Peculiar Atmosphere Descriptions in Star Wars

"Eight plus sixty . . . we're in the atmosphere!"

Those are the words Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks as the Separatist cruiser Invisible Hand . . . or, more accurately, half a Hand . . . plunges through the atmosphere of Coruscant on her way to a destructive crash.

The statement made little sense to me at the time. By the time Obi-Wan says that, atmospheric friction has already rendered the entire hull a fiery glowing mass, and drag forces are shearing off sections of the hull. This occurs in the form of large chunks of the broken aft, as well as pieces of the forward hull at or near the bow. In short, the entire vessel is affected.

Nonetheless, I didn't pay too terribly much attention to the incident, until I was reminded of it recently when watching "Jedi Crash"[CW1]. There, a battle occurs in the high atmosphere of a blue-skied world with puffy white clouds below the conflict zone. A damaged (and getting moreso) Republic ship is losing altitude. When rescue seems to be at hand, a Jedi states that it is none too soon, since:

"We're entering the atmosphere."

By this point, we're already seeing blue sky above, rising smoke from the hull leaving a WW2-naval-battle-esque smoke trail, contrails from the engines of higher vessels, and no obvious pressure differential between the ship and air when any of the numerous hull breaches are seen. Moments later, we see that the Jedi passengers of a wide-open Republic Gunship are apparently breathing without trouble, Tano's head appendages seemingly flapping in the breeze, with all indications being that the air pressure at this altitude is near enough to one atmosphere (or its Star Wars equivalent).

Based on these two data points, with no contradictory info showing up in scripts or novelizations, it appears that understanding of "atmosphere" in the Star Wars galaxy is a bit different than what we might expect, akin to the difference of phrases such as "on the system" and such.

Just a fun little oddity.


(Also curious is the fact that the Republic ship, apparently dropping at non-ballistic-re-entry speed, gets a classic ballistic re-entry plasma effect around its base. The space shuttle gets this effect at high altitude and a speed of Mach 15+. The air temperature requirement for the shockwave would be in the thousands of degrees . . . achievable at a lower speed at lower altitude, but even at sea level we're talking multiple times the speed of sound. There's no other indication of such a velocity for the ship.

Would such an effect appear if we, say, dropped an aircraft carrier from the cruising altitude of commercial airliners? I think not. So why does the Republic cruiser have it? Why, for that matter, did Galactica?)

1 comment: