Back to Starship Weapons Ranges
II. Weapon Range Examples - The Original Trilogy
A. SW4:ANH - The Millennium Falcon (Calc, Conc)
B. SW5:TESB - Star Destroyers Coming Right At Us! (Calc, Conc)
C. SW6:RotJ Novelization - Ackbar's Trap
III. Weapon Range Examples - The Prequel Films
A. SW1:TPM - Trade Federation Battleship (Calc, Conc)
B. SW2:AotC - Slave I
C. SW3:RotS - The Star Wars Broadside
D. SW3:RotS - Fighters Out the Window
E. SW3:RotS - Novel Evidence
F. SW:TCW - Christophsis Fleet Standoff
IV. Weapon Range Examples - The Clone Wars CGI Series
- "Rising Malevolence"[TCW1]
- "Shadow of Malevolence"[TCW1]
- "Destroy Malevolence"[TCW1]
- "Downfall of a Droid"[TCW1]
- "Cargo of Doom"[TCW2]
V. Aiming Toward Conclusions
As noted, Star Wars has been quite consistent with its combat ranges. In the below, we'll take a look at what ranges we're shown. Of course, the page could readily be expanded to cover every single example of space vessel combat in Star Wars, but the following survey of the most pertinent known information should suffice for the time being.
Below, we'll be sure to try to distinguish between maximum range and maximum effective range. (A third use of "range" appears in the Return of the Jedi novelization to refer to the entry of a target into a firing arc, but that's outside the scope of this document.)
It's also worth noting that the calculations below are back-of-the-envelope, and while they're almost certainly correct to within a quite reasonable uncertainty, they are not and won't be absolutely perfect. This is reflected in the conclusion section, wherein the numbers below are generally bumped up to give a healthy safety margin.
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" (emphasis mine).
This is all well and good, except that we are able to see the TIE quite clearly out of the Falcon's viewport the entire time. Indeed, when it is reported as being "almost in range", it looks like this:
Some have claimed 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 in apparent size than the TIE referred to as being "out of range", meaning that, barring claims of camera trickery, the TIE which is out of range is at a greater distance.
Some imaginative opponents 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 egregious example of this reasoning was the claim that we must enlarge or reduce the pictures so that Han Solo's head is the same apparent size . . . ignoring the fact that he's simply further from the camera. More on such patently foolish concepts appears here.
In short, then, a TIE fighter that is well within visual range is outside the range of the Falcon's guns.
There are two ways to go about trying to figure out how far the TIE is. The first is a sort of raw trigonometry, whereas the second is more camera-oriented.
The human eye can resolve objects with an angular width of about one arcminute, or one sixtieth of a degree. Of course at that point the object looks like nothing more than a speck in the distance. The TIE fighter is clearly far more than a speck . . . in the image above it's about 25 pixels square, out of a total width of 800 pixels. That would mean it would take over 30 TIEs in a semi-circle to fill our view (though some would be blocked by cockpit). Assuming that the camera is showing a total field of view of between thirty and sixty degrees (1/12th to 1/6th of a whole circular panorama), then the TIE constitutes between one and two degrees of angular width. Assuming that non-canon sources are in the correct ballpark, then the TIE's size is equal to a cube six meters to a side.
Trigonometrically, we can work out the approximate distance using the same formula employed on the warp strafing page. We'll run the numbers on one degree, two degrees, and 1.5 degrees of angular width:
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (6m) / D = tan (.5 (1))
D = 3m / tan (.5)
D = 343.77m
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (6m) / D = tan (.5 (2))
D = 3m / tan (1)
D = 171.87m
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (6m) / D = tan (.5 (1.5))
D = 3m / tan (.75)
D = 229.17m
There's an easy way to double-check these figures. An approximation for determining the approximate angular width is to divide the real width in meters by the distance and multiply the result by 57.3. The above figures check out.
If the 1.5 degree figure is a baseline, we'd be looking at a weapons range of some 230 meters, though the true figure could go as high as 350.
To determine the distance of something photographed, you can use a ratio of the object's true distance divided by its true length (or width, really) compared to the distance the image must travel from lens to film divided by its length on the film itself. Or:
ObjectDistance/ObjectLength = ImageDistancetoLens/ImageLengthonFilm or, OD/OL = ID/IL . . .
It's a very simple trigonometry thing . . . more can be found here.
"ObjectLength" will be the same six meters used above. As we're trying to find "ObjectDistance", we'll move on to the right side of the equal sign.
First, 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. (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 almost like normal. However, don't be confused by this . . . it's still 35mm film in the end.)
We can thus estimate the "ImageLengthonFilm" by measuring the pixel-width of the TIE compared to the total width of the frame. As noted earlier, it is 25 pixels wide out of the total 800 pixel width of the frame. Images on 35mm film actually only make up about 22mm of width (the remainder being sprocket holes, analog sound info, and so on). This gives us 0.6875mm for the image length on the film.
Now there's the "ImageDistancetoLens", or focal length. This can change rather easily thanks to zooming, but all things being equal the zoom should be assumed to be one (i.e. a normal, non-zoomed image). In that case, the focal length figure to use would be that for a normal, natural-looking focal length that replicates what our eyes see.
Opinions differ in this regard, and for 35mm film for use in still photography various values have been proposed as properly "normal", from ~25 to 90mm (1, 2, 3). However, still photography involves the 35mm film having images deposited on it sideways compared to its use in motion pictures, meaning the size of the image is much different, and hence the possible range of normalcy is different.
