33

The original Death Star had shields. They're mentioned at 2 minutes into this video clip when red leader says they are passing through the magnetic field. The small spacecraft get jostled a bit passing though the shields, but the craft are unharmed. (Side note: I noticed that Luke's ship was also jostled the same way coming back from the battle, which is odd since there no longer is a magnetic shield from the Death Star.)

Unlike the second Death Star which didn't generate its own shields because it was still under construction, the first one was complete and should have had strong enough shields to deter small spacecraft.

If the Death Star had shields to protect itself from small craft, a conversation aboard could go something like this.

Officer: I have analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?

Tarkin: Hardly! Just let them bounce off the shields.

Why didn't the original Death Star have better shield defense against small craft?

Edit to add: I am looking for clear answers from canon sources including EU sources.

  • 4
    youtube.com/watch?v=agcRwGDKulw&t=4s - how did the bomb behave in way that completely defies physics? – Maciej Piechotka Jan 16 '17 at 2:10
  • @MaciejPiechotka Ha ha ha! Thanks for the video link. That explains everything! – RichS Jan 16 '17 at 2:14
  • 8
    As a rule of thumb, don't look too hard into the Star Wars science - it detracts from the experience. In the end, Start Wars is more about the battles and the force-magic than accurate speculative science, differently than Star Trek, for example. – T. Sar Jan 16 '17 at 11:05
  • 1
    @MaciejPiechotka No, you just need a self propelled missile (with some kind of turning mechanism) with an advanced guidance system and have it properly programmed for this specific attack. If anything, it's confusing that Red Leader (the only non-Jedi pilot who got a shot off) had so much trouble given the advanced technology at their disposal. – jpmc26 Jan 16 '17 at 17:58
  • 2
    Because otherwise the Empire would have won. – Trilarion Jan 17 '17 at 8:21
55

This is directly addressed in the movie during the rebel briefing on Yavin IV (emphasis added):

GOLD LEADER: Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snub fighters going to be against that?

DODONNA: Well, the Empire doesn't consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they'd have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station.

In other words, the answer is hubris. The Empire was blinded by pride and couldn't imagine a single, pitiful, scrappy rebel "snub-fighter" could bring down a moon-sized harbinger of terror and death.

The continued presence of the very thermal exhaust port that brought about the Death Star I's doom is further evidence of this line of thinking. Once the rebel attack has been underway for a few minutes, a few cool heads are quick to infer the very real danger that they are in:

OFFICER: We've analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?

TARKIN: Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!

It wasn't hard to figure out that the small starfighters were a serious threat to the Death Star; they had just never seriously considered the possibility of having to deal with them. Tarkin's arrogance speaks for itself.

  • 1
    Yes, it is hubris to think they are invulnerable. But that one missed shot of a proton torpedo showed that a single fighter could inflict some damage to the Death Star. It might have killed a few hundred crew. Hmmm... If the empire is willing to fire on its own data storage on Scarif and kill thousands of its own troops, then it wouldn't care so much for a few hundred crew dead on its Death Star. – RichS Jan 15 '17 at 21:02
  • 2
    Well, Tarkin is more vicious than Vader and more arrogant than Palpatine. ;) – edgerunner Jan 16 '17 at 1:10
  • 7
    @RichS Of course they could always have strapped a nuke to an A-wing and quite possibly taken a chunk out of the death star, but remember, the DS2 didn't look too worse for the wear after the Executor crashed into it in Return of the Jedi. The size of these battle stations is really hard to wrap one' s brain around. Weapons that would turn cities to ash would barely amount to an annoying mosquito bite from the death star's perspective. Hundreds of deaths don't amount to much on station with a complement of millions. – ApproachingDarknessFish Jan 16 '17 at 4:06
  • 2
    Remember, also, that it's a huge ship with minuscule firepower for it's size other than the one big gun. Thus we can conclude that most of it's mass is it's supergun, shields that could stop a fighter might not have been practical without making it even larger (and thus needing even more shielding...) It very well might have been a choice of the design they used or one with better defenses 10 years later. – Loren Pechtel Jan 16 '17 at 5:58
  • 1
    That’s the answer…though, I don’t know whether it is actually hubris, when you don’t know that there is a single spot that can destroy the entire station. Without it, a fighter attack is just suicide as there are blaster turrets and imperial fighters taking down one attacker after another, until all are destroyed. It’s just that the Death Star can’t prevent hits completely. Without that single target that the rebels try to hit in a kamikaze-like manner, the Death Star truly had no need to fear a fighter attack. Which leads to the assumption that enemies won’t even try. – Holger Jan 16 '17 at 11:15
38

It's too big.

