Study Guide

Star Wars: A New Hope The Death Star

The Death Star

The Death Star really should be called the Death Moon—it's a space station about the size of a moon. It can carry legions worth of Imperial soldiers and officers, and it comes with a laser beam powerful enough to destroy an entire planet in an instant.

The Death Star is an instantly recognizable image in our culture, but have you stopped to think about what it might symbolize? We did, and this is what we came up with.

That's No Moon

Much like the Empire represents fascist ideology, but can be read as being a specific fascist group (such as the Nazis) the Death Star represents the dangers of military technology in general, but it can be read as specifically the dangers of an advanced military technology… like the atom bomb.

Despite its sci-fi veneer, Star Wars has "back in my day" vibe to it and technology is mostly frowned upon—ironic given the then-advanced technology that went into making the film As Walter McDougall puts it:

Americans delight in such futuristic epics as Star Trek and Star Wars precisely because the human qualities of a Captain Kirk or Han Solo are always victorious over the very technological mega-systems that make their adventures possible.

One example of this is Obi-Wan calling blasters "random" and "clumsy" and preferring the more dated technology of the lightsaber. Sure, to us it's some super sci-fi awesomeness, but in their universe, it's like preferring a sword to a gun. Another example is Luke trusting his faith in the Force, and switching off his targeting computer. The message is clear: It's better to put your faith in instinct rather than scientific know-how.

The Death Star takes this anti-technology bent and gives it a great big villainous symbol. Unlike the shots of Luke's home world or the Rebel base, there is no nature to be found on the Death Star. Its denizens don't even act naturally. Everything about it is artificial.

Ka-Boom

Basically, the Death Star represents the evils of military technology, specifically the atomic bomb. Like the bomb, the Death Star has been designed with the purposes of deterring retaliation with the promise of mass destruction.

When Tarkin orders Princess Leia to name the Rebel base, she lies, saying it is on Dantooine. Tarkin decides not to make Dantooine his target, saying the planet is "too remote to make an effective demonstration." It's been argued that one of the reasons America decided to drop the atomic bomb was to demonstrate its military power to the Soviets, reasoning with eerily parallels to Tarkin's.

Obi-Wan's haunting account of the destruction of Alderaan—"I felt a great disturbance in the Force as if a million voices suddenly cried in terror and were suddenly silence"—could as easily describe the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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