In general, normalcy is found by having a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal length of the image frame. For still photographs using 35mm film, this method results in a bit over 43mm, resulting in 50mm lenses being considered normal. If this method were applied to motion picture 35mm film, and using this image as an example, the diagonal length of the image frame (including black bars) would be 27mm. And indeed, some sources point to a 35mm focal length for motion picture film as being normal, though many others point to 50 as if there's no difference.
So, let's use both:
OD / 6m = 35mm / 0.6875mm
OD / 6m = 50.91
OD = 6m * 50.91
OD = 305.46m
OD / 6m = 50mm / 0.6875mm
OD / 6m = 72.73
OD = 6m * 72.73
OD = 436.36m
The above would seem to suggest that the larger value obtained via the "raw" trig method was more accurate, though this does cause a small issue in that an unzoomed image ought to have a greater field of view than 30 degrees. However, the issue has a minimal impact for these purposes, as even a seriously flawed analysis puts us in the correct ballpark. After all, the TIE is certainly not many kilometers distant. Thus, we may assume that the Falcon cannot fire on TIE fighters at more than perhaps 350 meters.
That figure seems ridiculously small, on paper. Frankly, I find it appalling. But at the same time it is comparable to the ranges at which we've seen the Falcon shoot at TIE fighters. In RotJ's large space battle, for instance, we never see the Falcon fire on TIEs at greater ranges, and certainly none greater than a kilometer.
Nonethless, let's be generous here. Let's 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 bit of 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.
OD / 1600m = 35mm / 0.6875mm
OD / 1600m = 50.91
OD = 1600m * 50.91
OD = 81,456m
OD / 1600m = 50mm / 0.6875mm
OD / 1600m = 72.73
OD = 1600m * 72.73
OD = 116,368m
So, against a Star Destroyer, we can assume that the Falcon has an effective range (using the TIE standard) of about 100 kilometers, give or take 20. Note, of course, that fifty kilometers is just the range to score a hit on the ISD . . . not to target specific areas.
Two separate methods both point to a Falcon range against the relatively-stationary TIE fighter of 350 meters or so. If we assume that this is a targeting problem (effective range) as opposed to an absolute weapons range limit, then a large vessel such as a Star Destroyer could be fired on at 100 kilometers, though not all shots would hit.
Though it still seems appalling, I'm certainly not off by too much judging by the fact that all the following ANH scenes, taken from outside the cockpit during the "out of range" conversation, look similar. This wouldn't be the case if there were some wonky zooming silliness going on. The sequence is of the Falcon catching up to the TIE:
The above clearly indicates that the low-hundreds-of-meters figures are accurate.
In The Empire Strikes Back, we join the action in a scene of the Falcon trying to escape from Hoth. Pursued by a Star Destroyer and four TIE fighters, the Falcon is on the run. Suddenly Chewie barks an alert to Han, who replies "I saw 'em, I saw 'em!" "Saw what," asks Leia. The scene changes to show the view from the Falcon cockpit's front window, out which Han points exclaiming "Star Destroyers, two of 'em, comin' right at us!"
We're treated to a two-second scene of the Star Destroyers in the distance.
Above is the first frame of the scene, below is the last.
The script describes the event somewhat differently:
|EXTERIOR: SPACE -- MILLENNIUM FALCON
The Millennium Falcon speeds away from Hoth, closely
followed by one huge Star Destroyer and four tiny TIE
As it is pursued, the Falcon races toward two very bright
INTERIOR: MILLENNIUM FALCON -- COCKPIT
Inside the cockpit, Chewie lets out a loud howl. Han checks
as the ship is buffeted by exploding flak. He appears to be
doing six things at once.
HAN: (harried) I saw them! I saw them!
LEIA: Saw what?
HAN: Star Destroyers, two of them, coming right at us.
Threepio bumps and bangs his way into the cockpit.
THREEPIO: Sir, sir! Might I suggest...
HAN: (to Leia) Shut him up or shut him down! (to Chewie) Check the
Chewie barks a reply as he readjusts an overhead switch.
HAN: Oh, great. Well, we can still outmaneuver them.
EXTERIOR: SPACE -- MILLENNIUM FALCON -- STAR DESTROYERS
The Millennium Falcon races toward one of the huge oncoming
Star Destroyers. Suddenly, the Falcon starts into a deep dive
straight down, closely followed by four TIE fighters. The
underside of the Star Destroyer continues on a collision
course with two oncoming Star Destroyers. Slowly, it starts
to veer to the left.
INTERIOR: STAR DESTROYER -- BRIDGE
Out the front window, the two approaching Star Destroyers
can be seen veering to the left.
IMPERIAL OFFICER: Take evasive action!
Alarms sound all over the huge ship. The two other Star
Destroyers get closer, one of them moving over the bridge so
close that it makes brushing contact with it.
In the film itself, the scene of the Falcon racing toward two star-sized objects simply features the Falcon on the run and being fired upon. The ISDs are then seen right before Threepio's bumpings.
The really interesting detail is in the novelization:
But the Falcon was not alone in its escape into deep space. Rather, it was followed by an Imperial fleet that included the Avenger Star Destroyer and a half-dozen TIE fighters. The fighters moved ahead of the huge, slower-moving Destroyer, and closed in on the fleeing Millennium Falcon.
