For Science!
4 Science Mistakes Star Wars: Episode VII Needs to Fix

CJ Miozzi | 23 Jul 2014 19:00
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Mistake 2. Misused Jargon

"You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs."

It pains me to have to call out movie history's most famous rogue on misuse of jargon, but I just have to remind myself that it's the writers who are to blame, not Han Solo. A persec is not a unit of time, despite having the suffix "sec." The word is shorthand for "the parallax of one arcsecond," and before you exclaim "Aha! Arcsecond! So it is time!" let me clarify that seconds and minutes are also measures of angles. Specifically, one second of arc corresponds to 1/3,600 of a degree.

A parsec is a unit of distance equal to 3.26 light-years, or 19 trillion miles. Given the context, and clarified in the Star Wars Extended Universe, the Kessel Run is a well-known smuggling route in space. Someone who has never heard the term "parsec" before would think Han is boasting about the speed of his ship, suggesting that it was able to make the run faster than any other ship. But when we realize that a parsec is a unit of distance, any obvious meaning he was trying to convey becomes muddled. How can the ship complete the run in less distance?

Justifications have been made that Han was actually boasting about the ship's computer being able to calculate a shorter path, but that meaning is neither intuitive nor likely George Lucas' intent. In the novelization of A New Hope, published in 1976 and credited to George Lucas (though ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster), Han doesn't say "parsecs." Han says "standard time units." While that sounds lame, it makes a lot more sense.

I would love to hear a character in Episode VII use the term parsec correctly. Better, if Han Solo does appear in the movie, I'd love to hear him correctly use the term and lampshade his previous misuse of it. "Ah, that's just my way of testing how gullible someone is."

Stating that Star Wars is science fantasy and not science fiction doesn't make this error acceptable. If you're going to use real words, then use them correctly, or you lose all credibility. Han's sentence makes about as much sense as if he'd said, "It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 sandwiches."

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