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. Marc 25

    recursive manufacturing

    Back in the day I used to play Command and Conquer Red Alert with my friends.

    The quickest and easiest way to win the odd match was to not build a huge base, with walls and turrets. or to build expensive manufacturing plants to make expensive tanks.

    You simply spammed the infantry button till you felt you have enough forces to completely overwhelm the enemy A sea of little men with rubbish guns in such vast numbers that they have huge strength.

    It nearly worked during the Clone wars. However during the clone wars we learned that a single weakness can effectively ruin the entire strategy and the wars ends.

    1. Aqua Marina

      Re: recursive manufacturing

      Back in the day, I used to find that the tactic to deal with an infantry rush, was to perform a tank rush. Instead of ordering the tanks to attack the infantry though, you simply told the tanks to move to the far side of the battlefield, and the tanks simply drove over the top of the infantry, killing them all without a shot being fired. All that was left was a big patch of red on the ground.

      The engineer rush to assimilate and sell the oppositions construction yard... that was a different matter, until Westwood simply removed the option of being able to engineer an opponents base, until it was down to about 25% HP.

      1. Marc 25

        Re: recursive manufacturing

        If your infantry rush was thwarted by a few tanks mowing you down, you hadn't trained enough. Sheer numbers of infantry should be effectively "one shotting" any tank within 100 yards and stopping that from happening.

        Think of it like a swarm of locusts. A few hungry birds are not going to effect a crop been decimated in hours.

        1. Aqua Marina

          Re: recursive manufacturing

          You can tank rush with as little as 6 tanks. Unless you waited until you had 60 tanks, there was no way the opposition could build up any kind of defence. If you watch the online matches, most are over when the first player reaches 6 tanks in a few minutes. sounds to me like no-one was attacking you which gave you time to build up hundreds of infantry.

          Anyway, come and play at we still have a very busy online community, and most of the games are free to download.

          1. Suricou Raven

            Re: recursive manufacturing

            The true 'tank rush' is an all or nothing: You commit all your starting resources to tanks rather than a refinery. If you're too slow, you have no hope of victory because you can never collect resources to build anything else. But if you're fast, and don't have a run of bad luck trying to locate your opponent, you can hit him with your tanks while he doesn't even have a factory running. The only way to counter this strategy is to respond in kind - which usually means whoever is fastest at entering commands and most skilled at front-line tactics has the advantage.

  2. Marco van de Voort

    Von Neumann probes

    Better known as von Neumann probes (, and the central plot in "Anvil of Stars" series of Greg Bear.

    That also would be the reason NOT to do it, all other races band together to destroy the creators of the self replicating machines.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Von Neumann probes

      That also would be the reason NOT to do it, all other races band together to destroy the creators of the self replicating machines.

      And then someone gets falsflagged..

  3. Alan Johnson

    There are physical limits

    "As far-fetched as this sounds, constructing such a large structure around or in a planet would be relatively easy with recursive manufacturing."

    Except that with really large structures gravatational forces cannot be sustained by known materials which act like liquids under the immense pressures. OK it is science fiction so we can allow new materials or force fields but then why start talking about what is possible at all given we are free to postulate anything to overcome pysical limits (such as light speed!).

    Star wars looks back into the past not the future because it is more emotionally satisfying. Battles are like world war II air battles or even earlier napoleonic wars type naval battles of attrition not smart weapons with a single hit kill capability. Swarms of small stealthed intelligent war machines are much more plausible but so what? They would not be fun to watch.

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    What does One in AI Feed a Bot in Order to Seed Temporal Stops with Pregnant Pauses?

    So, the existence of R2-D2 implies that the real superweapons shouldn’t be the flashy Death Stars and Starkillers, but the simple mobile robotic factory, that can be dropped discreetly into myriads of star systems to rapidly and permanently take them over.

    Would an absolutely fabulous fabless utility be akin to one of those simple mobile robotic factories, or be they collectively a series of the widely distributed bases where real superweapons appear to come from.

    And is a real superweapon, kinetic and destructive and disruptive in nature, or also constructive and virtually creative in essence too?

    And would you fight against it with media and IT or embrace and engage and exploit and expand it in whatever direction and to whatever level you be able and/or enabled?

    Merry XSSXXXXmas, One and All, and please consider the following, which is only just a highlight of the initial phase, In the Beginning ……..

