I had a 7th grade teacher who, whenever he would explain something to a student one-on-one and they would say, “Oh,” would respond, “I see said the blind man.” I suppose some students might have found this annoying but I always thought it was hilarious and I loved him for it. He was also one of my first Black teachers (I had two that year) and one of my first male teachers.
But that’s not what this is about. I just happened to think of it when I read this. That line from Star Wars, that the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs,” has always bothered me. I mean seriously bothered me. A parsec is a measure of distance, not time. Things like this, to me, are worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.
Well, in fact, it does make sense. And I’m feeling quite annoyed at myself for being such a scientifically illiterate numbskull. This is rather obvious.
The main criticism of the line is that a parsec is a distance. Han saying that he made the run in 12 parsecs is like a runner saying she ran a marathon in 26.2 miles. This would be a legitimate criticism if the Kessel Run was a set distance like a marathon. In most cases, there are several different paths from point A to point B. For example, I live next to a lake, and there is a house across this lake. The direct route from my house to this house is to swim across the lake, but swimming is not an option for me because I can’t swim. To get to this house, I have to walk or drive. The same applies to the closest Target, which is a little over a mile away. To walk directly there, I would have to swim across a lake (a different one; I live in Minnesota) and walk across a freeway. Again, driving five miles is the best way for me to go to Target. On Earth, certain obstacles prevent a straight course; instead, a path around these impediments is the best way to travel.
In space, the obstacles are numerous. Planets, asteroids, comets, meteors, and black holes are just a few of the features a pilot has to navigate around in order to arrive at a destination safely. When Han has to get away from Tatooine, he tells Luke, “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy. Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?” According to the material in the expanded ‘Star Wars’ universe, the Maw is a cluster of black holes on one of the possible routes to Kessel. The safest course is approximately 18 parsecs. For Han to have completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, he would have had to travel near this cluster of black holes, which is dangerous. A black hole has a strong gravitational pull, and getting too close to one could result in the ship either being destroyed or pulled into the black hole to face an unknown fate. Traveling a direct route in space can be risky, and it takes a skilled navigator to plot a course that will get a ship to its destination in one piece.
The author goes on to say that Han’s boast “doesn’t sell him as a great pilot.” I don’t care. This line that has bugged me for over three decades now makes sense to me. Rays of glorious light shone down from Heaven and angels sang. You can’t take that away from me. Not even by going back to the time vs. distance issue:
The problem with the Kessel Run claim is the fact that Han says the line as an answer to a question about speed. Obi-Wan says he is looking for passage on a fast ship. Han asks, “Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?” Obi-Wan replies, “Should I have?” Then Han says the famous line, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” A parsec is a unit of distance, and distance is distance. You drive 60 miles; it could take you three hours if you go 20mph or one hour if you go 60mph, but you still travel 60 miles. Speed is determined by the relationship between time and distance. Again, without knowing how much time it took Han to complete the Kessel Run, the comment is an attribute to his navigating skills and not the performance of the ship. If Han has said, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in 11.7 parsecs in 3 days,” then the speed the Millennium Falcon could be determined, giving Obi-Wan an actual answer to his inquiry.
Okay, so she has a point. Sort of. But note the specific wording of the statement. “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” “The ship.” As if it was the only one that ever did it. A historic stunt that everyone is expected to have heard of, including other details, like time, that are not given in Han’s brief statement. Anyway, that’s how I make sense of it and I’m happy now. Star Wars is officially perfect.