In this article:
- The Star Wars galaxy is 120,000 lightyears in diameter, and divided into core and rim regions.
- Hyerspace lanes are the highways connecting that galaxy, but not even those using them really know how the interdimensional space works.
- As fictional as it sounds, hyperspace travel might become a reality soon thanks to scientists who’ve been dreaming it up since the first Sta Wars movie.
Since the first Star Wars movie was released on May 25, 1977, fans have been enraptured by the idea of swinging lightsabers, defeating interstellar evil empires, and flying ships across a galaxy far, far away.
Over the decades following the start of the Star Wars movie franchise, we’ve seen countless books, comics, TV series, and additional movies be made. With each one, the galaxy grows larger and larger, giving glimpses to other worlds lightyears away from the planets where the first trilogy happened.
Back on earth, Star Wars inspired a generation of fans to make its technology a reality. Just take a look at DEKA Research’s LUKE™, a prosthetic arm. When fans aren’t making tech, they’re naming their kids after Princess Leia and the Millennium Falcon (true story, I actually know the kids). But some of us are neither scientists nor parents so we settle for the next best thing: explaining to internet strangers how space works in Star Wars.
Trust me, you’re going to want to know this because in the coming decades, either you or your children will be going on adventures in a galaxy far, far away.
Just How Big Is Galactic Space?
Before we jump in, let’s give a quick shoutout to u/_DarthSyphilis_ who painstakingly made the map you see above last year. Why a fanmade map? Because the official map Traveler’s Guide to Batuu made by Disney doesn’t even come close to being this detailed. We would need an in-depth, hyperdetailed map to really get a sense of the sheer size of the Star Wars galaxy.
Numbers-wise, the galaxy is 120,000 lightyears in diameter, a number that doesn’t really mean anything to your average person. So consider this: our galaxy is only around 105,000 lightyears in diameter. Never mind our own solar system which is only about a lightyear in diameter. To help make sense of galactic space, characters in Star Wars classify regions of the galaxy based on how far they are from the core.
All of the Star Wars Regions, Explained
The Deep Core is the heart of the Star Wars galaxy and the supermassive black hole at its center keeps all of the planets in place, much like how our sun keeps the Earth running laps around it. However, it isn’t where the political power and wealth of the galaxy are concentrated. That honor goes to the Core Worlds.
The Core Worlds of Star Wars together form the capital of the galaxy, in a way. Similar to how the central business districts and surrounding areas of major cities are the richest in their country, the Core Worlds are the “first world” of the galaxy. Arguably the most important of all the Core Worlds planets is Coruscant, the human homeworld and capital of the Republic.
Have you ever wondered why we ended up with names for places like the Middle East, well, the Middle East/Near East? Or Why China and Japan are called Far Eastern? That’s because the ones deciding whether a region was “near” or “far” were medieval European scholars whose perspective of the world was eurocentric.
It’s the same phenomenon in the Star Wars galaxy. All of the standard navigation charts set Coruscant as coordinates “0-0-0,” the point of reference for everywhere else. But the Core Worlds planet we should really remember is Corellia where our favorite smuggler, Han Solo, is from.
Just outside of the Core Worlds is the Inner Rim, a collection of star systems that became the first colonies of the Republic. Despite its proximity to the Core Worlds, not all Inner Rim planets are highly urbanized paradises. Jakku, which is where we first meet Rey in The Force Awakens, is located in the Inner Rim.
In The Force Awakens, Rey, Finn, Han Solo, and Chewie make a visit to Takodana, a planet in the Mid Rim, to see Maz Kanata. If that doesn’t ring a bell for you, Naboo is in the Mid Rim too. Naboo is also the homeworld of both Padme Amidala and Emperor Palpatine.
Hutt Space, an autonomous region controlled by none other than Jabba the Hutt and his ilk, includes a few Mid Rim planets.
But perhaps the most interesting of the galaxy’s regions is the Outer Rim. The Outer Rim is a backwater region of the galaxy. Underdeveloped, sparsely populated, and loosely governed, the Outer Rim is home to all sorts of warring criminal factions who have turned the region into their playground away from Republic control.
This is where everybody’s favorite problematic space family, the Skywalkers, comes from. For those of you who’ve seen The Mandalorian, this is where all of Boba Fett’s adventures in badassery happen.
If the Outer Rim is the backwater of the galaxy, the Unknown Regions is the Bermuda Triangle. In the real world, the Bermuda Triangle is known for being the source of all kinds of weird happenings like the famous disappearance of the Mary Celeste. In Star Wars?
