“That’s no moon…that’s a space station.” The Death Star is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic images of the Star Wars Universe, and the primary focus of several of the films. The planet-destroying superweapon is a symbol of the military might and oppression of the Galactic Empire. Nothing symbolized the Empire “rule by fear” decree more than the Death Star. The moon-sized mobile battle station recently took center stage once again in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the standalone film taking us back to the days of the Empire and the Rebellion. One of the most compelling things about the Death Star is the fact that despite its overwhelming destructive power, it possessed a profound weakness that enabled it to be destroyed by a ragtag group of humble heroes and rebels.
The dreaded symbol of the Imperial rule has had a profound impact on popular culture, and its legacy is still being felt in the Star Wars Universe. New weapons of planetary destruction like Starkiller Base are heavily inspired in-universe by the Emperor’s original technological terror. Ask nearly anyone about their favorite sci-fi weapon, and you’re sure to hear references to everyone’s favorite devastating spherical superweapon. The infamous battle station has inspired novels, movies, video games, and countless toys, and has captured the imagination of millions of Star Wars fans.
Here are 16 facts about the Death Star you might not have known. Be aware that this list contains major spoilers for Rogue One.
We hope you enjoy, and may the Force be with you.
16. It Went By Many Names
We know the enormous deep space mobile battle station by the moniker “Death Star,” and no name could fit it better. But as Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones shows, while in its development stages it was known as the “Ultimate Weapon.” At various points during its time as a Separatist project, it was also called the “Expeditionary Battle Planetoid Development Initiative.” The superweapon was also designated as “DS-1 Orbital Battle Station,” and was known to the public of the Empire as the “Imperial Planetary Ore Extractor.” Because of the controversial nature of a planet-destroying weapon, Imperial officers were required to refer to it as DS-1 or the Imperial Planetary Ore Extractor to non-Imperial news outlets.
After the construction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, the original was often called the first Death Star or Death Star I. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story also shows that the Death Star project was known by the code name “Project Stardust” internally. As a final note, Imperial critics who doubted the viability of the project and raised concerns about its enormous cost began to call it, “Tarkin’s folly.”
15. It Used the Same Crystals as a Lightsaber
The Death Star’s most prominent feature was, of course, its planet-destroying superlaser, which was powered by a hyper matter reactor and massive kyber crystals. If you’ve seen Rogue One, you know that the Death Star uses the same mysterious and rare crystals as the galaxy’s most iconic weapon: the Jedi’s lightsabers. But even before the latest movie, this was confirmed in the Expanded Universe lore. The superlaser draws its power from the reactor and the energy beams are focused using an array of kyber crystals, in part inspired by the technology of the ancient Sith.
Kyber crystals were scoured from all across the galaxy and hoarded by the Separatist Alliance during the Clone Wars to construct the giant battle station. Galen Erso’s research into kyber crystal technology and his knowledge as the leading galactic scientist in the field of crystallography and energy enrichment would prove invaluable to the development of the Emperor’s ultimate weapon.
14. It’s Based on the Tarkin Doctrine
Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is mostly known for commanding the first Death Star, but few people know that he was the main theoretician of the Imperial policy behind its development. The Tarkin Doctrine, also known as the Doctrine of Terror and officially known as Imperial Communique #001044.92v, was a statement made by Tarkin to the media after his promotion from Moff to become the first Grand Moff. In his famous statement, made five years after the formation of the Galactic Empire, Tarkin outlined his beliefs regarding the real reasons behind the collapse of the Republic and why it needed to be turned into the Empire.
The Tarkin Doctrine conceptualized maintaining peace and order through increased security and state terrorism, using fear to keep rebellious systems in line. The doctrine also blamed rampant self-interest for the collapse of the Republic and encouraged every Imperial citizen to do their part as part of a larger whole, especially within the military. The Tarkin Doctrine would become one of the most important Imperial documents, leading to the “rule by fear” ideology whose logical conclusion was the Death Star.