Chewbacca howled over the roar of the Falcon's engines. The ship was beginning to lurch with the buffeting flak blasted at it by the fighters.
'I know, I know, I see them,' Han shouted. It was taking everything he had to maintain control of the ship.
'See what?' Leia asked.
Han pointed out the window at two very bright objects.
'Two more Star Destroyers, and they're heading right at us.'
'I'm glad you said there was going to be no problem,' she commented with more than a touch of sarcasm, 'or I'd be worried.'
The ship rocked under the steady fire from the TIE fighters, making it difficult for Threepio to maintain his balance as he returned to the cockpit. His metal skin bumped and banged against the walls as he approached Han. 'Sir,' he began tentatively, 'I was wondering..."
Han Solo shot him a threatening glance. 'Either shut up or shut down,' Han warned the robot, who immediately did the former.
Still struggling with the controls to keep the Millennium Falcon on course, the pilot turned to the Wookiee. 'Chewie, how's the deflector shield holding up?'
The copilot adjusted an overhead switch and barked a reply that Solo interpreted as positive.
'Good,' said Han. 'At sublight, they may be faster, but we can still out-maneuver them. Hold on!' Suddenly the Corellian shifted his ship's course.
The two Imperial Star Destroyers had come almost within firing range of the Falcon as they loomed ahead; the pursuing TIE fighters and the Avenger were also dangerously close. Han felt he had no choice but to take the Falcon into a ninety-degree dive.
In that last paragraph above, we learn that the Star Destroyers were "almost within firing range" shortly before Han's dive. This means that they were certainly out of range in both of the images above. This is supported by the lack of fire from the ISDs, as compared to the pursuing ISD which was firing right past its own fighters.
In the first image above, the starboard Star Destroyer is only 11 pixels wide, plus or minus a pixel. For the sake of generosity plus ease of calculation, we'll use 10 pixels.
Now, assuming that the camera in this scene is set up basically the same as the camera in the TIE chase scene from ANH (except being a handful of feet further back), we can perform the same sort of trigonometric estimations used above. Based on scaling from the scene a few moments later of the three Star Destroyers trying not to run into each other like incompetent boobs, Star Destroyers are about 50.72% as wide as they are long. Assuming a 1600 meter Star Destroyer, then the width of a Star Destroyer is 811.5 meters. (Note that this is not a dead-firm figure . . . the ISD I measured may not be at the proper angle relative to the camera. A rough survey of internet resources, especially Saxton's site and various images of the models and EU blueprints, give width possibilities of anywhere from 50 - 60% of the length. One popular EU resource lists the width as 885 meters, which would be 55%.
Since the wider the Star Destroyer is the further away it is for these purposes, we're going to go ahead and go with the larger EU figure for the purpose of this calculation.
Thus, we have an 885 meter wide Star Destroyer appearing to be some ten pixels in width in the first image, and 18 pixels wide in the second. Assuming a field of view of 30 degrees (which seemed to be the proper value for the TIE chase shot), then the ISD of the first image, at 10 of the 800 pixel width, represents 0.0125 x 30 degrees. So, let's do the math:
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (885m) / D = tan (.5 (0.375))
D = 442.5m / tan (0.1875)
D = 135,217.56m
Thus, it would appear that the ISD is roughly 135 kilometers away from the Falcon in the initial scene. By the end of the scene, at which point the ISDs are still out of range, the figures are a little different. At 18 of the 800 pixels, the angular width is 0.0225 x 30 degrees. So again, let's do the math:
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (885m) / D = tan (.5 (0.675))
D = 442.5m / tan (0.3375)
D = 75,120.26m
In two seconds, then, the ISDs had closed to 75 kilometers, implying a relative velocity of around 30km/sec. This strongly implies that they were in the process of coming out of hyperspace. But of course, the interesting thing here is the firing range involved.
If we again use the film-based calculation and the assumption of a 35-50mm distance from lens to film, then we come out with the following results for the initial frame of the scene:
OD / 885m = 35mm / 0.275mm
OD / 885m = 127.27
OD = 885m * 127.27
OD = 112,636.36m
OD / 885m = 50mm / 0.275mm
OD / 885m = 181.82
OD = 885m * 181.82
OD = 160,909.09m
This is in good agreement with the 135km value obtained via the other method. Similarly, using the final frame of the scene results in 62.6 - 89.3 kilometers, again in good agreement with the other method's 75.1 kilometer result.
The ISDs were outside their firing range on the Falcon at 135 kilometers, and still out of range at 75 kilometers.
If we again assume it's a matter of effective range then a Star Destroyer ought to be just outside firing range against any object of an angular width as determined below:
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (30m) / 75,120.26m = tan (.5 (theta))
tan (.5 (theta)) = .00019967982
.5 (theta) = tan^-1 (.00019967982)
.5 (theta) = 0.011440811
theta = 0.022881622 degrees
That's about 1.37 arc-minutes, or just a wee bit more than what the human eye can resolve (which drops down to one arc-minute). So basically, any ship in visual range could be fired upon if this line of reasoning is accurate. Another Star Destroyer sitting broadside, for instance, would be in visual range if it were 0.016666667 degrees (one arc-minute) wide, so:
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (1600m) / D = tan (.5 (0.016666667))
D = 800m / tan (0.0083333335)
D = 5,500,394.68m
That's 5,500 kilometers, though of course not every shot would hit.
