A Scam Of Galactic Proportions

Here at Hackaday we see a lot of technological hoaxes looking for funding. Some are on Kickstarter, others are firms looking for investors. And unlike a lot of the press, we’re both skeptical and experienced enough to smell the snake oil. When you read about a laser-powered razor blade that looks too good to be true, you know we’ve got your back.

The background: [Zachary Feinstein] is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies financial engineering, and in particular systemic financial risk in the banking sectors. So he’s just exactly the guy you’d tap to write a paper on the financial repercussions of the destruction of the Death Stars in Star Wars (PDF). Wait, what?

The central argument of the paper is that, since the Empire has so much money wrapped up in building the Death Stars, it’s economic suicide for the Rebels to destroy it. To quantify any of this, [Feinstein] runs financial crisis models. The idea is that the Rebels win, but they inherit an economy that’s so dysfunctional that they’d have been better off not destroying the Death Stars.

We’re not saying that the rest of the press is gullible, but we are saying that they’re not putting their best economists onto articles about financing Death Stars. But here at Hackaday, we are. And we’re calling it a hoax. So let’s look into what the paper gets right, and what makes less sense even than Chewbacca’s infernal growling. Spoiler: we’ll get wrapped up in numbers because it’s fun, but the whole thing is moot for Econ 101-style reasons.

The Numbers

[Feinstein] has no numbers for anything, basically. More specifically, he’s got one: an estimate of the amount of steel it took to build the first Death Star (DS1). And he got this figure from the experts, the United States government.

d1-14mar-jedi-km1The White House opened up a general-purpose online petition website, and predictably the Internet responded with nearly 40,000 signatures to build a Death Star by 2016. In a brilliant PR move, White House got [Paul Shawcross], Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the Office of Management and Budget to write a cheeky response. And [Paul] did what any of us would do — he typed “cost of Death Star” into a search engine and reported what he found: $852 quadrillion. Good enough for government work, right?

But the White House got its figures from this website which admits, after much public scrutiny that followed getting picked up by the White House, to have gotten the math wrong by a factor of one hundred! We’re looking at much more like $8.1 quadrillion. But we’re quibbling. What’s a factor of one hundred when the numbers are all made up, top to bottom?

Anyway, the absolute value doesn’t matter as much as the ratio of the cost of the Death Stars to the Empire’s Gross Galactic Product (GGP). [Feinstein] estimates this by taking the ratio of the cost of the Manhattan Project to the US GDP at the time, which is around 0.21%.

We think this is probably an underestimate. The US spends about 4% of GDP on defense per year the last four years, when we weren’t even facing the existential crisis of a hot war with a Rebel Alliance. For comparison, during WWII, the US spent around 50% of GDP per year on the war effort.

The Manhattan Project was also largely a research affair, at least in comparison to building a space station the size of a small planet. We’d be totally happy to say that the Empire spent 0.2% on Death-Star-related R&D. But we’ve got to figure something more like 5% or 10% of GGP for as central and apparently ambitious a project as a Death Star. (We do love that [Feinstein] concedes that they could re-use a lot of that R&D expenditure on the second Death Star — it looks just the same!)

So the numbers are all over the place, but if anything [Feinstein] certainly underestimates the importance of the Death Star to the Empire.

Banking: The Consequences

So what happens when the Empire collapses? The banks that they owe money to go bankrupt, and can’t loan to normal Wookies anymore, and the economy grinds to a halt. Preventing this requires providing the banks with (temporary) liquidity — bailing them out — to prevent much larger system-wide harm.

[Feinstein] is an expert in modeling financial crises, so we’re not going to get into those issues except to note that his models are grossly mis-calibrated, not the least due to the easy tenfold underestimate of the cost of the Death Star in terms of GGP. Anyway, he predicts galactic economic chaos.

varBut there’s economic chaos and there’s economic chaos. [Feinstein], a former banker at Lehman Brothers, is no Rebel. He’s set the 10% value-at-risk at 1% of GGP. That is, he’s saying that the Rebels are trying to limit risk of bank default so thoroughly that a 1% GGP loss would only occur in the worst 10% of scenarios. And to do this, the Rebels would have to budget for a one-time bail out the banks to the tune of up 20% of GGP.

