The First Death Star, or DS1, was one of the most impressive technological and logistical feats of the Empire. However, for several reasons—some of which took effect before the Death Star was even destroyed—this colossal construction helped weaken and eventually devastate the government it was built to protect. Here’s 3 reasons why:
- Shattered Ideology:
Perhaps the most important problem with the Death Star was that it implemented an ideology that was crucial to the Empire’s survival: the Tarkin Doctrine. This doctrine was summed up by Grand Moff Tarkin himself: “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.”
Essentially, the principle taught by Tarkin and exercised by the Empire was that, in building a weapon so terrifying, one would rarely have to use it. However, the counterargument is that building such a weapon would terrify citizens to the point of rebellion—that they would rather fight against this space station instead of cowering under it. Princess Leia summarizes the results of this effect when she states, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
However, the Empire removes any debate on this subject by enacting its ideology. It destroys the planet Alderaan and, according to Tarkin, will then destroy the Rebellion in “one, swift stroke.” His assumption is that the demonstration of the DS1 has permanently eliminated any other faction’s resistance against the Empire.
That assumption couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Almost immediately after the Death Star’s display, it’s actually destroyed by the Rebellion—showing to the public that the Tarkin Doctrine clearly did not work. Fear brought about desperation, not conformity, in the Rebels, and this desperation backlashed horribly against the Empire, killing the very man for which the core ideology behind the Death Star was named.
- Wasted Resources:
The Death Star was built on a scale that was absolutely unnecessary, and calculations aren’t even required to understand this. The main purpose of the Death Star was to frighten enemies by destroying any opponents on a planet, but it didn’t just destroy all life on Alderaan in Episode 4—it annihilated the globe. This kind of firepower wasn’t necessary. An asteroid that destroys all major lifeforms on Earth wouldn’t need to make the entire planet explode; it would only need to send a powerful shockwave across the surface. And even if the Empire wanted a superlaser to melt everything on the surface, remove the atmosphere, and ravage the crust, it still wouldn’t need nearly any of the power it took for the Death Star to instantly disintegrate Alderaan.
Because the Death Star was ludicrously overpowered, this space station only served as a public demonstration of the Empire’s tactical redundancy; a much smaller yet equally terrifying station could have been built, yet they attempted to flaunt this gaudy overcompensation as a sign of the Empire’s brilliance—in a way that would only make the galactic population more appalled at their government’s insanity. Then, when the Death Star was destroyed in the Battle of Yavin, its loss of 2 million civilians and hundreds of thousands of pilots and Stormtroopers (along with several Admirals and of course, the highest-ranking Imperial officer, Grand Moff Tarkin) made it appear especially foolish, and showed once again how the Empire was completely misusing valuable resources in this war over the galaxy.
- Betrayed Supporters:
The destruction of Alderaan also shows a betrayal against another core ideal of the Empire: the Human High Culture, an idea praising humans that (while also explicitly stated in the Legends EU) is heavily hinted at in the films through the Nazi-esque structure of the Empire’s army and the fact that all their officers are human. However, in the case of Alderaan, the Empire no longer treated humans like first-class citizens. All of them, regardless of species and Imperial status, were destroyed. This entrenched a feeling of betrayal within those humans who were once considered special under the superweapon’s grip.
The Death Star didn’t just scare off humans, however; it also shocked its own soldiers. In the (now Legends) novel Death Star, (SPOILERS AHEAD for Death Star) it’s described that soldiers aboard the Death Star think of the destruction of Alderaan as “evil beyond comprehension” (295). The gunner of the superweapon itself loathes himself and knows that “the dead would haunt him, forever” because he took part in the destruction of this planet (326). Several Imperial soldiers and citizens defect to the Rebellion because of the destruction this space station creates. And in the canon Lost Stars novel, some wonder in bewilderment and disgust why the Empire would ever attempt to use or replicate such a device. The entirety of the galaxy, including the Imperials, see that the Empire isn’t just using fear against its enemies, but mercilessly utilizing superweapons against its own planets. This realization undoubtedly brought many sympathizers to the Rebels.
From the misuse of fear, to the waste of resources, to the betrayal of its own people, the Death Star made the Empire’s war doubtable in the eyes of the galaxy—adding to Rebel sympathizers, suppliers, and supporters. Eventually, each of these problems surfaced again when the Empire attempted to expand its flimsy façade of power in constructing the second Death Star—once again showing how the Death Star helped begin the Empire’s demise before it was even destroyed.