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A Death Star, or its later multi-targeting equivalent the Starkiller Base, seems to have only one function, namely destroying one or more planets, and perhaps their suns too.

But the Dark Lords that I am familiar with are driven not by a desire for destruction, but for rather power and domination. They use their Death Stars as weapons of fear, as threats, rather than having destruction as their end goal.

I wonder if there aren't more effective ways to achieve this.

The Dark Lords always have huge armies of stormtroopers, huge fleets of ships, as well as traditional and force-enhanced torture techniques. I would think that these tools would be sufficient to terrify planets and "bring them into line".

Not to mention the numerous unmentioned alternatives available to threaten populations with, such as poisoning environments, coercing officials, creating eclipses, force-choking beloved celebrities, and deploying atomic weapons (which, if discovered, could destroy a planet for a fraction of the size and cost, and avoid the single-point-of-failure).

We know that these stations take a long time to build, and must be hugely expensive. And we also know that every one built so far has been destroyed by Light-siders.

So why is the Dark Side so obsessed with building planet-destroyers of unimaginable firepower, and what makes the alternatives so much less appealing?

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    I would be especially interested to hear why the second Death Star was built larger than the first one, given that the original design seemed quite capable of destroying whole planets already, assuming its vulnerability could be fixed. – joeytwiddle Dec 30 '15 at 4:33
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    Nothing is more terrifying than instant death. Why do nations like the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. build up a nuclear arsenal when they both had ample traditional weaponry? Easy: By pressing one button you can obliterate something without the “messiness” of traditional warfare. Bring the Death Star to a system where planets are “out of line,” blow up one planet and then watch the rest fall in line. Without the Death Star it just becomes an endless ground/air/space conflict that incurs more loses on the side of the bad guys. – JakeGould Dec 30 '15 at 4:55
  • Maybe because the predecessors have raised the bar ? The First Order probably did not want to be less frightening than the Empire. Plus Starkiller base had wholly capabilities, what with dispensing instant death all over the galaxy without even moving. – Eike Pierstorff Dec 30 '15 at 6:12
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    If at first you don't succeed..... – BBlake Dec 30 '15 at 18:28
  • One has to wonder if it isn't commentary on the propensity of governments to build super weapons, many of which prove themselves to be much more expensive than they are effective. The politics of war. – Kennah Dec 31 '15 at 4:47
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  1. It takes less time to manage the fear-inducement by one Death Star, and that frees you up to do Sith-y things.

    Darth Sidious explicitly alludes to that in Tarkin James Luceno novel

    As powerful as the battle station might become, its real purpose was to serve as a tangible symbol and constant reminder of the power of the dark side, and to free Sidious from having to portray that part.

    Darth Plagueis had once remarked that “the Force can strike back.” The death of a star didn’t necessarily curtail its light, and indeed Sidious could see evidence of that sometimes even in Vader—the barest flicker of persistent light. Attacks like the one directed against Tarkin’s moon base and discoveries like the one on Murkhana were distractions to his ultimate goal of making certain that the Force could not strike back, and that whatever faint light of hope remained could be snuffed out for good.

  2. Please note specifically that this angle addresses the "efficient" part of your argument. Yes it may be expensive to build, but as a Dark Lord, your most precious resource isn't usually money, it's your time and attention. If you spend 3 months directing military assault on a planet, you wasted 3 months. If you spent 10 minutes ordering that planet destroyed by a super-weapon, you have 2 months, 29 days, 11 hours and 50 minutes to do Dark Lordey things, like meditating on the Force, training whiney apprentices, or trying to pass the final level of Flappy Bird without cheating with the Force.

  3. Rebels managed to obtain capable capital ships, so merely threatening people with Star Destroyers isn't always effective (if they can match them with Mon Calamari cruisers).

  4. Star Wars has highly developed planetary shields (we see one in EU over Coruscant, as one example; or over Starkiller in Episode VII. Or over Hoth in Episode V.)

    Conventional Navy is powerless to rain death, destruction and terror if that shield is in place.