Rebel? Or Financial Engineer?

Han “Never tell me the odds” Solo would laugh at this almost insurance-salesmanlike aversion to risk! Does a smuggler and Rebel give a Jar-Jar-Binks about an unlikely 1% GGP bank default? No sir. Han would rather see the curves for 5% GGP losses, or more. And given the way the areas under probability curves tail off, Han’s bailout is likely to be a lot cheaper than [Feinstein]’s. Bravery pays!

It’s All Moot: Sunk Costs

But all this is crazy talk, and we don’t just mean because all this Star Wars stuff is made up. No, we mean there’s a fundamental flaw in the argument that the Rebels shouldn’t attack the Death Stars for economic reasons, and it’s Econ 101: sunk costs.

Yoda_Empire_Strikes_BackTo see why, imagine that the Rebels sent in their Jedis and got rid of Palpatine and Vader the old-fashioned way, through assassination. No Death Stars destroyed, no collateral damage, but a clean capitulation of the Empire and victory for the Rebels. Hooray, economic collapse averted? Not so fast!

The Rebels surely aren’t going to fund further work on the Death Star — it’s not their style. So what are they going to do with it? Renovate and build condos? In that neighborhood? The money wasted on the Death Stars is already wasted, and it’s not going to be undone. Our guess? The Rebels will just have to demolish it anyway, because you don’t want an un-powered Death Star falling out of orbit and crashing into the forest moon of Endor.

But failing to destroy a Death Star just because it was expensive, even though you have no use for it, is a mistake for young Jedi. As a wise, green professor of mine once said, “Your choices on decision-relevant criteria based must be!”


This was ridiculous. Hope you had fun. And learned about sunk costs.

96 thoughts on “A Scam Of Galactic Proportions

  1. When I saw this article on FB, I thought: since the Death Star was basically a massive skunkworks project anyway, the money to fund it was probably skimmed from other budgets in secret. Meaning the galactic economy coped just fine before it was blown up. Destroying it takes away the chance to sell for scrap, but it’s not necessarily worse off.

    If a tree falls in the forest and all that.

    1. However let’s not ignore the incredible space mining boom the destruction of alderaan would provide.

      I’m sceptical that an un-destroyed Death Star would be properly dealt with, as opposed to long senate scenes debating decommissioning cost overruns and cutbacks resulting in a healthy black market in barely-used imperial equipment and the eventual reuse of the core design / re-commissioning as the “freedom star” when the Yuuzaan Vong invade 50 years later and they realise they never got around to improving the technology.

      RIP Extended Universe

    2. Yeah this article doesn’t bring in the scrap argument. Plus, who’s to say they didn’t just bankrupt only one or two planets in the solar system. Finally, why not turn the weapon on those bankrupted planets. Sure they lose any left over revenue, but they also get rid of all their expenses. The dark side is strong with this one!

  2. Let’s also not get in to the fact that the entire purpose of the Death Star is to destroy massive amounts of wealth. The economic hit from destroying Alderaan has got to be bigger than the cost of the 2 DS stations. And they were building the second one so that they could destroy even more planets.

    1. Grand Moff Tarkin said (in one of the West End Games Star Wars RPG Empire Source books) the purpose if the Death Star was not to destroy lots of planets, but rather to instill fear in the public. They would demonstrate the weapon once then just wave it like a big, scary stick. Planetary subjugation would be done with a fleet of Star Destroyers which could bombard the planet from orbit with a volley of nuclear powered turbo laser death.
      Like any of that is true anyway.

      1. well, it’s as true as the Source Material from which Star Wars was ripped … namely, the US-Soviet Cold War. The world only needed one (or two) nuclear bombs to be used in wartime for the populace to get the message — don’t fuck with us. Same with the DS.