So, either the ISD's maximum weapons range is something less than 75 kilometers (virtually killing the idea of orbital bombardment), or else its aiming capability is so poor that 75 kilometers is the maximum effective range against very small vessels like the Falcon, with the maximum effective range against an ISD possibly being as high as 5500 kilometers . . . assuming that's not outside the maximum range of the weapons themselves.
(In any case, given their velocity, it seems likely that they were in the process of emerging from hyperspace, though as demonstrated in "Ambush"[TCW1] and "Rookies"[TCW1] there is no significant delay insofar as firing readiness is concerned. The point at which they remained out of range moments before Han's dive has them very much closer, in the film, and thus the ranges from this example are probably on the high side.)
In the novelization of Return of the Jedi, we hear more of the exchange between Lando and Admiral Ackbar in which Lando recommends moving the Rebel fleet closer to the Imperial ships:
"In the Millennium Falcon, Lando steered like a maniac through an obstacle course of the giant, floating Imperial Star Destroyers -trading laser bolts with them, dodging flak, outracing TIE fighters.
Desperately, he was shouting into his comlink, over the noise of continuous explosions, talking to Ackbar in the Alliance command ship. 'I said closer! Move in as close as you can and engage the Star Destroyers at point blank range - that way the Death Star won't be able to fire at us without knocking out its own ships!'
'But no one's ever gone nose to nose at that range, between supervessels like their destroyers and our cruisers!' Ackbar fumed at the unthinkable - but their options were running out.
'Great!' yelled Lando, skimming over the surface of the destroyer. 'Then we're inventing a new kind of combat!'
'We know nothing about the tactics of such a confrontation!' Ackbar protested.
'We know as much as they do!' Lando hollered. 'And they'll think we know more!' Bluffing was always dangerous in the last hand: but sometimes, when all your money was in the pot, it was the only way to win - and Lando never played to lose.
'At that close-range, we won't last long against Star Destroyers.' Ackbar was already feeling giddy with resignation.
'We'll last longer than we will against that Death Star and we might just take a few of them with us!' Lando whooped. With a jolt, one of his forward guns was blown away. He put the Falcon into a controlled spin, and careened around the belly of the Imperial leviathan.
With little else to lose, Ackbar decided to try Calrissian's strategy. In the next minutes, dozens of Rebel Cruisers moved in astronomically close to the Imperial Star Destroyers - and the colossal antagonists began blasting away at each other, like tanks at twenty paces, while hundreds of tiny fighters raced across their surfaces, zipping between laser bolts as they chased around the massive hulls."
I'd previously used this quote in support of the idea that the sort of combat seen in RotJ was unusual, and that combat vessels would commonly fight at at least several dozen kilometers distance, if not a couple of hundred kilometers.
However, in Revenge of the Sith we finally saw a grand example of Star Wars fleet combat. And, as everyone knows, the ships of the fleets were almost literally within spitting distance of one another.
The contradiction has plagued me for some time. I presumed that the Revenge of the Sith battle was just sort of a one-off event, abnormal in the extreme. The way I figured, the Separatist vessels had tried to get low in order to keep the Republic ships off-balance . . . Republic fire, if inaccurate, would hit their own capital planet. And thus was born the upper-atmospheric melee.
However, the Battle of Coruscant had to be one of the best-known battles of the Clone Wars, occurring so close to the end and representing the Republic's most desperate hour. Thus it made little sense for Ackbar to act like the tactics of such a fight were unknown . . . even the mention of "supervessels" does little to assuage the issue, since the vessels of the Clone Wars just a couple of decades prior were not all that different.
In researching the problem, I did note another passage from the RotJ novelization:
ADMIRAL Ackbar stood on the bridge in stunned disbelief, looking out the observation window at the place where, a moment before, the Rebel Star Cruiser Liberty had just been engaged in a furious long-range battle. Now, there was nothing. Only empty space, powdered with a fine dust that sparkled in the light of more distant explosions. Ackbar stared in silence.
That's the novelization of Return of the Jedi, Chapter 8, emphasis mine.
As we know from the film, the Rebel fleet, Death Star II, and Imperial fleet were all within very close range in orbit of Endor, with at absolute maximum a few hundred kilometers between the farthest vessels (of any affiliation), including the Death Star. The warships were all well within visual range, implying that the maximum range of the Liberty's weapons was significantly less than the theoretical effective range against another ISD calculated from the TESB example.
Since we do not know the precise location of the vessel the Liberty was firing on we can't really make a firm calculation, but it is at least clear from the fleet positions (especially during Luke's side-view from Palpatine's window) that the Liberty was within low-hundreds of kilometers from its prey at most. Battles from within spitball distance are rare, but certainly not unheard of . . . during the Battle of Coruscant we saw several.
In The Phantom Menace, Amidala's royal yacht was fired on by a Trade Federation battleship as it ran the blockade.
The Trade Federation battleship is some 3170 meters in diameter according to non-canon sources. And, in the image above, we have a battleship 54 pixels wide out of a possible 800. Assuming Lucas didn't go changing up the shots too much, we can once again assume the same basic parameters for our two different calculations. So, here we go again:
Per the methods and assumptions above, we have a vehicle 0.0675 x 30 degrees, thus:
.5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 (3170m) / D = tan (.5 (2.025))
D = 1,585m / tan (1.0125)
D = 89,683.32m
This seems rather high compared to the ISD estimate from TESB above, implying that our assumption of a 30 degree field of view may be inaccurate. A 45-degree field of view would give us a distance of a hair under sixty kilometers, almost exactly the value of the quick-and-dirty estimation that first appeared on this page.
