“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed” Darth Vader once warned an Imperial Admiral, finding the ability to destroy a planet “insignificant next to the power of the Force.” Though the Dark Lord of the Sith may not have been too impressed with the existence of the Emperor’s superweapon, the floating fortress was just as useful striking fear into the galactic population as it was at striking its planets. The size of a small moon, the Death Star was home to hundreds of thousands of crew members, troops, pilots, and Imperial officers. It was also home to their families, bolstering the population to the size of any one of the galaxy’s largest metropolises. The station sported an entire urbane ecosystem of entertainment centers and recreation areas amidst its thousands of starfighters, ground assault vehicles, and ion cannon turrets.
While some facts about the Death Star are well known -- Rogue One showed us it’s powered by kyber crystals (just like those found in lightsabers), and A New Hope showed us that a carefully aimed torpedo down a two meter wide exhaust port was its greatest weakness. But what about the nature of its other energy sources? How did it remain concealed for decades without anyone suspecting its true nature? How does an object the size of a moon move between star systems? Scouring technological journals, novels, comics, and everything short of authentic Imperial dispatches, here are some things only true fans know about the Death Star’s inner workings.
Even without the Death Star’s superlaser (which took a whopping 168 gunnies to man), its status as the “ultimate weapon” in the galaxy was secured thanks to armaments implemented during its construction. With all the focused energy of a stellar-core, it’s planet-destroying capabilities made it almost mythologically formidable, but what good is a superlaser if the vessel carrying it isn’t armed to defend itself?
With 10,000 heavy turbolaser and regular turbolaser batteries, 2,500 laser cannons, 2,500 ion cannons, and 768 tractor beam emplacements, it was a floating fortified fortress. It could be defended in space by 7,200 TIE fighters, and had 25,000 stormtroopers stationed on board.
While the Death Star was being built, it went by several names. During the events of Attack of the Clones, it was known as the “Ultimate Weapon” by the Separatists responsible for its initial construction. For a time, a longer moniker was tried out for the project, the “Expeditionary Battle Planetoid Development Initiative” before being called “DS-1 Orbital Battle Station”. According to Rogue One, internally it was also known as “Project Stardust” by its chief engineer Galen Erso.
In dispatches, the Empire had to be careful how they coded the name of the super weapon, because if their communiques fell into the wrong hands, the public would be aware that the Empire had developed something capable of destroying any planet that challenged its authority.
To build a Death Star right now, it would cost an estimated $15.96 septillion dollars, which is more than all the nations on planet Earth have combined (or roughly 1.5 trillion times the country's debt!). Of course, most of that cost comes from having to transport the personnel and materials into space, an issue which the Empire doesn’t have.
The Empire saved a significant amount of credits on its superweapon. It was paid for by taxes levied on the citizens under its rule. It spent very little in labor costs since most laborers were forced to work on it. It confiscated the natural resources on planets without compensation, and had entire planets like Mustafar devoted to mining 130 quadrillion tons of durasteel.
The Death Star was 120 kilometers in diameter, or roughly the size of a Class IV moon. Due to its immense size and spherical shape, it was often mistaken for a moon, and was the largest object ever built in the galaxy by the time it was complete.
The power generated within the Death Star, combined with its size, gave it the magnetic and artificial gravitational fields of a planet. And just like a planet, it had a south pole and a north pole, as well as an equator bifurcating its middle region in a deep trench home to its hangar bays, exhaust ports, and sensor arrays.
The operations aboard a planet-sized space station required a population the size of the densest metropolises in the Empire. It’s personnel consisted of crew members, troops, pilots, gunners, and support staff (mostly consisting of Imperial officers), and 25,000 stormtroopers.
With hundreds of thousands of Imperial personnel handling the daily tasks (many accompanied by their entire families), the Empire had to accommodate their needs. The station’s facilities included shopping malls, parks, recreational areas, and commissaries with luxury items. All of this was located on a separate promenade level, similar to what’s found on a cruise ship. Due to the amenities on board not found on typical bases, it was a desirable post for an Imperial officer, except perhaps when Darth Vader paid a visit.
While the Empire saved a significant amount of credits during the Death Star’s construction by employing forced labor and forcibly mining natural resources from colonized planets, it funded large sectors of the galactic economy with its massive project.
