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It's already been explained that destroying Yavin IV wouldn't be viable due to cooldown, and of course whatever debris would be a danger to the DS1 itself.

It's also been explained why they needed to wait till their orbit brought them around the planet.

But why couldn't they just shoot through the gas giant? With as much power as they're outputting, surely whatever gassy matter wouldn't impede enough force to still obliterate the moon. They would only need to shoot through a small portion of the planet. If it's the gravity well of the planet, surely with the technology of complicated hyperspace calculations they could compensate (if the gravity would have had any effect on the superlaser).

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    Why bother? It isn't as though anything could happen to the Death Star during those few minutes, surely? – Harry Johnston Aug 26 '15 at 4:50
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    Gas giants aren't gas all the way through, for one thing. – Blazemonger Aug 26 '15 at 10:40
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    Because then it would just destroy Yavin instead. The superlaser of the Death Star is a particle beam, not a laser. If it were a laser it would probably ionise and turn at least part of Yavin into a plasma, which may or may not be a problem. A superlaser though, which draws its beam from hypermatter, is basically a scaled up version of a blaster. When its beam comes into contact with matter, like gas, it explodes. So if you hit Yavin with a superlaser, Yavin would explode. – Phyneas Aug 26 '15 at 11:33
  • @Phyneas why do laser beams only explode on contact with solid matter? – user46509 Aug 26 '15 at 12:32
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    Ever point beam at a container of water? It bends. Gasses will also refract light. If we briefly pretended that the 'superlaser' acted like a laser, then shooting through Yavin, would possibly result in the refraction and a miss shot. – Zoredache Aug 26 '15 at 17:05
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The Death Star superlaser, despite its name, is a particle beam weapon and not actually a laser (lasers interact differently than charged particles do with matter).

Even if the Death Star superlaser was actually a laser, it still might not actually work passing through Yavin Prime. Shooting a beam of massless photons would, presumably, ionise the gases that they passed through, turning those gases into plasma. Plasmas can, though do not necessarily always, absorb electromagnetic radiation (photons), so it is possible that by ionising Yavin Prime, the laser itself could be blocked (at least partly) by the plasma it helped to create and is sustaining by firing into it.

However, as stated, the superlaser of a Death Star is not a laser, but is actually a particle beam weapon. A particle beam weapon accelerates charged particles, such as electrons or protons, or in this case, some form on unstable matter sourced from hypermatter, to very high speeds up to just below the speed of light. These massive particles then impact the target with tremendous amounts of kinetic energy.

If you shot a superlaser at a gas giant (planet) like Yavin Prime, the charged particles would collide with the gases in their various states (gases in gas giants turn into liquids as you descend into them as the pressure increases, plus gas giants can have solid materials in them and some may even have solid cores) and its kinetic energy would be imparted, at least in part, to the planet itself rather than its target, Yavin IV.

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