If 800 pixels represents 22mm of film space, then the 54px battleship represents 1.485 millimeters. Calculating off of the two standards we've been using above, then, we find the following:
OD / 3170m = 35mm / 1.485mm
OD / 3170m = 23.569
OD = 3170m * 23.569
OD = 74,713.81m
OD / 3170m = 50mm / 1.485mm
OD / 3170m = 33.67
OD = 3170m * 33.67
OD = 106,734.01m
The above values correspond well to the 30 degree field of view calculation.
The calculations indicate that the Trade Federation battleship opened fire at about 90 kilometers from the royal vessel. I haven't personally scaled the royal ship, but if the EU figure of 76 meters for its length is accurate then its width must be in the 30 meter range, or very near that of the Falcon in the calculations from the original trilogy.
Of course, the shooting wasn't that great at that range. From the scene from which the image above is taken, some 19 shots were fired with only three that seemed to rattle the ship, and those appeared to be flak bursts. The first exterior view of the Nubian that we get some two or three seconds after the battleship opens fire features what appears to be five close flak burst shots, around seven near-misses (i.e. within ~20 meters), and three shots that are dozens of meters off the mark. The direct hit to the ship that occurs a moment later, right through the shields, and which hits the shield generator, can only have been the wildest stroke of luck.
A common counterclaim is that the battleship was targeting the droids on the hull, but there is no canon evidence for this and, judging by the fact that the shots were going wild all around the yacht instead of just right around the droids, it simply doesn't follow. Further, the argument is that the Trade Federation battleship intentionally stopped trying to damage the ship and render it easy to capture in order to concentrate on killing the droids trying to fix the shields. That idea is absurd . . . with the shield generator hit, one would think it would be a really good time to actually try to damage the ship, its engines, and so on. It wouldn't have mattered if they got shields back, in that case. The idea is also contradictory . . . if you suddenly decide to pull a William Tell and start shooting little things off the top of something larger without hitting that larger something, wouldn't it be a good idea to have the accuracy to support such a maneuver, and not have wild shots all over the place? (Perhaps the best person to ask would be William Tell's son.)
In the novelization, the end of chapter seven features the note that the initial shots were "near misses". With chapter eight we get a more detailed assessment, though the first direct hit to the shield generators occurs while the Nubian is literally skimming the hull of the battleship (which would be just awful in the context of vessel defense). Though the following contains a handful of interesting details, much of it is useless given what we see:
Obi-wan Kenobi had just reentered the transport's cockpit when explosions began to buffet the ship. He could see a huge Trade Federation battleship looming ahead through the viewport, cannons firing. The Queen's transport was rocked so violently by the blasts that it was thrown from its trajectory. Ric Olie's gloved hands were locked onto the steering grips, fighting to bring the slender craft back into line.
"We should abort, sir!" the pilot shouted at Qui-Gon, who was braced at his side, eyes fixed on the battleship. "Our deflector shields can't withstand much more of this! "
A series of explosions jarred the Nubian, and the lights on the control panel flickered weakly. An alarm sounded, shrill and angry. The transport shuddered, its power drive stalling momentarily in a high-pitched whine.
"The Trade Federation uses pulser tracking for its weapons. Spin the ship. It will make it difficult for them to get a reading on us."
The pilot nodded, flipped a series of levers, and put the Nubian into a slow spin. Ahead, the battleship filled the viewport, then lost focus. The Queen's transport accelerated, racing toward the enemy craft, whipping past towers and gunports, bays and stabilizers, speeding down an alleyway of jagged metal protrusions and cannon fire. A laser bolt hammered into them, causing sparks and smoke to explode from one panel, sending the ship reeling. For a brief moment they were tumbling out of control. Then Ric Olie pulled back hard on the controls, and the hull of the battleship receded.
"Something's wrong," the pilot announced quietly, fighting the steering, feeling the ship shudder beneath. "Shields are down!" They continued to spin, to hug the cavernous shell of the Trade Federation battleship, so close that the larger guns were rendered useless and only the smaller could chance firing at them. But without shields even a glancing hit could be disastrous.
But now there was a new threat. Unable to bring the weapons of their warship to bear in an effective manner, the Trade Federation command dispatched a squad of starfighters. Small, sleek, robot attack ships, they consisted of twin compartments attached to a rounded, swept-back head. As they roared out of the battleship bays, their compartments opened into long slits that exposed their laser guns. Down the length of the mother ship they tore, seeking out the Queen's transport. Fast and maneuverable, they had no trouble working close to the battleship's hull. In seconds, they were on top of the transport, weapons firing. Ric Olie struggled to find cover and gain speed. Two of the R2 units were blown away, one on a direct hit, the second when its hold on the transport hull was shattered.
On the viewscreen, the blue R2 unit could be seen working furiously to connect a series of wires exposed by a damaged hull plate. Laser fire lanced all around it, but it continued its effort without stopping. The fourth droid, working close by, disappeared in a cloud of shattered metal and brilliant fire.
