We know that each Death Star has enough firepower to obliterate a planet. But other than this, what are they good for? For one, I have trouble imagining a practical situation where "blow up the whole planet" turns out to be the preferred strategy. More generally, it looks like anything that can be done with a Death Star can also be done, more efficiently, with a fleet of smaller vessels, e.g., (Super) Star Destroyers and their supporting spacecrafts.

I could see a use for a Death Star as a support craft (e.g., as a mobile hangar, or a means to transport very large amounts of soldiers and supplies), but not as the autonomous flagship vessel of your fleet.

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    The whole "fear of this battlestation" line implies it was supposed to be an invincible symbol of the Empires might and authority (and megalomania). As a tool of war, you're right, it's strategically useless and inefficient. As a tool of control and intimidation, it's not bad,
    – Radhil
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 13:07
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    We know that each nuclear missile has enough firepower to obliterate a city. But other than this, what are they good for? Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 13:27
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    Just out of interest, in The Jedi Academy Trilogy, Qwi Xux, a designer of the Death Star, thought it was going to be used to break up lifeless planets to allow easier access to the precious resources contained within.
    – M_the_C
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:03
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    You have trouble imagining a practical situation, but you are not evil-incarnate, with your soul swimming in the Dark Side of the Force. Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 16:11
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    Provide millions of jobs to imperial citizens & a place for incarcerated aliens to be "processed" Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 5:23

5 Answers 5


The primary purpose of the Death Star is to create order through fear, as stated by Tarkin in A New Hope.

TARKIN: The regional governors now have direct control over territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.


TARKIN: Princess Leia, before your execution I would like you to be my guest at a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.

The Empire wasn't planning on destroying planets willy-nilly, but believed that the Death Star would cause potentially rebellious governments to reconsider.

Additionally, Return of the Jedi shows that a

fully operational

Death Star can take out a command ship in a single shot. A Star Destroyer, on the other hand, would have generally required a sustained barrage, making the Death Star a very viable warship.

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    This is certainly the primary purpose of a Death Star. Is the question not actually asking about other purposes? It seems to be additionally a mobile seat of power (the conference room in DS I, the throne room in DS II), mobile barracks, probably mobile supply point, and even a kind of star craft carrier. Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 13:37
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    @MartinCarney No architect would ever design a giant exposed vent right over a Death Star's core reactor, that's Space Architecture 101. It had to be the contractor.
    – Jimmy M.
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:20
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    @JimmyM. You have no idea what the design constraints were. After all, you're trying to cool down a weapon that has enough energy to spectacularly blow up a planet - it's quite an achievement that they managed to do that through a tiny exhaust port. And who could ever hit such a tiny target while under fire, while also managing for the torpedo to make a 90° turn at just the right point in its absurdly fast speed? The rebels cheated. Or the whole destruction hero thing was a bit of carefuly constructed propaganda.
    – Luaan
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:47
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    @Luaan, blame the space wizards. The whole point of an exhaust port is that it's ejecting things, and yet the neophyte space wizard threw something into the exhaust port after turning it 90 degrees, and it still traveled all the way to the center of the moon-sized space station.
    – Brian S
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 16:18
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    @KyleStrand I laughed when that was what was in the spoiler tag. I read it in the Emperor's voice, too. The tags are on point.
    – Brad
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 20:32

After blowing up Alderaan, the Death Star's role is Power Projection (aka Force Projection) for the Empire. See Wikipedia's article on Power projection.

The Death Star was supposed to be impervious to all threats. So strategically where it goes, the Empire's at its strongest.

It doesn't have to blow up any more planets. Being able to travel Faster-Than-Light means the Empire can show up with the biggest johnson gun.

Yes a fleet of super Star Destroyers can blockade (badly) or bombard (also badly) or fight (very badly) or interdict (supremely badly). Small ships seems especially effective against the Empire's Capital ships.

