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After the destruction the second Death Star the Rebel Alliance assumes a victory over the Empire at Endor; we see a big celebration on Endor (and across the galaxy in the "special" editions). But how is it they weren't crushed, Death Star or no Death Star?

After it is revealed that the Death Star II is operational, or at the very least can fire it's main gun, Lando suggests engaging the Star Destroyers at close range and Admiral Akbar states that they won't last long. This implies that the Rebel Fleet is significantly out matched.

While the loss of the Death Star would probably impose a large morale penalty on the Imperials, they still should have had the upper hand over the Rebel fleet. What then happened after the Death Star blew up that caused the Imperial forces, both at Endor and across the galaxy, to effectively give up all at once and allow the Empire to practically collapse in one big party?

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    They didn't just lose the Death Star - which would have been a big morale hit all by itself. The Imperials also lost their flagship (the Executor), their senior command (on the Executor), the Emperor, Vader, and whatever senior command was on the Death Star - it isn't much of a surprise they routed. – HorusKol May 27 '13 at 8:33
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The loss of the Death Star wasn't what brought the victory. The death of the Emperor was. Palpatine is holding the Empire together by use of his force powers to influence, control and inspire people. After his death, his hold was broken and many of the Imperial forces around Endor and around the galaxy were thrown into chaos for a time. At least until Grand Admiral Thrawn and various warlords were able to take control of bits and pieces and forge them back into cohesive fighting forces. The Rebels did not remain around the forest moon for long. They did celebrate with the Ewoks for a short while, but even as they did so, the fleet was preparing to leave. This is touched on in a number of the books written about the time period after the Battle of Endor.

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    I think George Lucas said that the novels don't count. – Darth Egregious May 27 '13 at 16:00
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    @user973810 - George Lucas said he is not bound by novels - he considers them a secondary material separate from "Lucas" creations. But they don't "not count" in general - they merely count less than Lucas's own works. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 27 '13 at 23:16
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    We'll wait until the upcoming sequel trilogy before deciding exactly how much these particular novels "count", I think. – user8719 May 28 '13 at 20:52
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    They're not G-canon, but they're canon. There are implications that BBlake's answer is correct in the movies; even with the Super Star Destroyer colliding with it, the Death Star hadn't really sustained all that much damage until the fighters blew up the reactor core. But, even before the fighters strike the critical blow, there's an overwhelming sense of panic in the shuttle bay as Luke's trying to get Vader off the station. The Imperials can easily see it's going to end badly. – KeithS May 29 '13 at 1:42
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BBlake's answer is pretty good, but it's important to note that the Empire didn't really collapse all the way after Endor. It took a huge blow with the loss of its (second) ultimate weapon and top two leaders, but there was a lot of remaining Imperial military to be dealt with (over the course of numerous novels, starting with the Thrawn trilogy's first book, Heir to the Empire) before all was said and done.

  • It was both; OP italicized "across the galaxy" in the question. I think BBlake answered it well, and I just wanted to supplement him a bit. – Joe M May 27 '13 at 23:36
  • If you take the Thrawn trilogy as canon, I believe it's stated / retconned in there that the Emperor was using his Force powers to control or enhance the performance of the entire fleet at Endor, much as C'Baoth later does for Thrawn's fleet. So that serves as an explanation for why the Endor fleet was so quickly routed after the Emperor's death on the Death Star. – Nate Eldredge Aug 27 '15 at 1:49
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Here's a possibly "out of place" answer: I'm afraid you're looking for realism where there's none. Had there been any, the rebel forces would have been crushed once and (perahps) for all in the battle of Endor, no matter the loss of the Empire's two flagships along with their leaders - just as your Q implies.

Beating such a vastly superior force (yes, superior, in possibly every respect) is possible only in fairy tales and myths, stories in which a bunch of cute, sentient but primitive bear cubs armed with stone age weapons can overcome an army of super-elite commandos, the best of the best, handpicked from a zillion worlds (even if the former has the assistance of a handful of good guys.) Not as if there was anything wrong with fairy tales and myths (I love quite a number of them, personally) - but don't go looking for realism in them. :)

PS: To counter some possible arguments: Dark Side force network or not, the military of the empire was, as we've seen, highly organized, hierarchical and disciplined (albeit some of its soldiers and officers proved pretty stupid, badly trained, and amazingly unlucky, especially when confronting the gun-swinging and madly yelling protagonists of the story.) I'm pretty sure, though, that there was (or should've been) a brutally strong and effective chain of command(ers) below the two top figures, Palpatine and Vader (+ their immediate subordinates), an organization that was capable of dominating and governing an entire galaxy for half a century. By pure statistical chance, the remaining Imperial fleet present at Endor must have been headed by strategical military geniuses... armed with the largest war machine of its time. But I'm repeating myself.

