What Is a Parsec in Star Wars? (And What Science Says About It?)

what is a parsec in star wars

Star Wars is as pure of science fiction as you can get. However, they love to play around with real scientific theories, physics, measures, etc. They usually get the theory right – at least plausible on paper. However, there were some blunders throughout Star Wars history – like the infamous parsec. So, what is a parsec in Star Wars?

A parsec, or parallax second, is a distance unit equivalent to around 19.2 trillion miles, or 3.26 light-years. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Han Solo mistakenly uses the parsec unit as a measurement of time instead of distance.

It had me confused for a long time until I delved deeper into the topic to find out what a parsec actually is, not just in Star Wars, but in real life, too. I’ve done the research, so you don’t have to – keep reading to find out everything about the parsec.

Parsec In Star Wars Detailly Explained

A parsec, or a parallax second, is an astronomical unit to measure distance. It is used to describe a certain distance – specifically, the distance to a star whose apparent position shifts by one arc-second (1/3,600 of a degree) in the sky after Earth orbits halfway around the Sun. 

In simple words, the distance of one-parsec equivalents to around 19.2 trillion miles, or 3.26 light-years. That means it would take light 3.26 years to travel the distance of one–parsec. That’s a lot. To put it in perspective, it takes light around 8 minutes to travel from the Sun to Earth. A parsec is a huge distance.

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The distance of a parsec is the same in Star Wars as it is in the real world. The galaxy is also about as big as ours – around 30000 parsecs wide. However, whereas we could never even picture a ship traveling one parsec, it’s nothing for the Star Wars universe.

In fact, their ships navigate through the galaxy using a coordinate scale where a single unit is equivalent to 15 parsecs. Whereas we couldn’t even dream of traveling one parsec, it’s like driving to the store for Star Wars standards. Let’s get a bit deeper into that.

How Long Does It Take To Travel 1 Parsec In Star Wars?

What Is a Parsec in Star Wars? (And What Science Says About It?)

Before we get into the time needed for Star Wars starships to travel the distance of a parsec, I want to put into perspective what a huge distance that is for our standards.

So, the Voyager 1 has been out in space since 1977. To this day, it has traveled roughly around 0.0025 light-years from Earth. That means it would take roughly around 18000 years to travel a light-year. 

A parsec is 3.26 light-years, meaning it would take the Voyager 1 between 58000 and 60000 years to cross the distance of a parsec. That is our fastest outward-bound spacecraft ever.

If you traveled at light speed, it would take you 3.26 years to cross a parsec. However, in Star Wars, spaceships can cross a parsec in minutes. The fastest ones even measure it in seconds.

That’s because they use something called the hyperspace. I won’t get into details about how hyperspace works, but generally, it allows them to travel a whole lot faster than the speed of light. Let’s do some math using the information we have to see how long it takes to travel a parsec in Star Wars. It depends on the ship, of course, but we can find a general point.

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So, Han Solo’s Millenium Falcon has a class 0.5 hyperdrive and is said to be able to travel 25000 light-years in a day, or a bit over 1000 light-years an hour. We know that a parsec is 3.26 light-years, meaning Han Solo can cover one parsec at just under 11 seconds – that is, if he maintains top speed.

We know the Millenium Falcon is a beast, though. A regular X-Wing has a class 1 hyperdrive, meaning it covers 12500 light-years in a day. Class 2 hyperdrive ships, such as the Star Destroyers, travel half of that in a day (roughly 6 750 light-years). Then you have Class 4, Class 8, Class 16, etc., always covering half the distance.

That’s why sometimes the travels take longer. For instance, in The Courtship of Princess Leia, a trip that is 70 parsecs long lasts for more than a week. In the Attack of the Clones, the trip from Tatooine to Geonosis lasts for a few hours, despite the distance being less than a parsec.

In the end, it’s all about how fast the ship is and how fast you’re driving it. It can take anywhere between ten seconds and ten hours to cover a parsec in Star Wars.

What Does Making The Kessel Run In 12 Parsecs Mean?

The Han Solo quote from A New Hope became iconic for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps George Lucas thought nobody would notice, but it took one watch of the 1977 film for the designated Star Wars nerds to realize the mistake.

One boasting about his piloting skills, as well as the Millenium Falcon’s speed to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo states it can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. It probably sounded cool to Lucas at the time, and Solo used parsecs as a measure of time instead of distance – which we already know is wrong.

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However, George Lucas tried to correct the blunder shortly after the movie. In The Making of Star Wars, J.W. Rinzler explains how Lucas said the quote was intentionally put as such. 

You see, the Kessel Run is a path through a very hard maelstrom that’s usually a lot longer rout than 12 parsecs. However, Han Solo bragged about having driven the Millenium Falcon so fast and agile that he was able to find a shortcut through the Kessel maelstrom, shortening the route under 12 parsecs. We even saw it happening in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Did Star Wars Get Parsec Wrong?

Star Wars didn’t get the parsec wrong in terms of the distance that is one parsec. However, the blunder was made in Han Solo’s quote about making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs because Solo referred to parsecs as a measurement of time instead of distance. It was later (somewhat) corrected by George Lucas, but not entirely.

To add to it, one could interpret a quote from The Mandalorian TV series in a way where Star Wars got parsecs wrong yet again. In the series, the Client seeks Mando to collect a bounty for him, saying he heard he is “the best in the parsec.” This time, I didn’t see it as a problem of the unit but rather the meaning of the quote.

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It could mean that the client found Mando, who is the best bounty hunter within the radius equivalent to a parsec from where they were. However, that’s not really a great distance in Star Wars terms.

We’ve already established that Millenium Falcon can crush a parsec in under 11 seconds at top speed. Even if the Client has a crappier ship, traveling a parsec won’t take him more than literal minutes. So, it’s not really clear if Mando is such an awesome bounty hunter or the Client is exceptionally lazy to search for anybody else.

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