Last week, I came across this image on Google Plus, and a lengthy (200+, multiple days) discussion ensued. Who would win? The USS Enterprise, or an Imperial Star Destroyer?
Well, in the sake of universal peace among two very disparate yet similar geek tribes (or possibly a flame war for the ages), I will endeavor to investigate and delineate the factors involved.
First, some basic rules:
1) This is the Enterprise-A (or possibly, the refitted original). Since both series were popular during the early 1980s, we’ll use those time periods for discussion (Battle of Yavin; c.2285 AD). (The Enterprise-D is a bit faster, a bit more powerful, but not by much, as you’ll see below.)
2) This is Captain Kirk and crew versus an anonymous ISD crew. (Darth is over on the Executor.) There is no Borg, Q, Jedi, Death Star, cloaking device, and/or any deus ex machina creations. (Yes, one wonders what midi chlorians would do in a Borg environment.) All that exists is what’s on the ships normally.
4) This is not a simulator. Yes, we know that Spock would find a weakness, Kirk would make a last minute ballsy move, and that the Imperial troops would be too ineffective to win. Until more Star Destroyers instantly appear via hyperspace, disable the Enterrpise, and laugh at their puny technology.
The Enterprise-A is similar in size to the original Enterprise. According to show blueprints, the USS Enterprise is 947 x 417 feet (a little shorter than the USS Enterprise carrier), which translates into 289 x 127 meters.
An ISD is 1600 meters in length. The Tantive IV corvette is 150 meters in length, to give a visual comparison. (The Enterprise is too big to fit inside the ISD.)
So the ISD is seven times longer, and at least ten times the volume.
In the Star Trek universe, Warp Ten is the limit (although there are instances of ships traveling much faster). All ships remain in physical space, traveling in a warp bubble. At Warp 9.6, it would have taken the USS Voyager (see also: Lost In Space, Battlestar Galactica) 75 years and 70,000 light years to return home. The Voyager was twice as fast as the Enterprise (9.975 : 9).
Meanwhile, over the Star Wars universe, ships travel by hyperspace. Even with gravity wells which must be avoided, a trip from Coruscant to Alderan would travel 5000 light years in 16 hours (625 ly/hr). If the USS Voyager used hyperspace, it would have taken them 64 hours to return home. So a normal hyperspace engine is about 10,000 times as fast as the fastest Federation ship (20K x faster than the Enterprise-A).
An ISD, however, has a huge power plant, using more power in one hyperspace jump than some planets used in its history. Peak: ~7,73 × 1024 W (7.73 sextillion watts). It has a Class 2 hyperdrive, making it four times slower than the Millennium Falcon, which has an illegal 0.5 class hyperdrive.
Of course, that’s superfast speed. In a battle, most movements are in sublight speed. The Enterprise is more maneuverable, being able to do short warp jumps. The use of hyperspace allowed the Star Wars universe to forego warp technology, so the Federation has that edge. But is it enough?
Okay… let’s get one thing clear: the Empire does fire lasers. But they have bigger guns avaialable. They use blaster technology. To quote Wookiepedia:
A blaster was a ranged weapon that fired bursts of particle beam energy called blaster bolts from a replaceable power pack. The most commonly used weapon in the galaxy, blasters’ intense beams consisted of compacted high-energy particles and intense light that could kill or paralyze their target, depending on the setting. Blasters ranged from compact pistols, all the way up to large, heavy rifles and starship-mounted blaster cannons.
The ISD had six heavy turbolaser turrets.
Mounted in three turrets on each side of the dorsal hull, the twin-barreled turbolasers served as heavy anti-capital ship weapons, being too slow to reliably target fast starfighters. They could punch through both deflector shields and armor on spaceships with the heaviest defensive layers.
So, what’s a phaser?
(A nadion is an artificial particle which disrupts nuclear forces, liberating particles. A disintegrator, if you will.)
The Enterprise had phaser banks, at least twelve.
So each ship can sling big bolts of energy at each other. The Enterprise has more precise targeting, but the ISD has more power. How much more power? Enough to reduce a planet to slag in one day.
The ISD also has something the Enterprise does not: an ion cannon. What’s that?
