Death Star Plans Trivia

Death Star in SpaceSo it’s only been… 39 YEARS?!… since I first saw the original Star Wars movie at the age of 9, almost 10 years old. Since then I have seen what they now call Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and its various versions too many times to count. So why is it just today I noticed that the Death Star plans are WRONG?! It seems to me if you followed those inaccurate plans and found what you had thought was a weakness, you might be in for a big surprise when you arrived only to discover everything is not exactly what and where you expected it to be.

Death Star Plans on ScreenWhat am I talking about? Well simply that the computer graphic Death Star plans displayed at the Rebel briefing show a Death Star whose main “planet killer” weapon lies along the space station’s equator instead of where it is shown elsewhere in the movie, part-way up in the station’s “northern” hemisphere. A difference that big makes you wonder what other differences there might have been.

It wasn’t until today when I saw a video online talking about something entirely different that my mind went “Hey! What’s going on here?” Basically the video showed the two images side by side, similar to the header I created for this post: The first a shot of the Death Star in space, the second a shot of the computer graphic Death Star plans being displayed on a console.

I knew there was no way I had discovered something new. I am after all noticing this nearly four decades since the movie’s release. But it was new to me and with a little digging I discovered the details behind this, and a number of other interesting bits of completely useless, though interesting, bits of trivia surrounding the infamous Death Star plans.

“…if you had to throw a dinner party and invite everyone who had ever stolen the Death Star plans, you’d be surprised at how many place settings you’d have to worry about.”
Pablo Hidalgo

  • The designs for the Death Star models went through a number of changes. In one of the early versions the laser weapon “dish” was on the sphere’s equator. This was before the days where computer graphics were used for much, and so whole models, sectional models and matte paintings were used. The plans for those props and paintings changed and evolved, but the one and only computer graphic animation (the Death Star plans shown in the Rebel strategy session) had already been sent off and were being programmed using the early designs. At the time, these graphics were very unusual, required computing power and know-how not readily available, and were not easy to change.
  • The 3D “Death Star plans” computer graphic animation was so unusual for the time period in fact, that another bit of interesting trivia surrounds it. Namely that the animation was an actual computer simulation created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). That’s right, the federally funded research laboratory that had just built the Voyager space probes that NASA was about to launch to explore our solar system, had a hand in designing an evil, moon-sized space station from a galaxy far, far away.  Specifically it was Larry Cuba & Gary Imhoff from JPL, and programmers from the California Institute of the Arts as part of a project for that school. It was planned to thank JPL for their assistance in the movie’s end credits until one of the programmers pointed out that JPL hadn’t really been told their computers were being used and might be upset by the fact. So the programmers were simply credited by name.
  • It’s interesting to note that as computer graphic animations and effects became available, especially with the MANY and infamous changes LucasArts made to different versions of this and the other films, that this computer graphic was never modified to “fix” the obvious mistake or to acknowledge the discrepancy somehow.
  • Death Star Plans from Ep2Even funnier, in the prequel series the Death Star plans are seen again. Specifically in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Here we are shown Count Dooku receiving the plans from the Genosians. The 3D hologram shown when these plans are passed displays the weapon dish in the correct location “north” of the equator. So why when the Rebellion finally manages to steal these same plans is the weapon back on the equator? Maybe the blueprint data just happened to display multiple versions of the space station’s plans during different points of its development, and for some reason the rebels just chose to use an early version for their briefing in Episode IV? Maybe they were still decrypting the entire file but with the Death Star about to attack were forced to do the best they could with what they had.
  • And maybe we’ll finally find out the real in-universe reason behind the discrepancy. The next Star Wars movie to come out, Rogue One, is the first of what Disney says will be a series of stand-alone Star Wars Anthology movies. The movie’s story will fall shortly before the events in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and will deal extensively with the details of how the Rebels stole the plans to the Death Star. Whether or not there is any acknowledgement to this bit of geek trivia is doubtful, but being outside the main Star Wars Saga and while still a product of the politically-correct Disney, at least it’s not in the hands of J. J. Abrams, so I have a little higher hopes for it than I did for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
    • And finally though it really has nothing to do with the Death Star Plans, I include a Presidents of the United States of America song that not many may have heard, named appropriately: “Death Star”. Enjoy.

3 thoughts on “Death Star Plans Trivia”

  1. I enjoyed your comments. In Rogue One, I thought it was funny that the JPL-like CG that showed up with the stolen plans kept the erroneous laser dish on the equator.

  2. The Death Star graphics shown in Rogue One are exactly the same as in the original 1977 movie, complete with a misplaced and oversized dish! This is clearly deliberate, a nod to fans and geeks (if there is any difference).

    Maybe Jyn Erso grabbed the wrong “data tape” when she stole the plans, transmitting a rejected design to the Rebel fleet above? Didn’t matter, as long as the all-important “thermal exhaust port” was still in the same place …

  3. Perhaps we are erroneously assuming the line in question is the Death Star’s “equator”. I admit it would not make sense to indicate the line otherwise, but with such a large feature as the primary weapon’s dish, an equator is unnecessary: anybody looking at the image would know what part of the Death Star he or she is viewing simply by the location and orientation of that dish. In that case, the line through the middle of the weapon could in fact represent something else to the space station’s engineers that we don’t know about. At the end of “New Hope”, the briefing scene animation zooms in to the Death Star surface, the “equator” disappears, and the actual trench comes into view somewhat away from the primary weapon dish, clearly showing that the line we are referring to as the “equator” is not the trench along the Death Star’s middle. However, that animation then show the travel path down the trench along a direction radially away from the dish’s center, so we’re right back where we started.

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