Manufacturing plants and private contractors were all conscripted to the project, often working at double their capacity. And while the owners of those facilities got rich, the raw materials needed to make the Death Star ravaged many Imperial worlds and depleted the quality of life for their inhabitants. All in all, the project put over one trillion credits into the galactic economy, and its destruction meant a Death Star sized hole in it.
Over the course of the Death Star’s decades long construction, personnel on board rotated. High ranking Imperial officers, such as Moffs, visited from the systems under their control but weren’t posted there. Other officers that were part of the supporting staff had tours that lasted as few as 180 days, while some were much longer. An officer might serve up to six years without ever having shore leave.
The Death Star operated in secret and in deep space. It’s facilities were to be kept completely confidential, so the regular shore leave that might be afforded crew members of the Imperial Fleet was not offered to personnel aboard the superweapon. Contact with friends and family was strictly prohibited, necessitating the areas for entertainment and leisure.
While the original manifest of the Death Star was lost with its destruction, early reports indicate that the crew and personnel numbered over a million individuals, with room for a billion. Its crew consisted of 265,675 personnel, with an additional 607,360 troops, 167, 210 pilots, 52, 276 gunners, 47,782 support staff (mostly consisting of Imperial officers), and 25, 984 stormtroopers.
Since the location and operations of the Death Star were to be kept strictly confidential, the Empire encouraged all Imperial officers and engineers to have their families live on board the space station with them. It made their lives more amenable and also prevented distention in the ranks.
Galen Erso, the leading authority on crystallography in the galaxy, was recruited to the Death Star project because of his intimate knowledge of kyber crystals, which Emperor Palpatine wanted to power its superlaser.
Erso believed he was being recruited to create a source of renewable energy, and when he realized the true intent of his research, he incorporated a vulnerability into the Death Star’s design. The 376 kilometer trench at the equator of the station, was a “seam” in the station’s defense that a single starfighter could exploit by infiltrating and reaching one of the exhaust ports. If it could fire a blast down the port, it would reach the main reactor, triggering the destruction of the entire station.
Though the Death Star wouldn’t be a fully operational planet-killer until A New Hope, holographic plans for it can be seen as far back as Attack of the Clones when the Geonosians talk about the “Ultimate Weapon”. The designs for this ultimate weapon were in the hands of Count Dooku, the leader of the Separatist Army in favor of seceding from the Republic. Dooku was under the guidance of Darth Sidious, the true identity of Chancellor Palpatine.
Palpatine had fueled the cause of the Separatists against the Republic and its Grand Army to ignite a civil war and necessitate weapons like the Death Star. The seed of its evil could be traced back to long before the Empire existed.
The original plans for the Death Star were conceived during the Clone Wars. In the hands of the Separatists initially, after Chancellor Palpatine and the Grand Army of the Republic wiped them out (along with the Jedi Order), there was no one to stop Palpatine when he created the first Galactic Empire and implemented the super weapon immediately to strike fear into an uncertain populus.
At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpatine is seen on the bridge of an early Star Destroyer along with Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader, gazing at the skeletal shell of the Death Star through a viewport. It would take another two decades to become fully operational.
The Geonosians were the last to have the Death Star plans, and it was over their planet that initial construction for the superweapon was carried out. Overseen by Wilhuff Tarkin, an Admiral in the Imperial Navy at the time and a Governor of the Saweena Sector, it became an Imperial project of the utmost secrecy after it was transferred from the hands of the defeated Separatists.
The construction moved to other locations as secrecy necessitated, and when the Empire commandeered the manufacturing facilities of several planets, it also sought labor to begin using the resources in physical construction. The Imperial Fleet was dispatched to the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk, where Darth Vader personally oversaw thousands of Wookiees be rounded up to become laborers.
Wilhuff Tarkin was a regional governor who showed promise in the Imperial Navy, where he quickly rose through the ranks with an eye for strategy and political maneuvering. Upon achieving the highest rank the Imperial military had to offer (Grand Moff), he issued a statement outlining his beliefs on how the Empire would rule through fear. It was known as the Tarkin Doctrine, and would be the primary Imperial policy behind the Death Star project.
