I've always wondered how, after Red Leader's two proton torpedoes impact on the surface of the Death Star, were Luke's torpedoes able to even come close to making correct navigation through the thermal exhaust port? Surely an explosion would cause terrible damage to the surrounding area and yet we see no obvious damage to the area around the target.

RED LEADER: Negative! It didn't go in. It just impacted on the surface.

Is there any evidence as to where Red Leader's torpedoes impacted? Did they fly out of the trench only to "impact on the surface"? Or did they impact the surface of the trench? In short, what damage did Red Leader's torpedoes cause to the Death Star?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/76192/… or scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/8543/…
    – Spencer
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:38
  • @Spencer - Both of those deal with the proton torpedoes that Luke fired, but I think this question is rather about the proton torpedoes that Red Leader fired earlier, which "impacted on the surface" according to the dialogue and also caused some visible shaking for people inside the Death Star, but seemed to leave no visible damage when we saw Luke shoot his proton torpedoes at the same area. The question is asking if there is any in-universe explanation for why they didn't leave any visible damage.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:47
  • I guess the question comes down to how close was Red Leader's "impact on the surface" to the exhaust port?
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 2:57
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    I also don't appreciate how the title was changed so drastically as to remove the essence of the question re: Red Leader, and then have it marked as a duplicate. See evidence: scifi.stackexchange.com/posts/129294/revisions This is why I lurked for a long time and have now been discouraged from directly engaging with this community again. Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:59
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    I've rolled the edit back and voted to reopen. I agree that the earlier edits were unwarranted.
    – Rogue Jedi
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


In short, the Death Star was so heavily armored that little to no damage was done -- it was necessary to get the torpedoes down the thermal exhaust port to have any real effect.

There is a GIF in this other SFF post that shows direct evidence from the movie. Red Leader's torpedoes did little damage to the port; just a little scorching.

enter image description here

Think about how Bard's arrow wouldn't have done any damage to the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit if it hadn't hit that one place missing a scale...or how Apollo directed Paris's arrow to Achilles' one vulnerable spot...

  • How does that explain Luke firing his laser cannons seemingly randomly at the Death Star, only to cut to destruction inside? Commented May 27, 2016 at 12:55
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    It doesn't. But you asked about proton torpedoes. Maybe the area Luke hit with his laser cannons wasn't "ray-shielded". Maybe you could ask a new question about the Death Star's shielding...
    – Spencer
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:47
  • While I still find it a bit difficult to imagine the events of this clip (youtu.be/6v5VahaEL7s?t=8m11s) caused the scuff, I'll accept this as the closest evidence we have of the damage caused to the area around the exhaust port if nothing else surfaces in a few days. Commented May 27, 2016 at 20:26
  • "No damage"? Don't they show various people inside the station getting blown up by the explosion?
    – Dronz
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 4:27

In real life, ship-fired torpedoes have a feature known as an arming run to prevent a torpedo from detonating too close to the firing craft (http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WTUS_WWII.php). The warhead of the torpedo is armed only after the torpedo has moved a preset distance away from the launching craft.

If I were a Wing Commander of a flight of X-wing fighters, assigning my pilots make precision attack runs against a small target, flying in single file formation within the confined close quarters of the equatorial trench of a space station, I would make sure that the explosion of a proton torpedo that missed would not adversely effect the spaceframe, targeting sensors, shields, or pilot eyesight of the next fighter on the attack run - allowing for maximum survivability of my fighter group and better odds of a successful mission. A successful proton torpedo would have to travel a long distance from the opening of the thermal exhaust port to the main reactor of the Death Star - it makes tactical sense to use the arming run of the torpedo to prevent the torpedo from detonating prematurely.

So, it is my theory that the proton torpedoes used in the assault on the Death Star were configured with an arming run, and at the time of impact on the surface of the Death Star, did not have armed warheads and the minimal damage sustained by the surface of the Death Star was only the result of the amount of kinetic energy the torpedoes transferred to the surface armor.

  • Do you have a quote from George Lucas or some other member of the production team to make us think they considered this?
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 16:53
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    No, @Spencer, I do not (I did try to find something stated about it though) - however, it is called a "proton torpedo", and all real life versions of a "torpedo" have this function. Cinematically, it was probably more important to indicate that "previous shots missed" rather than deeply discussing why and how the miss happened. Looking at the above GIF, the under the splotch on the death star surface, the seams of armor plating are still visible, so it appears to me that the warheads did not detonate.
    – PhasedOut
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 14:29
  • My point is that there has to be something in your answer to support that assertion. I rather think if they'd thought of "arming runs" while making the movie, it would have been in the script because it would have sounded cool. You might look for a military consultant in the credits and edit it in.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 22:16
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    @Spencer OP didn't state whether the question was meant to be answered in-universe or out of universe. Regardless of if "arming runs" were thought of while making the movie, this answer makes sense and offers a reasonable explanation in lieu of concrete evidence. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:39

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