Why would Admiral Piett allow a shuttle stolen by the Rebel Alliance to pass?

In Return of the Jedi, the Rebel Alliance use a stolen Lambda-Class Shuttle (Tydirium) to infiltrate the Imperial held moon Endor.

"We have stolen a small Imperial shuttle. Disguised as a cargo ship, and using a secret Imperial code, a strike team will land on the moon and deactivate the shield generator." ―General Crix Madine

It appears that the Imperials have some mechanism of identifying a ship. In Star Wars: Rebels, they are able to identify the Ghost rather than a generic VCX-100 light freighter.

Furthermore, we know the Admiral Correctly Identifies Tydirium:

"Shuttle Tydirium, what is your cargo and destination?" ―Admiral Firmus Piett

In canon, it is unclear whether the Empire was aware that Tydirium was stolen. (Legends there is a high speed pursuit ended with a Rogue Squadron rescue and a hyperspace jump).

I find it hard to believe that the Empire did not notice a valuable Lambda Class shuttle went missing; let alone, one carrying access codes to Endor. If Tydirium was reported as stolen by Rebels; why would they allow it to pass through to Endor:

Darth Vader: Do they have a code clearance?

Admiral Piett: It's an older code, sir, but it checks out. I was about to clear them.

There are a few explanations:

Admiral Piett was in on the Emperor's Plan

I do not see any evidence to support nor debunk this completely. Piett was given direct orders concerning the Rebel Fleet at Endor:

Admiral Piett: I have my orders from the Emperor himself. He has something special planned for them. We only need to keep them from escaping.

Admiral Piett had his own plan

There is no evidence to support this. My theory was that Piett saw the stolen shuttle and figured the Rebels would be easier to capture on Endor rather than while in space and still capable of jumping to hyperspace. His plan is put on hold when Vader tells Piett that HE would deal with them.

Admiral Piett: Shall I hold them?

Darth Vader: No. Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself.

The shuttle's status was not known

There is no evidence to say the canon Imperials knew that the shuttle was stolen. I find this hard to believe as the Lambda class shuttle was usually assigned to an officer or crew for high valued cargo/personnel. I also find it unlikely that a shuttle carrying secret Imperial codes to the Highly secure Endor Base/Death Star II would be left unchecked for more than a few hours. The codes being in Tydirium's computer is from Legends.

  • 5
    It looks like a good half of this could be moved to an answer. May 16, 2017 at 18:12
  • 7
    Not an answer because I have no proof, but given the extraordinary energy spent on getting the shuttle ("Many Botans died"). Perhaps one of the tasks was to erase the shuttle's location. Given the large organization such as the Empire, shuttle must go missing all the time due to malfunctions or bad paperwork and aging computer systems. May 16, 2017 at 18:14
  • 10
    a valuable Lambda Class shuttle If you've worked for any reasonably sized company, you'll learn quickly that expensive things can go missing/unaccounted for quite easily. If you've worked for a large, multi-site company? Even more easily. Now... what about a massive bureaucracy spanning planets across the galaxy?
    – enderland
    May 16, 2017 at 18:54
  • 4
    As a side note, that "older code" line always bugged me. Why would you keep "old codes" and allow them to retain validity? Isn't that just asking for exploitation by your enemies?
    – Paul
    May 16, 2017 at 21:02
  • 5
    @Paul - Because the galaxy is a big place and although you might rotate the codes (locally) every few days, ships that have been out of contact for a while might have last week's code.
    – Valorum
    May 18, 2018 at 17:52

4 Answers 4


There's no good reason to assume that what Piett says to Vader isn't the absolute and unvarnished truth, something that's borne out by the film's various novelisations.

“It’s an older code, but it checks out,” Piett replied immediately. “I was about to clear them.”
There was no point in lying to the Lord of the Sith. He always knew if you lied; lies sang out to the Dark Lord.

Return of the Jedi: Official Novelisation


On the Executor’s bridge, Piett was starting to wonder about Vader’s interest in the shuttle. “Shall I hold them?” he asked.
“No,” Vader answered firmly. “Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself.”

Return of the Jedi: Junior Novelisation

The most recent (and fully canon) novelisation indicates that Piett was entirely unaware that anything was amiss, relying on his underlings to check and pass codes.

“Do they have code clearance?” demands Vader.
Piett doesn’t know, so he gestures to the flight controller, who always prayed he would never have to speak to Vader.
“It’s…an older code, sir, but it checks out,” he reports. “I—I was about to clear them.”
The controller braces himself. He knows what his fate might be if this is the wrong answer.

Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side!

As to the question of why the Empire hadn't reported the shuttle missing, the novel Moving Target gives us all the info we need to answer that question.