Tarkin believed that it was the civic responsibility of every Imperial citizen to contribute in service to the Empire. Peace and order was only possible through increased military strength and security. Fear would keep rebellious systems in check, and if not, then the Death Star would make sure of it.
Prior to Grand Moff Tarkin assuming command of the Death Star and overseeing all operations, Orson Krennic served as the Director of Advanced Weapons Research and head of the Death Star project. Reporting directly to the council of Moffs and Lord Vader, Director Krennic was an opportunistic Imperial officer that wanted to rise above his station as a working class lieutenant and become well respected in the Imperial Navy.
Orson Krennic used his influence within the Imperial Security Bureau to secure the position of overseeing the Death Star’s construction. Ironically, it was a security breach (one of the very things he was tasked to prevent) that allowed Grand Moff Tarkin to wrest the appointment (and authority) away from Krennic.
Once the Rebel Alliance was in possession of the Death Star plans, they immediately set about determining if the Emperor’s super weapon had a weakness. They found that if a small starfighter could get to one of the exhaust ports along the trench that bifurcated the Death Star, the pilot might be able to fire a torpedo into it that would start a chain reaction right to the station’s core and blow it up from the inside.
Scientist Galen Erso had purposefully engineered just such a weakness into the Death Star plans hoping the Alliance would exploit it. Imperial hubris prevented anyone from expecting such a daring attack maneuver.
The very same crystals that power a Jedi’s lightsaber also powered the Death Star’s superlaser. In the wake of the Clone Wars, when the Empire had wiped out the Jedi Order, it set about sending the Imperial Fleet to all the corners of the galaxy where Jedi Temples stood, plundering the kyber crystal they contained, or mining it straight from the ground.
The kyber crystals were housed in the fusion reactor at the Death Star’s core. The immense energy supply they created for the superlaser was the entire reason the planet-sized Death Star existed to contain it. Eight initiator beams helped focused the kyber crystals and amplify their intense power to generate not only the superlaser, but all power systems onboard.
One might wonder how the Empire managed to keep the Death Star a secret for decades. From the time of the Clone Wars until the outbreak of the Galactic Civil War in A New Hope, the Death Star was the largest single object being constructed in space and yet no one knew its true purpose.
The superweapon went by many names, one of which was the “Imperial Planetary Ore Extractor”. To conceal its plans from the governing body of the Galactic Senate, the Empire referred to the Death Star as a mining operation tool in dispatches and to news outlets. Its true intentions was on a need to know basis, and confidential to everyone but the highest ranking Imperial officers.
Moving something the size of the Death Star through open space is no easy task, nevermind having it jump to lightspeed. All starships going into deep space have hyperspace motivators on board. The Death Star’s motivators were comprised of linked banks of field generators. A grand total of 123 of these generators, tied into a single navigational matrix, were required to carry the Death Star beyond the speed of light.
For realspace movement, an external array of powerful ion engines converted raw fusion energy from the station’s core into thrust, allowing the station’s mass to be moved however the giant navicomputer banks determined. Engineers who had to monitor the ion engines wore radiation suits.
Just as important as the humanoid crew of the station was the support crew of over 400,000 droids that performed almost every imaginable function. These robotic servants ranged from astromech droids like R2-D2 to perform ship repairs and maintenance, as well as protocol droids like C-3PO that communicated between the station’s computers.
The most common droid found aboard the Death Star was the “mouse” droid, a small droid that resembled a toaster on wheels. Besides maintenance and protocol, there were droids for scientific research, medical assistance, domestic service, sanitation, and interrogation. The presence of so many droids cut down on cost and also provided invaluable assistance to their humanoid counterparts.
Though an Imperial post on the Death Star was much more comfortable than being stationed on a typical Imperial base, the rigors of Imperial duty still wore on the crew and staff. Those that didn’t have their families with them weren’t permitted to be in communication with them per the confidential nature of their assignment, so the life of a crew member aboard the station could be a lonely one.
Gathering at the Hard Heart Cantina was a regular pastime then, run by a renowned proprietor of nightlife establishments on Coruscant. A favorite of officers, it offered a place for camaraderie, blossoming romance, and a few hands of sabacc. Unfortunately, it was destroyed along with the original Death Star.