I’m just going to put this out there because I had always thought about the same thing and I hope you can appreciate my finally getting some closure.
“Travelling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy…without precise calculations you could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that would end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?”
– Han Solo, Captain, Millenium Falcon
I was folding my laundry the other day, and had the audio commentary for Episode IV on in the background (I get bored with radio, and don’t have cable at the moment). I like audio commentaries because every so often you learn something you didn’t know before.
True Star Wars geeks will know recognize the Millenium Falcon as “the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.” I never really understood this line, because a parsec is a measure of distance, not of time. It’s never really explained, but the Kessel Run sure sounds like some sort of race and as such the terms “parsec” seemed out of place. I always wrote this off to George Lucas munging his technical jargon and didn’t think much of it until I actually listened to the Episode IV commentary track where he talks about this a little bit.
It turns out that (at least in Star Wars), getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible amount of time is rarely what you really want to do. Sure, it’s really easy to just plot a straight-line course and jump to lightspeed. But if you do that, you’ll more often than not incur some sort of intergalactic trauma along the way and end up at your destination in a bajillion pieces. So the real trick is to minimize the distance you have to travel while steering around all the obstacles that sit between where you are and where you’re trying to go. Doing this in a really efficient way requires a very good navacomputer to do all those “precise calculations” that prevent you from being pulverized. Thus, Han Solo’s boast about being able to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs was more of a statement about the capabilities of his navacomputer than the size of his engines. I found this to be a very interesting
Another one while I’m at it, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea is really 70,000 miles, which is clean through the earth (7,926 miles) and ~26% of the way to the moon.