Greetings organics, and welcome to the Sarlacc Pit! This week we will be looking at one of the most iconic Star Wars technology: the Death Star. I’m going to discuss everything from the Sith’s history of using kyber crystal-fueled super weapons through the continuation of its legacy by the First Order. Obviously, there will be spoilers from all across canon, so read at your own risk!
Sith Super Weapons
“Long ago in forgotten times, when the Sith and Jedi fought for control of the galaxy, weapons there were, of unimaginable power. Always at their heart, a kyber crystal was.” -Yoda, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (unfinished episode)
As I mentioned in my post on lightsabers, kyber crystals were attuned to the Force and used as the core of the lightsabers used by both Jedi and Sith. The Sith, however, were obsessed with power, and as such found more sinister uses for the Force-attuned crystals. Using huge kyber crystals, large weapons were formed with the ability to kill on an unimaginable scale. One such super weapon was the Sith Temple on the planet of Malachor. Malachor was the site of a huge battle that ended in the apparent death of all combatants, as well as the destruction of all life on the planet’s surface. The Sith temple on Malachor actually doubled as a kyber crystal-powered super laser that was controlled through the use of a Sith holocron, usable only by those strong in the dark side of the Force.
Origins of the Death Star
“It will be a momentous responsibility. For once the battle station is fully operational, you will wield the ultimate power in the galaxy.” – The Emperor, Star Wars: Tarkin
With the Clone Wars being engineered by Sith Lords Darth Sidious and Darth Tyranus as a way to restore the Sith to power, the two also enlisted the aid of Geonosian Archduke Poggle the Lesser to engineer the DS-1 platform, eventually known as the Death Star. The design was a product of Geonosian engineering, and design similarities can be seen in other ships used by the Separatists prior to and in the early days of the Clone Wars.
The construction of this battle station took place over Geonosis, headed by the Confederacy of Independent Systems. The galaxy was scoured for large kyber crystals that would be used for the station’s super laser. By the end of the Clone Wars, the framework was almost completed. With the defeat of the Separatists, and the regime change from the Galactic Republic to the Galactic Empire, the Empire took control of the construction of the weapon, with Admiral Wilhuff Tarkin (soon to be Moff, and eventually Grand Moff) supervising its construction.
Very few of the Imperial hierarchy even knew about the project, and while the construction continued to move forward, many Imperial leaders voiced their opposition to what would eventually be referred to as “Tarkin’s Folly.” The construction of this battle station required a large amount of resources, which could have been used to further increase the Imperial fleets. Mining the asteroids surrounding Geonosis was attempted in order to supplement the needed materials, but this proved fruitless. All said and done the total cost of the battle station was over one trillion galactic credits. Wookies and other species were enslaved to work on the construction that would take over 19 years to complete. To ensure the security of the base, four star destroyers and eight frigates were employed to protect the base. To ensure its secrecy, numerous outposts were built to use for shipping supplies and materials. At any point only the Emperor himself had access to all the information regarding the construction, which made construction difficult at points.
Eventually, the construction project was discovered, and an attack was made on the base by former Republic military personnel, which failed. Five years before the Battle of Yavin, a band of Rebels from Lothal were able to attack and destroy a convoy shipping kyber crystals to the project. These attacks, along with other various events, forced the construction project to be moved to a different location. In order to keep the project a secret, the Empire bombed Geonosis, irradiating its surface and causing the native Geonosians to become all but extinct.
The Death Star Completed
“Both an impregnable fortress and as a symbol of the Empire’s invioble rule, the deep-space mobile battle station was an achievement on the order of any fashioned by the ancestral species that had unlocked the secret of hyperspace and opened the galaxy to exploration.” – Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, Star Wars: Tarkin
Completed 19 years after the founding of the Galactic Empire, the Death Star was 120 kilometers in length, width, and height, with both sublight and hyperspace mobility. It was armed with 768 tractor beam emplacements, 15,000 turbolaser batteries, and, of course, the planet-destroying, kyber crystal-powered superlaser. This battlestation was run by a hypermatter reactor and the superlaser needed a 24 hour recharging period after being fired. This battle station was roughly the size of a small moon and housed numerous hangers for TIE fighters that were used to defend the surface from any damage. It also housed 342,953 Imperial Army and Navy personnel, 25,984 stormtroopers, and an additional crew of over 2 million personnel of varying combat eligibility. The Death Star was built to keep planets in line by fear in the absence of the Imperial Senate. In order to display its power after its completion, Grand Moff Tarkin ordered that the planet of Alderaan be destroyed, as it had been implicated in assisting the Rebel Alliance, despite its pacifist ways. It was the ultimate power in the galaxy, but perhaps Vader was correct when he said it was insignificant compared to the power of the Force.
