The urge to fight one decisive battle has undone countless real-world rebellions—and those in the Star Wars universe as well.
OVER THE COURSE of the Star Wars franchise, we’ve been treated to some epic battles: dogfights between X-Wings and TIE fighters at Yavin-4, AT-ATs on the frozen wastes of Hoth, jungle warfare on Endor, and Rogue One’s epic battles on the beaches of Scarif. The Last Jedi offers no shortage of skirmishes, either. Except this time, the Resistance’s consistently bad military tactics finally catch up with it.

From a military perspective, one thing has always stood out: The Empire, and now the First Order, have nearly limitless ships, equipment, and manpower, while the Rebels/Resistance have scant resources. With every engagement, this band of rebel fighters grows ever smaller, while there seems to be no lack of available Stormtroopers. At least previously, though, those engagements ended with the destruction of Death Stars and a Starkiller Base, even if unsound Rebel strategic thinking got them there. Now those bad choices are playing out more realistically—and tragically—than ever.

Spoilers ahead.

Win It All

While The Last Jedi mainly focuses on the Jedi order and its fate, perhaps the most striking feature of the film is that the Resistance has finally played its last card. The Resistance—and the Rebels before them—sought the decisive battle, that one moment that would destroy the enemy’s will to fight and bring about peace in the Galaxy. That seemed to be the case after Return of the Jedi, and yet somehow in the intervening 30 years the Republic squandered away all that they had won.

But history shows that decisive battles do little to further a rebel cause. During the American Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee spent years pursuing a decisive battle versus the United States Army. Yet, even after one-sided Confederate successes such as Fredericksburg in 1862 and Chancellorsville in 1863, the US Army of the Potomac remained in the field, inflicting losses that the Confederates could not afford. Lee’s search for decisive battle led to his force being winnowed away to nearly nothing. The truly great generals throughout history have realized that seeking a decisive battle only puts one’s force in more peril than the risk is worth.

In The Last Jedi, the Resistance lacks truly great generals. Commander Poe Dameron is a skilled fighter pilot but hardly a strategic thinker; he’s a hammer who sees a world full of nails. He gambles the Resistance bomber fleet on a shot to take out a First Order dreadnought-class star destroyer. Not only that, but he does so in violation of a direct order from General Leia Organa. The mission succeeds in knocking out the enemy ship, but at the cost of the entire Resistance bomber fleet, for which Poe is reduced in rank.

Seeking that decisive battle with the First Order only resulted in dead pilots and lost resources. It solved nothing in the long term. And as the rest of The Last Jedi makes clear, for every enemy star destroyer or frigate the Resistance accounts for, the First Order can replace it without blinking an eye.

Rather than making massive sacrifices to blow up one big ship, the real strength of the Resistance rests in its ability to survive. The presumed heroics of individuals like Poe and Finn make it hard for them to do even that.

In many ways, the Resistance shares that trait with real-world rebellions throughout history. Most are worn down through the sheer lack of resources and through attrition; a decisive battle becomes their best way to make a grand statement.

In The Last Jedi, the Resistance lacks truly great generals.

The successful counterexample, and a model the Resistance would have been better served following, is the American Revolution. George Washington’s genius lay less in his ability to take the fight to the British—although he excelled at that—and more in the way that he prioritized preservation of troops over seeking out a singular moment of triumph. His ability to exfiltrate units from near-disaster mattered just as much as his offensive strategies.

But just as General Organa finally recognizes the importance of preserving her force—too late, one could argue—she enters a coma after the First Order begins its bombardment of the last Resistance Frigate. (RIP Admiral Ackbar.) Command devolves to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, who recognizes the strategic need to protect their force, but has what proves to be a fatal flaw: She fails to communicate well.

Holdo knows that she can jettison the escape transports and they will be cloaked from the First Order, but doesn’t share the plan with Poe. She instead belittles him, and leaves him eager to take action. Left out of the loop, Poe and Finn concoct a hare-brained scheme to save the last three Resistance ships from First Order bombardment, another all-or-nothing gambit that not only fails, but gets the majority of transports destroyed in the process.

Some Like It Hoth

When what remains of the Resistance lands on Crait, a planet that houses an musty old Rebel Alliance outpost, they yet again seek a decisive engagement, this time with only a handful of fighters and some infantry left. Crait is a terrible spot for a last stand. The rebellion stuffs itself into a cave, with only one entry and egress point, and little in the way of protection.

They’re shielded from planetary bombardment, so the First Order lands a ground force. Now you’ve got massive new AT-M6 walkers facing off against the serried trenches and rusting turret guns of the Resistance.

