That's no moon. That's ... well, you know what it is by now. The Death Star is one of the most iconic images in the "Star Wars" universe; a symbol of overwhelming destruction and totalitarian might with a weakness that can be exploited by the humblest of heroes. Now it is taking center stage again in "Rogue One." As Gareth Edwards takes us back to the days of the Galactic Empire, here's some facts about the infamous space station you might not have known.
The design for the Death Star was made by "Star Wars" SFX artist John Stears, who also created the designs for the lightsaber and R2-D2. Stears also worked on the special effects for all of Sean Connery's "007" movies, including James Bond's famous Aston Martin DB5 and its passenger ejector seat.
To create the Death Star's explosion, "Star Wars" effects artist Joe Viskocil devised a bomb comprised of various ingredients including sulfur and titanium chips. A camera was set up directly underneath the bomb to create the illusion that the explosion was expanding out without the influence of gravity. The titanium chips created the sparks that float towards the camera. You can read more about the process here.
The original model of the Death Star has had a long, inglorious journey since shooting for "Star Wars" wrapped. After being thrown out with other "Star Wars" props when the studio's storage unit lease ran out, the model was picked up by an employee at the facility and passed from owner to owner until it was bought by a Seattle-based "Star Wars" collector. Along the way, Lucasfilm believed the model was a fan-built replica and refused to take it, and it ended up being used as a trash can.
Speaking of fan-built models, one "Star Wars" fan built a Death Star that may be even more impressive than the one used in the film. Carpenter Frank Howarth created a model of the DS entirely out of bamboo plywood, using the grain of the plywood alone to create the different degrees of shading in the space station's surface. You can watch him make the model here.
Though it is an unbelievably large space station and capable of blowing up entire planets, the Death Star is surprisingly small by planetary standards. According to Wookiepedia, it measures approximately 74 miles in diameter. By contrast, the Earth's moon is nearly thirty times larger.
However, there is a moon in our solar system that looks surprisingly similar to the Death Star. In 1980, around the time "Empire Strikes Back" was released, the twin Voyager space probes revealed that one of Saturn's moons, Mimas, had a massive crater similar in appearance to the Death Star's superlaser. Interest in Mimas was renewed with the Cassini spacecraft took an even more detailed picture of the moon in 2005.
Everyone knows about the famous Mos Eisley Cantina, but did you know that the Death Star had one too? In the Star Wars novel "Death Star," one of the story arcs follows a bartender who opens a little watering hole for Imperial Officers on the Death Star called the Hard Heart Cantina after her old bar on Coruscant was destroyed. Fortunately, she manages to escape the Death Star before Luke blows it up.
In 2012, "Star Wars" fans sent a petition on WhiteHouse.org asking the Obama administration to construct a real-life Death Star. The White House responded with an analysis of the cost and resources required to build such a space station. It was estimated that building a Death Star would cost $850 quadrillion dollars, which is more than the combined GDP of every nation on Earth.
So if it takes that much cash and material to make the Death Star, how did the Empire build it? The same way Egypt build the pyramids: slave labor. In the upcoming novel "Bloodlines," it is mentioned that the Empire pressed countless manufacturing plants into working overtime to create the materials for the Death Star, destroying the economies and quality of life of many industrial planets in the process.
But the damage the Empire might have done creating the Death Star was nothing compared to the possible damage the Rebels may have done by destroying it. Zachary Feinstein, a financial engineering professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was able to estimate the operational costs of running the Death Star and the economic fallout caused by the fall of the Empire. He believes that the Rebel Alliance would have needed to fund a massive bailout of the galaxy's banks to prevent a massive collapse, which might explain how the First Order rose to power in "The Force Awakens."