It’s what blasts those ISDs orbiting Hoth as the Rebel ships evacuate.
What’s it do?
An ion cannon was a weapon which fired highly ionized particles or highly ionized plasma.
They were often used on capital ships, such as Star Destroyers, to facilitate the capture of enemy vessels or disabling them to allow safe close-range fire. They also helped to drop shields prior to destroying enemy vessels.
And… since that ion cannon was effective from ground to a ship in orbit, an ISD can engage the Enterprise from a greater distance. Capital ships seem to engage each other at greater distances in Star Wars. I am not a good judge of scale, so this is open to discussion. Some Star Trek references are here.
The ISD also has six TIE squadrons.
The standard wing included four TIE Fighter squadrons (one squadron often referred to be a reconnaissance squadron of TIE/rc starfighters), one squadron of TIE Interceptors, one squadron of TIE Bombers (lower priority ships had to make do with TIE/gt starfighter-bombers). Often one or two flights in a fighter squadron were TIE/fc starfighters.
Since the armament is lasers, they are gnats to the Enterprise’s shields. Except for the TIE bombers:
An Imperial Star Destroyer generally carried a squadron of 12 bombers. The TIE bomber was capable of carrying one of the following payloads, for a total of 15 metric tons: sixteen concussion missiles, twelve proton torpedoes, eight proton rockets, six space mines, four proton bombs, sixty-four thermal detonators, or thousands of propaganda pamphlets. Its fixed armament was two wing-mounted laser cannons.
Proton bombs? Like the proton torpedo which blew up the Death Star, it’s a similar device. But particle shielding (keep reading) would negate any damage.
But TIE fighters aren’t shielded, so phasers or a wide blast from the deflector dish could defeat them. Or use the tractor beam to immobilize them, or to catch them while a phaser blasts them.
What about that deflector dish?
Well, both ships have similar tech.
In Star Trek, the navigational deflector is that big dish below the primary hull. It’s a low-level energy shield used to deflect particles big and small as the ship travels at any speed. In Star Wars, it’s called a particle shield, and it’s used to deflect matter.
Which brings us to…
The Enterprise has deflector shields.
Deflector shields operated by creating a layer, or layers, of energetic distortion containing a high concentration of gravitons around the object to be protected. On starships, the shield contained six sections, forward, starboard, port, aft, dorsal, and ventral. (Star Trek Nemesis) Shield energies could be emitted from a localized antenna or “dish”, such as a ship’s navigational deflector, or from a network of “grid” emitters laid out on the object’s surface, such as a starship’s hull. Since at least the 23rd century, deflector shields were essential equipment on starships.
Continuous or extremely powerful energy discharges could progressively dissipate the integrity of a shield to the point of failure.
In Star Wars, ray shields serve a similar purpose. An ISD had two shield domes. For some reason, while they produced shielding for the ship, they were still vulnerable to kamikaze attacks. Since photon torpedoes can be shielded to allow them access to the interior of a sun, it is possible that such a device could be fired at the shield dome. Torpedoes could also be “tuned” to match the frequency modulation of an enemy’s shield, allowing it to penetrate the shields. (It is unclear if Star Wars shields worked in a similar way to Star Trek shields.)
If shields are up on the Enterprise or the ISD, then transporters do not work. Transporter range at this time is about 10,000 kilometers. I believe the antimatter component of a photon torpedo prevents it from being beamed into an ISD. Of course, with shields down, any weapons fire would be deadly.
The Imperial Star Destroyer is more heavily powered and shielded than the Enterprise, and possesses an ion cannon which can disable the Enterprise.
The Enterprise, being on a mostly scientific mission, does not possess small ships with weaponry.
An Imperial Star Destroyer, with higher energy output, can attack the Enterprise from a distance.
The hyperspace capabilities of the ISD and certain TIE fighters allows for quick reinforcements to arrive. The Enterprise is more maneuverable via warp technology, but considerably slower than most ships in the Star Wars universe.
So, yes, Kirk and crew would probably find a way to survive one attack from an ISD. But what about Slave-1? Read Star Wars vs Star Trek in Five Minutes to find out!
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
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