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Many rebels died to procure the Plans for the Death Star, which were then transmitted to the Tantive IV. As we all know, the Tantive IV was then captured by Vader and the Imperials. Leia stores the plans within the data banks of R2-D2. We're told repeatedly how important R2 is because he must be delivered to the rebels so that they examine the plans to destroy the Death Star.

But why?

Even just within the original trilogy, we're shown examples of long range, interstellar communication.

Why weren't the plans sent directly to the rebels instead of the Tantive IV, or sent directly from the Tantive IV when they first received them?

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In short: Holonet (the only proper long range communication tool) was under Imperial control. Rebels did NOT have any long-range communications equipment.


If you look at the EU, the information was retrieved by Han Solo's ex-girlfriend Bria Tharen on an imperial outpost during what was, in effect, a suicide attack. They used the outpost's comm to beam the information to the Rebel ship in-system, they had no other communication means. The ship itself was a blockade runner, with no long range comm equipment of its own and - to repeat the first paragraph - no chance of successfully transmitting via the Holonet.

Yes, Count Dooku succeeded in using the HoloNet for Separatist propaganda purposes, but Republic forces were quick to shut down those Shadowfeeds.”
He looked at Ison. “If memory serves, COMPOR itself was established as a result of the navy’s actions at the time.”


UPDATE:

The story of how Holonet came about to be under Imperial control is covered in New Disney Canon book "Tarkin". In short, the Separatists under Dooku's guidance highjacked Holonet equipment and spread Holonet propaganda. As a result, Palpatine moved to fully government-control 100% of Holonet equipment and broadcasting.

It had been just nine months after the Battle of Geonosis that Count Dooku’s scientists had succeeded in slicing into the Republic HoloNet by seeding the spaceways with hyperwave transceiver nodes of a novel design. The Separatists could have kept quiet about the infiltration and tasked the nodes to gather intelligence about Republic military operations. Instead, Dooku—as if suddenly intent on winning hearts and minds rather than defeating the Republic with his droid armies—began using the HoloNet to broadcast propaganda Shadowfeeds, providing Separatist accounts of battle wins and disinformation about Republic war crimes, and in the end spreading apprehension among the populations of the Core Worlds that a Separatist victory was imminent.

It was, however, Separatist success in jamming Republic communication relays that had brought Tarkin into play. Together with operatives of the Republic’s fledgling cryptanalysis department and elements of the Twelfth Army, Tarkin had been sent to Murkhana both to spearhead the invasion and to oversee the dismantling of the Shadowfeed operation.

With the Emperor’s proclamation of the New Order, some aspects of the HoloNet had come under strict Imperial control, as much to provide the military with exclusive communications networks as to censor unauthorized news feeds.

  • I like this explanation, it seems legit. However, can you share the EU sources for this information, or a basic EU resource link so we can verify sources ourselves? Thanks. – Joey T Sep 4 '12 at 18:32
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    @JoeyT - I believe he is referring to Rebel Dawn – Chad Sep 4 '12 at 18:48
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    @JoeyT - yeah, sorry I was too lazy to link but I figured "Bria Tharen" would be unique enough of a reference to google. She only appears in 1 trilogy of EU books and should have a Wikia page – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 4 '12 at 20:57
  • @Chad - correct. Well some of the info may have been in other EU books as well (the Prince Xisor ones) but only minor bits and pieces. Mostly "Rebel Dawn" – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 4 '12 at 20:58
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    In X-wing (for DOS), the Death Star plans are described as "too important" to just transmit and are to be delivered to Alliance High Command in person, but unfortunately it doesn't elaborate beyond that. – Milo P Nov 23 '14 at 4:37
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Who's to say they weren't sent via Subspace transceiver as well? However this is what wookieepedia has to say on their reliability, which I can believe despite wookieepedia's dubious use of canon.

Because each network had different communication protocols, messages could be corrupted or lost, and so it was often cheaper and safer to send long-distance messages by courier ships.

Sending R2-D2 is slower but safer. It also means that no signal could be traced back to a rebel base, nor could it be intercepted and scrambled.

The HoloNet is another option, but that'd be like posting the plans on FaceBook. I can't imagine whatever weakness they'd plan to exploit would remain if the empire saw what was in the rebels plans of the deathstar.

  • I'd argue that it's not really "safer" as if the ship is captured with the plans on board, everything is for naught. And what difference is it if the communication is traced versus the Imperials just following the ship to its destination? – phantom42 Sep 1 '12 at 15:21
  • The communication wouldn't have the whole crew and two wily droids to protect it though. – AncientSwordRage Sep 1 '12 at 15:31
  • @phantom42 - There is nothing safe about conveying top secret information from a regime willing to use lethal force for suspicion of committing minor crimes or even just making a mistake. – Chad Sep 4 '12 at 16:36
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    @Bitmask, we might, but the seventies didn't. – AncientSwordRage Sep 4 '12 at 17:06
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    @Pureferret: As a matter of fact, they did, even if these were not as sophisticated as ours (duh). – bitmask Sep 4 '12 at 17:10
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It's easy to imagine a generalized scenario in which physical transport of a secret message becomes necessary. (This is entirely separate from whatever canon exists specific to Star Wars.)