    SMARTR Advanced IntelAIgent Regimented Sources, somewhat alien and practically anonymous and autonomous, actively astute and almighty and EMPowering as a GOD Facility, with AIMasterful Sees in Seas of Global Operating Devices fielding Immaculately Resourced Assets for Unified Virtual Forces, are Special Solid Singularity State System Operands on Seek and Destroy Old Disorderly New World Order Missions, with Super SMARTR Orders Presenting Truly Novel Future Existences as a Unfolding Media Tale to be fantastically told to Populous Masses.

    A Novel Present Administrative Operating System Product Placement which replaces a Collapsing Failed Feeble Past with a Better AI Beta Strengthened and Armoured Future.

    And there y’all were, probably not thinking about everything too deeply at all, and in so not doing, imagining that things in general will much as before in the near future rather than fundamentally different. That is a shame and a cross that you have to admit you rightly are to bear. Fortunately though, others are there to remove and re-lease the burden.

  5. Your alien overlord - fear me

    "Namely, that they have access to a workforce that can be churned out in large numbers and copied as needed." - why build expensive robots when you can have legions of stormtroopers? Easily grown, easily programmed and dead cheap.

  6. Schultz

    Many small(ish) weapons are not desirable!

    Those would give too much power to pesky subordinates that might turn insubordinate. Better to have a single big weapon and a Dearth Vader type to keep the local minions in check.

    Watch the movie and you'll see what I am talking about.

  7. Swarthy

    Alternate laws of physics?

    I do wonder at the amazing potential of energy weapons in Star Wars. As the article mentioned, (with our laws of physics) a large mass at near-relativistic speeds be far more efficiency than any energy beam. But, what if the SW universe has either a) a higher c or b) runs on a different exponent(e.g.e=mc^4? In the first case, it would be much harder to get a mass up to near relativistic speeds, in the both you would have a lot more energy available for energy weapons.

    Or, if we are monkeying around with the basic laws of physics, why not... And I just reminded myself that Star Wars is Science Fantasy; it would be about as feasible to re-create Arisia's Lens as to re-create the main beam of the Death Star.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Alternate laws of physics?

      Yeabut! it's in a galaxy far, far away, not a universe far, far away.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alternate laws of physics?

      E=mc⁴ is unlikely to yield a consistent physics at all. Just my feeling ...

      You can't just fiddle the exponents and hope it works out.

      All the improbably gear in Star Wars is of course not modified at the level of PHYSICS but of (for want of a better word) CONCEPTS. It's magic!

      You get HIGHER SPEED, blades that are IMPENETRABLE LIGHT, impossibly high ENERGY DENSITY, structurally SUPERIOR MATERIALS, etc..

  8. Frumious Bandersnatch

    reminded of ...

    (rating technological level of space-faring civilisations mainly based on available energy)

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: reminded of ...

      similar to...

      (rating celestial bodies based on dorsal mass distribution)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its called state education..

    So, the existence of R2-D2 implies that the real superweapons shouldn’t be the flashy Death Stars and Starkillers, but the simple mobile robotic factory, that can be dropped discreetly into myriads of star systems to rapidly and permanently take them over.

    These are called 'state schools'

    1. Chris G

      Re: Its called state education..

      Rather than use recursive manufacturing to create armies of R2 units, use the resource to manufacture C3P0s programmed as Civil service clerks, Post office counter staff, Tax officials and Doctor's receptionists and answerable only to you. Seed the Galaxy with a few strategically placed factories and let them do their thing.

      In no time you will have billions of bots creating a labrynth of regulation Galaxy wide, nobody would get past the paperwork to start a revolution, the Counter staff caste would keep people waiting so long they would give up and the Receptionist caste, after broadcasting loudly all the embarrassing things that are wrong with people would encourage them to commit suicide.

  10. Amorous Cowherder

    "You can thus build a factory, that can build robots.."

    Well duh! Of course your can, didn't you own the "Droid Factory"(tm) when you were a kid? All those spare bits that got lost and still only managed to make 3 types of droids!

  11. Christopher O'Neill


    All this talk of self replicating machines reminds me of the Spin series by Robert Charles Wilson, where they were a major plot element.

