The plans for and initial construction of the Death Star is told in bits and pieces throughout the saga. This is how it fits together. It truly was an engineering marvel, and its a shame the technological advancements made for it were put to such an evil goal.
Early Years of the Death Star – Conception
The Death Star Journey is a long complicated tale, because it was a very complex machine. It required advancements in technology and a lot of experimentation to pull off. The first mention of the battlestation was conceived by Raith Sienar. When he showed it to Wilhum Tarkin it bore two smaller attached spheres. The design was not his style, nor elegent. Tarkin basically stole this design and passed it on.
The next time we see the Death Star designs is in the hands of the Genosians at the outbreak of the Clone Wars. However, while the station plans are in the Separatist hands, the Republic was apparently secretly funneling credits into research that would go into the final design. Klo Merit, the Equani spy on Drongar, had his homeworld devastated by the experiments with a ‘super laser’ that certainly fits the description. On the other side, the super strong tractor beams were being studied under the Separatists. It’s unlikely that any but the Sith knew of the double dealing research.
Soon after, Moff Tarkin gathered the top scientists, including the final designer, Bevel Lemelisk, Nadra Magrody, and various other specialists. Worse, the man took the best and brightest Omwati younglings, and forced them to work on the problem. Everytime they failed, he would destroy their home cities from orbit. This so damaged them that some collapsed in siezures and Qwi Xux, who ended up on the project, forced herself for decades to focus exlusively on work on projects that in spite of their deadly titles, would be used for things like mining.
The super laser was also tested in an early form on one of the Star Destroyers, guided by Darth Vader, on an asteroid sheltering Jedi.
The initial concept of the Death Star had a full size prototype built and hidden in the Maw installation. The battlestation prototype only included the laser and the engines. It remained there for decades, as the routes into the Maw cluster were lost with the death of Grand Moff Tarkin. It wasn’t until seven years after the death of the Emperor that it was discovered and destroyed.
The Death Star’s Construction
Darth Vader, the Emperor, and Tarkin at one point visit the early construction of the super weapon. At this stage it was a mere skeleton and may well have been the prototype that was soon relocated to the Maw, or it may have been the start of the final version, that took (due to technical challenges) two decades to build. Where it was at this point of time is unclear, as there were no points of reference around it. Enough was known about a massive Imperial weapon project to keep resistance groups on the look out, and at least at some stages, the project did have to be moved.
Having worked out the primary bugs, the Death Star was built in large part over the hostile world of Despayre, using the prison force as labor. Some of the prisoners were political prisoners, engineers and offered temporary parole. One of them even noted that the secondary exhaust port may be redundant, but it was never put into writing and the order to build it went ahead. Wookiees kidnapped from Kashyyyk were also on the labor force. In addition, it had some of the best and brightest of every field, gunners, engineers, fighter pilots, and stormtroopers.
Once the Death Star was fully completed, it was tested on Despayre itself, destroying the entire world and every prisoner still on it. Only a few prisoners paroled for the skills, and one who had stowed aboard a shuttle to the station, escaped.
Theft of the Death Star Plans
The only thing better than a well-laid plan is a well-conceived backup plan. Our forces at Toprawa may have a shot at the Death Star plans as well. The problem is, while the Toprawa plans include the battle stations hull design and life support infrastructure, the Danuta plans include additional engineering schematics and if we’re lucky, a complete map to the offensive and defensive weapons emplacements. We need both sets to ensure success.Mon Mothma to Jan Ors, Dark Forces: Soldier of the Empire
During this time it was known by the Rebellion that the Death Star existed. Spies leaked the news, and some of the founding members of the Alliance were even taken there, though how much they knew about what they saw was unclear. Efforts were made at sabotage and assault forces that were quickly destroyed. Princess Leia Organa, on a mercy mission to Raaltiir came into contact with a Rebel with an urgent message about a ‘Death Star’ nearing completion.
Due to the compartmentalized nature of the Death Star project and the many alterations and experimental technology, there wasn’t a single set of plans. They were ever changing and some of the plans only showed one or two interconnected systems. This is why multiple missions were launched to gain various sets of schematics for a complete picture.
