Attack Rundown – The Superweapons of the Star Wars Universe Part II: Starkiller Base

Welcome back! Finally worked up the courage to venture out of your hidden Rebel bases, or have you simply realized there is no escape from a superweapon that can annihilate an entire star system from the other side of the galaxy? In our last installment we learned how any large starship can be used to decimate a planet, and looked back to the history of the Old Republic to see how a cynical capitalist sought to master a force of nature to create potent living weapons. This entry, we’ll take a closer look at the awe-inspiring instrument of destruction from The Force Awakens: Starkiller Base.

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Deak (?) Starkiller battles Darth Vader in this concept painting by the amazing Ralph McQuarrie

The name “Starkiller” has a long history in Star Wars – it was the name of the various heroes in George Lucas’s drafts that eventually morphed into the Luke Skywalker we all know and love. After being discarded, “Starkiller” popped up in various places throughout the Expanded Universe before being used most prominently as the name for Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice in The Force Unleashed games. It’s use in Episode VII brings it back into the onscreen Star Wars universe; the same thing happened with the names “Utapau” and “Mace Windy.”

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an early rendition of the Death Star by Ralph McQuarrie

I’ll admit that when I saw a new Death Star-esque superweapon in the poster for The Force Awakens I was a bit disappointed (the Death Star was already re-hashed in Return of the Jedi!). It’s one of many story and visual elements in TFA that cleave a liiittle too closely to the Original Trilogy, but I’ve warmed to it since then. It doesn’t play a big part in the story, just functions as a big piece of scenery wheeled in to recreate a similar situation from one of the most beloved movies of all time. I mean, we asked for this. We had years of Star Wars movies deviating from the formula of the originals, and we crapped all over it.

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The Force Awakens leans heavily on nostalgia, but I still think it’s a good continuation of the saga. What I mostly enjoy about the film is the great characters it introduces; characters who are likable, characters you can see some of yourself in, characters who have convincing personalities and relationships. That is what I wanted back in Star Wars, and the near identical visuals and plot are just set dressing for them to play around in. But enough about the movie, let’s set our scopes on The Weapon:

STARKILLER BASEstarkiller_base1

ERA: The New Republic (~30 years after Return of the Jedi)

CONSTRUCTED BY: The First Order

APPEARED IN: Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

CREDITS: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

In The Force Awakens we are introduced to a galaxy that has known the peaceful rule of the New Republic for decades. We know from the new Expanded Universe that a year after Return of the Jedi the Rebel Alliance engaged the Empire in a final battle above the planet Jakku, decisively crushing them there (and littering Jakku’s surface with countless crashed starships). That was pretty much it for the Empire, they signed treaties with the newly formed Republic and were confined to smaller and smaller areas of the galaxy over time. Most worlds eventually jumped ship to the New Republic of their own accord, as did many former members of the Imperial military (note that I’ve not actually read this new Expanded Universe material, this is just the gist I’ve gotten reading about it).

starkiller_base_surface2

But not all Imperials gave up and threw in the white armor. Some hardliners and fanatics slunk away to the far reaches of the galaxy, bitter at their defeat and hating all that the New Republic stood for. They eventually formed into an organization called the First Order under a mysterious Force-user named Snoke and began building a terrifying weapon to destroy the NR.

DESCRIPTION:

Starkiller Base was different from the Death Stars of the old Empire; while those were wholly artificial space stations, this installation was built into the crust of a (presumably) naturally formed planet. They went deep, too. The presence of mountains seems to suggest that at one time the planet was geologically active, one wonders if its interior was originally similar to Earth’s with a liquid mantle, solid core, etc. There’s been no depiction of the world in its natural state before the arrival of the First Order, but The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary advises that there were unique crystal deposits that led to the choice to build the weapon there.

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The surface of the Starkiller’s world is cold and snow covered, the only native life we see are Earth-like trees. Were these here before the FO arrived? It doesn’t seem like they would have transplanted life there in some kind of terraforming effort. The construction of the big cannon and the massive chasm it sits in must have had some kind of crazy effects on the natural environment (if there was one to begin with)…is there air in the chasm, and how does firing some kind of huge destructive beam through that work? Imagine the air pressure at the bottom if there’s atmosphere all the way down!

It looks like there’s definitely some kind of effect on the atmosphere near the mouth of the cannon, trees are destroyed and dirt goes flying. However, the planet’s entire atmosphere doesn’t blow off or burst into flames, and the First Order troops assembled close by are unharmed. Perhaps the air is held away at the edge of the chasm by some kind of atmospheric containment field (an old Star Wars trick)…with some bleedover right at the very edge? Later on during the Resistance attack there does seem to be some blast damage at the edge of the chasm.

