Star Wars: what is hyperspace and how does it work?

Hyperspace is one of Star Wars’ most iconic concepts, allowing starships to travel across the galaxy in moments. But in fact, how does it work exactly?

Hyperspace © Lucasfilm

The speed of light is considered a limit for any matter, energy, or signal that carries information through space. Star Wars, however, introduced the idea of ​​hyperspace : a form of travel that allows starships to travel across the galaxy in moments. Although the idea is easy to grasp, the way it works is actually a bit more complicated.

Hyperspace, what is it?

As indicated by the Star Wars Wiki, hyperspace is an “alternate dimension” which can only be reached by traveling at the speed of light at a minimum. This dimension allows ships to take hyperspace routes over long distances. It is therefore not a speed strictly speaking, but rather, a different dimension of space-time.

Thus, hyperspace is considered in the lore from Star Wars like a dimension superimposed on the real universe. This means that when a ship travels from one end of the universe to the other, it is not only going faster than light: it changes dimensions, the hyperdrive of the engine helping to preserve the mass and the structure of the ship.

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Obi-Wan Kenobi in front of a T-14 Hyperdrive generator.
Obi-Wan Kenobi in front of a T-14 Hyperdrive generator © Lucasfilm

On this subject, if the hyperdrive is absolutely mandatory to be able to jump into hyperspace, only the Empire knows how to deactivate this precious object from a distance. The Empire has “interdictor ships” which, when they deactivate a ship’s hyperdrive, prevent it from jumping or instantly eject it from hyperspace, confronting the passengers with almost certain death.

A natural origin, but still little known

In Star Wars, hyperspace travel first occurred in nature. star wars rebels tells us that giant space whales, known as Purrgilscould fly across the galaxy and even had the ability to travel through hyperspace.

A race first mentioned in the novel Tarkin, by James Luceno. And although the origin of artificial hyperspace is not yet known in the lore of the saga, we know it’s been around since the beginning of the Republic, at a minimum.

Purrgils Fleet © Lucasfilm

An extremely signposted means of transport

One of the problems with this dimensional journey is that physical properties celestial objects, although located in another dimension, are always present (the lore call them “mass shadows”). This is why there is well-marked roads that passengers take in order to avoid any collision.

This is what makes traveling to unknown regions of the galaxy so dangerous: pilots must “guess” their hyperspace jumps and hope they won’t collide with an unknown object.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New HopeHan Solo also explains that exiting hyperspace at any time can send the ship flying into a star, into a planet’s gravity well, or even into a space anomaly.

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Hyperspace, a dimension still little exploited in the Star Wars universe

One of the franchise’s most iconic visuals is when a ship enters hyperspace. This effect is called pseudomotion (“pseudo-movement”) in the novel Thrawnreleased in 2017: when they enter (or jump) into hyperspace, the ships emit a unique kind of energy, called radiation from Cronau. It is notably detectable by the scanners of the Imperial Navy’s Imperial-class Star Destroyers.

However, there are still many unknowns about this mysterious dimension. Much like the Force, hyperspace is something Star Wars characters are used to seeing or using, but don’t fully understand.

Sources: Tarkin (novel), Star Wars: The Character Encyclopedia, Star Wars: Solo: The Visual Guide

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