Speeder bikes (also known as "jumpspeeders" or "hover bikes") and swoop bikes (or just "swoops") are small, fast transports that use repulsorlift engines in the fictional Star Wars universe. Return of the Jedi includes a prominent speeder bike chase; speeders and swoops also appear in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (added in the 1997 Special Edition, but absent on every earlier print), the animated Star Wars Rebels TV series, and the Star Wars expanded universe's books, comics, and games.
Origin and design
Various concept sketches came from producer George Lucas' call for a "rocket-powered scooter" in Return of the Jedi. While Industrial Light & Magic's (ILM) Nilo Rodis-Jamero designed a blocky vehicle with a large engine, Ralph McQuarrie's designs were more fanciful but with less of a sense of the vehicle's power source. The final designs resulted in full-scale Imperial speeder bikes used by the actors for film against a bluescreen, along with miniatures mounted by articulated puppets. ILM used a steadicam recording at 1 frame per second to record the speeder bikes' path through the forest moon of Endor—in reality, a California forest. Playing the footage at the standard rate of 24 frames per second caused a blurring effect, which ILM used to simulate the vehicles' high speed; what was shot at 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h) looked like 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).[contradictory]
The BARC speeder in Revenge of the Sith was designed to appear like a predecessor to the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi. ILM's Doug Chiang designed Darth Maul's (Ray Park) speeder in The Phantom Menace to resemble a scythe, and Chiang's initial designs for the droid army's STAP vehicle resembled the speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi. An all-CGI swoop appearing in A New Hope stems from a design created for Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and the swoop also appears briefly in The Phantom Menace.
In the Star Wars universe, speeder bikes are a type of "repulsorcraft," vehicles which use anti-gravity devices called repulsorlifts to hover above the surface of a planet. Compared to other repulsorcraft, speeder bikes sacrifice unnecessary systems in order to achieve greater speed or agility. Swoop bikes, being little more than an engine with seats, are similar but better suited for operating at higher altitudes. In the Legends video game Knights of the Old Republic, Swoop racing is a main part of the story with your player having to work for The Hidden Beks, a swoop gang, by infiltrating rival swoop gang, The Black Vulkars, and competing against them in a swoop race in order to rescue Bastila. "Swoop racing" is described as a dangerous, fast-paced competition between skilled pilots.
- In Star Wars Film and Television
- 74-Z Speeder Bike: The 74-Z speeder bike makes its first appearance in Return of the Jedi as Imperial scout troopers patrol the forest surrounding the shield generator on Endor; during the movie's speeder bike chase Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) pilot a pair of speeders to chase down scout troopers who might reveal the Rebel Alliance's presence on Endor. Background material on the bike explains how the 74-Z, built by the Aratech Repulsor Company, was originally used by the Republic during the Clone Wars before being adopted by the Empire. The bike measures 3.3 m (11 ft) long, can carry one or two passengers, and achieves a maximum speed of 500 km/h (310 mph). In addition to a self-charging battery system, sensors and communication equipment, the 74-Z is armed with a Ax-20 blaster cannon, though being stripped of all excess weight the bike offers no protection for the rider.
- Sith Speeder: Darth Maul is seen using a speeder bike to chase down Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) in The Phantom Menace, identified in Star Wars material as a Razalon FC-20 speeder bike. It is described as being a popular model with assassins and other criminals because of its ability to perform sharp turns and a compactness that makes it harder to track, though the small size also requires it be more frequently recharged. Darth Maul's bike, the Bloodfin, has been stripped of all weaponry and sensors to make his lighter and faster, achieving a top speed of 650 km/h (400 mph).
- BARC Speeder: The BARC speeder first appears in Revenge of the Sith as Jedi Stass Allie is turned upon by her clone trooper escorts when Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) initiates Order 66. Manufactured by the Aratech Repulsor Company, the speeder bike's name is explained as being derived from the specialist clone troopers (Biker Advanced Recon Commandos) who typically pilot these craft. Armed with a pair of blaster cannons, the BARC speeder is 4.6 m (15 ft) long and can reach a top speed of 520 km/h (320 mph). It normally seats only one passenger but can be modified with mission-specific sidecars.
The speeder bike, specifically the 74-Z as seen in Return of the Jedi, has been ranked as one of the top vehicles of the Star Wars universe, described as the "ultimate superbike" and "cooler than Boba Fett." The speeder bike scene in Return of the Jedi has also been described as one of the top ten most thrilling chase sequences in the Star Wars saga.
Many fans of the Star Wars series have also been inspired to build life-size "working" replicas. In 2016, a group of fans used Jetovator water-propelled jet packs to create several 74-Z replicas to film a recreation of the speeder bike chase scene. Vintage Works of Green Bay, Wisconsin built a replica 74-Z speeder bike in 2017 using a Zero electric motorcycle. Also in 2017, a team from Lithium Cycles worked with YouTube prankster Jesse to build a pair of 74-Z bikes using their Super 73 electric street motorcycles which they showed off on the streets of New York City. In order to give the appearance the vehicles "hovered", the team placed mirrors underneath the bikes to shroud the wheels.
Although lacking the anti-gravity technology ascribed to speeder bikes, real-life hoverbikes utilize different principles of levitation with the goal of achieving a similar effect. Mark DeRoche of Aerofex said it was "a tribute to George Lucas' team" that their prototype hoverbike - a low-altitude tandem duct aerial vehicle - resembled Star Wars speeders. The HoverSurf HoverBike has also been compared to Star Wars speeder bikes, though it achieves flight by the same methods as a traditional quadcopter.
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