Sound familiar? Yes, it’s looking like we’re about to get a repeat of The Empire Strikes Back‘s battle of Hoth, where resistance fighters just barely manage to escape after suffering grave losses.

Back then, Imperial armor cut through the Rebels’ linear defenses, brushed past Luke Skywalker’s head-on air attack with snow speeders, and blasted apart the shield generator. However, the plucky Rebel troopers had managed to buy enough time for the main force to escape off planet, under the protective fire of the ion cannon.

  • Fast-forward 30 years to Crait. The Resistance, clearly, has learned nothing in the interim. Their dismounted troopers charge into World War I-like trenches, gamely looking down blaster scopes at armored vehicles they can’t even hope to touch. Poe Dameron, while a wizard in the air, can’t muster two tactical brain cells as he flies his sortie of incredibly ancient craft directly into the guns of the First Order’s armor.

Much like Luke Skywalker in Empire, Poe doesn’t seem to realize that the AT-series has no firepower on its sides or rear. Nope, it’s straight up the middle for Poe, with predictable carnage for the last handful of Resistance pilots that remain. At least Poe, unlike Luke, eventually realizes it’s a suicide mission, and pulls back after taking losses.

Of course, they’re not much better off back in the cave. Only the arrival of Luke Skywalker in full Jedi power mode saves the Resistance from being snuffed out in entirety. But only just barely; all that’s left can fit inside the Millennium Falcon.

By consistently refusing to learn the rules of unity of command, communication across the chain of command, and the necessity of preserving their force, the Resistance has fought itself nearly out of existence. If rebellions are built on hope, then they survive through skilled withdrawals—which almost never happens in the Star Wars saga. And in The Last Jedi, that failure has brought what was once a promising rebellion to the brink.


Physicists Say the Epic Hyperdrive Scene in ‘The Last Jedi’ Is Plausible

The quietly commanding Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) may be the true hero of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And physicists are here to back her up.


In one of the most dramatic scenes from The Last Jedi — and possibly all of Star Wars — Vice Admiral Holdo rams the Resistance’s last remaining star cruiser through Supreme Leader Snoke’s flagship in a sacrifice that buys the fleeing members of The Resistance enough time to escape to the surface of Crait. Visually, the scene is breathtaking. But in terms of logistics, it might leave you wondering whether this feat is possible.

Don’t worry, though: We’re not here to give a Neil deGrasse Tyson-style “well, actually” debunk of this scene. Rather, we want to figure out whether Star Wars follows our rules of physics. And if it doesn’t then, well, what would it take?

the raddus
The Raddus, a Mon Calamari star cruiser, is much smaller than the Supremacy. But faster-than-light travel is a great equalizer.

Let’s start with some numbers.

The Raddus, a Mon Calamari star cruiser, is 11,280.74 feet (2.14 miles) long, 2,318.08 feet (0.44 miles) wide, and 1,514.84 feet (0.29 miles) tall. It’s a massive starship, but onscreen, you can see just how much smaller it is than the hulking Supremacy, which Wookieepedia, the ultimate source for Star Wars minutiae, says is 43,437.27 feet (8.22 miles) long, 37.6 miles wide, and 13,042 feet (2.47 miles) tall. Despite its comparably puny size, the immense energy generated by the Raddus’s forward momentum becomes a great equalizer in this showdown, and physics tells us it’s plausible that the smaller ship could cut through the First Order’s Star Dreadnought.

“If jumping to hyperspace is just super-quick acceleration where you instantaneously — or close to instantaneously — hit light speed, then what is depicted in the film would be approximately what would happen,” physics professor Patrick Johnson, the author of The Physics of Star Wars, tells Inverse.

supremacy star wars dreadmaught
The Supremacy, a First Order Mega-class Star Dreadnought, is bigger than a city.

As an example of this phenomenon, Johnson asks us to imagine something a little easier to picture: a car running into the side of an eighteen-wheeler truck.

“At a slow speed, it would dent it,” he says. “At a higher speed, [the truck] would really start to bow. And then if the car is going fast enough and is solid enough, it could cut right through it in the way that Snoke’s ship is cut along the path [the Raddus] went through.” It would take an awful lot of energy to get the starship going this fast, which Johnson has attempted to calculate for us.

Estimating the mass of the Raddus, assuming it’s 40 percent steel — or durasteel, more likely — and 60 percent air, Johnson tells us how much energy it would take to accelerate the ship. And since accelerating to the speed of light requires infinite energy, at least based on the way we understand jet propulsion, we’ll settle for a significant portion of light speed in this scenario.