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    History would disagree with your assessment - there have been many battles where smaller forces have won out against larger ones. Also, the Imperial military ("highly organized, hierarchical and disciplined" notwithstanding) didn't necessarily promote self-reliance in its officer corps (something more detailed throughout the C-canon) - leaving the most senior officer left at Endor (Captain Pelleaon) to order a general retreat with the aim to regroup. – HorusKol May 27 '13 at 14:54
  • Sure, there have been such battles. Yet, in this case, we're talking about an Imperial war machine that has already proven its effectiveness (that is, its strategic and technical superiority) in subduing practically any open resistance in an entire galaxy. Sure, the loss of its most prominent figures, along with its flagship (and a battle station that has practically never been used before and that was not used in its conquests so far) is a heavy blow... but for this blow to be enough to result in retreat and defeat is highly unlikely. (Personally, I stop at the G-canon. ;)) – OpaCitiZen May 27 '13 at 17:18
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    I think the strictly hierarchical nature of the Empire is the key point here. Military officers in the Empire are not encouraged to show personal initiative. Given that the Emperor, Darth Vader, and any number of high-ranking officers all perished in that battle, who's left to give orders? I would imagine there's some kind of standing order to "retreat to a safe system and regroup" in the case of loss of communication with the leadership. – Mark Bessey May 27 '13 at 18:29
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    They've just lost their upper-level command structure, their orbiting battle-station, and almost certainly their battle-plan has been wildly disrupted. A strategic withdrawal would certainly be the first choice under those circumstances. If nothing else, you'll have multiple commanders thinking they're in command, without overall knowledge of the situation. – deworde May 28 '13 at 8:35
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    @OpaCitiZen Backing off and regrouping is a contingency plan. Everything of any strategic worth within 100 light-years just exploded or is leaving with you. Fleet morale is shaken. It's likely that there's about to be massive civilian unrest and even open revolt from dissident planets, for which your strength will be vital. What's to be gained from continuing to fight that day? The minute the rebel fleet realises you're not backing off, they'll do as much damage as they can and scatter, leaving you with some teddy bears, a smuggler, two droids and a figurehead. Not really worth the pain. – deworde May 28 '13 at 12:22
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"No organized force, ably led, is ever outnumbered by an uncoordinated mob."

Simply put, the Emperor wasn't interested in killing them all quickly. He admitted as much to Luke.

He let many of the live (tying his Fleet's hands for political reasons) and kept their side of the fight relatively low-key.

The rebels couldn't leave - if they had fled, the massive morale hit would have destroyed the Alliance. Even if it had survived, the Second Death Star would have been completed, and their already-impossible fight would have become harder than ever. The Rebels were committed to the fight. They had to win, destroying the Second Death Star, or die trying.

That said, they weren't suicidal. Neither side was fighting all-out in the fleet action. The Empire was holding back while their Emperor tried to seduce a young man to the Dark Side, using his friends as hostages. If they'd killed all the Rebels as quickly as they could have, it would have lessened Palpatine's time to subvert the last Jedi. The Rebels must have recognized the fact that the Imperial Fleet wasn't giving it their all, and chosen not to poke the sleeping giant too hard.

The expanded universe describes the way the Emperor used the Force to subtly direct his fleet, making them much more combat effective. When he died, there was immediate and massive confusion in the Imperial Fleet. Couple this with the spectacular destructions of the flagship Executor and the 'Invincible' Death Star, and it's easy to see how their coordination, morale, and willingness to fight would be shattered.

The Rebels, on the other hand, had already done three impossible things that day, saw a chance at complete victory, and took it.

To answer your question succintly: The Imperials started out with their hands tied as their leader played a different game, and when it went badly for him they suffered massive morale hits, leadership losses, confusion, and panic. The Rebels had a simple numerical disadvantage. When the two largest threat sources were removed and their enemy was panicked and routing, they swept the battlefield clean.

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    Zombie-fiction would seem to fly in the face of your quote. – Xantec May 28 '13 at 20:33
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    It's the 'Ably-led' part that flies in the face of most Zombie fiction. As a counter to that, look at The Walking Dead comics when the survivor's are in the 'safe' area (around issue 90-95) – Jeff May 28 '13 at 20:37
  • Ably led? The rebels? Errr... "It's a trap!" ;) For further counterarguments, please see my A, and the debate below it, in the comments. Nonetheless, +1 for the great alternate point of view. – OpaCitiZen May 29 '13 at 6:28
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    Michael Caine against the zulus would probably disagree. Organisation and better arms may give you tactical superiority but it doesn't make you invincible – Valorum Jan 29 '14 at 7:52
  • @Richard: Oh no, it doesn't make you invincible. What it does is give you a fighting chance. It may even be a good chance, depending on circumstances. It doesn't guarantee anything. That said, Ackbar is (supposedly) a master tactician, exactly the sort who could capitalize on such a turn of events. – Jeff Jan 29 '14 at 13:25
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The entire NSA is going to know my name after this one

Imagine if during a single battle the President and his entire cabinet, and about half of the the US forces present were killed. That's what Endor was like for the Empire, only worse.

This is because the Emperor was holding his forces together with battle meditation, imagine feeling confident, and all of a sudden you and all of your shipmates are less sure of yourselves.

Morale wins battles, you can be the best equipped and trained army in the world, but if you are depressed, resentful, confused, and/or pessimistic, you are not as likely to stand your ground. Even if you're the most disciplined army in the world and take that many devastating psychological blows in quick succession, most of which shake the entire foundations of your universe, you are not going to fight effectively, and you will get the hell out of there.

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I believe the answer is in the use of fighters. The Empire committed its fighters to the battle leaving the star destroyers without cover by the time the death star blew. Without fighter cover the Star Destroyers were vulnerable to attack and having just seen what had happened to the Executor and at least one other Star Destroyer at the hands of star fighters they called it a day. True, the alliance had suffered about 90% casualties among their fighters from the evidence in the footage but if the Empire was down to the last handful of fighters then that might not have mattered.

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