Now only the blue unit remained, still busy amid the onslaught of Trade Federation starfighters. Something changed on the cockpit display, and Ric Olie gave a shout of approval. "The shields are up! That little droid did it!" He jammed the thrusters all the way forward, and the transport rocketed away from both the battleship and the starfighters, leaving the Trade Federation blockade and the planet of Naboo behind.
The script is closer to the film version, though the weapons fire that manages to hit droids again occurs while the ship is skimming the surface, as opposed to the film where the ship is further away. Still, however, there is no evidence of intent:
INTERIOR: NABOO SPACECRAFT - COCKPIT
The PILOT, RIC OLIE, navigates toward the massive battleship, QUI-GON
and CAPTAIN PANAKA watch.
RIC OLIE: ....our communications are still jammed.
EXTERIOR: SPACE BATTLE (FX)
The Naboo spacecraft, surrounded by EXPLOSIONS, heads even closer
to the massive Federation battleships.
INTERIOR: NABOO SPACECRAFT - COCKPIT
RIC OLIE: There's the blockade, hang on.
ALARM SOUNDS fill the cockpit as OBI-WAN enters.
RIC OLIE: (Cont'd) The shield generator's been hit. Our deflector
shields can't with stand this. Power down... Hopefully the repair
droids can fix it.
RIC OLIE: We won't make it. The shields are gone.
EXTERIOR: NABOO SPACECRAFT - FEDERATION BATTLESHIP - SPACE (FX)
The DROIDS pop onto the exterior of the Naboo spacecraft; The ship
races across the surface of the massive Federation battleship, as its
guns blast TWO ASTRO DROIDS.
OBI-WAN: We're losing droids fast.
CAPT. PANAKA: If they can't get those shield generators fixed, we will
be sitting ducks.
RIC OLIE: The shields are gone.
EXTERIOR: NABOO SPACECRAFT - ENGINES - SPACE (FX)
The Federation battleship blows away ONE MORE ASTRO DROID. The BLUE
DROID connects some wires, causing sparks to fly.
RIC OLIE: Powers back! That little droid did it. He bypassed the main
power drive. Deflector shield up, at maximum.
The lone BLUE DROID finishes his repairs and goes back into the ship.
The Naboo spacecraft races away from the Federation battleship.
In short, then, the Trade Federation battleship opened fire at about 90 kilometers with poor accuracy, though since the accuracy didn't improve even as the Nubian approached and flew right over the hull there's little evidence that range was the deciding factor in the poor accuracy.
Slave I demonstrated an extraordinary rate-of-fire in Attack of the Clones, around 15 shots per second (give or take a third of that). It takes Jango Fett 22 seconds of sustained fire, while closing on the target, to score a total of five hits in a moment of raking fire. The shooting was so bad, one can quite easily see why Boba's "you got him!" seems more like a statement of surprise than a mere statement of fact.
What makes this example all the more embarrassing is that the shots which hit were sporadic . . . several shots during the same moments missed. Worse yet, those shots (the hits and the misses) occurred at point-blank range, just a moment after the vehicles were this far apart:
Though I've not yet worked out the scaling of Slave I, it is certainly not an enormous ship, and neither is the Jedi fighter . . . eyeballing it, I'd say the two vehicles are no more than 50 meters apart. To be fair, that was a maneuverable little Jedi fighter that actually was maneuvering (unlike the TIE from the Falcon example, which could've been maneuvering instead of floating along like a brick), but at the rate of fire Jango was employing this is an extraordinarily sad example.
In the novelization, there was a single hit that occurred only because Fett was able to guess where Obi-Wan would pop out from behind a rock. The script also features a single hit.
Even if we assume that Jedi reflexes and sensing ability allowed Obi-Wan to jink and dodge out of the way of many of the shots (akin to the manner in which an inbound blaster bolt can be met by a lightsaber swing), there are limits to how far that reasoning can take us. The Jedi fighter was quite maneuverable, but not magically so . . . Jango's larger ship maintained pursuit and even closed on the fighter. A vessel of advanced technology simply should not have to close to within a few dozen meters to score a hit against a jinking fighter no matter who is at the controls. The net effect is more reminiscient of WW1 fighter combat, with all that entails for weapons range and targeting ability.
In short, this example strongly supports the Falcon example from ANH.
It is worth noting, however, that Boba Fett's missile was far more effective inasmuch as range and targeting.
The fleet combat in Revenge of the Sith strongly supports the range estimates we've derived so far, with massed ships well within visual range and fighter combat handled similarly.
But after reviewing Revenge of the Sith recently, I was troubled by something I hadn't observed before. To be sure, I'd noticed the scenes of Republic and Separatist gunports, with the Separatist ship firing turbolaser bolts from shell-ejecting guns.
For the longest time, I viewed those weapons as just a selection of emplacements among many spread more or less evenly about the ship. In other words, I was assuming these were basically just really-well-protected, limited-arc turrets. Sure, no mechanism for turning the weapon or elevating the barrel was visible . . . and indeed the rigid loading frame coming down from the ceiling with fresh shells argued against such a thing. But still.
However, now I realize my conceptual generosity was just that.
In the recent viewing, for the first time I really started observing the row of gunports along the side of the Invisible Hand corresponding to the weapons we see fired. Below you can see a red bolt emerging from one:
The thing is, no others are readily visible. Take a look at the port side of the ship in the same area . . .