13. It Costs $15.6 Septillion, or 1.4 Trillion Times U.S. Debt to Operate
Ever wonder what it would cost to build a modern-day Death Star? Well, people have actually calculated the battle station’s price tag using the current cost of materials and space transport costs. Not surprisingly, it’s quite a lot. The total to build the Death Star comes in at a whopping $15,602,022,489,829,821,422,840,226 and 94 cents. That is $15.6 septillion, or about 1.4 trillion times the entire U.S. debt. To put this in perspective, that’s the same price as 124 trillion years of the war in Iraq.
This figure may also be a conservative one since it assumes a real-life Death Star would require only 1.71 quadrillion cubic meters of steel, or about 134 quadrillion tonnes and shipping it into space along with enough oxygen and nitrogen to make breathable air. This is not even taking into account the expense for the superlaser to turn planets into rubble, furniture, computer systems, leather seats, amenities, elevators, crew quarters, etc. Still, all hope is not lost, as a great deal of the expense comes from the cost of transporting everything into space – in the future if that becomes more financially viable, we may yet see the Death Star!
12. It’s Meant to Function as a Planet
Due to the Death Star’s enormous size, it was often mistaken for a small moon or planetoid. The entire hull of the station was covered in quandanium steel, and its structure was meant to function as its own world. The battle station was so massive it had its own gravitational pull, which forced the pilots of TIE fighters to fire their ships’ thrusters to take off from it. This process which was more commonly performed in a planet’s atmosphere than a space station. Much like a planet, the Death Star was divided into two hemispheres and even sported an “equator” of a kilometer-wide trench running around its circumference.
The surface of the Death Star was covered in sprawling cities, further cementing its role as a mobile Imperial world. It even had polar regions in the form of the north and south command sectors. Shield projection tower’s on the station’s surface protected the cities from space debris and provided defense from attacking fleets.
11. It Was Actually a Pretty Cushy Assignment
It may surprise some to know that despite the militaristic and authoritarian style of the Galactic Empire, being an Imperial trooper or officer assigned to the Death Star had its benefits. The Emperor’s pet project had creature comforts that most other Imperial military bases and postings did not. The station’s many onboard facilities included parks, shops, recreation areas, cantinas with top-of-the-line bartender droids, and commissaries with choices of rare and expensive luxuries. The Death Star also had its own bar and food that was considered decent by Imperial military standards.
Maintenance necessities such as trash compactors and MSE-6 series “mouse” repair droids were also available on the station, and Stormtroopers who were off-duty were known to meet clandestinely to play violent and prohibited ball sports in the Death Star’s zero-gravity filtration system. There was even a sauna onboard the Death Star where many members of the crew could go and relax. Overall, officers, soldiers, and engineers could do a lot worse than getting a relatively cushy and prestigious assignment like the Death Star, its destruction non-withstanding, of course.
10. It Has Thousands of Weapons Aside from the Superlaser
The Death Star’s main weapon is the superlaser, the planet-destroying energy weapon contained in a massive bowl-shaped dish on the station’s northern hemisphere. The superlaser took 168 gunners to operate and was responsible for the destruction of at least two entire planets. But the Death Star was equipped with thousands of other weapons to defend itself in addition to its main superlaser.
All in all, the Death Star was armed with 10,000 turbolaser batteries, 2,500 laser cannons, 2,500 ion cannons, and 768 tractor beam projectors. The entire outside of the station was also heavily armored to repel attacks by capital ships. The Death Star also held an enormous number of military vehicles and ships, including 7,200 TIE fighters, 4 strike cruisers, 3,600 assault shuttles, 1,400 AT-ATs, 1,400 AT-STs, and 1,860 drop ships. As though those numbers weren’t impressive enough, the Death Star boasted a crew of over 265,000, with over 600,000 troops, 52,000 gunners, 25,000 Stormtroopers, 167,000 pilots and 43,000 ship support staff.
