks to the shuttle picture, that the Death Star's standard orbital frame involves the morning sun rising to the right . . . that could of course be changed, but we never get any indication that it is so.  The landmasses below the Death Star always maintain the same orientation.

And so, barring objection, S0 is mere hours before S1, and (as before) S9-S11 takes mere hours, also.

4.  The Rebel fleet arrives at night, pre-dawn:

Why?  Well, the Death Star's low orbit over Endor . . . 

 . . . plus the static, always-just-a-few-degrees off vertical aim of the dish . . . 

 . . . require that the exit from hyperspace scene be at night.   Also, note the angle of the dish and the angle of the shadow of the morning ridge scene, S1.   The dish consistently points to the "west", away from sunrise.  

Why must the exit be the pre-dawn night, and not the evening?   Well, the Rebel fleet attacks when the Death Star is further from the night-side of the moon:

This could only be a couple of hours later (around dawn), one would presume, as opposed to any longer amount of time.   The only alternative viewpoints would be that the hyperspace exit was morning and the above was way later in the afternoon, or that the hyperspace exit was post-afternoon evening and the above scene was the next morning or a later afternoon.   My timing is the shortest.

So, the night of S0 carries us to the morning of S1 . . . S9 starts at pre-dawn, continues to early morning, and carries us into the day of S9-S11.

5.  In between the S9 scene of the Rebels approaching the Death Star just above, and the following scene from later in the battle . . . 

 . . . which is also morning as judged by the light angles, Death Star, and so on, we have the scene of Han and company being brought out to face the Imperial garrison.   Note the sun, high and directly ahead:

From Han's perspective as he walks out of the bunker, it looks like this:

(Note:  the above was brightened 20% for its original use on the AT-ST page.  
Han looks at this AT-ST to his left first . . . you can see the light hitting it from behind . . . 
and then he looks down and to the right, toward the following (non-brightened) shot . . .)

The shadow angles are down and to the right, meaning that the light source is up and to the left, from this angle.   From the opposite perspective, the sun angle would of course be in the opposite direction.  (See also Appendix B)

Because the shots above all occur between the two morning space shots, the shots above are also morning shots.   Therefore, due to the sun angle, the following are, too:

- S7.  "They'll be captured!"

- S11.  Han and Leia pinned shortly after the Ewoks attack.

- S11.  Han springing his trap on the Imperials, so he can blow up the shield generator.

- S11.  Han running like hell away from the shield generator bunker, before it blows.  Note that the angle of the sun is higher now:

Well, that did a lot for us.  Let's recap again:

So, S0 is the night before S1 . . . S7 is a morning shot . . . S9 starts in the pre-dawn, continues into the early morning, and carries us into the day of S9-S11.  The entire Ewok battle, plus the shield generator's destruction, occur in the morning of that day.

6.  If the above scenes are morning shots, then the scene below is an afternoon one:

Furthermore, it means that the next scene is earlier, around noon-ish:

Now, the scene of the four scouts is, of course, S3.  It is earlier than Han's "follow me" above that, which is S4.  Thus, the sun angles work out pretty nicely.  It looks like it took Han and the strike team an hour or two to get into position for the entrapment of the last scout.

As a result, we come to the following: 

So, S0 is the night before S1, which occurs in the morning.  S3 is noonish, followed closely by an afternoon S4 . . . S7 is a morning shot . . . S9 starts in the pre-dawn, continues into the early morning, and carries us into the day of S9-S11.  The entire Ewok battle, plus the shield generator's destruction, occur in the morning of that day.

7.  Right before S5, a scene of the meeting of Luke and the Emperor, we get an establishing shot of the Death Star.

Good morning.                         


So, S0 is the night before S1, which occurs in the morning.  S3 is noonish, followed closely by an afternoon S4 . . . S5 is a morning shot.  S7 is a morning shot . . . S9 starts in the pre-dawn, continues into the early morning, and carries us into the day of S9-S11.  The entire Ewok battle, plus the shield generator's destruction, occur in the morning of that day.

Or, to translate back to the scene list, we arrive at the rough timeline on the next page.

Page Two