. . . no gunports, no obvious doors, and indeed the ship has a drag fin emerging from that area (the awfully low-tech fins are a-whole-nother issue). Indeed, there can be no gunports there at all, given the row of black dot features . . . possibly some sort of small portholes . . . visible.
Another drag fin can be determined to be in a similar spot is on the starboard side, but since we never see the starboard side again there's no way to tell its exact location . . . logically it must be just over the gunports on the starboard side.
And so at last it hit me that this ship is built with starboard broadsides in mind. Those aren't limited-arc turrets . . . they're just cannons hanging out the side of a space-going first-rate ship of the line.
This truly changes the ballgame, inasmuch as my conception is concerned.
Unfortunately, we have only the movie to go on for this, since the script is almost wholly lacking in detail about the battle scene and the novelization seems to take a trip to an entirely different movie altogether during the spot where the scene should be.
Some of my first primitive explorations into Star Wars tech were wayyyyyy, way back in the day, reading Shane Johnson's Star Wars Technical Journal, published in 1995. As I recall, the combat techniques in that book heavily emphasized the same sort of combat style you'd expect of wooden sailing vessels . . . to put it bluntly, Lord Nelson would've kicked butt in that rendition of the Star Wars universe. Indeed, the idea of 3-D combat was basically said to make most military folks nauseated, so they generally lined up on a 2-D plane and had at it, old-school, in battle lines and columns. (There's actually a little canon support for that, since the novelization of RotJ makes mention of the fact that vertical movements are hard to track for Imperial vessels.)
Since then, I'd come to think of Imperial gun emplacements similarly to Trek weapon emplacements . . . full coverage over every arc, though with Star Destroyers it seemed that there was a preference for large turrets on the dorsal side, presumably capable of firing many shots dead ahead.
But if the Hand had its largest guns in a direct broadside configuration, then perhaps those turrets on the Star Destroyer, like the turrents spread all over the Hand, are not the largest weapons either. After all, the Republic ship's fattest bolts seem to come from their gunports, as well, and not the turrets.
But of course, given the topic we're on, the main idea to ponder behind such combat is the limited range involved.
To be sure, the Hand's starboard broadside guns could be for purely unguided planetary bombardment . . . where one aims for, say, the general area of a hemisphere and pulls the trigger. But I rather doubt that the Republic cruiser is built with the same concept in mind.
We're thus left with the notion that, apparently, the Invisible Hand was a warship designed around the use of (and attempts to maneuver into or out of) broadsides.
That's really quite a thing to ponder. That, after all, is most decidedly not a situation indicative of long-range combat. Certainly there was no real evidence of long-range combat in the films . . . ships always seemed to be within a few kilometers at most, firing on one another. And while its true that Star Wars vessels are by no means limited to broadside engagements thanks to the many guns and turrets elsewhere, the fact that they are designed with that sort of combat in mind is damning to any claims that long-, beyond-visual-range combat could be the norm.
While neither I nor anyone else I'm aware of has done a play-by-play of every unique engagement of the Battle of Coruscant (or even many of them), a brief survey of the view out of the Invisible Hand's window during the lightsaber fight against Dooku reveals that the fighter chases visible out the window seemed to involve fighters firing on one another at no more than several fighter-lengths . . . again supporting the idea of fighter combat at a few kilometers at most.
In Chapter 2, we hear the following:
The vast semisphere of the view wall bloomed with battle. Sophisticated
sensor algorithms compressed the combat that sprawled throughout the
galactic capital's orbit to a view the naked eye could enjoy: cruisers
hundreds of kilometers apart, exchanging fire at near lightspeed, appeared
to be practically hull-to-hull, joined by pulsing cables of flame.
While the notion of view walls doesn't hold up very well compared to the film (since of course, even in exterior views away from any of these window-esque view walls the combat was often hull-to-hull), there is at least the statement of range regarding some ships that were hundreds of kilometers apart and exchanging fire. Given the other examples and the view from the film, this was certainly long-range combat in the battle.
At Christophsis, the relief fleet . . . four Acclamator transports and three Venator cruisers . . . under Admiral Wullf Yularen arrives to a point almost nose-to-nose with a significant Separatist blockade fleet with at least three Trade Federation battleships and multiple Munificents.
They do not come under attack, and both sides appear to behave as if the other is out of range. After arrival, for instance, a clone tells Yularen that they are approaching the planet, and Yularen orders the fleet deployed with the cruisers protecting the transports. At that point, if range were no issue, the battleships could already have been tearing up the transports.
Gunnery aboard Confederate ships appears to be handled by your
retarded battle droids. Weapons range on these ships is as limited.
Right after the moment below, for instance, the clones report they they
are out of range of the Munificents:
The Munificents had actually already stopped firing by this point, despite the intense Separatist desire to destroy the pod:
Missed shots from the cruisers also fly toward the moon (Rugosa), apparently with no effect upon it, and seemingly not hitting it at all. In one scene shortly before the escape pod exits weapons range of the Separatist Munificent Class ships, we do get a view of Yoda's escape pod from the rear with missed shots flying all around it. Some of these explode into flak bursts. That is all.