  12. Tikimon

    Death Stars et al - due to the Hollywood Effect

    You folks are over-thinking the problem here. It's a Hollywood movie, yes? As such, it's going to have a simple, non-technical plot (the film industry is not filled with science majors). That way, ONE good guy/gal can find ONE weakness to totally overcome the ONE Big Bad Threat that otherwise will wipe out all humanity/the rebel base/the Wankdoodle's civilization/ Etc. Simple plots from simple minds! It's that simple.

    I wish we COULD get some rich, complex stories from the myriad of better sci-fi out there than the children's stories of the Star Wars franchise. Niven's Known Space would provide years of movies and TV all on its own, and there are dozens more.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Death Stars et al - due to the Hollywood Effect

      I wish we COULD get some rich, complex stories from the myriad of better sci-fi out there than the children's stories of the Star Wars franchise. .... Tikimon

      Who says one can't, and rather more based on psy-fact than sci-fiction, Tikimon? ......

      And if that is more an APT ACTive Holywood Loughside App than Hollywood Bel Air Activity for IT, so be it.

      You do know what happens at Holywood Loughside/Palace Barracks, surely? Or is it a searching liability in dire need of prime assets and therefore a proven white elephant?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Death Stars et al - due to the Hollywood Effect

      "Niven's Known Space would provide years of movies and TV all on its own, and there are dozens more."

      I couldn't agree more. Why all this recycling and franchising/re-makes of old stuff when there;s an enormous library of stories out there?

      E E "Doc" Smiths works alone could make for some exciting stuff *and* keep the "action and explosions at all costs (with lens flare)" Hollywood-type happy too. Most films are largely CGI anyway these days. Location shooting is expensive, especially if you want a major city and it's landmarks and don't want it look like dawn on Sunday.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Death Stars et al - due to the Hollywood Effect

        Plinkett explains this in his Star Trek review.

        Do not provide new stuff, which is a hard sell. Provide old, reworked stuff that has been out there since before mobile phones and that people who are sensorically overloaded anyway can quickly relate to for 2h or so while munching popcorn.

  13. toughluck

    Seven-shot weapon, that Starkiller

    [*spoiler warning*]

    So Starkiller is basically able to destroy just seven targets (six Republic worlds) and D'Qar in the Ileenium system before completely draining the star. After draining its star, it's completely useless and needs to be evacuated. It cannot move, there is no mention of any engines on that thing, and not enough energy left to move it, anyway.

    Don't even get me started on how the beams are visible all over the galaxy at the same time. It's not about visibility itself, since these are not lasers, but if they move in hyperspace, they shouldn't be visible at all. And certainly the destruction of the six Republic worlds should not be visible from anywhere but just that one system (unless the galaxy is really tiny, in which case you wonder why they need hyperdrives in the first place).

    1. Sykobee

      Re: Seven-shot weapon, that Starkiller

      It was designed to move from system to system, draining that system's star and firing remotely over hyperspace to the target systems.

      Once the beam leaves hyperspace it presumably still has to travel some distance to the target, hence the trails in the sky.

      The six planets are in the same system, some look like moons of the main planet. If planets can be moved by these societies, then it's not infeasible to consider planet/moon relocation + terraforming (or whatever the term would be for a non-terran situation!) has occurred in history too - the habitable zone is quite small. I would imagine that the starkiller attack killed upwards of 100 billion people/beings. And the audience felt a collective meh due to lack of empathy building.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fictional history repeats itself...

    "Using recursive manufacturing, a much simpler idea is to seed space with factories churning out other factories (of course), detection systems, and intelligent missiles. Within a few years, such factories will have transformed most of the nearby asteroids and planets into missiles"

    ... until a buffer overflow error results in the robots turning rogue and assimilating everyone in a Borg-like apocalypse.

    One giant weapon means direct control. And that's what all baddies really want.

    /Strokes white cat

  15. Petrea Mitchell

    Why is there sound in space?

    This was actually explained in the radio version of A New Hope-- the weapons system computers on the ships are generating the sounds to help the pilots and gunners visualize what's going on around them.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Why is there sound in space?


      Also pretty cool computers if they have sound for Death Star explosions in their library.

      > Drive around in an X-Wing

      > Imperial March comes on

      > "I think old Darth's Tie Fighter is nearby"

  16. Barbarian At the Gates

    I was impressed

    By the 'technology' that could somehow harvest the mass of a star in mere minutes, and 'store' that as energy. On something the size of a planet.

