The Death Star. There's no more potent a symbol of Imperial might than that moon-sized battle station and there's no more powerful symbol of the Empire's evil — how can anyone forget the moment when the Death Star destroyed the peaceful world of Alderaan? Here's the catch though — as Lucasfilm continues to build their new canon, they're revealing a subtle, secret story, little by little. You see, the Death Star didn't just destroy Alderaan — here's how it brought down the Empire itself as well...
1. Constructing The Death Star
The years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope are gradually being fleshed out in the latest Lucasfilm novels, and there's one common theme; the construction of the Death Star. Building a moon-sized space-station demanded resources on a scale the galaxy had never imagined before. As a result, mines were established all across the galaxy — mining everything from minerals like doonium to the rare kyber crystals of Jedha.
Of course, the Empire wanted the Death Star to be constructed at speed, so health and safety weren't exactly a priority. Greg Rucka's latest novel, Guardians of the Whills, gives us a sense of exactly what Jedha was like under Imperial rule:
"Where once there had been a steady stream of pilgrims and tourists, now there was barely a trickle. Where once the kyber crystal mines had made modest profit for those who worked them, now the Empire tore open gashes in the surface of Jedha, greedy for more and more. This in turn brought more pollution and filth into the atmosphere. Food and clean water, never abundant but always adequate, became scarce, and in some cases toxic. Illnesses and injuries became commonplace. Medicine and healers diminished."
The Empire casually manipulated local economies in order to take over factories and mines, then demanded exhaustive yields. Beth Revis's new novel, Rebel Rising, added another disturbing side to all this; a debt system that effectively enslaved entire worlds. The Empire would 'loan' equipment and resources to help the mines and factories run more efficiently, but the debts would add up until the Empire took charge and the locals became slaves, desperately working to pay off their insurmountable debts.
Here's the problem, though — Treat an entire galaxy's worth of people like that, and you can guarantee that they'll become angry. On Jedha, even before the arrival of Saw Gerrera there were outbreaks of violence and scattered, brutal insurgencies. As we saw in Rebel Rising, the Empire just upped the ante. Once they had finished with Tamsye Prime, the Empire simply blasted the planet's population to oblivion from space, and blamed it on rebels.
This harsh treatment bred anger, while most of the galaxy saw through the Empire's deception. What's more, if you were a miner of a world like Tamsye Prime, you definitely had an incentive to get offworld before the mines were used up, even if that meant dealing with smugglers or casting your lot in with cells of rebels.
2. A Common Purpose For The Rebels
It was clear to everybody in the galaxy that the Empire was working on something big. Even Imperial officers were fascinated; in Timothy Zahn's novel Thrawn, we see Grand Admiral Thrawn tracking shipments of doonium in an attempt to work out just what the Empire was building. Other Imperial officers — and, indeed, Imperial Senators — were also intrigued.
For the rebels, though, this actually gave them a common purpose. Saw Gerrera may have disagreed with the way that the Rebel Alliance conducted itself, but — as we saw in Rebel Rising — he was more than willing to work with them in order to solve the mystery of the Empire's grand construction project. The Empire was unwittingly encouraging all the rebel cells to work together, to unify against the Death Star. At times, the rebels got tantalizingly close — in James Luceno's novel Tarkin we learn that the Death Star was moved away from Geonosis for fear of discovery.
This was a high-risk strategy. Palpatine clearly suspected that key Senators were involved in the nascent Rebel Alliance. If those Senators learned of the Death Star before it was ready, then he'd face unexpectedly strong political opposition. That's why Mon Mothma wanted to get the Death Star plans to the Senate in #RogueOne; she knew she could use that knowledge to mobilize the Senate against Palpatine. Unfortunately, Mothma was too late. With the Death Star completed, Palpatine exercised the nuclear option. As we saw in A New Hope, he disbanded the Senate completely, ending all possibility of a political end to his rule.
3. A Symbol Of The Empire's Ultimate Evil
Fundamentally, this is why the Death Star destroyed the Empire. Saw Gerrera may have been wrong about a lot of things, but he understood one principle all too well; the importance of martyrdom. As he explained in Rebel Rising:
"The resistance needs a martyr. A tragedy. Something so horrific that people can't help but stand up and fight, too."
The Emperor and Grand Moff Tarkin believed that the deployment of supreme force would terrify the galaxy into submission, into peace. And Rogue One hints that they may well have been right — When the Rebel Alliance learned of the Death Star, its leaders believed their cause to be over, but things went terribly wrong for the Empire.
Tarkin's mistake was to deploy the Death Star against Alderaan. A peaceful and idyllic world, Alderaan could never be a threat to the Empire! What was more, up until now, the Empire's wrath had been exerted on Rim-worlds, hidden from the galaxy's sight. This public demonstration exposed the Empire's brutality to the densely-populated Galactic Core. After Alderaan, few could hold any more illusions about the Empire's true nature.
Claudia Gray's Lost Stars gave us a glimpse into just how Alderaan's destruction affected even Imperial officers. Some tried to rationalize Tarkin's action, becoming more intense and extreme in their loyalty to the Empire. Others, though, were horrified, and would ultimately defect. In some cases, these ex-Imperial officers wound up with the Rebellion, bringing with them the tactical skill and military experience that the Empire itself had provided them.
Worse still, the unthinkable then happened — the Death Star was destroyed. The Empire had just proved to the whole galaxy that it was unspeakably evil and the Rebel Alliance responded by proving that the Empire could be beaten. After the Rebel Alliance seemed to be in danger of falling apart when news first reached them of the Death Star, they were now invigorated instead. Suddenly the Empire, for all its military might, looked vulnerable.
It's worth remembering, too, that the Death Star wasn't all that the Empire lost — everybody on board died as well. Included among the casualties were some of the Empire's best tacticians, their greatest engineers, their most committed Stormtroopers. Believing the Death Star to be unbeatable, the Empire had concentrated its forces in that one battle station, so its loss was a body blow to the Imperial war machine.
The Death Star, Palpatine's pet project and Tarkin's ultimate weapon was also the Empire's greatest mistake. From the outset, the Death Star project led to countless worlds feeling the crushing pain of Imperial rule at its worst, the demands of which exhausted entire planets. The Death Star's very construction left people fleeing into the arms of rebel cells, while the mysterious project gave these cells a common cause. And then, ultimately, Tarkin's decision to destroy Alderaan backfired when the Death Star itself was destroyed.
I think we should give the Death Star another name. Let's call it... Palpatine's Folly.
Do you agree that the Death Star destroyed the Empire?
(Poll Image Credit: Lucasfilm)