Star Wars – Death Stars and Planet Killers: Enough Already

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Ominous, menacing, gorgeous. Rogue One has the best use of the Death Star.

Star Wars is stuck in a Death Star rut. Why is Lucasfilm so attached to Planet Killers? A New Hope opened with a super-weapon. They probably felt they had to up the stakes forever after. How many Star Wars movies feature a Death Star — or something like one?

It’s been on my mind since Star Killer Base in The Force Awakens, because being geeky is what I do.

Cruise with me through the galaxy far, far away and gander at the Death Star type weapons used in each film.

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A tragic, truly ugly-cry climax in Rogue One.

Death Star appearances, by production order: (spoilers ahoy through Rise Of Skywalker)

1. A New Hope

I ‘hope’ you remember there’s a Death Star in this movie. In the very first Star Wars film, the Death Star drives the entire plot. Poor Alderaan was exploded to smithereens by it. The climax is dedicated to blowing it up. Is a Death Star just a platform for a really big laser? It’s not exactly explained, but we get some more details in Rogue One.

2.     Return of the Jedi

The plot of the third Star Wars film isn’t all about the Death Star. It’s all about the Death Star II.  😉 But seriously, the Death Star II is bigger and badder than its predecessor, and built in record time. They probably fixed the exhaust port leading to the reactor, but that didn’t matter since the station was unfinished enough to fly into. Other plot things happened (had to have Ewok Time, you know), but vast stretches of story were spent on/fighting around this Planet Killer, or trying to turn off its shields. It’s a trap!

3. Revenge of the Sith

Remember that insectoid race on Geonosis? (The prequels are too plot-thick to explain, so I won’t go there.) Before they evacuated their planet, they’re seen closing a holo of Death Star schematics, taking their data, and caboosing out of there. Yes, the first Death Star took DECADES to make, in-universe.

4. The Force Awakens

Don’t make me laugh. StarKiller Base? It’s just a different kind of Death Star. Apparently this one can take out whole systems in one shot, and the core planets of the New Republic were vaporized. Trillions of voices crying out in terror? I love The Force Awakens, don’t get me wrong, but too many people noticed the lack of originality. They could have used the needle ship that blew up actual stars (from one of the discarded EU novels) if they needed a scarier weapon…but then we couldn’t stage entire set pieces on it.

5. Rogue One

If you watched the Erso family’s story, it’s all about the Death Star. And frankly, this is the single best use of it. While it doesn’t unleash its full destructive capabilities to destroy planets, we see first hand the fear of being targeted by even a fraction it its might. It was glorious and terrifying. This was a solid and very appropriate use of the Planet Killer. It felt novel, in a series already long in the tooth. Rogue One gets the RunPee Award for Best Use of a Star Wars MacGuffin.

6. The Last Jedi

Ha! You thought you were safe here. No Death Stars to be found, right? Wrong. Remember that big canon the First Order dragged across the salty, red-soiled planet of Crait?

Yes. It’s a Death Star weapon without the space station attached. Listen to the dialog. Finn didn’t have a chance in Tartarus destroying it with his attempted suicide run, but I was a sucker for his moment anyway. It was stupid, but he meant to sacrifice himself for a larger cause, and there his arc basically concluded. At the foot, literally, of another (in essence) Death Star.

7. Rise of Skywalker

Whew, getting bored yet? Almost done.

Every set piece on the ruins of Death Star II looked grand. Like the movie or not, you have to admit these were gorgeous scenes: both the fights outside the ruins, and the mental anguish in the old Throne Room sets therein. This would have been fine. A thoughtful coda to the Empire’s obsession with Death Stars.

But then Rise of Skywalker screwed the pooch by magically unleashing an entire fleet of new Star Destroyers, EACH equipped with handy underslung Planet Killer canons. We see it used to explode…what planet was that? Anyway, it seemed like thousands of Death Star equivalent weapons were now casually attached to every Imperial (okay “Final Order”) capital ship.

Just no. No, no. Make it stop! The stakes were already high —  we didn’t need this. The Death Star ground was no longer fertile, salted and scorched by too many retreads. A Dreadnaught/Imperial Destroyer is overpowered enough. Just one is enough to inspire panic (see the cameo appearance in Solo).

If Lucasfilm removed the ships’ canons from Rise of Skywalker, it would have gone a long way towards fixing the movie, which I otherwise (aside from Palpatine) enjoyed. Enough, already.

