Given everything that the Rebels had to go through to obtain data about the Imperial DS-1 Orbital Battle Station, you should consider yourself lucky. All you need to do is pick up a copy of the Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual!
How did this book come about? A few years ago, artists Chris Reiff, Chris Trevas, and I were still working on the Millennium Falcon Owner’s Workshop Manual when Haynes Publishing editor Derek Smith presented us with a short list of vessels that might be the subject for a follow-up book. I believe it was the nice folks at Lucasfilm who decided we should proceed with the most enormous.
I’m guessing you know this already, but — SPOILER ALERT! — the Death Star wasn’t active for very long in the Star Wars galaxy. The popular awareness of the Death Star’s fate made me consider the narrative aspects for the Death Star manual, which — like the Millennium Falcon manual — would read as an “in universe” book. Tempted as I was to write the book as if were an official publication of the Imperial Navy, Derek Smith and I agreed that a more practical approach was to write the book from the perspective that the Death Star’s destruction was already common knowledge. By relating details about the Death Star in the past tense, we would also have opportunities to present information from the Rebel Alliance’s perspective. A Haynes Manual for another gigantic, ill-fated ship served as something of a role model: RMS Titanic Owner’s Workshop Manual.
Mr. Reiff, Mr. Trevas (I try to refrain from refering to them as “the Chrises”) and I were familiar with the Death Star’s weapons and technology by way of our work on Star Wars Blueprints: The Ultimate Collection (DK Publishing, 2008), but in preparation for the Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual, we reexamined many peviously published Star Wars books that featured information and illustrations about the Death Star. These books ranged from other “in universe” books, such as Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections by writer David West Reynolds and artists Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore (DK Publishing, 1998), to J.W. Rinzler’s “real world” book, Star Wars: The Blueprints, as the floor plans and diagrams for Death Star sets and props were obviously useful for our own purposes.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the Star Wars: Death Star Technical Companion by Bill Slavicsek (West End Games, 1991) was a gold mine for information about the Death Star. Although Slavicsek could not have anticipated how the subsequently-produced Star Wars movie prequels or The Clone Wars TV series would revise continuity about the Death Star, information in the Technical Companion remained largely sound. I was briefly tempted to retcon Slavicsek’s text for an Imperial communique between Governor Tarkin and Emperor Palpatine’s office because some bits didn’t exactly mesh with subsequent continuity. However, I opted—with the approval of the Holocron Keeper, Leland Chee — to keep the communique as is for two reasons: I respect Slavicsek’s contributions, and the continuity discrepancies could be blamed as an error on the part of the Imperial Propaganda Bureau.
But how could an in-universe manual about the Death Star include onboard “recordings” of images and data that, one might assume, were lost after the Death Star exploded? I found a workable explanation in Star Wars: Galaxy Guide I: A New Hope by Michael Stern and Grant S. Boucher (West End Games, 1989). That book introduced the character Voren Na’al, a Rebel Alliance-affiliated historian, who obtained information about the construction and destruction of the Death Star by infiltrating an Imperial communications complex on the planet Galvoni III. Evidently, and most fortunately for this writer’s purposes, the Death Star was transmitting data to the Galvoni system right up until the moment that a certain proton torpedo found its target.
That said, the Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual would be hardly just a rehash of previously published material. Over the course of numerous email exchanges with Reiff and Trevas, we sorted out how illustrations, diagrams, and photographs would be spread throughout the book. I loved their idea for the stormtrooper barracks, which was to take inspiration from clone trooper barracks seen in episodes of The Clone Wars. When I proposed that command sector duty posts should have extendible frames to allow crewmen to easily enter and exit the posts, Reiff and Trevas made it happen. Although ther drawing certainly required more time than my writing, the project was very much a collaborative experience.
Searching for screen grabs that might serve as illustrations, I reviewed every frame of Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi that presented exterior and interior scenes of the first and second Death Star. Yes, every frame. Can I prove it? No. But unless you’ve also scrutinized A New Hope thoroughly on home video, and noticed how the Death Star corridor viewed through an open blast door at around 1:13:46 utilized the same camera set-up as the corridor viewed at 1:29:28, I hope you’ll take my word for it. In the latter scene, an Imperial astromech is visible in the corridor. Just so you know.
Some screen grabs and production stills were digitally-manipulated to illustrate previously unseen action within the Death Star. For example, a photograph of Darth Vader (David Prowse) and Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) was modified so the characters appear to be monitoring the Death Star’s passage through hyperspace. When I first saw that modified photo, I thought, “Wow.” It looked very cool.
Recently, at New York Comic Con, Del Rey editor Erich Schoeneweiss presented me with a hot-off-the-press copy of the Death Star Owner’s Technical Companion. Even though I’d already seen all the pages as digital galleys, I thought, “WOW!”
I hope you’ll think the same when you see the book. If you wind up building your own full-scale Death Star, please invite me, Chris Reiff, and Chris Trevas over for a tour. Just do the world a favor and make sure the superlaser is set on “safety.”