So now that the Rogue One is near and its prequel–Star Wars: Catalyst—has hit shelves, we have an intriguing new piece of info on Jyn Erso’s pops, Galen (it was made clear in the trailer, so it’s not a spoiler)–he had a hand in the creation of the Death Star, specifically the weapon-y laser part.
Here’s the thing, though. Do you realize how many people have been made responsible for the construction of that dented oversized softball in the history of Star Wars? Because it’s a lot. Like, a whole lot. Of people.
A bunch of people.
The Death Star is a great big space station, so perhaps this seems reasonable, but I’m not even talking about the architects and the mechanics and the guy who had to design barracks for bunches of Imperial officers and troops. I’m talking about the folks who worked on what the Death Star was made for–blowing up planets. Back in the cold yesteryear of the 1990s, the Expanded Universe books (now the Legends canon) had a whole mess of people who got some form of attribution for the Empire’s galactic deterrent. Then the prequels came along and there was a new mess of figures who also nabbed some credit. And now there’s a bright shiny new film that’s going to add even more names into the alphabetic jumble of super science goobly-moobly.
Would you like to know a little bit about them? I hope the answer is yes, because I’ve started, and I don’t think I can stop.
Canonically, Sienar is a top-rated starship designer and engineer who heads up Sienar Fleet Systems. He was responsible for many of the Imperial ships that you see during the Empire’s reign, including the TIE fighters. According to the old Legends canon, however, it was Sienar who created the concept of the Death Star in the first place. A pal (for a definition of the word pal) of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin’s, Sienar developed the idea for an Expeditionary Battle Planetoid, which could essentially act as an entire fleet on its own. He never really intended to build it, however–it was meant more as a proof of concept to wow potential buyers. Eventually, Tarkin presented the plans to Palpatine to salvage his position after some major muck-ups. Sienar knew the plan was incredibly dangerous and allowed Tarkin to take all the credit, not wanting his name attached to the project.
Strictly speaking, Sienar was a guy who believed in elegant and precisely-made weaponry. He wanted his clientele to appreciate the design of his ships and to treat them like luxury items. Seeing the galaxy take a turn toward brute force and disposable arsenals, he knew there was little he could do to maintain a stance like that. Instead, he got stuck making the Imperial Navy’s fleet of one-man fighters. Though he profited heavily from the position, he was eventually killed by assassins and was succeeded by Lady Valles Santhe, whose family owned the company alongside Sienar–it is likely that her family was responsible for arranging his death.
A Twi’lek council member who fell out of favor with the Head Clan on Ryloth for truly unfathomable reasons (One of the other council members died in an accident, so the rest were cast out? It’s all very confusing), Tol Sivron was a bureaucrat of the highest order in the Legends canon. In fact, though Sivron was hired by Grand Moff Tarkin to run the infamous Maw Installation–where the Empire developed its super weapons in secret–it’s impossible to know how much of a hand he had in any of the monstrous things it produced… mostly due to the fact that he was obsessed with procedure and constantly blamed others for his own failings.
He does have the distinction of getting rid of a Death Star prototype by dropping it into a black hole, thereby preventing the New Republic from obtaining it.
Poor Qwi Xux. This blue-skinned Omwati from the Legends canon was taken from her family at the age of ten because Grand Moff Tarkin believed that her species was super smart. If she, or any of the other kidnapped kids failed their Imperial tests, their villages were destroyed and they were executed. As a result, Xux distanced herself from reality, learning to solve problems for the sake of solving them, and never considering the impact of her work.
That work lead her to the Maw Installation where she helped to create the weapons systems of the Death Star and World Devastators. But that wasn’t even her crowning achievement—that would come years later, in the form of the Sun Crusher, a small ship with the ability to destroy an entire solar system by making stars go supernova. It was seven years before the truth of her work came clear to her, after Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Kyp Durron accidentally stumbled across the installation. Hearing about the fate of Alderaan during their interrogations led to her finally doing some research of her own and learning what the weapons she created were actually used for. She helped the trio to escape with the Sun Crusher and formed a close relationship with Wedge Antilles for a time, but Durron eventually tracked her down and used the Force to erase her memories of anything involving her work so that she could never build another weapon. She recovered, but was never quite the same.
(Oh, and she was also apparently based on this character from the Star Wars Holiday Special? Um.)
Of course, Qwi Xux didn’t do all that research by her lonesome. Everything she did was overseen by Bevel Lemelisk, an engineer who started his work back during the Clone Wars and helped to design the Victory I-class Star Destroyer. He was recruited by Tarkin (sensing a theme here) to develop the Death Star at the Maw Installation. When the station was destroyed, Emperor Palpatine was so angry that he murdered Lemelisk—only to resurrect him in a clone body and instruct him to make the same space station without the big, obvious flaw. As Lemelisk continued to work, resultant failure led to his death and resurrection several more times.
Eventually the Empire was gone and Lemelisk fled, finding work with Durga the Hutt, who employed him to create the Death Star without the added bulk. Lemelisk called the ship Darksaber, but he was cursed from the start with poor materials and a workforce that knew nothing about the sort of construction they were undertaking. True enough, Darksaber never worked and was quickly destroyed. Lemelisk finally received a death that stuck when he became one of the few that the New Republic executed for genocidal crimes.
He told his executioners to “do it right this time.”
Can you really hold an entire species responsible for the creation of the Death Star? Can you?
Canonically, it would appear you can… sort of. The Geonosians were the first, according to the Star Wars prequel era, to conceptualize what they referred to as “the Ultimate Weapon,” the initial plans for the Death Star. Maybe. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the idea for the weapon was casually suggested to them by their buddies Count Dooku and Darth Sidious, who had gleaned the idea for the weapon from old Sith legend. (This is the whole reason behind using the lightsaber-powering kyber crystals as the source for the laser.) During the Clone Wars, the Confederacy of Independent Systems looked to Count Dooku’s leadership to guide them and shape their interests—but the Geonosians made the wrong friends. Unbeknownst to them, Darth Sidious was always Sheev Palpatine, who planned to use the station to his own ends after stoking public fear that the Separatists were making their own superweapon. The fact that they were the same superweapon never really came up.
Count Dooku easily delivered the plans into the hands of Palpatine after the Geonosians had developed them further, and the Death Star was built by the Empire following the end of the Clone War. Eventually, the space station’s construction was moved from the orbit of Geonosis to Scarif. In order to make certain that its existence stayed secret, the Empire wiped out the entire Geonosian population. So somehow the current canon managed to make the Death Star’s construction an even darker affair than before; Alderaan was not the only casualty left in its wake.
Because the concept of a great big planet-destroying superweapon running on giant kyber crystals seems to have originated with stuff that Palpatine and Dooku found in Sith archives? Or something? I mean, I know the Dark Side of the Force is bad, but this seems like overkill.
This guy. He just wants to make clean renewable energy. Problem is, he wants to make it during a time when the whole galaxy is hung up on weapons of war. Precisely how Galen Erso is involved in the Death’s Star development is something that Catalyst delves into in great detail, but it’s safe to say that if your research can be used to make great big lasers, you can assume that’s exactly what it will end up being used for.
So that’s a bunch of people/groups/species, not even counting the architects and engineers and overseers who contributed elsewhere. Never forget, Star Wars fans. Never forget this weirdo list of scientists who made very bad choices.
Emmet Asher-Perrin sort of imagines this like a revolving door where each of these scientists come in and out of some great big planning room, one at a time. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.