Assume that you have some secret that is stored on a physical medium -- a removable disk drive, an astromech 'droid, whatever. Assume also that the secret is large (takes a nontrivial time to transmit), and that it cannot be decoded and analyzed in place in any kind of reasonable timeframe.

It may even be that your original plan was to lay low for a while and then try transmitting the data discreetly and anonymously, perhaps routing through some innocuous, neutral third party (an anonymizer, a disposable phone card, Alderaan, etc). But all that needs to happen to ruin that plan is for your initial escape not to come off perfectly, so that the authorities are on your heels and you don't have the opportunity to spend the necessary time with the necessary equipment.

You could try to physically transport your data directly to your relay, but if the pursuit is dogged enough there is a decent chance you will fail to reach them, and you would also end up betraying their role to the authorities. So you might try for a dead drop of some kind -- pack up the data and stash it somewhere to be found by a compatriot whose cover you have reason to believe is still intact. Meanwhile you buy time by running up a white flag and letting yourself be captured empty-handed.

Your compatriot might reasonably figure that if he can manage to slip away from the scene of the handoff disguised as routine traffic, that he will be able to well and truly give the authorities the slip.

At that point, in the case of Star Wars, Obi-wan Kenobi's thinking becomes a little questionable -- if there is a chance that your planned retransmission/relay point (ie Alderaan) has come under close scrutiny as the result of this snafu, you might not want to make directly for it, for fear that it is being watched/blockaded/locked down and that you will be caught if you try to do anything with your secret. This risk is greatly compounded once it becomes clear that you haven't made a clean getaway -- the Empire gets a good long look at the Millennium Falcon as it escapes -- so that although you escape, you have lost all anonymity and will have trouble appearing anywhere without attracting a lot of attention and implicating everyone you come into contact with.

Anyway, maybe Obi-wan figured that of all the places to go Alderaan was still most likely to provide cover or surreptitiously aid in going to ground. Of course once the place was blown up it was clear that the whole gig was up. It would have been smarter of the Empire to hang around with a blockade fleet, or spies to monitor the communication between Alderaan and the rebel base, rather than destroy the planet outright, but as it was their boneheadedness was canceled out by Han Solo's stupidity. Sometimes you get lucky when you don't deserve to.

Presumably, at the very end, Leia no longer trusts any other safe relay point, because she elects to do what she was previously avoiding at all costs, which is go for a straight up delivery direct to her organization's main headquarters. Maybe the idea is that, even if it's being tracked, a fast enough transport gives them lead time to plan, which none of her previous transport options could have.

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    Interesting analysis. Welcome to the site, maybeme. – Tynam Sep 5 '12 at 13:29
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    Never underestimate the bandwidth of a blockade runner full of astromech droids. – Scott Whitlock Mar 8 '15 at 18:15
1

For one it is important to keep the what you actually know from your enemies. They can suspect that you have some plans. But they do not actually know what they consist of. If the empire is able to intercept the transmission then they will know what the rebels know and are focusing on. This would give them an advantage in planning defense.

Second, having the actual plans would likely compromise sources of the information. I would expect it would be quite possible to find out who accessed the files, when and where, from the Imperial systems and thus the rebels would lose some key intelligence assets.

And most importantly Leia wanted to bring Obi wan into the fight. Having him bring the robot to the rebellion would make it harder for him to stay isolated. Once with the rebellion Mon Mothma and others could make their arguements to sway him. Part of her mission from her adopted father(Bael Organa) was to recruit Obi-Wan anyway.

Leia was a Senator and diplomat and should have been insulated from the type of attack that ended in her capture. The rebellion was caught unprepared when the senate was dissolved and their courier was left vulnerable. Leia does order the plans transmitted but her officer tells her that communications are being jammed. As such R2D2 became the courier of last resort. The droid would have been able to travel in relative obsurity that a senator or any other citizen would not. Obi-Wan was the best choice to help facilitate R2's passage to the Rebel base.

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    re: keeping what you know from enemies - which is more dangerous? possibly having the transmission intercepted/corrupted and tipping them off - or being captured and no longer having the plans at all? – phantom42 Sep 4 '12 at 15:59
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    re: Leia wanting to bring in Obi-Wan, that actually hurts the argument even more, imo. If they're so worried about plans being recaptured because they can't safely transmit them, does it make sense to make a pit stop to pick up Obi-Wan? – phantom42 Sep 4 '12 at 16:01
  • @phantom42 - The plan was not to be captured in the first place. She was a senator and a diplomat and so should have been protected somewhat from capture. The emperor dissolved the senate during her mission this would not have been planned for. She was a courier of the plans but her mission was to recruit and bring Obi-wan to Yavin 4. – Chad Sep 4 '12 at 16:14
  • "The plan was not to be captured in the first place." of course not, but if you're in a hurry to get the plans back to the rebels, stopping along the way to recruit is just going to slow down the trip. If time was such a concern, why not send her separately from the plans? – phantom42 Sep 4 '12 at 16:19
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    @Chad - is there canon support for Leia having actually counted on diplomatic immunity (as opposed to use it as an argument to be released once captured in ANH)? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 4 '12 at 16:59

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