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Why Star Wars Movies Have a Problem Conveying the Passage of Time

Yoda and Luke in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Each Star Wars film introduces new worlds, aliens and people, expanding the already massive universe that fans explore alongside the characters. But there's been one thing the franchise has had difficulty with since its inception: Time.

Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo recently asked on Twitter if Revenge of the Sith took place over the course of days or months. The poll was met with a pretty even split, which shows how deeply confusing time can be in this franchise. However, that question could be asked about almost all Star Wars films, so why does the franchise have so much difficulty with conveying time?

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Lightspeed Problems

Revenge of the Sith should have a handy workaround for this problem. In theory, Amidala's pregnancy is a good indicator of the timeline, with how far she's along revealing how much time has passed without having to constantly draw attention to it. But light-years away, the war rages on while very little seems to happen on Coruscant as she goes through that pregnancy. Missions, particularly those performed by Obi-Wan, seem to happen close to when Order 66 is enacted. There's no defined timeline for these events. This indicates certain characters must have spent months doing nothing of importance before returning to carry out their missions, which happen near-simultaneously with Palpatine's coup.

This is complicated even more by lightspeed. The mechanic allows spaceships to travel around the Star Wars galaxy with ease. But because there's no easy way to tell how long that travel takes, it's left up to the viewer to figure it out for themselves. It's not like movies set in the real world, which are much easier to understand, as we can look at a map to figure out how long a particular trip takes. But in Star Wars, people can theoretically go anywhere. There's no indication of how long it'll take to travel, and that throws off the internal timeline of the film.

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Parallel Plots

Kelly Marie Tran Rose Tico Star Wars The Last Jedi

Star Wars films often feature parallel plots. However, their pacing often adds to the confusion. The Imperial pursuit of the Millennium Falcon in Empire Strikes Back is intense and fast. By the time they arrive at Cloud City, they're exhausted and running low on supplies. But the way the film is cut indicates that it's not long before Vader reveals himself. This implies it's been days, maybe weeks at most during the chase. The movie suggests that they then spent perhaps days at Cloud City before being captured. But as for Luke, his time with Yoda seems more intensive than that short timeframe would allow. He's completed much of his training by the time he heads out to rescue his friends, and his plot seems to take significantly longer than his friends being chased did, even if they technically began their stories at the same time.

The Last Jedi has an actual ticking clock in the form of the Resistance escape. Finn and Rose only have so much time to make it to the casino to get right person to help save their friends. So it clearly only takes around a day for their plotline to play out. But their story is told parallel to Rey's training with Luke. In her story, multiple nights past, implying weeks may have gone by while she trains. The film never makes it clear how long Rey has been with Luke, but the juxtaposition makes it feel like it should be taking about as long as the chase. When understood that way, it seems like Rey learned everything she needed from Luke in the manner of days before heading back to save her friends at the last second. It's an inherent pacing problem within the film.

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No One Has A Watch

A lot of these problems could be solved by some simple additional dialogue. Take The Empire Strikes Back for example. While training with Yoda, Luke could comment on how long he's been in Dagobah. Likewise, no one on the Star Destroyer chasing after the Millennium Falcon gives any indication of how long they've been trying to hunt down the ship. This could have been solved with a single line and thus given the audience a more solid timeline to follow.

There's no such line in either subplot, which means the parallel pacing throws off any clear way to tell what's happening. This could apply to other Star Wars films as well, such as The Last Jedi or even the original film. There's no indication of how long it ever takes the Millenium Falcon to make it to Alderaan, just that it does. How long did it take for the Death Star to get into position over Yavin 4? It seems to be an immediate threat, but the Rebels have the time to plan an attack. It's a consistent problem with the pacing in these films, and it just makes figuring out the timeline of events so much more confusing than it has to be.

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