“The force involved in accelerating the Raddus to just 90 percent of the speed of light would be ~6.8•10^21 Newtons,” says Johnson. This is a massive amount of energy, which increases with every tiny increment closer to light speed that the Raddus accelerates.

Once the ships collide, though, Newton’s third law says that the Supremacy exerts an equal and opposite force against the Raddus.

“The moment the Raddus started to make contact, it would experience an extra force going backward,” says Johnson. “Now presumably, that hyperdrive is exerting a force forward, pushing it forward, so there’s a thrust force and a resistance force from the Supremacy. I would guess, based off of the way that it is depicted, that the Raddus is essentially at light speed by the time it makes contact. At that point, there’s only slowing down: Laws of physics dictate that you can’t go faster than the speed of light.” Of course, he notes, the hyperdrive adds a little asterisk: Maybe you can go faster than the speed of light.

Regardless of what speed the Raddus is traveling at when it collides with the Supremacy, Johnson says all of the energy the smaller ship carries with it is spent in cutting through the Supremacy — and some smaller star destroyers — and in completely demolishing the Raddus.

star wars cockpit hyperspace
Part of judging whether Vice Admiral Holdo’s gambit is credible depends on how we define hyperspace.

Of course, this is all moot if hyperspace travel means the Raddus would have been in another dimension altogether — which some works in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now “Legends”) seem to confirm. As Inverse has previously reported, hyperspace travel seems to incorporate some elements of string theory. But ships in the Star Wars universe still need to accelerate beyond light speed to enter hyperspace.

For our purposes, let’s assume the Raddus is traveling at or beyond the speed of light. Leia calls hyperdrive “lightspeed” in The Empire Strikes Back, so that’s good enough for us. With that in mind, it seems most likely that a starship accelerating into hyperspace is going at the speed of light but is also still present in the same physical dimension as everything else around it. And even if it’s not, it’s still in the same physical dimension as other space when it comes out of lightspeed.

We have evidence of this in Star Wars: A New Hope, in which Han Solo brings the Millennium Falcon out of hyperspace right in the middle of the field of debris that used to be Alderaan. Since the ship didn’t hit any of the rocks until it came out of hyperspace, this suggests that a ship is susceptible to colliding with objects in physical space once it decelerates out of hyperspace, which also suggests that a ship could still collide with something while it’s accelerating into hyperspace.

To put it simply, Holdo does on purpose what Han Solo did by accident.

“If that’s the way you go to hyperspace, it’s perfectly accurate,” says Johnson.

Jorge Ballester, on the other hand, is not totally sure that the Raddus is tall enough to make it all the way through the Supremacy. Ballester, physics department head at Emporia State University in Kansas, points out that the Raddus is about 1,500 feet tall, while the Supremacy is over 13,000 feet tall.

“The widest part of the Raddus is about one-sixth of the height of the Supremacy,” he tells Inverse. “So I don’t know how the Raddus could extend its interaction out far enough to slice through.” To put it another way, you probably couldn’t use a single pebble to split an entire boulder, since the force wouldn’t spread far enough above and below, even if the pebble had enough force to pass all the way from front to back. He also points out an issue that arises as a result of Newton’s third law.

“I don’t know why the Raddus wouldn’t be completely destroyed after penetrating one or two of its own length into the Supremacy,” says Ballester. “Presumably both sides use roughly similar materials and technologies to build their ships. Similarly, I would not expect a bullet made of wood to penetrate deeply into a wooden block because the bullet itself would be destroyed. The block might explode but I would not expect the wooden bullet to rip through making a narrow hole.”

bullet impact
Would the Raddus go through the Supremacy? Or simply explode after penetrating a couple ship lengths? It’s hard to say for sure.

These points certainly shed some doubt on whether this collison could go down the way it did in the film, if we’re judging based on our universe’s laws of physics.

Whether or not the Raddus could make it all the way through the Supremacy, it’s worth taking a second to consider the passage of time as it’s depicted in The Last Jedi. There’s a cinematic effect to slowing down the action right as the ships collide so the audience can experience the emotional weight of the moment.

Leia: “Don’t forge the secret plan. Drop out of hyperspace right on their faces. Got it? Nod sternly if you understand me.”

And while an observer in the Star Wars universe would see the events unfold at full speed, “from her perspective, time would actually slow down for her compared to everybody else because she is traveling super fast,” says Johnson.

So to sum up: Though there are some variables we simply can’t calculate, such as how ship shields interact in the event of a crash, Vice Admiral Holdo’s gambit to save her people is pretty plausible. And, damn, it looks so good.