back to article Death Stars are a waste of time – here's the best way to take over the galaxy

Mild spoiler alert: This article includes minor details of the plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens The Star Wars films raise lots of pressing questions. “Why is there sound in space?” “How did George Lucas lose his way?” And, of course, “Did Han shoot first?” (that’s an easy one). There are innumerable variants on the “How …


  1. kmac499

    Recursive self replication..

    Sounds awfully like biology to me..

    But as it's making a weapon maybe it's called Terror-Forming

    Coat Please

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    An interesting idea

    But the genetic predisposition humanity has to get a rush over whatever is bigger than whatever else is being compared means that the most practical means is rarely considered if there is an impractical one that makes a bigger boom.

    1. Martin Budden Silver badge

      Re: An interesting idea

      If everyone else thinks that way then I'm going to win, because I'll choose the more efficient path over the more ostentatious path every time.

  3. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    All that...

    ... and not a mention of Von Neumann machines or Berserkers?

    1. Christoph

      Re: All that...

      And no mention of a Nicoll-Dyson Laser

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: All that...

        Or "The Brick Moon", an early Victorian "death star"?

        (Really, you could fill an encyclopedia with prior references.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All that...

          Nor the Greenflies...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: All that...

            Nor the xenocidical machines from Forge of God, whatever they are (and we never see them either).

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: All that...

      ...or E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen using planets to smash other planets. Or the Red Dwarf episode where Lister does that, with erasing a timeline in the process as well.

  4. sandman

    Ships building ships

    Pretty much the way that the large Culture ships produce other ships/drones/knife missiles for all occasions. ((Ian M Banks books for those who're thinking "What the hell is he talking about). I've never understood why you would want to destroy perfectly inhabitable planets though. If I was Emperor I would want to add them to my ever-expanding domains, BWAHAHAHA!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Ships building ships

      And Banks alludes to what can happen if those self-repair mechanisms go wrong (like cancer) - resulting in pesky swarms of tiny machines that would if left unchecked turn all available matter into replicas of themselves. The culture assign some ships to 'pest control' duties.

      As others have noted, he didn't originate the concept.

      In Star Wars, people live on planets. In the Culture books, the matter of a planet would support far more life if it were re-arranged into a ring-shaped Orbital habitat.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Ships building ships

        "ring-shaped Orbital habitat", aka a Ringworld.

        Not completely sure whether Larry Niven originated it, but it was derived from the idea of a Dyson Sphere. There's a write-up of the idea in the back of the original book, and some clarifications of the maths in the later books. Read them.

        Niven and Jerry Pournelle between them wrote innovative fiction about so many interesting ideas, like archologies, mono-molecular filaments, system-wide civilisations without effective intersteller travel, planetary occupation etc. I did not get the idea of integral trees, though.

        Forward the Hindmost!

        1. frank ly

          @Peter Gathercole Re: Ships building ships - re. Ringworld

          The Culture orbital habitats didn't encircle their star, as Larry Niven's Ringworld did. They were 'small' bands that orbited a star and were slightly tilted out of the plane of orbit and themselves rotated with a one 'day' period so that the part of the band nearest the star didn't shade the other side of the band, thus simulating a day/night cycle.

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: @Feank Ly. Ships building ships - re. Ringworld

            Ah. Thanks.

            I keep meaning to read The Culture series. Still not got round to it.

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Ships building ships

          I've read 'em. I still choose the 'Orbital' variant of the concept because the topic was a reason to rearrange the mass of a planet.

          A Ringworld is roughly described by the orbit of the Earth, and provides about 300 million times the habitable surface area.

          An Orbital doesn't encircle a sun, and provides around a 100 times the habitable surface of the planet whilst using less matter.

        3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Dyson Sphere

          Is the Dyson Sphere the really powerful, bagless vacuum of space?

          1. Anonymous Cow Herder

            Re: Dyson Sphere

            Beat me to it, have an upvote. But I would add that the sphere makes it a lot more maneuverable.

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Are we talking about...

    ...Self Hemogenizing Swarms, as Iain M. Banks dubbed them? He also used the word 'Smatter' (Smart Matter, IIRC). Other people have used the terms 'Grey Goo', or 'Von Neumann Machines'.

    I confess, I didn't read the article - I haven't seen the Force Awakens movie yet, and was scared off by the spoiler warning.

    To others who haven't seen the movie, you should avoid, since they have spoilers in their headlines.

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: Are we talking about...