“I’m fine. Where are you?”
“Kothlis,” Luke said, then peered at the hologram he was seeing of her. “Are you wearing an Imperial uniform?”
“I am,” Leia said. “Its previous owner won’t miss it—she’s space dust. Along with her Star Destroyer. Of which the shuttle Tydirium is all that remains.”

  • 7
    Great answer, but another question arises. "Why does Piett allow a presumably destroyed ship to enter the System?". I think it would be safe to assume that the Rebels hid the fact they stole a shuttle by using it's carrier's destruction to cover up the fact it was missing. If it was listed as destroyed with the carrying Star Destroyer, would it not be listed as destroyed and, therefore, raise some additional red flags? I guess these would be less severe than "Stolen by Rebels".
    – Josafoot
    May 16, 2017 at 19:19
  • 12
    @Valorum, I see, the destroyer's status is "Unkown" or "last seen here" but not "Destroyed". Therefore, Tydirium is presumed to have the same status and not reported as stolen because the "owners" are unable to file a report.
    – Josafoot
    May 16, 2017 at 19:25
  • 6
    Even if the Star Destroyer were known to be destroyed, the Imperials would need to collect the wreckage and sift through it all before they realized there was a full shuttle unaccounted for. Collecting the rubble would take time, sifting through it would take time, figuring out what's not there would take time. By the time all of that is done, the operation on Endor would presumably have been completed. Even then, they only know the shuttle is missing - they don't know it was stolen by the Rebel Alliance, repainted as a cargo vessel and taken to Endor.
    – Steve-O
    May 16, 2017 at 19:48
  • 12
    Not surprising that the shuttle's disappearance could go unreported given what Rogue One has taught us about Imperial records retention and access policies... May 16, 2017 at 19:57
  • 14
    @jeffronicus: to say nothing about what real life has taught us about information sharing and organization in large bureaucracies in general... May 16, 2017 at 20:20

In his conversation with Darth Vader, Moff Jerjerrod --- the head of Death Star construction --- was terrified of the Emperor's displeasure at the project having fallen behind schedule. The shuttle was supposedly carrying supplies and personnel for the Endor base. With the Emperor and his hatchetman both on-site, the upper ranks were strongly motivated to avoid new delays, even on the Endor side of the operation.


The people in charge of construction of the Death Star II were under significant pressure to get on with it because it was behind schedule. It's not unreasonable to assume they therefore sent out panicked messages trying to pull in extra resources, including things like shuttles which normally didn't do a run to Endor, essentially sending out a call for anything they could get their hands on.

Piett was commander of the fleet whose primary reason for being there was to ambush the Rebels, and the construction wasn't his responsibility. The fleet would have known extra support had been ordered, but may not have been informed regarding who was supposed to show up with the additional support. Given the panic shown by Jerjerrod when Vader laid down the law about moving faster, even they might not known (or cared) who would show up in response to their request for more support.

There might have been a host of cargo ships and shuttles showing up in response to Jerjerrod pleading, begging, and calling in favours to bring in more personnel and supplies, and things like having the very latest up-to-date codes was probably not high on the priority list. If you look at real-life situations, that sort of thing isn't an unknown occurrence in normally lawful democracies, let alone in corrupt dictatorships: "Hey, look, this is a rush job, boss'll be upset if it's held up because of a problem with the paperwork, so cut me some slack here."


It seems clear from the original cinematic release of ROTJ that the strike team to Endor and the capture of the Imperial Shuttle were relayed to the Emperor by the Bothan spies (of whom many 'died' bringing the Rebellion the 'slipped' location of the New Death Star) - the Bothans are seen leaving the Rebel Command Ship, and later, seen consulting the Emperor in the throne room aboard the NDS.

The flow of things seems to suggest that (as he says to Luke later in the throne room) the Emperor was the architect of more than just the slip of the NDS's location - the 'older code' seems to fit into that pigeon hole as everything appears to have been hatched by the Emperor in the first place. And, as they do have a code that checks out, Admiral Piett still seems to be following the Emperor's orders and stays out of any conflict. Apart from the TIE squadrons sent to clean up the attack on the NDS, it is the Rebels via Calrissian that turn their guns onto the Imperial Fleet. Vader was kept out of the loop, and/or lied to, as 'betrayal' was the order of the day. Right down to the location of the shield generator.

I don't see this as a hole in the storyline.

  • 1
    Have you got evidence that these were Bothan seen later on? Or at least images of what you're talking about that you could edit in?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Aug 21, 2020 at 7:43
  • Various versions of the movie have them nodding at each other when Luke joins Rebel Fleet - they are later seen conferring with the Emperor when Vader enters to ask him "What of the Rebel Fleet massing near Solice...? BOTHAN SPIES WITH EMPEROR.png
    – Daz Kaiwai
    Oct 15, 2020 at 10:22
  • Please edit in the supposed photograph Mar 21, 2021 at 23:52

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