- «The Jedi must not find our designs for the Ultimate Weapon. If they find out what we are planning to build, we're doomed.»"
- ―Poggle the Lesser
The idea for the Death Star began when the Confederacy of Independent Systems designed the Ultimate Weapon, using plans and concepts provided by Wilhuff Tarkin. Poggle the Lesser possessed the original (or a copy of the) plans, which he handed to Count Dooku during the First Battle of Geonosis.
Darth Tyranus attempted to flee the planet and go to Coruscant, but he was intercepted by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda who sought to capture him. Tyranus defeated the two Knights; however, Yoda, in order to save the other two, let Tyranus escape with the plans. The future of the galaxy was strongly affected by this decision.
Tyranus managed to arrive at the Works of Coruscant and he delivered the schematics personally to Darth Sidious. Once the Clone Wars were over, Palpatine shaped this idea for his own purposes. Blueprints were used as a basis for construction of the station, and, after the Death Star's completion, the plans became a prime target for the Rebellion, whose members hoped to find and exploit a weakness in the superweapon. In large part because of this, the Empire split up the plans and sent it to various places of the galaxy to prevent enemy hands from acquiring it.
The Rebel Alliance acquires the plans
The top-secret Imperial weapons project headed by Wilhuff Tarkin was hinted at by several high officials, including Tarkin himself, but its true nature remained unknown for some time. The first vital piece of information about the Death Star was obtained during the mission to Darkknell, which took place sometime before the signing of the Corellian Treaty in 2 BBY, during which Darth Vader captured the Rebel Leaders Bail Prestor Organa, Mon Mothma and Garm Bel Iblis and sent them to the unfinished Death Star I for execution. There Emperor Palpatine revealed them the name and the purpose of the battle station before executing them, but the Rebel leaders were saved by Galen Marek, who sacrificed himself to allow them escape. As the construction of the Death Star drew closer to completion, Mon Mothma and Bail Organa knew that Rebels needed to obtain a complete technical readout of the Death Star. If their engineers could pinpoint a weakness in the battlestation, then the Rebels might be able to destroy it. The Alliance set into motion the biggest anti-Imperial offensive it had ever attempted: a complex, coordinated operation to compile a complete set of plans for the Death Star and transmit it to the Tantive IV. Various missions were undertaken by the Rebel Alliance with this purpose, but while some of them succeeded, others simply confirmed the Death Star's existence, name and purpose, which were in fact already known to the Leader of the Alliance.
Events on Vergesso and Raltiir
For the raid on Vergesso facilities Captain Raymus Antilles secured the assistance of Han Solo's smuggling skills. Solo, originally extremely reluctant to involve himself in Rebel affairs, was forced to comply after Antilles made assisting him the condition for rescuing him from Imperial custody over the surface of Corellia.
Solo undertook a mission to infiltrate the Imperial shipping facilities in the Vergesso Asteroids, planting a tracking device and EMP emitter in a cargo container bound for an Imperial research station in Corulag. The EMP successfully disabled the station's defenses long enough for Rebel search teams to raid the station. The data they acquired "confirmed" the existence of the Death Star I and gave the Rebels an idea of the scale of its destructive capabilities, but failed to provide any technical information with which a weakness could be identified. Even Gial Ackbar, Tarkin's personal slave rescued during the raid, knew little about the plot.
Using funds stolen from the raid on Ylesia and other sources, the Rebellion planted and aided spies on the world of Ralltiir. One of their number, Basso, also "confirmed" the existence of a massive Imperial construction, code-named Death Star. This was later identified as a massive superlaser-wielding battlestation by the Empire's Lord Tion. Shortly before his death, Tion revealed that a convoy containing the Death Star plans was en route to Toprawa from Tarkin's headquarters on Eriadu.
Death Star uprising
- "After the embarrassment of the prison break, Lord Vader removed us from our comfortable billet, and began dragging the 501st across the galaxy, in a dangerous hunt for the now missing Death Star plans."
- ―Retired clone trooper
A section of the plans were stolen from the Empire during a Rebel jail break inside the nearly completed Death Star. Stormtroopers of the 501st Legion, who had been guarding the plans onboard the Death Star, crushed the uprising and were thought to have recovered the plans. However, some prisoners had managed to transmit one copy to rebel forces on Polis Massa.
Discoveries at Orron III and AX-235
A BFF-1 bulk freighter called Phoenix stole several communications satellites from the Imperial base on Orron III. The freighter was later recovered by the alliance and the satellites were spread by the CR90 corvette Jeffrey in the Cron Drift to intercept Imperial transmissions in the hopes of learning more.
Technical information from the Death Star came to the attention of outpost AX-235 in the Cron Drift. Due to the importance of what had been discovered, Biggs Darklighter was sent to personally courier the schematics out of AX-235, taking them to the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser Independence. From there, shuttle Maria transferred them to Tantive IV.
Keyan Farlander's success
Keyan Farlander and members of Red Squadron protected the Tantive IV while the technical data from the Independence transferred from the shuttle Maria. Four other corvettes were used as decoys in order to protect the Tantive's identity, but the Star Destroyer Immortal arrived, and launched an attack on the Tantive. Thanks to Keyan Farlander, the Tantive managed to escape to Toprawa.
Mission to Danuta
Rebels on Danuta had learned that Lemelisk had visited the local research facility, and obtained video of a set of Death Star plans being held there. Rebel Intelligence hoped that the Danuta plans included additional engineering schematics and a complete map to the offensive and defensive weapons emplacements. Additionally, the Alliance already held the intercepted technical data from AX-235 with the plans from the actual Death Star. All of this information was needed to ensure success. The Rebels on Toprawa had a shot at the convoy, while Mon Mothma recruited an Imperial defector named Kyle Katarn and the mercenary Rianna Saren to infiltrate an Imperial outpost on Danuta.
Kyle was to steal a memory matrix there that contained the plans for the Death Star while Rianna was charged with retrieving more Intel from Zarien Kheev. With the aid of Jan Ors and Meck Odom, Katarn escaped the facility and transmitted this set of the plans to Rebel spies in the Toprawa system, where it was eventually passed to Princess Leia on the Tantive IV. As for Rianna, she and Z-58-0 also completed their objective and transmitted the plans to Princess Leia in the Toprawa system.
Battle of Toprawa
Rebel Intelligence knew that the plans for the battle station's hull design and life support infrastructure were held within the Imperial Research Facility on Toprawa.The Toprawan Rebels were ordered to cripple the Imperial convoy heading for Toprawa, and steal the plans, which included a list of its potential flaws. Combined with the superlaser control system plans and other technical schematics, the Rebellion would then have a complete technical readout of the battlestation. Bria Tharen and Red Hand Squadron volunteered to accompany an Alliance infiltration team to Toprawa aboard the Retribution, to aid in the transmission of the plans, an operation dubbed "Skyhook", though they were unaware of the exact nature of the weapon.
The Toprawan Rebels attacked and crippled the Imperial convoy and captured the plans - an event often considered the first major victory for the Alliance. In response, the Empire blockaded the planet. Bail Organa was to have taken the Tantive IV to intercept the transmission of the stolen Death Star plans, but his daughter, Leia Organa, volunteered to go in his stead.
Raid on the Imperial Research Station
The Rebels on Toprawa were without the proper equipment to transmit the plans to the Tantive. They decided to attack the IRS, and use its comm station. A young man named Havet Storm was recruited to steal the superlaser control plans.
The combined Rebel forces hit the main reception building. They managed to take the communications center station, where Havet Storm arrived with the superlaser plans. Here they were ambushed by head of security Commander Diamond and her stormtroopers. While Red Hand Squadron held off Imperial forces outside the Center, Havet transmitted the plans in a quick burst, using frequency 1215. The transmission was barely in time—Imperial fire chopped the comm/sensor tower in half just seconds after the Tantive sent out a "transmission complete" acknowledgment.