        1. If you want to intimidate another star system you just need to prove you can deliver a large enough cobalt bomb to their main planets’s upper atmosphere. You don’t need to go to the trouble of creating something millions of times more complex and easier to detect.

  3. The Manhattan Project was also largely a research affair, at least in comparison to building a space station the size of a small planet.

    In terms of budget, at least, the Manhattan project was really a massive, industrial scale isotope refinement operation. R&D was only about 4% of the budget, completely dwarfed by the cost of building and operating the huge gas diffusion works at Oakridge, plutonium production facilities at Hanford, etc.

    1. Now that you mention it, I totally believe it. Funny, I’ve only really heard the tales about the physics theory side of things — aside from a scary scary tale from Hans Bethe where he asserts that, save for impurities in some component in the isotope manufacturing chain, Nazi Germany would have been nuclear-capable during the 40s.

      I should have researched the Manhattan Project more before saying something like that — but I was already a little bit too deep into reality for an article about the Death Stars.

      We should really find someone to tell us some stories from the Manhattan Project. That would make good reading.

      1. Bethe is undoubtably talking about the boron-contaminated carbon which hosed their estimate of Carbon’s neutron absorption cross-section, ruling it out as a moderator for their reactors and an allied operation bombed the heavy water factory that was their only other workable option. But even if they’d gotten working reactors it’s hard to imagine the Nazis getting all the way to the Bomb. Once the Reich was committed to war with Russia after Operation Barbarossa, the rest of it was almost certainly beyond their means even if they hadn’t chased many of their best scientists away.

      2. Elliot Williams – …We should really find someone to tell us some stories from the Manhattan Project. That would make good reading.

        Little known fact: History would have you think that Albert Einstein had little if anything to do with the Manhattan Project. Well truth be told that his old partner and friend Leo Szilard did. A.E. was up at Princeton NJ working with the US Navy at Brooklyn Naval Yard on triggers for their new torpedo. I believe it was some sort of nuclear version.But Leo would visit A.E. on many of occasions to pick AE’s brain as one of the MP sites (as there were many across USA) was close to Princeton. AE would give Leo some pointers on nuclear stuff and he would take it back to the project.

        However,Adolph Hitler was very close to the nuclear bomb with the help of Dr. Werner Heisenberg of the Uranverein soon to become the RTR under Albert Speer. However, he told Hitler the BOMB could not be built until 1945. But of course if Hitler could have gotten Dr. Lise Meitner then it could have been built even before the Americans. Thank God (literally) she got out of there quickly.

        Re: the MP… I never understood why the Rosenbergs where executed by the Americans in 1950 but Klaus Fuchs was not, His involvement was much worse in impacting US homeland security.

  4. “We do love that [Feinstein] concedes that they could re-use a lot of that R&D expenditure on the second Death Star — it looks just the same!”

    Well they just had to replace the engineer who planned a hole on the surface of the first death start that triggered the nice explosion we all enjoyed.

    Anyway, as I see it, the point of all this according to Mr Feinstein is : “don’t fight for freedom, there’s odds that the economy will fall down”. Good message for nowadays. Thanks Mr Big Hat !

    1. …“don’t fight for freedom, there’s odds that the economy will fall down”.

      I thought the message is simply not to destroy the death stars. Feel free to fight for your cause, but leave the space stations alone. Kind of like port cities during WW2 and oil fields in ISIS-occupied territories now. Rather than destroying them the rebels should’ve captured and used them themselves, at least in the short term. I mean, it’s not as if the empire just collapsed the moment the Emperor and Darth Vader died, is it? There must’ve been many ambitious local governors and warlords who continued to fight. The rebels must’ve smacked them down somehow and it’d have been nice had they have a giant planet-destroying space station to ride around in. Just the sight of it arriving in one’s planet’s orbit could’ve been enough to convince the local, previously Empire-aligned, ruler to switch allegiance.


      1. Wretch – Actually ISIL is not “really” the real problem. They’ll stand down just as soon as their handlers tell them to. But that’s the question WHO IS THAT?

