Superweapons and massive starships, ranging from the Death Star and Starkiller Base to the Executor and the Finalizer, are common sights in the fleets of the Galactic Empire and the First Order. On the surface, these stations and vessels are arsenals of destruction with the capability to lay waste to entire planets and solar systems. Despite their similar potential, each weapon’s construction and the reason for its deployment varied with the political issues and adversaries faced by their creators.
The Death Star’s status as a planet-destroying superweapon was clear, yet the Empire never intended to utilize it to blast apart a large number of planets under Imperial governance. The history of the first Death Star dates back to the Clone Wars, but the true purpose of the station came into focus as a result of the political climate at the time of its completion. Rebellion was brewing, and the Galactic Empire felt it was necessary to demonstrate its strength and tighten its grasp on the worlds under its control. The Death Star was not meant to be an active participant in open warfare, but a symbol of the current government’s power that would deter its enemies from even attempting to rise up. Grand Moff Tarkin’s decision to destroy Alderaan, a prominent world with ties to the Rebellion, was intended to prevent further dissent rather than initiate a full-scale war. However, the failure to eliminate the Rebel base at Yavin 4 and the destruction of the Death Star had the opposite effect and ignited the Galactic Civil War.
The Super Star Destroyer Executor was also born as a symbol of the Empire’s dominance, its 19-kilometer-long frame dwarfing Imperial and Rebel ships alike. Unlike the Death Star, the Executor was put to practical use as a mobile center of operations for Darth Vader and his famed Death Squadron of Star Destroyers. Its status as a command ship was reaffirmed by Han Solo in Return of the Jedi, when he commented that many such vessels existed. The Executor actively participated in battle campaigns, including Hoth and Endor, where it served as Vader’s flagship and directly engaged enemy vessels. The buildings that lined its dorsal superstructure were, in essence, an Imperial city with the capacity to travel to distant systems within the Empire and enforce the laws of Coruscant. Along with her Executor-class sister ships, the Executor could bring the Emperor’s might to any region of the galaxy.
The second Death Star was larger than its predecessor, recharged its superlaser at a faster rate, and could utilize its primary weapon against enemy capital ships. These advanced design features demonstrated that, while it was a planet killer, the second Death Star’s mission was much different than the first. As the project was completed over Endor, the Rebellion was growing in strength and was a more formidable fighting force than it was at Yavin 4. Thus, the second Death Star was not meant to be a deterrent for rebellion, but rather a solution to it. The construction of the massive space station was even incorporated into its mission profile, as its existence and location were purposely leaked to lure the Rebel fleet into a devastating trap. The Imperial plot failed thanks to the bold exploits of the Rebel Alliance, so it is unknown if the Death Star II’s role in the Empire’s military would have changed if the Battle of Endor had resulted in a crushing blow to the Rebellion.
The First Order wanted to evoke the imagery of the Galactic Empire’s might with their own military, so it was only natural for them to construct the Resurgent-class Finalizer and borrow the dagger-like outline of Imperial Star Destroyers. Kylo Ren’s flagship, while meant to serve as his command ship, is different from the Executor in that the First Order was, at the time of the ship’s launch, still seen as a fledgling organization. The New Republic would not even take action against them, instead allowing the Resistance to handle the fighting. The Finalizer is not a vessel intended to display the prowess of a widespread government, but a symbol to demonstrate that the First Order carries the torch for the fallen Empire and aims to take its place as the preeminent source of law in the galaxy.
Starkiller Base, much like the Finalizer, was meant to remind the citizens of the galaxy of the Empire’s power, specifically the two Death Stars. Though Starkiller Base and the Death Stars were all planet killers, Starkiller Base was created as a means of achieving political power in the galaxy for the First Order rather than maintaining an already established government for the Galactic Empire. Also, unlike the Death Stars, Starkiller Base’s mission included the widespread elimination of its enemies, particularly the New Republic and the Resistance. The New Republic was the marquee government in the galaxy, so more than intimidation or a demonstration of Starkiller Base’s potential would be necessary to defeat it. Thus, the entire Hosnian System was targeted and destroyed, wiping out the New Republic’s current seat of government. The First Order’s sights were soon set on the Resistance’s base at D’Qar, indicating that if Starkiller Base had not been destroyed, the facility would have most likely continued to destroy New Republic worlds and Resistance hideouts until victory was achieved.
These devastating weapons and starships share many qualities, including the abilities to strike fear in people and take lives on a large-scale. The key difference, of course, was the status of those who created these machines. The Galactic Empire was perceived as an unstoppable behemoth, while the First Order did not even inspire the New Republic to intervene against them with a direct military assault. Furthermore, each weapon’s mission reflected the galaxy’s political state at the time of its completion. The starkest contrast was found amongst the three planet killers, where the Death Star was intended to strengthen the Empire’s hold on the galaxy, the second Death Star was designed to quell a rebellion, and Starkiller Base was expected to bring prominence to the First Order. While the Galactic Empire was ultimately defeated and unable to construct more superweapons or starships, the First Order was able to eradicate the New Republic’s powerbase in the Hosnian system prior to the destruction of Starkiller Base. Kylo Ren and the Finalizer are still prowling the stars, and it remains to be seen what the First Order’s next move will be.
Jay Stobie is a science fiction writer who admits he has a perfectly normal obsession with Star Wars, Star Trek, and the various starships that inhabit those two universes. He can be found on Twitter at @CaptStobie.