Detour to Kalakar Six
Darth Vader, who had sworn to recapture the plans after the Death Star uprising, briefly followed up on a tip that led him to Kalakar Six. It proved to be a ruse generated by the Prophets of the Dark Side, who had predicted that the Death Star would soon be destroyed. Instead, Vader chose to pursue Leia Organa to the Toprawa system, while the 501st Legion traced the Rebels from the Death Star uprising to Polis Massa.
The Battle of Polis Massa
- "We were supposed to go in, wipe out a small band of Rebels, and recover some stolen Imperial plans on an encrypted holodisk."
- ―Retired clone trooper
The 501st Legion was sent to retrieve the plans that had been transmitted to Polis Massa. Once there, the 501st was caught up in a firefight with the Rebellion. By the time the 501st got to the plans, a copy had already been beamed from Polis Massa to the Tantive IV. The Signal branch of Imperial Intelligence's Analysis Bureau discovered that the plans had been sent to the Tantive IV by analyzing the unshielded ELEL (Extremely Low Energy Level) transmission from droid U-3PO aboard the ship. This allowed Vader to track the Tantive IV to Tatooine.
Moff Kalast and the Bothan Spynet
Sometime prior to the Death Star plans arriving on Polis Massa, rogue Imperial Moff Kalast aided the Rebellion with information linked to the battlestation. The Bothan Spynet had acquired secret top priority Imperial codes from the Death Star and transferred them to Kalast who, in turn, delivered them to the Rebellion.
After learning of the combined treachery of both the Spynet and Kalast, Emperor Palpatine personally traveled to Bothawui to punish the Bothans. The Emperor, along with two of his Royal Guards, slaughtered a large number of Bothans. One Bothan, begging for his life, informed the Emperor that the plans were to be beamed to the Tantive IV in the Tatoo system. The Emperor regrouped with Vader, who had learned the same, and ordered his servant to Tatooine.
- "The Death Star plans are not in the main computer."
- ―Stormtrooper to Darth Vader
Having received the various sets of blueprints, the Rebels on Tantive IV were able to recreate a full tactical readout of the Death Star. They attempted to deliver this readout to the Star Cruiser Liberty, but a sudden appearance of the Star Destroyer Devastator caused the transfer to stop; Tantive IV moved to Tatooine to reach Obi-Wan Kenobi so that he could bring it to Bail Organa on Alderaan. Before they could succeed, though, Darth Vader led a strike against the ship by the 501st Legion. Princess Leia, knowing the Rebels had no hope of defeating Vader's forces, placed the plans within the astromech droid R2-D2, programmed him to deliver them with a message to Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine, and then, after being captured by Vader, denied that Tantive IV had ever received such plans.
R2-D2 boarded an escape pod with C-3PO and journeyed through the sands of Tatooine to fulfill his mission. The plans were nearly in danger of being lost forever when Jawas ambushed and enslaved R2, but a string of events led R2 to the ownership of Owen Lars. R2 convinced Lars's nephew Luke Skywalker to remove the droid's restraining bolt, suggesting that doing so was the only way R2 could access the rest of Princess Leia's message (which Luke had accidentally discovered), but it was not long after Luke had done so that R2 had taken the opportunity to escape, seeking out General Kenobi. Luke and C-3PO chased R2 down, after which they stumbled across a group of Sand People. Again the plans were nearly doomed, but the Sand People scattered at the arrival of one they knew and feared: Obi-Wan Kenobi. R2-D2 had completed his task.
The trail to Yavin
- "An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battlestation."
- ―Jan Dodonna
Leia's message conveyed to Obi-Wan the urgency of bringing R2 to Bail Organa. Joined by Luke and C-3PO, they hired the mercenary Han Solo and Chewbacca to smuggle them to Alderaan on the Millennium Falcon, and they escaped from Mos Eisley spaceport in a fierce firefight.
