If you’ve ever found yourself locked in any sort of in-depth conversation about Han Solo, it’s likely you’ve talked about the Kessel Run. Solo initially brings up the Kessel Run in the original Star Wars film, when he humbly brags about the Millennium Falcon having “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.”
The line has since become iconic, and the feat sounds equally impressive. But if you know your science, you know the line also doesn’t make a lot sense. While Solo is obviously trying to boast about the speed of the Millennium Falcon, it does beg the question of why he would use parsecs as a measurement?
Here is the Millennium Falcon Kessel Run explained.
A Parsec is a Unit of Distance, Not Time
The term “parsec” was first used by British astronomer Herbert Hall Turner in 1913. It is a portmanteau of “parallax” and “arcsecond.” If you were to draw a line from Earth to a far away object, and then go from the object and the Sun, the angle between those lines would be one “arcsecond.” A parsec then, is defined as the distance at which one astronomical unit (roughly the distance from Earth to the Sun) subtends an angle of one arcsecond.
Still confused? Essentially, think of a parsec as a unit of length used to measure large distances in space. One parsec is equal to about 3.26 light-years in length.
If parsecs are not used to measure time, why would Han Solo use the term when talking about how quickly his ship could move? One of the prevailing thoughts is that George Lucas simply made an error, perhaps using “parsec” because it sounded like a cool, scientific word.
However, throughout the years, various explanations for the Millennium Falcon Kessel Run have been put forth.
Did Han Solo Lie?
One theory holds that Han Solo was simply lying to Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi when he told them about his Kessel Run prowess. Jabba the Hutt had put a bounty on Solo’s head. He needed money badly. It is not hard to imagine this maverick of a character embellishing his skills to get an old man and young kid to pay him a little more.
This theory, however, is not supported by Lucas or any other Expanded Universe (today, “Star Wars Legends”) sources.
How Can Solo’s Claim Make Sense?
When mentioned in the original film, the audience actually doesn’t learn much about what the Kessel Run actually is. Past stories from Star Wars Legends, however, explain that they Kessel Run was a hyperspace route used by smugglers to move spices from the mines of Kessel. The Kessel Run was normally an 18-parsec route.
Solo says he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. If this wasn’t a lie or Lucas error, we can assume Solo is implying that he was able to cut down on the distance. How could he do this?
According to Star Wars Legends, the Kessel Run took smugglers close to the Maw, a cluster of black holes. By using the Millennium Falcon’s superior navigation computer, Solo was able to fly closer to these black holes than most other pilots, shaving 6 parsecs off the distance.
While none of this appears in any current Star Wars film, it does provide the most satisfactory explanation for Solo’s claim.
The Laws of Physics
If traveling near black holes was the secret to Solo’s success, it does raise a few issues though.
We know a parsec is about 3.26 light-years. If the Kessel Run takes Solo 12 parsecs, we can deduce the total travel distance is nearly 40 light-years (3.26 x 12). So, if the Millenium Falcon was traveling at light speed, it would take 40 years to complete the run. Of course, we know ships in the Star Wars universe travel faster than that.
One thing Einstein helped us understand is that “time is relative.” Time can appear to move faster or slower to us relative to others in a different part of space-time. As an example, astronauts on the International Space Station age just a tiny bit slower than people on Earth.
Applied to the Millennium Falcon, we would expect anyone traveling through “hyperspace” would age more slowly than those on planets. If we are bound by the laws of physics, Han Solo should actually be a lot older than he is, given how much time he has spent flying throughout every corner of the galaxy.
Not surprisingly, George Lucas was quite a bit more concerned with story and plot than science when he was creating Star Wars. So the black hole Kessel Run explanation is a bit flawed.
At the end of the day, there seems to be no real consensus on how Han Solo was able to complete the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Was it a mistake? A lie? Or did Solo actually pull it off? Clearly, the debate will continue, though perhaps the new Solo movie will shed some light.