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As can be seen in the following clip from Episode IV, it took no more than a few (on-screen) minutes for the Death Star to enter the system, fire and finally

to destroy the planet.

However, as seen in a similar scene from Episode VII, the inhabitants of the Hosnian Prime system had a few (brief) moments to realize that

they were about to be destroyed as well.

So, my question is: Did the inhabitants of Alderaan realize what was about to happen or did everything happen too quickly?

Both Disney canon and Legends are acceptable.

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    As-is, I don't think the two spoiler blocks in this question are at all useful. The first one is subverted by the clearly visible title of the video immediately following it, and the second one's content is really easy to infer from the surrounding context. – Ajedi32 Apr 2 '18 at 19:11
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    It wouldn't make sense to me that the Alderaan...ians would know what is about to happen, due to the secrecy of the Death Star. Hosnians, on the other hand, would have either grown up listening to stories about Alderaan or would have lived through that time, so they might more readily understand the threat. Although, from their point of view, some red, cometlike stuff appeared out of subspace and seemed to be on a collision course with their planet, so their fear wasn't triggered by the appearance of a Death Star-like ball-o-death. – n_b Apr 2 '18 at 20:08
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    A message was radioed: As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Alderaanian minutes. Thank you. – SJuan76 Apr 2 '18 at 21:03
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    Out of universe: At a radius of 50-80km, that actually makes it fairly large relative to actual natural satellites: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_satellites. And it's on the sun side of the planet and appears to be relative close, so it would be most likely visible to someone standing on the surface. They might not know what it is or that they are going to die, but they would know that something just appeared. – Aaron Harun Apr 3 '18 at 11:42
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According to the (canon) short story Eclipse, the inhabitants were largely in the dark about the nature of their impending demise. The "planet killer" was a closely guarded secret. A few individuals were aware of what had just arrived in orbit but it all happened far too quickly and communications was jammed so any hope of organised resistance or mass escape weren't an option.

Beside her, Bail gasped and then seemed to go limp. He turned to her, eyes empty, mouth moving but silent. At last, he found his voice and searched the ground at her feet.
“The planet killer.”
She fought back the surge of nausea that slammed into her like a breaking wave and placed her hands on his face, forcing Bail to look at her. It couldn’t be true. Not Alderaan. They were in the heart of the galaxy, a major planet, a bastion of tradition and peace and prosperity…
The perfect symbol to destroy. The perfect message to send. No planet was too sacred, too populous…No planet was safe.
“My love, they wouldn’t,” she said, even as she knew they would.
Bail smoothed his hands over hers and touched their foreheads together. “At least we will be together.”

“No!” She [Breha Organa] refused to believe it. How could such evil exist? “There…There must be time. The spaceport is too far, but we could reach our private shuttle. We…We could evacuate as many as possible! There must be something, anything, that we can—”

The sound was incredible. They turned toward it in awe and dread, a deadening of air that pulled all noise from around them before a tremendous blast like lightning rent the air. Bail yanked her into his arms, squeezing her as light blinded them, a ring of white that grew from the horizon, spreading fast, bringing trees, beasts, and rocks with it.

Moving down the canon scale, there's a mention in the Legends RPG supplement Galaxy Guide 3: The Empire Strikes Back that some Rebel forces on the surface of Alderaan radioed for help after seeing the Death Star arrive. Their commander, General Rieekan, decided that a mass evacuation might provoke a response from the Empire and that they were better staying on the surface.

When the Death Star battle station appeared in orbit around Alderaan. the panicked calls came in to Rieekan almost immediately. People pleaded for help, for evacuation ships, for anything. Never mind that there wasn't time to evacuate, or that nothing was capable of disabling that Imperial monstrosity. Rieekan feared that evacuation then would be admitting the Alliance's knowledge of the Death Star to the Empire. If they saw thousands of starships suddenly lift off from the planet, the Imperials would surely take that as confirmation of the planet's Rebel connections. Planets loyal to the Empire have nothing to fear, the bureaucrats would argue. No, he thought, we'll sit tight and hope this is all a bluff, or some kind of display of force meant to scare us into submission.
Minutes later, the Empire proved that it was not bluffing. The planet was vaporized. Countless lives were instantly extinguished. Never again would Rieekan underestimate the ruthlessness of the Empire.

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    Given the perspective that the first quote is written in, I feel obliged to ask: who's narrating? ;-) – tonysdg Apr 3 '18 at 1:45
  • @tonysdg - It's narrated by Breha, right up to the moment of her death. – Valorum Apr 3 '18 at 5:56
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    @tonysdg To be precise, it's written in Third Person Subjective perspective. It's not being narrated by Breha herself, but an unnamed entity from her perspective. – Obsidian Phoenix Apr 3 '18 at 8:06
  • In Legends, Tycho Celchu was having a real-time holocall with his family at the moment of Alderaan's destruction, and the other Celchus didn't seem to notice anything amiss. (Although it's possible the call was interrupted by something other than the actual impact, such as the jamming in "Eclipse" or an EMP from the firing impulse.) – Cadence May 6 '18 at 22:58
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In addition to Valorums answer, there is a small hint in the movie itself imho. Obi Wan Kenobi felt the destruction of Alderaan and says:

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

To me this means that, for a brief moment, the inhabitants realized that they were going to die.

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    That "as if millions" in Obi Wan's comments, makes me think it was more his impression of what happened, than what really did happen. In this question I'm more interested in the latter, but in any case it's a good point, so my +1! – Rebel-Scum Apr 3 '18 at 12:39
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    I think the 'suddenly' part is key here. If they had been aware of their fate, the disturbance would have been much greater or lasted longer. – Pharap Apr 3 '18 at 13:52
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    More likely they just saw something that scared them. Like perhaps a gigantic moon firing on their planet, or the ground underneath them starting to break up. – T.E.D. Apr 3 '18 at 18:23
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    @T.E.D. It'd be a small moon. – jpmc26 Apr 3 '18 at 21:40
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    We know emotions affect the Force and vice versa; while he didn't literally hear millions of voices crying out in terror and being suddenly silenced, millions of people did experience a few milliseconds of what I can only presume to be excruciating agony nearly simultaneously as they were literally vaporized, which would cause said great disturbance. Not all Force-sensitives would be able to aptly describe what they felt, but they'd feel it, and Obi Wan was experienced enough by then to better understand what he felt. – Doktor J Apr 4 '18 at 14:39

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