9. Energy Requirements Were Colossal
Much about the inner workings of the Death Star remain a mystery. What is known is that the hypermatter reactor, the very beating heart of the Death Star, would have had to generate enormous amounts of energy in order to blast entire planets into rocky oblivion. A group of physics students at the University of Leicester recently calculated, using a great many variables and unknowns, the estimate for the energy requirements of the Death Star.
In the published paper, titled “That’s No Moon,” they theorize that with the target being a solid planet similar to Earth in size and composition, and used the gravitational binding energy of the planet to calculate how much energy would need to be in the Death Star’s superlaser to destroy it. The energy required to destroy a planet is about 2.25X10^32, and for larger planets like Jupiter the energy is estimated at 2X10^36. Because of these figures, they calculate that the hypermatter reactor of the Death Star would have an output equal to that of several main-sequence stars.
8. The Second Death Star Was Larger and Would Have Been Invincible
Man fans have questioned the wisdom of the Galactic Empire in building the second, larger Death Star in Return of the Jedi. After all, the first one was destroyed, so clearly the idea should have been abandoned, right? Well, it turns out the logic behind the second Death Star is not as simple and straightforward as most thought, and the Empire might have been right after all, because it’s canon that the second, larger version of the planet-destroying superweapon would have been invincible. Yes, you read that right.
The Death Star II was 160 kilometers to the original’s 120, replaced the infamous exhaust ports with millimeter-wide heat dispersion ducts, and had greatly increased power so it could fire and recharge its superlaser in a matter of minutes rather than hours. The targeting system was also improved so it could target capital ships, and an extra 20,000 turbolasers were added to repel future fighter attacks. The new Death Star also held more TIE fighters, ground troops, and ground assault vehicles. Even the Rebellion recognized the awesome threat posed by the improved Death Star and knew the only way to destroy the second Death Star was to destroy it while it was still under construction, which is of course, what they did, at great cost in ships and lives.
7. There Was A Petition to Build One and the White House Responded
The White House official website received a petition in late 2012 calling on the Obama Administration to secure funding and resources to begin construction of an actual Death Star by 2016. The original document assured that such a project would “strengthen our national defense” and create jobs “in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more.”
To everyone’s surprise, the obviously frivolous petition quickly gathered more than the required 25,000 signatures for an official reply from the White House. The open letter written in response by science and technology advisor Paul Shawcross was published under the title, “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For.” Shawcross then explains to millions of disappointed Star Wars fans that the construction of the Death Star would cost an estimated $850 quadrillion, that the Administration does not support blowing up planets, and the likely waste of taxpayer dollars for something that can be destroyed by a one-man starfighter is highly questionable.
Perhaps the best part of all was that the letter ends with a Vader quote, remind the petitioners that the power of the Death Star to destroy a planet “is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
6. It Was Built By Wookiee Slave Labor
The initial construction of the Death Star was carried out over Geonosis in the utmost secrecy, overseen by Wilhuff Tarkin, an Admiral at the time, after it was transferred from the defeated Separatists to become an Imperial project. Eventually, construction was renewed and moved to Despayre to cement Palpatine’s power. Enormous manufacturing capacity, such as the facilities on Riosa were commandeered by the Empire as resources were focused on completing the enormous battle station. The Empire’s “Ultimate Weapon” also mainly constructed by construction modules operated by Wookiee slave laborers.
In fact, this use of slaves was so vital to the success of the station that Tarkin had Darth Vader lead an invasion of the planet Kashyyyk, where Wookiees were captured and enslaved purely for use as laborers to help build the superweapon. The captured Wookiees would then be transported to the Death Star construction site, where they were pushed to the brink to manufacture its components.