The Battle of Yavin
This December, the first Star Wars Anthology movie will be released to theaters. “Star Wars: Rogue One” promises to be a movie detailing the stealing of the Death Star plans by the Rebel Alliance. While we currently do not know the specifics of how this happened, we do know that the Rebel Alliance was able to steal plans to the Death Star and bring them to analysts on their base at Yavin IV (with some help from a smuggler, an old desert wizard, and a moisture farmer, as well as a couple droids). With the Death Star learning the location of the base through tracking the Millennium Falcon and moving the Death Star into firing range of Yavin IV, the Rebels prepared for attack by briefing pilots using the detailed plans to the Death Star
Yes, very detailed.
The details are really stunning.
I now know every detail of the Death Star, thanks to these plans.
Anyways, analysts were able to find a weakness in the Death Star: a small exhaust port that, upon being hit by a proton torpedo, would cause a chain reaction destroying the hypermatter reactor and the battle station itself. Using one-man fighters, the Alliance would be able to slip past the Death Star’s defenses, through a trench lined with turbolaser batteries, and sink a proton torpedo into an exhaust port about one meter in size. No problem.
The first plan was to use Y-Wing bombers to hit the target, however after failing to sink any shots, all the Y-wings were taken out. This is when Luke Skywalker, farmboy from Tatooine turned Rebel pilot, flew his T-65 X-Wing through the trench and, using the Force, was able to sink the crucial shot, destroying the Death Star.
The Rebel Alliance lost a lot of good pilots during the Battle of Yavin, but the Empire took a heavy blow. However, this was far from the end of the Empire.
The Death Star II
“Through sheer stupid luck, the Rebels managed to destroy the first Death Star. By rebuilding the Death Star, and using it as many times as necessary to restore order, we prove that their luck only goes so far. We prove that we are the only galactic authority and always will be.” – Nash Windrider, Star Wars: Lost Stars
I have already spent a good bit of time discussing the aftermath of the destruction of the Death Star (see my posts “A Bruised Empire” and “Darth Vader: Strong in the Shady Side”) so I’ll move right to the second Death Star. That’s right, when the Empire’s giant resource-draining Death Star got destroyed, they said “blast it, we’ll build a newer one, it’ll be bigger too!”
Overseen by Moff Tiaan Jerjerrod as the Director of Imperial Energy Systems, the Death Star II was constructed at a much faster pace than the original, despite it being larger and more powerful. While the first Death Star was completed after over 20 years of construction, the Death Star II, while never completed, was mostly functioning after only four years. The station was constructed in orbit around the forest moon of Endor, which was the location of a shield projector which protected the construction project. While it was never completed, at the time of its destruction, the Death Star II was 160 kilometers in height, width, and length. It had multiple hypermatter reactors (which allowed the superlaser to only need a three minute recharge time instead of the 24 hour recharge time of the original). It also had 15,000 heavy turbolasers, 15,000 standard turbolasers, 7,500 laser cannons, 5,000 ion cannons, and 768 tractor beam encampments. It housed thousands of TIE fighters and interceptors, AT-ATs, and AT-STs, as well as millions of other personnel.
The Battle of Endor
“The Emperor has made a critical error and the time for our attack has come.” – Mon Mothma, “Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi”
Believing the station to be invulnerable, Emperor Palpatine used a counterintelligence campaign to leak the location of the construction of the Death Star II to Rebel intelligence. The Rebels, believing the project to be vulnerable, planned a two-pronged attack. A ground strike force, led by Han Solo, would take out the shield generator on Endor, and the Rebel fleet, led by Lando Calrissian in the Millennium Falcon, would attack the battle station’s main hypermatter reactor. The Emperor, however, planned this as a trap to destroy the Rebel Alliance. He ordered some of his best troops to lie in wait for the Rebel strike force, and commanded the bulk of the Imperial Navy to wait just a short hyperspace jump away.
On the ground, the strike force originally failed, being detained by a skirmish with Imperial troops that included a battle with stormtroopers, AT-STs, Rebel troops, and help from the native Ewoks. While the ground troops were kept at bay, the Rebel Fleet arrived to find themselves faced with the entirety of the Imperial Fleet, as well as a fully-functional Death Star II, which used its superlaser to take out a few of the Rebel’s capital ships.
Eventually, the Rebel ground force overcame the Imperials, and they were able to shut down the shield projector, allowing Lando Calrissian and a fleet of A-wings, B-wings, X-wings, and Y-wings, to get into the battle station and destroy the main reactor core, destroying the Death Star II.
During this battle, a separate confrontation took place between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Emperor in the Emperor’s throne room in the Death Star II. This resulted in the deaths of both the Emperor and Darth Vader, Luke was able to escape, however, just as the space station was destroyed.
