It’s more complicated than winning a starship in a game of Sabacc. Even the most badass nerf herder in Corellia would need to be thinking light-years beyond what our brains can fathom in the realm of physics. Seeker recently investigated the possibility of turning this sci-fi concept into actual science, asking physicist Dr. Casey Handmer whether taking off at speeds faster than light can travel would be impossible for future space cowboys.
“The answer is only ‘probably,’ ” Handmer replied. “Under the rules we understand, it cannot yet be ruled out. Because time travel is somewhat similar, we can’t yet rule it out either.”
There is one thing we definitely do know about how the Falcon’s supercharged blastoff appears in Star Wars versus how it would if you were actually in the cockpit and defying physics as we know it. At light speed or faster, you wouldn’t see cosmic blue light streaking past you as it does in the movie, but a blur that blazes white-hot when you face it head-on and fades out at the edges.
Would this so-called piece of junk (at least in Luke’s opinion) be massive enough to pull it off? It depends how much faster than the speed of light Han wants to go. Again, he should have taken a course in physics. Einstein’s theory of special relativity would have made him aware that the more he accelerated over time, the slower time would move for him, and his ship would only keep gaining mass. He’d crash and burn if he didn’t have the astronomical mass and energy to speed up when the Dark Side was gaining and slow down if he wanted to land in Cloud City.
Han would also have to consider the Doppler effect, which makes energy waves appear shorter as you pick up speed, which is why a passing TIE fighter would roar in his ears — and you could only imagine what his ship would sound like to the other pilot. If the Falcon was surpassing the speed of light, then that same effect would send visible light into the X-ray range.
Even more mind-blowing is that it would accelerate the radiation in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the energetic relics of the Big Bang that are scattered all over the cosmos, to the point of being visible to the human eye. It is impossible for that to happen anywhere outside science fiction.
Scientific impossibilities aside, we still can’t rule out the possibility of wormholes, which could at least exist in theory, even though an unreal amount of energy would be required to sustain them.
“There are several strong hints that physics may permit faster-than-light travel, ranging from the quantum physics of the very small and very cold to astrophysics and cosmology which study the universe at the largest scales,” said Handmer. “These hints warrant further investigation.”
Sorry Han, but breaking that speed limit isn’t happening in this universe. At least for now.