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Return of the Jedi makes the Death Star II look great. But it’s already a dead horse Lucasfilm never stopped beating.

The Mandalorian, and Death Star Weaponry

I hope the Disney+ series The Mandalorian stays far, far away from Planet Killers. The show happens after Return of the Jedi and before The Force Awakens, so we don’t know what Palpatine is doing right now (he’s busy becoming a Zombie?). So far,The Mandalorian is such a crazy success because it stays away from almost everything told and retold, with just the right amount of Star Wars fanservice. I have faith showrunner Jon Favreau won’t bother with super-weapons. He seems fairly attuned to what Star Wars needs right now to get the fan base back on board.

Can we have a movie about something else now?

So, out of 11 movies, a Death Star appears in seven films. Except for a cameo appearance in Revenge of the Sith, Planet Killers drives the plot. This is so unnecessary and repetitive that I have to wonder two things: 1. why not just stick a Death Star in every movie and call it Death Star Wars? Or 2. aren’t there other stories to tell in a universe otherwise fleshed out so well?

Did I miss an appearance, reference to, or other sighting of a Planet Killer?

I did an entire series rewatch, but wasn’t specifically looking for weapons of mass destruction. Is there another Death Star allusion somewhere? Maybe with some stormtroopers shooting the shit, a passing reference in the Senate, or rebel officers in a throw-away line about a shadowy rumor. Tell me what I missed in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “Star Wars – Death Stars and Planet Killers: Enough Already”

  1. Excellent job pulling this all together. I really wanted to laugh when I saw then carpet of Star Destroyers, all capable of destroying a planet, in RoS.

    And you’re telling me they can make that many Destroyers, with that amount of firepower, but not one of those ships KNOWS WHICH WAY IS UP? That’s the sort of plot hole I expect to find from a first time author on Kindle. Not from JJ Abrams. (Dude, try harder!)

    Also, after they destroyed the “beacon” ship, leaving all of the other ships as “sitting ducks” they go in for the kill and blow up all of the other Destroyers. But wait, you just said they’re sitting ducks. How about not blowing them up and instead just take them over, one by one. And you know what else? In this trilogy we met Finn, who was a deserter Storm Trooper, and found out that Storm Troopers are more likely than not just innocent people who have been enslaved. Yet the Rebellion leaders don’t give a second thought in trying to save them. They just blow up the ships they’re on. What sort of message is that?

    Here’s a much better ending: instead of blowing up the ships how about they infiltrate and turn the Storm Troopers against their captors?

    What a hack job ending this movie was. Every time I think about it I just get more and more pissed at the hack job of a story Abrams shit out to impress everyone.

  2. Thank you, Dan! And great comments.

    I’m capable of huge amount of handwaving if I have a good time watching a movie. And RoS is a ton of fun and fixes a lot of the Last Jedi ill-advised trashing of the saga.

    I think Rian would be better off in a stand alone star wars movie. But a lot of people are saying you can safely skip Last Jedi, kind of like the Machete Order that skips Phantom.Menace.

    But JJ, creative and fun as his work can be, has a tendency to be lazy on story structure, in favor of character and dialog, which he thrives at.

    And all those fucking Destroyers was ridiculous. That’s why I called it “magic”. All those ships built, all the crews and fighters and troops hired and trained, with no knowledge from anyone on either side of the conflict? For apparently decades? Word travels fast in a lightspeed capable Galaxy. Just, no freaking way.

    I love your idea of infiltrating the fleet and freeing the people. What a great message for Star Wars. They could make an entire movie about doing that, while mopping up the Final Order members that were brainwashed enough to go down fighting for it. It could have been very emotional, tragic, and uplifting, with a lot of moral ambiguity.

    Maybe one of the cannon books will center on the story of the Final Order. I do get the idea Palpatine likes “order”….Order 66, the First Order, the Final Order. Bringing ORDER to the galaxy …what are you trying to say, you crazy Empire?

    You must see the Mandalorian. It’s what star wars needs right now. If I had to place the five hours of the first season as a whole, it would be an A+, and rank among the best SW movies. Also, Jon favreau and taika watiti are in charge. It doesn’t feel like Marvel at all, but has the same care and attention to detail. It’s a story that builds slowly, expanding the universe without going overboard.

    Weren’t Jenna and her friends also deserter storm troopers? I liked her, actually. She did a lot with a small part. And the cavalry ride across the destroyer was…unique.

    JJ is more about style over substance, I think.

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