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Warp drive vs. hyperdrive

By Josh Wallen
On March 24, 2013

In the annals of geekdom, there are debates whose flames shall never stop smoldering.
Was Joel or Mike the better host of "Mystery Science Theater 3000"? Was Tommy better as the Green Ranger or the White Ranger? Was Mario Kart 64 or Diddy Kong Racing the superior mascot racer? (Or is that last one just me?)
While the nerdy passion that imbues those questions cannot be doubted, they are but quiet embers to this query: "Star Trek" or "Star Wars"?
That question is, of course, subjective. I know which side of the line I fall, but the truth is, Trek and Wars are in different genres (science fiction vs. science fantasy), and declaring one to be superior to the other as a matter of fact is foolish.
Which one is better to you comes down more to personal preference than anything else.
One is not objectively better than the other, so let's try something a little more apparent: Who has the faster ships?
Each series does of course have exceptions and counterpoints to this information, so I'm going with what's generally accepted as an overview.
In "Star Trek," starships achieve faster-than-light travel via "warp drive."
A ship uses warp fields to, appropriately, warp reality via a subspace bubble that's projected around it.
Within subspace, the laws of physics are more malleable, and the ship can thus exceed the speed of light.
In "Star Wars," ships get around at faster-than-light speeds using hyperdrive, which is somewhat more complicated.
Rather than creating a bubble within normal space, the hyperdrive motivator moves the ship through an alternate dimension, called hyperspace.
According to the 2003 RPG, "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," hyperspace routes were scouted by an unknown species 50,000 years before "a long time ago ..."
New ones are almost never charted due to the danger following such a trail poses - you could end up inside a planet, or pretty much anywhere else.
This is why Han Solo says he made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs - parsecs measure distance, not time. Solo charted a way to do that through hyperspace.
Navigational computers in the "Star Wars" universe are also capable of charting paths.
So which one's quicker?
In "Star Trek: Voyager," the titular ship is lost in the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 lightyears away from home.
It's stated that at Voyager's maximum cruise velocity of warp 9.975, it would take the ship about 70 years to cross the gap. This is about as fast as a standard warp drive ever gets.
Wookiepedia, the well-known and wonderfully-maintained "Star Wars" wiki, states plainly that hyperdrive allows ships to cross 120,000 lightyears in a matter of hours or days, with exact travel time depending on point of origin, destination, and route.
So with proper knowledge of a hyperspace route, hyperdrive will indeed get you where you're going much, much faster than warp drive.
Warp drive, however, has less limitations on where you can enter and where you'll end up, and is more versatile.
To put it in a real-world, more two-dimensional context, hyperdrive is like a bullet train, and warp drive is like an all-terrain vehicle.
However, a ship moving at warp actually IS moving faster than the speed of light, whereas a ship in hyperspace is merely traveling between two points via an inter-dimensional shortcut.
So of course, the experiment I now want to try involves hooking a warp-capable ship up with a hyperdrive accelerator, taking it into hyperspace ... and engaging the warp drive.

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