      That was one type of swarm, intelligent, aggressive lifeforms could also be considered a self hegemonizing swarm. To mix fictions, the Daleks and Cybermen would be such swarms.

      Obviously, whichever form it took, one would want to swat it ASAP.

  6. Tromos

    There's easier ways to destroy a planet

    Populate it.

    1. psychonaut

      Re: There's easier ways to destroy a planet

      too right - look what happened to Venus

      1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

        Re: There's easier ways to destroy a planet

        Look, I've apologized for the nanotech lab accident over and over again, let off it already!

    2. Graham Marsden

      @Tromos - Re: There's easier ways to destroy a planet

      Populating (or over-populating or even going for all-out nuclear war) won't destroy a planet. Sure, it'll majorly fuck up the ecosystem, but the big ball of rock will still be there.

  7. james 68


    It seems the author has confused "taking over a planet/system" with "utterly destroying a planet/system".

    It's kind of difficult to take something over if there's nothing left to take over because it has all been turned into missiles, jus sayin...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Confused

      You then instruct the 'missiles' to arrange themselves into a habitat of the shape and location of your choosing. That is, of course, if the 'command and control' systems haven't been borked in a copying error (mutation) over thousands of generations.

  8. Camilla Smythe

    Obligatory XKCD

  9. Robert Helpmann??

    Art Imitating Parody

    With all of the bits that Abrams threw in as nods to past Star Wars movies, did anyone else catch that Starkiller Base was just a bigger, better Mega Maid?

    IT connection? Examples of single point of failure being a Bad Thing in Death Star and Starkiller Base. Mission critical services should have redundancy designed in.

    1. BenR

      Re: Art Imitating Parody

      Missed that reference entirely. In what way do you mean exactly, and how more so than the original Death Star = MegaMaid reference?

      1. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: Art Imitating Parody

        I hate to explain the joke as it typically ruins it, but in Space Balls MegaMaid used a giant vacuum cleaner to suck up all the atmosphere from Druidia which is pretty much how in SW-TFA Starkiller Base charged up from the nearest star. Pretty sly and perhaps not intentional, but I thought it was funny just the same.

        1. BenR

          Re: Art Imitating Parody

          Ah right. I kinda get it. I suspect not intentional at all, given how tenuous it is tbh.

          I love SpaceBalls (the film, the colouring book, the lunchbox, the flamethower and - my personal favourite - the doll. Isn't he adorable?) but I hadn't thought of that possible back-link in any way.

          --++ SPOILERS ++--

          Personally, I think that JJ was trying to avoid as much nerd-rage as possible by showing a potential power source of being able to generate the energy required to overcome the binding energy of not just 1 but 5No. Earth-a-like planets in one go. I was sat with the kind of squirming in my seat usually reserved for when i see IP addresses with values in the 7 and 8 hundred ranges when the first shots were fired, thinking "How on earth is that laser beam travelling interstellar distances to destroy planets in remote star systems? Surely the people looking at the sky would just see practically static beams?" when the explanation tipped up that The First Order had managed to construct a hyper-lightspeed weapon system. At that point, the nerd rage subsided. They haven't explained how it worked, but they'd clearly given it sufficient thought to realise the problems and handwaviumed it away.

          Good enough for me, given we're talking about a universe with hyperspeed, all-powerful space wizards, laser-plasma swords, moon-sized artificial space stations and technological ability to hollow out a planet at turn it into a star-slurping supergun.

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

            Re: Art Imitating Parody

            Upvoted for "handwaviumed". Freakin' brilliant! No egg-nog icon, hope you can make do with a pint.

            Oh, and merry x-mas, everyone.

  10. ratfox

    According to some kind of silly Star Wars fanfiction I've seen, your auto-replicating robots are no match for an army of Gungans led by a stupid general.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Personally I subscribe to the Jar Jar is a sith lord theory:

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The best retcon in the universe!

      2. TimeMaster T


        Just watched the link.

        It really does make a Hell of a lot of sense. And all the pieces fit ....

        Scary. Very scary.

      3. Wzrd1 Silver badge

        "Personally I subscribe to the Jar Jar is a sith lord theory:"

        Uh, huh. And Blackadder is actually the king.

        The story style mirrors where good and evil character come from the same village, where the evil character thanks the good character for helping him acquire power.

        Meanwhile, the good character was only bringing all of the bad guys who support evil character out into the open, so that all of the evil gets stamped out at once.

        I'm guessing you've never studied the legends referenced in the series.