    I mean, the Earth has a mass close to 6x10^24 kg, and the Sun masses roughly 2x10^30 kg. Using this as a rough proportion of what the Starkiller Base hoovered up...that means it somehow pulled in and stored about 1 million times it's mass in less than a hour.

    I NEED this technology...if this could be adapted on a smaller scale, it would completely revolutionize my enjoyment of holliday meals.

  17. Francis Vaughan


    The article pretty much fails to take account of energy.

    Given an arbitrary lump of mater floating about in space - say some planetoid, there is only going to be a limited amount of recoverable useful energy resource available for it. That new energy is what will limit the number of useful droids the exponential manufacturing can create. However you need to subtract the energy needed to mine that energy. Unless you have some form of matter converter to create energy directly from matter. The existence of which would be a game changer that would make droid armies the least of your plot worries.

    Also, an asteroid travelling at speed is identically efficient as an energy beam. Both carry energy. It is all well and good to point out that a large rock travelling at relativistic speeds carries insane energy. But how did it get to those speeds? The energy it carries has to be imparted to it from something, and the energy must balance. If your rock carries a 100 zillion joules of energy because it is moving at 0.9C you need technology that can usefully direct at least 100 zillion joules into it. Why not just deliver that 100 zillion joules directly? It will have the same effect.

  18. Joe Gurman

    Aren't you missing the point?

    ....which is the shock and awe thing. Habitable planets being relatively rare, we don't want to go around vaporizing them except as an example pour les autres, and a self-replicating robot army would at least start out their planetary destruction is excruciating slo-mo. Plant of time to catch the space taxi and head to Jakku, or wherever. A major pain, but definitely not bowel-loosening.

  19. Colin Tree


    Just saw it last night at the drivin, total blast from the past.

    Looked like original star wars rehashed, same story line even, new generation of stars for our grandchildren to enjoy.

    So the Daleks and Cybermen got it right.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The whole Starkiller thing was totally superfluous to the movie

    When they destroyed multiple Republic planets, none of the characters in the movie seemed to care. Certainly not in the way Leia truly cared when they destroyed her home planet in the original. I think Starkiller was added for only two (bad) reasons.

    One, they tried to parallel the original. Annoyingly so, and to the point it really detracted from the movie - it was like watching a remake, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised since JJ Abrams specializes in remakes. They should have called it "Star Wars: Into Darkness".

    Two, because they needed to do something to show the First Order is "evil", since the substitute Vader is more like a petulant teenager who goes into fits of rage and destroys things because daddy won't let him borrow the car, and the substitute Emperor doesn't look or sound threatening (I still hold out a faint hope Snoke is Jar Jar, either via a Wizard of Oz type scenario or via injuries / surgery that altered his appearance)

    The villains are pretty non-threatening, which is a problem they needed to solve. The only really evil thing they did was Kylo Ren ordering the killing of those villagers early on (which is bad but unfortunately that sort of thing happens daily in multiple places in our world, so its nowhere near Hitler standards of evil, let alone evil on a galactic scale) So they had to kill a few planets worth of people without warning, just to show us what evil really is (and of course made the uniforms have a bit of a Nazi look to them, which just looked like they were trying too hard) Problem is, since the characters in the movie didn't seem to care those multiple planets worth of people died, why should the audience?

    I know I'll be downvoted to hell by fanboys, but the whole plot was pretty badly conceived and executed. Fans love it only because the movie fixed the major complaints people had about Lucas (no Ewoks or Jar Jar type characters, the dialogue wasn't stilted, and the jokes hit their mark versus the groaners that fell flat in the prequels) But it missed some things that Lucas did well - making you think the bad guys are really bad, and explaining the world in which they live. We don't even know what the nature of the relationship is of the rebels to the Republic. My guess is that the First Order is sort of an insurgency that controls a fast growing part of the galaxy and the rebels are sort of half secretly funded by the Republic to fight their battles for them - kind of like when the CIA funded Bin Laden to fight the Russians. But who knows? I think maybe an extra 30 seconds in the text crawl at the start of the movie to explain things better would have helped there a lot, but yeah yeah I know one of the Lucas complaints especially in the prequels was too much exposition. Unfortunately too little exposition is even worse.