A Separatist warship and a small Republic force square off,
holding position outside one another's weapons range:
Then, shortly before the Separatist warship is reported as beginning to close with the Republic ships, we see this:
That skinny shadow against the red dwarf is the Separatist warship Malevolence, estimate by some to be about eight kilometers in length, meaning we are not terribly far from it in the above shots. Using a quick version of the calculation method two and assuming the CGI artists aimed for camera behavior and appearance similar to the films, then the Malevolence distance would be 192 kilometers.
When the Separatist warship prepares to fire its funky ion cannon superweapon thingy, the Jedi Plo Koon aboard one of the Republic Venators desperately orders the ship to fire. The clone officer replies that they are "not in range yet".
So even against another large warship, their range is something less than 250 kilometers.
Even from point-blank range, the majority of shots from the Malevolence miss when engaged with a lone Republic transport. Even when engaged with Republic cruisers at the start of the episode that were even closer, a huge percentage of shots miss. Or, as one doomed droid states, "I still can't seem to hit anything".
Much as the droids couldn't seem to hit anything, clones are
better. As the Malevolence lumbers away with the
Republic ships maybe
a handful of kilometers behind, several heavy turbolaser shots miss the Malevolence completely.
Later, the Venators target the bridge with maximum firepower, and I don't remember seeing more than one shot hit the whole bridge tower (and that with little more effect than RotS firepower in the Invisible Hand broadside exchange). The rest of the shots missed the bridge tower completely.
That's rather alarming, since it would imply that a ship the size of the bridge tower would also be missed completely, even if it were relatively stationary compared to the Venators. Therefore, a highly maneuverable warship would seemingly be able to destroy Venators from close range with impunity.
The Munificents approach toward the ringed planet with the three cruisers apparently visible as bright pinpricks in the distance, implying a range of only around 5,000 kilometers at that point:
with the Munificents about to start their approach through the rocks of
the rings, the Jedi cruisers are visible out of the lead ship's window,
at a range in the low hundreds of kilometers at best. Still there is no
firing until much later.
However, when the Munies are emerging from the rings, we see an exterior view toward the Republic ships. They now appear to be distant dagger-shapes, implying a distance of 100-200 kilometers, just as in the TESB scene.
Later as fire is being exchanged we see one of the longest-range space battles of Star Wars . . the scene is of Anakin flying away from the Jedi cruisers, and the camera pans around and circles behind him as he flies toward the Separatist ships. The separation between the two fleets could be 200 kilometers or somewhat above in that scene.
However, later, Munificents drop in to within a handful of kilometers of a stationary Jedi fighter with hyperspace ring attached, and open fire. They are unable to hit the fighter in their initial two dozen shots, despite the element of surprise. Later, when the hyperspace ring is dropped away, though, the first two shots miss but the second two shots score at least one if not two hits on the ring, exploding its upper section. A second hit then occurs, obliterating the remaining central fighter connection.
A Venator opens fire on a fleeing Munificent. Skywalker had ordered the hyperdrive targeted, and after a dozen shots the Munificent has an explosion on her rear in the area of her sublight engines, exploding one of them, though approximately half of the shots missed the ship entirely.
Two separate images could be used for range estimation. The first is of the Munificent from the Venator's perspective against a planet backdrop. The second is of the Venator pursuing and firing. Eyeballing it compared to similar scenes, the range is around 50 kilometers in the latter scene. We'll call it 100 for safety, but that is also going to be the estimated effective range, given that half the shots missed the ship entirely with no obvious flak burst effect.
Combat between fighters and similar vessels is definitely a short-range affair. The examples noted above, such as the Falcon example, Slave I, and what we could see from RotS suggest ranges of, to be on the safe side, no more than a kilometer, if not merely hundreds of meters. Undoubtedly small vessels like fighters can fire for longer ranges against larger targets, but how far exactly is not known. Estimates from ANH point to about a hundred kilometers as a theoretical effective range against Star Destroyers.
Similarly, Imperial warships are apparently incapable of firing on small vessels at greater than about a hundred kilometers, per the examples we have. The longest-range example would be the weak and wild shots from the Trade Federation battleship in TPM, which opens fire at about 90 kilometers.
Theoretically, a Star Destroyer ought to be able to fire on another from 5500 kilometers or so, at the edge of visual range, assuming the same sort of effective range limitations such vessels have against a ship the size of the Falcon. However, that calculation is ten times larger than even the highest known examples observed in any ship-to-ship engagement (the record-holder being "Downfall of a Droid"[TCW1] at up to 200km), and runs contrary to evidence from the novelizations pointing toward long-range combat occurring at hundreds of kilometers.
We may therefore cautiously grant a rough ship-to-ship maximum range on the order of 1000 kilometers, with effective ranges being more on the order of 100 to 200 kilometers. Of course, given the broadside issue, battles at ranges of less than 20 kilometers . . . the usual sort of combat and general firing we've seen from starships . . . is probably more the norm.
One curiosity is why missiles are not more heavily favored in Star Wars. As seen in some of the films, for instance, fighter-scale missiles are capable of far superior targeting, range, and yields, yet missile weaponry seems to be infrequently used, if at all. While we could possibly explain this with an assumption of limited munitions -- i.e. the Rebellion might've had few missiles available, and the Clone Wars might've caused shortage -- it remains an odd concept. The situation is akin to arming WW2 P-51s with Sidewinder missiles and then having them favor air-to-air with bullets . . . it just makes little sense.
Special thanks to Lord Edam for his old pages wherein I was reminded of the TESB example.
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