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THE EFFECT:

While the official decision makers for the Star Wars universe and myself disagree on the finer points (which will be discussed below), the basics are this: the Starkiller absorbs energy from a nearby star into itself, then redirects it into a destructive beam that can be fired across the galaxy at faster-than-light speeds. Multiple (adjacent) targets can be hit in a single shot; the one time it was successfully fired the Starkiller blast split into ~5 beams that destroyed several worlds in the Coruscant Hosnian star system.

hosnian-destruction

At the time of its destruction Hosnian Prime was the capital planet of the New Republic – per the new Expanded Universe the NR capital rotates to a different planet every several years so as not to show favoritism – and its loss was a great blow to that government and its armed forces. The Starkiller’s next intended target was the headquarters of an organization known as the Resistance, a rogue group of former New Republic personnel who decided to oppose the First Order while the Republic Senate had remained complacent and unwilling to act. After examining the plans they managed to find a weak point on the Starkiller Base in this hexagon:

starkiller-base-weak-spot

The Resistance launches an attack with some X-Wings after Rey, Finn, Han and Chewie infiltrate the base and manage to bring the shields down, bada-bing, bada-bang, Poe Dameron drops a torpedo on that building (it had something to do with regulating the energy absorbed by the weapon, I think) and the whole station goes the way of its predecessors. Han Solo dies, fulfilling a wish Harrison Ford has had since the making of The Empire Strikes Back (part of the reason Han was frozen in carbonite at the end of that film was they weren’t sure if they could get him back!).

CAN STARKILLER BASE MOVE (THROUGH INTERSTELLAR SPACE)?

The official word from on high is that Starkiller Base is independently mobile, capable of traveling throughout the galaxy, and uses up the entirety of a star in one shot…but I think this will be one area where the powers that be and myself will have to disagree. When I first watched The Force Awakens, I got the impression that the Starkiller was a stationary facility…as stationary as a planet that rotates on an axis and orbits a star which is in turn orbiting the center of the galaxy can be. I didn’t think that the planet could move on its own from system to system (as the Death Stars were capable of).

“But if it sucks up the star it’s orbiting, wouldn’t it be a one shot weapon?” you ask. But I don’t think that it uses up the whole star in one shot:

The weapon does seem to be sucking a lot of the star’s energy away, but I don’t think at any point we see it fully eat up the entire star (if I’m wrong please be sure to correct me, I’ve only seen TFA a few times). Think about it; stars are huge, Huge, HUGE balls of gas, with enough of it to keep burning for billions of years. What we see done to the Hosnian System could be accomplished with the barest fraction of the power a star contains. I feel that Starkiller Base could absorb the energies of that same sun again and again to fire the weapon and barely make a dent in its lifespan. I also don’t recall any mention or visuals of the planet traveling through interstellar space and arriving at another star.

“But what about ‘as long as there’s light, there’s hope?’ You can see the sun dimming in the sky as the Starkiller prepares to fire!” That’s a good point…but again, I didn’t read it that way while watching the film. I visualized the Starkiller rotating as it orbits the star (like Earth does); when the “accumulator” (for lack of an official term) seen in the above video is on the “day side” of the planet, it absorbs the stellar energy. I think this “accumulator”  is near the mouth of the cannon/command center/parade ground, and in the same hemisphere as the hexagon where they encounter Kylo Ren.

Starkiller firing.jpg

When the planet rotates so that the “accumulator” and cannon are facing away from the star, it’s ready to fire. The light from the sun dimming during the confrontation between Han and Kylo Ren was the sun setting as the part of the planet they were standing on rotated away from it. I assumed that there was some degree of directional control over the Starkiller beam, as they were able to split the blast to precisely hit multiple infinitesimally tiny (astronomically speaking) planets in a star system on the other side of the galaxy. Once the line of sight on the cannon was pointed a liiittle bit away from the star and in the general direction of the target, it was showtime.

To use a real world analogy – the Death Stars and their superlasers were like nuclear weapons from early in the Cold War, they had to be moved relatively near the target to be used (either via bomber aircraft or antagonistically placed launch sites). The Starkiller is the equivalent of an intercontinental ballistic missile, it can be launched from anywhere on Earth and hit anywhere else in the world within a half-hour.

So that’s my read on it…and I just like my idea better! If the planet can travel through space under its own power that makes it too much like a Death Star, and a little too uber-powerful for the Star Wars universe. But again, that is entirely the opinion of this website. You are welcome to disagree, and we can still be friends! Feel free to post rebuttals and ideas in the comments, and please keep checking back in for more segments on the subject of superweapons! And enjoy Rogue One!

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