The Unknown Regions messed with navigation computers, forcing people to rely on Force-sensitive navigators, ala Dune. If the sequel trilogy had you confused as to how the First Order stayed hidden from the Resistance and the Republic, the Unknown Regions is your answer.
The place is practically booby-trapped because of how many solar storms, black holes, and gravity wells litter it. That said, the first Jedi temple was established on a planet in the Unknown Regions, Ahch-To.
That’s a basic overview of the Star Wars galaxy that doesn’t even go into the star systems inside it.
Obviously, galactic space is massive. It took humanity roughly a decade to get NASA’s New Horizons to Pluto. If Star Wars ships were going at that rate, Padme couldn’t hope to make it to a meeting in Coruscant alive.
That is, not without hyperspace lanes.
It’s Impossible to Get Around Without Hyperspace Lanes, the Highways of Star Wars
You’ve likely seen hyperspace before even if you only watched Star Wars in passing. Hyperspace is that light beam-filled zoomy place that ships in Star Wars enter after someone in the spaceship says they’re going to activate the hyperdrive.
Hyperspace is different from “real space,” the actual universe that people live in. It’s basically an alternate dimension existing alongside real space that can only be accessed if you go faster than the speed of light.
Because hyperspace functions differently than real space, ships moving through it are able to travel at faster speeds because… Wait, you know what? Just think of it this way: hyperspace is a shortcut through space and time.
It’s hard to explain it in clearer terms because even in the Star Wars universe, hyperspace is a mystery that people have learned to just live with and make use of. It’s such a regular part of life that it’s easy for them to forget how weird the idea of driving through an alternate dimension is.
As one character puts it on page 57 of Battlefront: Twilight Company: “We live on a ship powered by energies that sunder cause and effect, beginning and end… hyperspace is a mystery more profound than gods and demons.”
I don’t know about you but that’s giving off cosmic horror vibes.
That’s the thing, though: hyperspace isn’t magic. Traveling through it is still dangerous considering that objects in real space affect hyperspace, meaning that gravity (and crashing into a planet) is very much still real in a universe where psychic monks exist. That’s why ships in Star Wars rely on hyperspace lanes, pre-mapped interstellar freeways that have been deemed safe.
If it weren’t for the limits imposed by hyperspace travel, places like the Outer Rim and Unknown Regions would be different. Faster transportation could have meant that the Republic would have more control over the Outer Rim, rendering the entire plot of The Mandalorian obsolete.
Maybe if the Unknown Regions weren’t unknown, the First Order would have nowhere to hide and instead of whatever happened in the sequels, we would have had a political drama. But that’s just worldbuilding-related musings.
Star Wars’ Interstellar Travel May Become Reality, It’s Just a Question of When
There’s a quote from Star Wars Rebels that I heard back in college and it’s stuck with me, in the way that old memories resurface when you’re given a reminder.
Hera Syndulla said, “When I was young, I was told amazing stories of creatures that lived in the stars… traveled between the worlds. Old pilots said it was the purrgil who inspired us to jump from system to system. But I don’t believe it.”
Turns out, she had reason to doubt. In our world, it’s sci-fi that’s been fueling interest in developing hyperspace technology.
Life imitates art, I guess.
Physicists have been thinking about whether hyperspace, or other alternate dimensions that let us find shortcuts through the universe, could exist.
Patrick Johnson, PhD, tells us that hyperspace isn’t as fictional as it might seem to us at first. While even ardent nerds are quick to dismiss hyperspace because of the belief that it breaks the laws of relativity, Johnson says we don’t even have to do that.
In his book, The Physics of StarWars: The Science Behind a Galaxy Far, Far Away, the physics professor explains that hyperspace could exist in the form of a wormhole.
To picture how that works, imagine you have a piece of paper, fold it in half, and pierce a hole through it with a pen. Now, imagine there’s an ant moving from Point A to Point B using that hole. Okay? Now unfold it. That’s how it works.
“The ant itself never traveled faster,” Johnson writes. “It just made it from one location to the other faster.”
NASA, however, says that they aren’t working on FTL (Faster Than Light) travel just yet. But what they’re doing right now is no less sci-fi than FTL. NASA has been developing solar sails that use the pressure of sunlight for propulsion. Even if we or our descendants don’t get to roleplay Star Wars in outer space, we could probably at least count on sailing through space as Jim did on Treasure Planet.
In conclusion, the future is either Star Wars or space shanties.