“This fierce machine which you have built, upon which we stand, will bring an end to the Senate! To their cherished fleet! All remaining systems will bow to the First Order! And will remember this…as the last day of the Republic!” – General Hux, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”
Leaderless and missing the Emperor, the Empire did not last long afterwards, but let’s jump forward to about 30 years after the Battle of Endor. The Rebel Alliance had become the New Republic, and democracy was restored to the galaxy. However, the First Order, a new threat led by Supreme Leader Snoke had arisen from Imperial sympathizers within the New Republic, as well as what remained of the Empire after its fall. Eager to prove themselves even stronger than the Empire, the First Order designed the Starkiller Base. Starkiller Base was a forested ice planet that was mobilized and had a superweapon capable of destroying not just planets, but entire star systems.
The Starkiller base was devoid of all wildlife besides plants, thanks to scouting by First Order snowtroopers. Mobility was provided through rocket ports on the opposite side of the planet from the superweapon. There was a planetary shield powerful enough to deflect any bombardment, as well as prevent any ship going at sublight speeds from entering its atmosphere. The base’s superweapon was powered by a type of energy called “quintessence,” which was very common in the galaxy. Using a star as its power source, collectors on one side of the planet would gather dark energy, storing it at the planet’s core where it was held by the planet’s magnetic field as well as an artificial containment field, which was generated by a thermal oscillator. Once the star was completely extinguished, meaning the weapon was fully charged, weapons engineers would induce a breach in the containment field, allowing the collected dark energy to escape through a large hollow cylindrical opening at the planet’s equator. This energy would cut through hyperspace along a linear path, delivering a near-instant payload of energy intense enough to destroy the targeted star system. The orientation of the planet, and the path the beam would travel had to be taken into effect when targeting the weapon, for the beam could be intercepted by a large enough object (such as a planet). The space-time disruption caused by the beam allowed it to be seen instantaneously thousands of light years away.
In addition to its superweapon, Starkiller Base also housed anything an army of brainwashed stormtroopers and their leaders would need, such as ship hangers, command bases, communications infrastructure, sanitation, etc. The surface was patrolled by snowtroopers in light infantry utility vehicles as well as patrol droids utilizing long-range communications antenna. At the time of its destruction, this planet was host to the largest known deployment of First Order military personnel.
This superweapon was used once, to destroy Hosnian Prime and the surrounding star system, effectively destroying the Senate, the Republic, and the Republic’s fleet, as well as the billions of lives of sentients who lived in the area.
The Starkiller Base Destroyed
“Okay. How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that.” – Han Solo, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”
As you can imagine, blowing up a planet with a superweapon capable of destroying whole star systems is not easy. After the destruction of the Republic’s capital star system, Starkiller Base moved into position to attack the Resistance base on D’Qar. In order to prevent the destruction of their base, first came the problem of getting on the planet to disable the shields. To do this, Han Solo took advantage of the fractional refresh rate needed for a shield this size, which allowed Solo to enter the shield at light speed, which was incredibly risky and definitely ill-advised.
Once on the surface, Solo, Chewbacca, and Finn coerced high-ranking stormtrooper Captain Phasma to lower the shields, allowing the Resistance’s Red and Blue X-wing fighter squadrons to enter the atmosphere.
The fighters targeted the planet’s thermal oscillator, the destruction of which would cause the planet to lose the ability to regulate the dark energy stored at its core. The oscillator proved to be heavily armored, but Solo and Chewbacca were able to use heavy explosives to open a hole large enough for a skilled pilot in a T-70 X-wing to enter the oscillator and destroy it from the inside. The destruction of the thermal oscillator caused the planet to implode, allowing the stored stellar energy to expand and become a star, a poetic ending to the Starkiller Base, and the legacy of the Death Star. Although it probably had disastrous impacts on any planets nearby, but we just won’t think about that.
While a large amount of First Order troops dies on the Starkiller Base, at least three of their leaders (General Hux, Kylo Ren, and Supreme Leader Snoke) survived. So, knowing the dark side like we do, we can probably expect to see an even larger Starkiller Base II in our future, but as of right now this is the end of the story of Death Stars and Starkillers. From Sith kyber crystal superweapons to First Order scientific gobbledygook laser planets, the Death Star and its ilk has left billions of dead bodies as its legacy of destruction. We will just have to see what happens in the future for the First Order and the Sith before we can say the galaxy is truly safe from these weapons.
That’s it for this week’s post, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s always fun to analyze something that is so important to the Star Wars universe. Next week, I want to do a semi-brief discussion on droids: what their purpose is, the different kinds of droids there are, and why the thought of droids should keep you up at night. Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!