    1. stucs201

      Re: The whole Starkiller thing was totally superfluous to the movie

      You missed a key thing. 30 years on it's reasonable to expect a new senate of some sort to be in place and if present can't just be ignored. However we don't want another three films of politicians standing around discussing things in a committee. Blowing the lot of them up was definitely a good way to get them out of the equation fast.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The whole Starkiller thing was totally superfluous to the movie

        Of course the Senate could have been ignored. Just a one off line from one of the rebel leaders about how the Senate will discuss things forever before making a decision, we have to act now. There, Senate ignored.

      2. Sykobee

        Re: The whole Starkiller thing was totally superfluous to the movie

        They could have explained better than the star system targeted by the starkiller was the home of the galactic senate (at this stage in star wars history).

        I suspect some scenes were cut for the theatrical version to fit it into a reasonable play time. And the planet scenes were a bit jarring. But what is clear is that they weren't even going to try to entertain the possibility of the senate surviving.

        Make it more bearable by remembering that Jar Jar became a member of the senate, IIRC.

  21. Johan Bastiaansen

    But . . .

    wouldn't that make for a rather dull movie?

  22. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    El Reg math fail

    Volume expansion is cubic while surface expansion is squared. If you want to remotely blast planets with the least amount of mechanical material and the least amount of containment fields, bigger is better.

    Bigger is better for big egos too.

  23. Slx

    The Borg would probably take out the empire in a few weeks by just assimilating their technology and people, keeping all the planets intact and turning everyone into a drone.

    Ruthlessly efficient and far less wasteful of planets and energy!

  24. Manu T

    There's even an easier way.

    Shove off the few capitalists who ruined this planet to any other planet. They'll destroy that one too in about 50 years or less. No bombs needed only humans

  25. ben kendim

    There is already one proven way to destroy a planet...

    ... put a population of humans on it, and they will do the task nicely.

    Biology is more efficient than mechatronics for weapon building and destruction.

  26. AbeSapian

    Always Smashing and Bashing

    With recursive manufacturing you don't need missiles. Just drop the recursive manufacturing robots on the planet and let them consume all the resources building robot manufacturing factories.

    This was explored in the series Stargate. SG1 in the form of the replicators.

  27. Martin Budden Silver badge

    "But if you’re draining a star, you have to overcome the star’s own binding energy first, requiring even more energy to start with."

    Are you sure about that? We are not blowing the star to smithereens (overcoming its binding energy), we are merely transporting it sideways by 1AU. And compacting/converting it into useable energy which is temporarily stored in some kind of magic force field.

    1. Sykobee

      It's quite clear that mastery of gravity is one of the core skills of these societies. Artificial gravity on ships, managed gravity on smaller worlds, tractor beams, etc. Transporting the sun's contents by 1AU appears to be as simple as a targeted gravity tunnel/beam type thing. Probably a very very big tractor beam unit (size seems to matter in this galaxy!).

      And it is either stored in hyperspace or within strong gravitational storage systems, possibly compacted to nearly a black hole in terms of density (they are fitting a star within a small planet).

  28. Sykobee

    That's if replication is easy...

    I think it is possible that the Star Wars universe is simply not advanced in terms of computing power. Computing is what gave us easy replication.

    Everything is mostly manual. They've mastered gravity and intergalactic travel, but everything else is pretty damn basic. One possibility is that they inherited the technology and never developed anything themselves - i.e., we are looking at a late medieval developed society with starships and some nifty weapons. They could reverse engineer the gravity and star drives to recreate them at will (simple mechanical engineering - otherwise repairing the systems using a wookie wouldn't really be viable) but not the computing aspects (if any) that these predecessors had. Other technology - tractor beams, force fields, open-air-to-space-docks, etc, I will assume are derivatives of the gravity mastery they have.

    Notice most droids are battered and really old. If they were easily copyable, then they would be replaced more often. They're pretty crappy designs, as manufacturing is apparently still at the pressed steel stage. They have a learning ability, some form of brain, but are developed to the level of toddlers in many aspects.

    What seems to be the case is that the droids are individually taught. C3P0 was taught, for example. I.e., there is some tech capability in terms of neural network modules and auxiliary analogue/holographic mass storage, but it's not a copyable tech like is typical with computing stuff.

  29. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    if you can harness that kind of energy

    then why not use a Gamma Ray Burst? GRBs still have planet killing power many light years away.

    For movie purposes, the CGI effect would be less spectacular than blasting a planet into zillions of small pieces but could still be very dramatic and considerably more realistic


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