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    Do not confuse the games and the movies. In the games (and some EU material), the small ships are effective against capital ships. In the movies, this certainly isn't the case - it's assumed they can do no harm to the capital ships until their shields are brought down. And while I agree that the Death Star is a superb logistic platform (though apparently quite slow, and obviously horrendously expensive), its main asset is still the huge superlaser, which says "you can't hide safe behind your planetary shields". Destroying the planet is just an unfortunate side-effect of that primary role.
    – Luaan
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:51
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    I like the game vs movie comment, but I've never played the games. My comment on the relative vulnerability of Empire capital ships to small craft comes basically from 1) x-wing takes out original Death Star 2) Millennium Falcon is effective as smuggler and to outwit Star Destroyers in Empire Strikes Back 3) Rebel Blockade runners in ESB.
    – paulzag
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 14:58
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    oh and all my "badlys" were to emphasise that George Lucas's Empire shoots blasters badly and it all goes downhill from there.
    – paulzag
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:07
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    1) Luke Skywalker is a Space Wizard and that design flaw shouldn't have been there in the first place. 2) The Millenium Falcon was... Well, not necessarily designed, but heavily modified for the purpose of smuggling, which means things like passive stealth and excellent engines and maneuverability for when it's time to Run Away. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 7:31
  • The Falcon is also significantly smaller than regular transport ships. In case of a planet-wide blockade you'd need entire fleets of YT-1300 freighters to continue to support a planet that can't effectively feed and supply itself. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 7:32

Tarkin put it best when he said

Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope

The Death Stars' superlaser is not intended to destroy planets so much as provide a credible threat that those planets can be destroyed. Think of the nuclear arsenals of countries like the United States and the former Soviet Union: these arsenals are more than enough to kill everyone on Earth, but no one wants to actually use them. They exist only to prevent other countries from launching an attack, lest they invite a retaliatory nuclear attack on themselves.

The use of the Death Star superlaser on Alderaan was intended mainly to demonstrate that the Empire possessed the ability to destroy planets. It is similar to how the atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. on Japan in World War II were partially intended to demonstrate to Japan (and the rest of the world) that the U.S. possessed such a powerful weapon. With Alderaan a demonstration of the Empire's capabilities, the Death Star would theoretically never need to destroy a planet again.

The Death Star is so huge that it is also theoretically invulnerable to even the largest Rebel fleet, whereas Star Destroyers are small enough that they can be destroyed by Rebel capital ships:

Tagge: Until this battle station is fully operational we are vulnerable. The Rebel Alliance is too well equipped. They're more dangerous than you realize.

Motti: Dangerous to your starfleet, Commander, not to this battle station!

Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope

The Empire of course did not realize the first Death Star had a vulnerable thermal exhaust port which would allow a starfighter to destroy the whole station. Theoretically, the completed second Death Star would be invulnerable to both starfighters and capital ships.

The Death Stars are also mobile battle stations which house hundreds of turbolasers to be used against enemy capital ships, innumerable troops for deployment on planets, any supplies necessary for military campaigns, etc. It's essentially a massive Imperial base/fortress, except that it's mobile and capable of hyperspace travel.

As seen at the Battle of Endor, the second Death Star's superlaser was accurate enough and could be fired quickly enough to be used against enemy capital ships (in addition to all the turbolasers on the station). The Battle of Endor had two primary purposes from the Empire's perspective, one of which was to take advantage of this capability of the Death Star and destroy the entire Rebel fleet (the other to turn Luke to the dark side). The Death Star systematically destroyed the Rebel fleet with its superlaser:

Death Star attack

...while the Imperial Starfleet, originally hidden on the far side of the Endor moon, pinned down the Rebel fleet:

Imperial Starfleet -- the anvil

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    @RogueJedi The point is there only to make a real-world analogy to the demonstration purpose. As I stated, the atomic bombs were "partially intended to demonstrate" the weapon. It certainly served an actual military use by helping force Japan to surrender.
    – Null
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 16:26
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    According to Winston Churchill - who can perhaps be considered to have a somewhat valuable opinion - the purpose of the Atomic Bombings of Japan was as a show of force in the coming tensions (now known as the "cold war") with the USSR. In any event, I'm sure politics is not appropriate here: Null was making a broad general example, as Null says.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 17:05

Besides the intimidation factor, it is also known that Death Stars are used to house prisoners ("Prisoner transfer from cell 1138"). It is also at least speculated that Death Stars serve as an operations base where various Imperial officers perform day-to-day clerical and investigative work for the Empire. (For example, in the Family Guy parody of Star Wars, two officers pretend to act busy with "Empire Stuff" when Vader is watching.)


Don't forget also that it can undoubtedly carry an enormous number of men and fighters.

  • The OP didn't forget that. He's mentioned it right in his question.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 18:31

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