According to Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, the Death Star was simply too large to have a single effective shield based inside the station. It had to make do with shielding for individual critical components and use armour, a considerable magnetic field and overlapping Turbolasers to protect the rest of the Station from orbital impacts.

“Our team is working on protecting something larger—with wider, impregnable coverage.”
“Larger than a Venator-class Star Destroyer? Is this to parry some new weapons platform Dooku has in the works?”
“So it would seem.” Considering it, Galen prized a marker from his pocket and started to sketch his thoughts onto a napkin. “In the short run you could consider shunting a shield’s absorbed energy into a heat sink, then employ neutrino radiators to return energy to the generators and projectors themselves. It’s similar to what we’ve been doing with lasing mediums and crystals. Of course, you need to be careful about overpumping.” He continued to sketch. “Maybe multiple shield generators distributed evenly across an entire hull to enhance coverage…”

In this instance, Galen is unaware that he's working on a superweapon, but the principle is still sound. Anything larger than a Star Destroyer is impossible to shield with a single shield, hence why the Death Star II needs to have its shield projected from a ground-based installation.


It doesn't need them.

Moving down the canon scale, the Death Star Technical Companion offers the following commentary. In short, a capital ship that gets close enough to fire on the Death Star would be almost immediately obliterated by its anti-capital ship turbolasers. Anything small enough to sneak through those defences wouldn't have enough firepower to do more than dent the surface.

As mentioned earlier, the Death Star was designed without regard to starfighter-scale opponents. It was believed that the massive armor and sheer size of the battle station would be enough to dissuade starfighter attacks. If foes still managed to work up me nerve to attack, it was reasoned that no starfighter packs enough energy to do more than raise a welt on the Death Star's thick skin. As an afterthought, anti-starfighter turbolaser towers were installed across the Death Star's surface, but these were not placed to create an impenetrable screen of blaster fire. They were positioned almost randomly, leaving great holes in any defense they could provide. In the Battle of Yavin, the Zone Commanders frantically employed the capital ship batteries in an attempt to eliminate the Rebel starfighters, but these weapons proved almost useless against the quick, tiny ships.

For this reason, starfighters can close on the battle station to deliver proton torpedoes or blaster fire to any given target. True, a starfighter's arsenal contains nothing that even comes close to denting the Death Star…

  • 9
    "It doesn't need them"? More accurately, "No one thought it would need them". – ApproachingDarknessFish Jan 15 '17 at 22:18
  • 8
    @ApproachingDarknessFish - If I was Vader, I'd force-choke you for your insolence. – Valorum Jan 15 '17 at 22:24
  • 15
    ... simply too large to have a single effective shield? But the entire planet Scarif was protected by a shield and that was way bigger. And the second Death Star was protected by a shield. And why not install a million smaller shields around sections of the Death Star, enough to protect every square kilometer of surface? – RichS Jan 15 '17 at 22:28
  • 3
    @RichS - Ah, but that was a planetary shield. It sorta sits around the planet rather than being projected from the ground. And the Death Star II was a fudge because it had a planetary-scale shield being projected from a dedicated platform on Endor. Neither would be suitable tech for a moving object like a Battle Station. – Valorum Jan 15 '17 at 22:36
  • 4
    @IG_42 - A higher gravy world, maybe. – Valorum Jan 16 '17 at 23:50
6

Convenience

As stated in the Yavin IV briefing, the Empire did not consider small vessels a threat to the station, as such, it was not necessary to have shields as powerful as those used to protect Scarif or the Death Star II.

But why?

In both those movies, ships moving through the shields required disabling them, so it would be a big hassle for the Death Star, which would be expected to have lots of incoming/outgoing traffic, to have to lower/raise the shields continually, or to need a shield gate, particularly when deploying fighters during combat.

So it seems like the shielding is focused on deflecting weapons fire, while attacking ships would be dealt by swiftly by the station's weapon systems.

Although....

Apart from Valorum's mention of how Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel indicates the station is too big to be shielded (which I believe contradicts the planetary shielding witnessed in other movies, but well), there's also the point to be made that, if the shield projected around the Death Star II was so tough as to stop ships moving through, it would've interfered with the Death Star superlaser when it fired (unless they dropped it briefly for firing, but there's no mention of it). If I remember correctly, the Death Star firing through a planetary shield on Rogue One destroys the shield, but I might be misremembering. That seems like quite an inconsistency in ROTJ though.

