890: Etymology

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For some reason, my childhood suspension of disbelief had no problem with the fact that this ancient galaxy is full of humans, but was derailed by language. There's no Asia OR Europe there, so where'd they get all the Indo-European roots?
Title text: For some reason, my childhood suspension of disbelief had no problem with the fact that this ancient galaxy is full of humans, but was derailed by language. There's no Asia OR Europe there, so where'd they get all the Indo-European roots?


This comic references one of the scenes from the sci-fi classic Star Wars set in Mos Eisley Cantina at the spaceport on Tatooine, a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

In this scene Obi-Wan Kenobi (with the beard) and Luke Skywalker on the left are trying to get off the planet secretly and they enlist help from Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Han Solo tells Luke he is captain of the famous ship the Millennium Falcon. When Luke asks what that is, Han brags "It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs!" But it turns out that what Luke asks about is what a falcon is.

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Randall wonders what Luke would say to Han if he had no idea what a falcon was.

Normally in sci-fi aliens would have some familiarity with Earth and the things you can find on it, such as falcons. However, Star Wars takes place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" where nobody knows Earth even exists, possibly before falcons exist, thus how could the Millennium Falcon be named after an animal they have no knowledge about? This could be an example of a translation convention made for the sake of the audience; presumably, fast birds of prey exist in the Star Wars universe, one of which is the namesake of Han Solo's ship, which is then artistically translated from Basic to English as "Falcon". Likewise with the parsec, which is a unit defined by the distance of a star from the Earth which experiences a parallax of one arcsecond when viewed six months apart (i.e. it is the length of a triangle with a base of 1 AU and the opposite angle of 1 arcsec). A galaxy which is home to space-faring civilizations will have units of similar magnitudes, which are converted into parsecs for our convenience.

In the Star Wars novelization, this joke is made in reference to a duck: [1]

Kenobi: I understand you are quite a pilot yourself. Piloting and navigation aren’t hereditary, but a number of the things that can combine to make a good small-ship pilot are. Those you may have inherited. Still, even a duck has to be taught to swim.

Skywalker: What’s a duck?

Kenobi: Never mind.

Having grown up on a desert world, Luke would have no idea of what a duck or any other kind of waterfowl is, while Obi-Wan Kenobi could have seen such creatures during his time as a Jedi (Captain Panaka uses the "sitting ducks" metaphor in The Phantom Menace, so they are known to exist in Star Wars canon). Perhaps Luke would have understood if Obi-Wan had used a desert creature in an equivalent analogy.

In the title text, Randall muses over the fact that he as a child did not have any problems dispensing his disbelief in a distant galaxy full of humans, but was still derailed by the language. It would seem unlikely that another galaxy has creatures so similar to humans, while at the same time being filled with so many other types of creatures.

The bit about Indo-European roots is another reference to etymology. English is a language descended from a language called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE (along with most languages in Europe, West and South Asia), thus many words in these languages can ultimately be traced back to PIE. Randall wonders how the vocabulary in Star Wars can also be traced back to PIE despite the lack of Europe or Asia in that universe.


[Four people are sitting around a small round table in a room with large windows, presumably the cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope. The four are Obi-Wan Kenobi in a cloak and with beard, Luke Skywalker with black hair down his forehead and down his neck, Han Solo with shorter black hair and the hairy creature is Chewbacca. On the table is two cylinders, a white and a smaller black. Outside the window is two alien creatures walking by. Closest is a creature looking like a Rodian (like Greedo) and further back is a creature with two black horns on top of a regular Cueball like appearance, in the vein of Devaronians. They walk in a street outside with buildings behind.]
Han Solo: Han Solo. I'm captain of the Millennium Falcon.
[Zoom in on Luke:]
Luke Skywalker: What's that?
[Zoom in on Han:]
Han: It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs!
[Zoom in on Luke:]
Luke: No, what's a falcon?
[Zoom in on a silent Han. Beat panel.]

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It always bothered me how an independent gunslinger with no team of engineers or assistants has a faster ship than the entirety of the empire and all it's technical expertise. Where did he get his funding and kit from? Davidy²²[talk] 10:09, 9 March 2013 (UTC)

The same place as the Falcon.... gambling with people like Lando? (Also Falconry, by whatever name, was practiced in Mesopotamia and by the Bedouin in arguably at least partially desert-planet-like areas. It's quite possible that the ancestral 'Falcons' or equivalent translator-microbe-referenced creatures originated on Tatooine. A long, long time later, in a galaxy (and planet) much, much less far away (basically, here... and now) our Earth falcons are at least one branch of descendents.) Now, no doubts "Millenium" refers to the Imperial (previously Republican) standard years, but it begs the question of what the length and nature of the Tattooine 'year' is, given it's a binary-star orbitter, eh? ;) 16:51, 30 April 2013 (UTC)

I think you meant to say; "raises the question" :P -- The Cat Lady (talk) 10:01, 22 August 2021 (UTC)

He won the ship from Lando, that guy owned his own city. Military ships carry much more equipment and are less manoeuvrable. 19:21, 16 July 2013 (UTC)

Plus, most commercial and government ships have extra equipment for safety and reliability. If you take a car, strip everything out of it, and put a nitrous oxide injection system in it, it will be faster than any cop car. The cop car will be able to withstand an accident much better (they are often rated for 70-mph rear-end collisions) and will typically start every time the key is turned.
Oh, and I think Lando did not yet run Cloud City when Han won the Falcon from him. I recall Han being surprised to find out Lando had won Cloud City, in The Empire Strikes Back. Tryc (talk) 16:45, 23 July 2013 (UTC)
I've heard this question a few times before, I always just assumed he was lying. He was a rogue and a scoundrel, trying to talk up his knackered old ship. The stuff in the Extended Universe always seemed to take it as gospel that the ship was this amazing super vessel, but I still think it's more likely that he was just spinning a tale. Elaverick (talk) 13:48, 12 December 2016 (UTC)

In George Lucas' novelization of the first movie (which I have heard was ghosted by Alan Dean Foster), Obi-Wan remarks to Luke that "Even a duck must be taught how to swim." And Luke replies, "What's a duck?" In another place, Luke was thinking "about a dog he had once owned" right before another event (I believe it was a ship going into hyperspace). 22:08, 22 April 2015 (UTC)

Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs actually makes sense. The Kessel Run is a run that travels near a black hole, as well as multiple drops into and out of light speed. Therefore, the shorter the distance it took for a pilot to make the run, the faster the ship was (to negate the gravitational pull of the black hole) and the better the pilot was (to be able to maneuver the ship more tightly). So the Kessel Run was actually a race to do it in the shortest distance possible, not the shortest time. 24 October 2016 17:38, 24 October 2016 (UTC)

Honestly, I have to laugh (not at you), as your explanation is very much correct, but the whole situation is ridiculous. What started as a throw-away one-liner brag that seemingly misused an astronomical term has turned into a minor point of debate that was eventually resolved by a film centered around that one line.Ncpenguin (talk) 01:45, 24 May 2022 (UTC)

This same sort of thing also comes up when you think about the names of many rebel/alliance fighters. The Star Wars universe does not use our alphabet. You can probably justify the X-wing since an X is a pretty common symbol outside of being a letter, but one must wonder about all those other letter-wings, like the Y, A, B, H, etc. Fighters shaped after letters that don't seem to exist in Star Wars. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)