The plans, however, would never make it to Alderaan. In a demonstration of the Death Star's capabilities, Grand Moff Tarkin had ordered the planet destroyed, and the crew of the Falcon exited hyperspace only to find their destination missing, while a lone TIE/LN starfighter fled the scene. Han determined to destroy the fighter so that their location could not be reported, but following the fighter led the Falcon to the Death Star itself.
R2 was as close to the Imperials as he could be, and at one point he and C-3PO were even forced to interact with a squad of stormtroopers. Still, none of the soldiers realized that the little droid the Empire had been searching for was on the very station it posed so dangerous a threat to. When the crew of the Falcon escaped with Princess Leia and headed to Yavin 4, R2 and the precious plans he carried were with them.
Having arrived on Yavin 4, the Death Star plans were studied by General Jan Dodonna and other Rebel officers in the hope of finding an exploitable weakness. In addition, because of the Death Star's unexpected arrival shortly thereafter thanks to a tracking droid smuggled on the Falcon, the personnel also rushed through trying to strategise on how to destroy the Death Star via the plans. They found it in the form of a small thermal exhaust port which, if hit directly by a proton torpedo, would trigger a chain reaction destroying the battle station. This is precisely what Luke Skywalker did in the proceeding Battle of Yavin.
The Hutt threat
Following the fall of the Empire, the Death Star Plans were kept by the New Republic in a secure computer system on Coruscant. However, in 12 ABY, a team of Taurill commandos broke in during a diplomatic reception for Durga the Hutt and stole a copy of the plans. They delivered them to Durga, who had Bevel Lemelisk use the captured designs to create a new version of the Death Star, the Darksaber. However, this threat was thwarted when the station was destroyed in the Hoth asteroid field.
Behind the scenes
- "…if you had to throw a dinner party and invite everyone who had ever stolen the Death Star plans, you'd be surprised at how many place settings you'd have to worry about."
- ―Pablo Hidalgo
In the early production of the original movie, the hollow dish was designed to be on the equator, but then it was moved to the "northern" hemisphere. However, the old design can still be seen in the grid plan animations in the movie. This is because the animation was created before the prop designers decided to make the change. The original plans displayed in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, set twenty years earlier, show the final form.
The grid plan animations shown during the Rebel briefing for the attack on the Death Star late in A New Hope were an actual computer graphics simulation from the Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) made by Larry Cuba and Gary Imhoff as part of a project for school at CalArts, and had been included during filming for Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope (then known as just Star Wars). Originally, the writers and staff planned to thank JPL for assisting in the graphics, but it was changed to the specific programmers' names after one of the programmers, Mike Plesset, pointed out that JPL didn't even know their computers had been used.
The exact order of events and the way the multiple plans were combined by the Rebels are not clearly understood. One major reason for this is that, like fighting in the Battle of Hoth, stealing or protecting the Death Star plans has become a playable feature in Star Wars video games such as Star Wars: X-Wing, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars: Empire at War, and Star Wars: Lethal Alliance. For example, in Lethal Alliance, Rianna Saren escapes Despayre soon before its destruction, transmitting her part of the plans to Princess Leia at the end of the game, yet as revealed in the novel Death Star, Despayre was destroyed during the events of A New Hope, after Leia was captured. These games don't always maintain continuity, and a future retcon may combine all sources into one cohesive storyline. Such an attempt was made with the Dark Forces: Soldier for the Empire graphic novel, which reconciled the Toprawa and Danuta plans, while The Lost Jedi Adventure Game Book and Rebel Dawn incorporated the Toprawa story from the get-go.
The Star Wars original Databank article on the Death Star acknowledged the contributions of Kyle Katarn, Keyan Farlander, "Rebel spies in the Toprawa system," and other unnamed heroes. The Death Star Uprising and 501st Legion were both mentioned, but the article made no reference to the plans even being involved in this jailbreak.
Star Wars: Empire at War attempted to resolve the issue by saying that the Death Star plans were scattered to help keep them out of enemy hands; that Katarn, Farlander, and all the others simply stole parts that, when pieced together, formed the Death Star plans.
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