Imperial librarian Atour Riten, who served on Danuta before the Death Star, sent a copy of the plans there. Recently Kyle Katarn had defected to the Alliance after discovering the Empire he had served murdered his father. With the aid of Jan Ors he stole the initial Death Star Plans. He also sent Rianna Saren in to get an updated version. The Danuta plans were forwarded to Darknell where they were grabbed by on the run Senator Bel Iblis. From there they were sent to Toprawa. Havent Storm also made off with a set in the Imperial base there. From there all the Death Star plans were combined into one data packet and beamed up to the Tantive IV in an operation known as Skyhook.
Ultimately they were all put together on Toprawa for desperate transmission to high command. This team, including Han Solo’s ex girlfriend Bria Tharen and her Red Hand team, was all but destroyed. The only survivor of the Toprawa mission apparently was Havet Storm. Toprawa also suffered serious reprisal that continued long after the Emperor was dead.
The Rebels of Toprawa were to transmit the plans to the Tantive IV, which was the Organa’s personal diplomatic ship. Unfortunately, the ruse to pretend starship malfunction as they collected the Death Star plan transmission failed. While the team down below succeeded (though not unscathed), the Empire wasn’t buying the ‘diplomatic mission’. They should not have been able to follow through hyperspace, suggesting they had a spy on the Tantive. Unable to escape and unable to trust anyone but Captain Antillies, Leia sent the droid R2-D2 on a desperate mission to the surface of Tatooine below to find General Kenobi and persuade him to deliver the plans.
Thanks to R2 D2 bumping into Luke Skywalker, as well as his success at finding Kenobi, the mission succeeded. Leia was rescued, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo the smuggler would prove vital to the battlestations destruction. Few escaped, including Darth Vader and a handful of defectors who had found each other and realized they simply could not be party to this horror. There likely were others on board as well, realizing too late that they were participating in mass murder, however unwittingly at first.
The Death Star Inspirations.
It’s not impossible that the Eye of Palpatine was built to test some of the Death Star systems like the super laser or tractor beams. The second Death Star was larger and would’ve altered the schematics to remove the secondary thermal exhaust port, as well as better protect the main one. The plans for this were intentionally leaked to Bothan Spies to draw them out. Fortunately, the Alliance succeeded in destroying this in a multipronged attack.
The last gasp at such a super weapon was the Dark Saber project. The Empire had given up on these due to cost as well as the Navy’s dislike for it and it’s emphasis that made its need for fleets obsolete. Durga the Hutt though, thought it was a great idea. He figured he only needed the super laser. He found Bevel Lemelisk (still free) and through allies stole the plans from a Coruscant vault. However, his chosen workforce was not up to the task of building such a complex device. While General Madine and his strike team failed to stop it and died in the attempt, the weapon self destructed at the firt attempted firing.
- Rogue Planet (novel by Greg Bear) – Sienar shows plans to Tarkin
- Attack of the Clones (movie and book)
- Medstar 1 Battle Surgeons (novel by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry) – Klo Merit, Republic weapons tests
- Medstar 2 Jedi Healer (novel by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry) – Klo Merit, Republic weapons tests
- Labyrinth of Evil (novel by James Luceno) – tractor beams
- Revenge of the Sith (brief view only, no details given in movie or book)
- The Force Unleashed (game, novel, comic) * this story does conflict with the timeline in Interlude at Darknell.
- Dark Forces (video game) – Kyle Katarn
- Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire (novella and audio drama by
- William C. Dietz) – Kyle Katarn
- Jedi Dawn (choose your own adventure published in UK by Paul Cockburn) – Havet Storm
- Battlefront 2 (video game) – 501st tries to stop prisoners fleeing Death Star with plans
- Interlude at Darknell (short story by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole)
- Lethal Alliance (video game) – Rianna Saren
- Death Star (novel by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry)
- Star Wars Radio Drama (teleplay by Brian Daley from the story by George Lucas) – Operation Skyhook
- Empire 5 & 6 – Princess…Warrior (comic book by Randy Stradley, reprinted in various graphic novels & omnibus)
- A New Hope
- Han Solo Trilogy, Rebel Dawn (novel by AC Crispin) – fate of the transmission team on Toprawa
- Shadows of the Empire (novel by Steve Perry) – discovery of Death Star 2
- Shadows of the Empire video game – discovery of Death Star 2
- Shadows of the Empire graphic novel/comics – discovery of Death Star 2
- Jedi Academy trilogy (novels by Kevin J. Anderson) – discovery of prototype functional Death Star Frame in the maw
- Darksaber (novel by Kevin J. Anderson) – Hutt Super weapon