    A super-weapon will blow up the planet together with the shield

  • Also, they weren't necessarily large spheres. Sun Crusher was a weird crystal shape and very small. Darksaber was a cylinder IIRC, though it wasn't built by the Sith – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 30 '15 at 4:49
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    Also Starkiller base was not a fear-inducing weapon, IIRC it was a secret and without Finn nobody would have even known what had hit the New Republic (and with an incoming Death Star you will probably have a few evacuees to spread the fear around the galaxy. Not so much with a thing that remotely destroys star systems). As somebody in a wholly different franchise once said, this is not a weapon of fear, this is a weapon of war. So apparently the FO baddies wanted to try a different tactic after the whole Death Star thing did not work out so well. – Eike Pierstorff Dec 30 '15 at 6:38
  • @EikePierstorff - presumably, they would have announced it once the element of surprise wore off. But arguments #2 and #3 still hold even so. As well as 1/2 of argument #1 (it's still less effort to manage 1 superweapon than 1000s of capital ships, public or not) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 30 '15 at 6:47
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    The thing with Starkiller is that its first shot served many purposes concurrently. It is a statement: (cue Imperial March) This is the First Order. Too long has the glorious days of Imperial supremacy been forgotten. But no more! Loyalists, take heart! Soon, you can drop your facade, for the Empire has returned! As for you, Republic scum, now you will remember the true meaning of fear. We are coming, and we will crush you in the name of Peace, Justice, and Security!!! – thegreatjedi Jan 19 '16 at 12:05
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    Really, the first shot is equivalent to the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn in Legends. It also serves the strategic purpose of destroying the Republic Senate - the central government is destroyed, the military has lost a fleet. The intended second shot is purely an act of war: There is only one group who dare defy us. We will not make the same mistake again. We will crush them before the war can even begin! – thegreatjedi Jan 19 '16 at 12:09
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Just look at human history. Hitler had a cannon built that lobbed 80cm shells, took weeks to prepare, fired only a few shots, wore down quickly and was susceptible to bombers. He even had more stupid ideas like a land battleship, which was an immense tank. That's the way power hungry people think: large. Even larger.

Besides, in the Star Wars Universe as well as Star Trek, the knowledge of how to build nukes seems to be forgotten...

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    or obsolete... I mean, soldiers aren't trained to use swords and spears etc. nowadays either. – Mark Gardner Feb 1 '17 at 14:17
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The War Is Boring website explains it as being an unavoidable effect of the Empire/First order being a top-down, command-and-control bureaucracy. Because they generally reward people who talk about the Empire's failures with a reaction somewhere between scorn and force-choking, no-one ever learns from their mistakes, and they logically conclude that the previous effort only failed because they didn't try hard enough. Therefore, they build it again, only bigger!

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I would suggest - and given that the old books are now considered 'Legend' - that the size of the Star Killer simply has to do with the fact that it's:

1) consuming the power of a sun to charge its weaponry...

And where in the world are you going to house all that energy and how in the world are you going to discharge the energy without blasting everything else in the immediate vicinity around it into nothingness?

Bear in mind, the Star Killer doesn't just sip up the energy of the sun; it drinks it ALL up until the sun essentially 'dies' and storages it somehow to blast it ALL back out as a form of sun-powered energy weaponry.

Seems to me that just on a more 'this might make sense' level and without needing a ton of extra explanation or justifications, such a weapon would need a lot of space... and more than the space a smaller 'moon' (previous Death Star) would afford them and much less anything smaller.

2) supposed to be stealth and so why not masquerade as an entire planet itself.

A planet is big - bigger than a moon - which means it has space for the super weapon itself, for a base of operations, and for all the people needed to operate it.

A planet will show up in star charts just like any other normal space entity which will help allow it to pass on by as being normal.

And finally...

3) in the case of maintaining more movie-line and visual consistency and for the sake of easier explanation and to help facilitate recognition, a more stealth but much bigger Death Star lookalike just makes more sense.

People see the Star Killer in the movie and they're going to go, "You know, I think I've seen that somewhere!"

In the case of the Death Star, it cues anticipation that the Dark Side is indeed present.

People see some odd-looking other craft or entity that's otherwise never made an appearance (I'm thinking about the use of Jar Jar Binks as comedic relief) and they're going to go, "Wait... What's that doing here?" which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but would likely require more explanation and more extensive background development to ensure it 'fits' into the pre-established universe...

Like the Sun Crusher of previous books.

  • #2 briefly conjured the image of a planet dropping out of hyperspace into an unsuspecting system being considered a stealthy approach. "Don't mind me, just a planet passing through. Nothing to worry about!" – joeytwiddle Dec 30 '15 at 17:03
  • Although in fact you were talking about masking the construction, which is a pretty reasonable theory. +1 – joeytwiddle Dec 30 '15 at 17:03
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    @joeytwiddle As far as I recall, there's no indication in the movie that Starkiller Base travels through hyperspace. It is mentioned that its weapon fires through hyperspace, which would presumably negate any need to move the planet itself. – recognizer Dec 30 '15 at 22:47
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    I would agree with that...except, the Starkiller consumes the power of the sun its using, if it was never intended to move, it'd only be able to fire once or twice, and building a weapon that can only fire once or twice doesn't seem incredibly practical. – Brian Deragon Jan 19 '16 at 0:39

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