At its core, Star Wars™ is - as the name suggests - a tale of interstellar conflict. While of course it’s the characters who get caught up in that conflict that we care about, those characters wouldn’t get far without vehicles to travel and fight in, or against. It would be Star Wars without the ‘Star’.
Vehicles have always been one of the most iconic aspects of Star Wars, helped by the toys that have filled children’s bedrooms for decades. The scream of the TIE fighter, the X-wing’s iconic S-foils, the glow of the Millennium Falcon’s engines, the remorseless tread of the hulking AT-AT, and the raw power of the podracers – these are crucial parts of what makes Star Wars so captivating.
Iconic though they may be, the galaxy’s vehicles wouldn’t be much use without a huge amount of weird and wonderful technology. So what are repulsors, turbolasers, deflector shields and proton torpedoes?
Well, repulsors are what keeps a craft in the air when gravity wants it to come down. They work by emitting repulsor waves that cancel out the effect of a planet’s gravity. Pretty cool huh? Turbolasers, on the other hand, are the big, scary weapons that make space battles so exciting. They work by converting an energy-rich gas into a glowing particle beam that can melt through almost anything. Deflector shields are just as important, though, as no ship would last long without them. They are an invisible force field “bubble” around a craft that deflects or absorbs the impact of laser blasts, projectiles or space debris. Last but certainly not least we have proton torpedoes. These mighty weapons are responsible for destroying two Death Stars! The torpedo’s warhead explodes to release a cloud of high-energy protons, giving anyone in the way a really bad day.
It’s all well and good knowing how the vehicles and their weapons work, but no one would care about them if they were just boring boxes or cylinders. One of the things that makes the vehicles of Star Wars so interesting is the thought that has gone into their appearance. Just as the Rebels symbolise everything that the Empire hates –freedom, tolerance, hope – so their ships look more heroic. The sleek, powerful, roguishly battered X-wing could not be more different to the ugly, grey uniformity of the Empire’s TIE fighters.
So, let’s compare X-wings and TIE fighters in more detail.
The Rebels believe in making do, using what little resources they have to make the most impact, and encouraging their pilots to take risks to complete a mission. The Empire has no need of such tactics. Imperial pilots are taught to follow orders to the letter, and to destroy their targets even at the cost of their own lives. Their ships reflect these different philosophies.
X-wings are fast, powerful, heavily armed war machines, with strong shields. The rebels don’t have many of them, so they need each ship to make the biggest possible impact. To the Empire, a single TIE fighter (and its pilot) is nothing but a line in a database. It can afford to lose whole squadrons of TIEs for each X-wing destroyed, and isn’t going to run out of ships or pilots anytime soon. As a result, each TIE is stripped back to the bare minimum – no shields, no torpedoes or heavy weapons, no hyperdrive. This makes the TIE super-light, cheap to build, and very manoeuvrable, but even a single laser blast can turn it into a rapidly expanding cloud of plasma.
Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for the humble TIE fighter. It may not win any beauty contests, but there is something to be said for this underrated Imperial combat craft. It’s fast. It’s agile. It makes a really, really cool noise. Plus TIE pilots get to wear very sinister space suits. Maybe its just that they always get shot down in such vast numbers, and I like an underdog.
The Millennium Falcon, though,is one vehicle even people who have never seen Star Wars can’t escape. It’s THE vehicle. Millions of children have owned their own Millennium Falcon, and it’s not hard to see why. Its unique shape is instantly recognisable, its battered but well-loved appearance makes it endearing, and, after all, it’s the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. If you look beneath its skin, the Millennium Falcon has a few surprises in store. Its illegally customized Isu-Sim SSP05 hyperdrive means it can outrun the fastest Imperial pursuers, its heavy quad laser turrets are more suited to a much larger warship and its secret compartments can hide almost anything, especially spice stolen from the infamous Imperial mines on Kessel.
They could make a whole movie just about the Millennium Falcon, and it would still be awesome. Lucasfilm, if you’re reading this – please?
We’re nearly at the end of our journey through the world of Star Wars vehicles, but first, do you know where the amazing sounds of Star Wars vehicles came from? Ben Burrt is widely credited with founding modern sound design, and he brought the tiny plastic vehicle models to life by using some surprising real world sounds:
So that’s it. I hope you’ve learned something about the incredible vehicles of the Star Wars universe. If you want to find out even more, have a look at Ultimate Star Wars, which features every single vehicle from the Star Wars saga.
Have a think about what your favourite vehicle is and why – do you prefer the brute power of the Empire’s war machines? Maybe you think the heroic X-wing can’t be beaten, or that the Millennium Falcon’s speed puts it ahead of the pack. And the next time you watch Star Wars, spare a thought for the poor TIE fighter pilots, they really do have it rough.
May the Force be with you.
Written by David Fentiman
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