5. It Oddly Resembles a Moon in Our Solar System
In 1980, ironically around the same time as the release date for Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, the two Voyager space probes sent back images of Mimas, one of Saturn’s moons. Because of its single massive crater (named Herschel) which resembles the concave disk of the superlaser, Mimas resembles the Death Star from certain angles. The fictional battle station and the small moon are even fairly comparable in size, with the Death Star having a diameter of 120 kilometers and Mimas having one of 396, making it the smallest astronomical round body in the solar system.
Oddly, the resemblance is purely coincidental, as A New Hope was made and released three years before images of Mimas with a high enough resolution to see the crater came back. Interest in the small moonlet also increased when the Cassini spacecraft sent back even more detailed photos in 2005.
4. Its Destruction Would Have Caused An Economic Crisis in the Empire
The Empire devoted over one trillion galactic credits to the construction of the Death Star, pressured planetary manufacturing plants into working overtime, and enslaved countless laborers to ensure its success. The enormous amount of labor and raw materials needed to make the Death Star a reality destroyed the economies and quality of life of many Imperial worlds. But if the damage caused to the Empire by its construction was massive, the damage the Rebels may have done to the galactic economy by destroying it would have been catastrophic.
According to Zachary Feinstein, professor of financial engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, the huge operating costs of running the Death Star and the economic fallout of its destruction would have caused a galaxy-wide economic depression and left the Rebels heavily in debt to banks after defeating the Empire, necessitating a bailout of somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of the galaxy’s gross domestic product.
3. Filming Its Explosion Was A Careful and Complex Process
The Death Star is famously destroyed in a glorious fireball at the end of A New Hope. But to create the explosion was no easy task for Star Wars effects artists Bruce Logan and Joe Viskocil to design. In an article written by Logan himself, the process of creating the Death Star’s explosion is described. After experimenting with various types of explosions and chemicals, Viskocil devised a bomb made of various ingredients, including sulfur and titanium chips. The chips would be responsible for creating the floating and dancing sparks seen in the final cut of A New Hope.
When shooting the explosion, they used a much larger stage and had the bomb explode directly overhead. When explosions are shot with the camera facing head-on, the forces of gravity give it the shape of a mushroom cloud instead of looking like an explosion in outer space. Instead, a camera was set up directly underneath the bomb to create the illusion that the explosion was expanding without the forces of gravity (I.e., in outer space). This technique is called a zero-g explosion.
2. Its Fatal Weakness Was Intentional
According to the official canon as shown in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Death Star’s fatal weakness in the form of a two meter-wide thermal exhaust port in the station’s meridian trench was an intentional weakness incorporated into the design by scientist Galen Erso. As Galen says in his holographic message, he knew the Empire would finish the Death Star without him, and so he made himself an invaluable member of the team so he could secretly make modifications to the Death Star’s plans. Erso intentionally implemented the flaw so that the Empire’s dreaded weapon could be destroyed by the Rebel Alliance. All that was needed was for them to acquire the technical readouts of the Death Star and launch the attack.
In the original Star Wars trilogy, the unshielded exhaust port was the result of Imperial hubris. The philosophy behind the design focused on large-scale defense because the Empire did not consider small one-man fighters to be a threat to their Ultimate Weapon. But Rogue One proves that the story of Star Wars is far from over.
1. Destruction Resulted in the Tortuous Death of its Architect (Multiple Times)
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the chief designer of the Death Star was engineer and architect Bevel Lemelisk, who would end up designing no less than six superweapons capable of destroying a planet. The Death Star would be the first, and Emperor Palpatine was greatly disappointed with its destruction. Since the design flaw stemmed from Lemelisk’s work, the Emperor decided to make an example of him. His first execution involved being put in a glass cage and being devoured by a swarm of flesh-eating piranha beetles. Lemelisk could do nothing as they tore away at his flesh, entering his ears and his eyes and giving him an excruciating death that lasted more than an hour.
However, Palpatine did not want the valuable engineer executed permanently. Lemelisk would end up being executed multiple times and cloned back to life by the Emperor, who used his dark alchemy to transfer his consciousness between host bodies.