  • By the time the death star fired on the planet, the shield was down. This is how rebel fighters got to the surface to attack it while there was still something left to attack. – user31563 Jan 16 '17 at 22:18
  • @Snowman I remember that the first fighter squadron got through the shield gate and then was trapped below the shield as everyone else, I don't remember the rebels managing to completely drop it afterwards. I have this distinct mental image of the shield "peeling" away after the superlaser is fired, but, again, I might be misremembering. – Oskuro Jan 17 '17 at 9:33
  • 1
    SPOILER ALERT: In Rogue One the Scarif's planetary shield was brought down by slamming a Star Destroyer through the shield gate. That completely destroyed the shield gate. As it the main reason for doing that was to get the shield out of the way for Jyn to transmit the plans via wireless, the shield must have been destroyed along side the shield gate. – Adwaenyth Jan 17 '17 at 14:27
  • 1
    Also (due to the possibilities in CGI) a shield was never visible in ROTJ. So an in universe explanation could also be, that these were totally different kinds of shields, but that would be pure speculation. – Adwaenyth Jan 17 '17 at 14:50
  • 1
    @Adwaenyth Lots of things have invisible shields in Star Wars, possibly due to FX limitations as you mention, including Alderaan, which manages to withstand the Death Star superlaser for a few milliseconds before failing (if you look at the scene frame by frame, you can see the beam/shield interaction: theforce.net/swtc/Pix/dvd/anh/Alderaan-Frame02.jpg). My guess is that shield visibility is a generator setting, which might be useful when needing to either highlight (Scarif gate, Droidekas) or hide (Alderaan, all ships, DS2 build site, Starkiller base, Hoth base) a shield's status. – Oskuro Jan 17 '17 at 16:35
5

In Rogue One it is said that an important member of the engineering squad that was developing the Death Star, Galen Erso, deliberately added this small-fighter weak point in order to stop the Empire authority. Probably thanks to his position he made the Empire believe that a small fighter wouldn't have been a real danger for the Death Star.

  • 3
    Welcome to SciFi and Fantasy SE, we like to see answers with citations and evidence from canon sources. Although possibly solid logic, your answer is purely based on an assumption. If you can find anything canonical to back up your view point, feel free to edit it in :)! – Edlothiad Jan 15 '17 at 21:05
  • 1
    @Edlothiad Rogue One already established that Galen added the exhaust port to the Death Star as a weakness. It would be a bit silly to assume he would add this weakness without also making it so this weakness could be exploited. – Nzall Jan 16 '17 at 8:48
  • 4
    @Nzall Untrue. Galen didn't add the exhaust port as a weakness, he added the chain reaction in the reactor. The exhaust port was the thing the rebels found to access the reactor, Galen didn't even know it existed, he just knew there had to be "some way" to damage the reactor and from there they would be golden. – xDaizu Jan 16 '17 at 9:34
  • @xDaizu while there is no evidence he added the exhaust port there's also no evidence he didn't. It's plausible that as part of the reactor weakness he added it...but at the same time there is no definitive statement to say that he did. – Tim B Jan 16 '17 at 9:57
  • 3
    @TimB If he had done so, in his message he would have said "steal the plans and look for an exhaust port, wink", which he didn't. He said (not quoting) "I manipulated the reactor to blow up, get the full plans and look for a way to get to the reactor.". Why wouldn't he mention it? Why would he be unnecesarily obscure. If the Empire gets the message they would patch the reactor anyways and then the exhaust would be meaningless.. – xDaizu Jan 16 '17 at 10:02
2

You are confusing a magnetic field with a magnetic shield. Many objects generate a completely natural magnetic field. The Earth and several other planets have one. The Northern Lights occur from solar radiation interacting with this field. It isn't hard to imagine a large station like the Death Star made mostly of metal would generate a natural magnetic field. The problem about shielding though is that these fields aren't strong enough to protect a planet or station from anything except solar radiation.

1

Two answers: one from old canon, one from new.

New canon: in Rogue One, it is stated that it was an intentional weak point.

Old canon: in the book Death Star, it is stated that it was overlooked in the design. It was a reactor vent and couldn't be particle shielded because that would block the plasma that was intended to be vented out. The proton torpedoes are the exact opposite of what that vent was for, they injected a huge amount of excess plasma whereas the vent was designed to eject huge amounts of excess plasma.

-1

If the first Death Star would have had a shield, then Lucas would have altered the Star Wars storyline, where rebels manage to hack or disable the shields just for the time of the attack. Remember, that he envisioned a story in which the Death Star gets destroyed by the end of episode 4. I personally would have prefered to see the Death Star survive the first 2 movies and get sort of heavily damaged in each of them at most, and only be finally destroyed by the end of the 3rd one!

  • The question asks for canon sources rather than out of universe explanations. – Blackwood Aug 31 '17 at 4:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.