  11. tiggity Silver badge


    The tongue in cheek SF TV series, had a few nice illustrations of the concept

  12. Peter Clarke 1

    Suggested Viewing

    Probably not the first version but check out the Replicators in Stargate SG1. Small building blocks that can join together to form more complex structures, stripping planets of resources as they go. Probably at their most scary as swarms of insectoids/arachnids. Thank heaven for primitive projectile waepons

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

    ... habitable planets may be a scarce resource, better to clean it up, and then give it to your supporters, if you're the evil kind. Moreover destroying a planet may destabilze a whole planetary system - debris could heavily impact other planets (maybe some where your supporters live...), and their orbits could also be impacted, depending on the system configuration. Any moon will also go loose...

    As usual, there is a lot of fiction and just a little science in Star Wars - and nobody will ever talk about small spaceships that looks to be able to have no inertia in space despite their speed, and are able to change direction suddendly, without killing their pilot or breaking apart? And if they have any system to counter those forces, why they still banks like planes when turning - who banks exactly because of those forces (but in an atmosphere)?

    SW is just like King Arthur, Lancelot and Excalibur - turn off your brain and enjoy the magic - as long as the plot is decent (and the director is not Jar Jar Adams).

    1. Naselus

      Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

      The more destruction the better. It's about a vulgar display of power to terrify everyone into submission. If the resource is scarce, so much the better, it shows that you don't care how valuable the target is because you're so badass you don't need it.

      1. BenR

        "The more destruction the better. It's about a vulgar display of power"


        I refer you to the Sputnik program, Tsar Bomba, and other Earth-bound vulgar displays of power.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

        You need it, and that's why most badass in those movies look childish. One of the best way to acquire and ensure loyalty from supporters is to give 'em your enemies resources. Most people are moved by greed, not some sort of idealism.

        Romans got better armies giving away conquered lands to their soldiers, than pouring salt over Carthage ruins.

        Firing at any planet you like may also make your supporters unsure if they're next in the list for any reason, and they will end to overthrow you just in case...

      3. Captain DaFt

        Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

        "The more destruction the better. It's about a vulgar display of power to terrify everyone into submission."

        Have your cake and eat it too; The Genesis Bomb from Star Trek's "The Wrath Of Kahn". Obliterate an entire planet's population in seconds, leaving a lush, inhabitable world behind ready for settlers.

        It had the Klingons totally freaking out at that possibility.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

          Have your cake and eat it too; The Genesis Bomb from Star Trek's "The Wrath Of Kahn". Obliterate an entire planet's population in seconds, leaving a lush, inhabitable world behind ready for settlers.

          "Greenpeace through superior firepower"

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

        "It's about a vulgar display of power to terrify everyone into submission."

        Exactly. It's a willy waving exercise. Just look at every arms race in our own history.

    2. stucs201

      Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

      It's all a matter of scale. On the scale of star wars blowing up a planet isn't any more a waste of resources than nuking a city is on a single planet. That's not a good thing, but it's still been done in a war situation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I never understood this crazy about breaking planet apart...

        You can rebuild a city (although radioactivity is a nuisance) - rebuilding a planet is more difficult, unless you're from Magrathea.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At your next sentient AI..

    .. (or overlord, take your pick), I thank you for all the lovely suggestions.

    No, HE won't be back, but I will.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My concern is

    if you wanted to build such a massive base/ringworld etc the scale of the resources neded would require the mining, processing and refining of multiple planets/asteroid belt to achieve the necessary number of cubic kilometers of material, even if the local system was made 80% usable material and 20% waste (enough to build a new planet I would suggest)

    I sould imagine the self replicating robot army would simply be mining refining and transporting never mind building the new base/habitat assuming unlimited solar/nuclear type energy availability.

    This new structure would presumably also generate its own gravity and magnetic field so surely the eary/innermost section would have to be either nearly hollow or would pull in and collapse with the mass of the outer layers. A ringworld would probably swivel and sway like a suspension bridge in the wind too based on the heating/cooling of day/night and routine collision avoidance/orbital adjustment.

    Nice easy questions for the enthusiastic scientists out there...!

  16. &rew

    Ascribing motives to people

    I am wondering if perhaps we are ascribing motives to people that do not match their (still fictional) aims? What if the Sith just want to speed up the process of getting to the heat death of the Universe, in a similar way that some religious sects are eagerly awaiting the end of life on Earth?

    If the End Goal is indeed to rule over everybody, perhaps the easiest way to get there is for there to be fewer bodies, too.


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