        The Star Wars franchise, as in many other movies, has one thinking that BRUTE FORCE is key. That is a fallacy. Look how many nations throughout time were ACTUALLY conquered: through STEALTH AND GUILE! Look how we really won WW2, with a fricken’ COMPUTER named Colossus. And a really stealthy device known as the GREEN HORNET or SIGSALY. Sun Tzu would have been proud of how we used this enigmatic “out-of-the-box-thinking” things to conquer our enemies via stealth and guile.

        In other movies the trick was to introduce Polymorphic Computer Trojan Horse Viruses. Like how Geordie LaForge conquered the Borg Collective, And like how Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum did the same thing in Independence Day. Our NSA is not just spying on American citizens. They are also looking for ways to exploit cyberwar to go after the big boys like PRC and RUSSIA. And there are others who call us their “friends” who are also in the CW cross-hairs too. Only ISIL is not one of them as they really are only small actors in the bigger picture. They’re more of a distraction from the REAL bad guys hiding behind the thin veil of so-called “friendship”.

        They will be reduced through attrition. The MQ1/RQ1 is doing a great job of it right now with Mr. Obama. I just hope it get’s done long before that moron from NY becomes POTUS in 2017. The world will become a different place after he takes office.

        1. 1. I’m pretty sure we “won” WW2 with a MASSIVE investment in soldiers and weapons.

          2. In Star Wars, the Empire existed because Palpatine spent decades manipulating people to gain power, he didn’t seize it outright.

          3. Power is power. Espionage is just the precise application of power to gain the knowledge and/or influence you need.

          4. The Rebels in Star Wars DID win through political action. They didn’t kill every imperial leader. They assassinated an extremely small number of people who were pulling the strings, then allowed the people to govern themselves.

          1. Ian – I only contest #1 because it was the work of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park that gave us the edge we needed to listen to Hitler’s Nazi ENIGMA secret transmissions. We knew what he was up to before he even did anything. The same applies to Tojo in Japan with their Code Purple. Then to allow the POTUS to talk to Churchill and the his generals overseas in COMPLETE privacy with “X System” aka SIGSALY also gave us that edge we needed to pull off NORMANDY INVASION and the taking of Berlin. We had a secret edge that could still work today in US defeating a common foe. Sure manpower was key too, but warfare is not won on symmetrics.It is won on asymmetric warfare. Fighting fair is not key to winning a global conflict. The Brits realized this hard lesson when fighting US in the 18th century. POTUS Jefferson had his own ENIGMA-like machine called the Jefferson Cipher Wheel. Benjamin Franklin secretly used it while in France to send messages back to D.C. The Brits where completely confounded by it,

            Alan Turing helped US build the X-System too. The Nazi thought it was some sort of high speed buzzing Morse Code or something. They had no idea it was voice traffic. There ENIGMA system was simply coded Morse Code. So without that we could not have won WW2.

  5. This is what would happen if you let the bean counters run the war. Could you imagine what would happen if you had a fully functional death star running free in the galaxy? Of course it had to be destroyed!
    This is the point that financial models need feedback into social and political models. If I run a test against a model and my results are way off expected results then that tells me there is something wrong with my model.

    1. >>If I run a test against a model and my results are way off expected results then that tells me there is something wrong with my model.

      Bizarre, you would never think to examine your expectations? Why model anything with such infallible intuitive thinking? Good idea though, expand a financial model with at least some quantitative rigor into the pure and utter nonsense comprising a “social” or “political” model.

      1. Hmmm,
        I was trying to say that models should be tested against known outcomes to see if the model operates within the norm. But part of any model is interpreting the results. War depletes resources. Does that mean that someone should surrender if attacked rather than deplete their resources since their defense would deplete resources from both sides? (War doesn’t make economic sense)

        1. RandyKC – “War doesn’t make economic sense”

          Depends on which American Defense Industry (i.e. POTUS Eisenhower’s Military Industrial Complex) is making money from said “war”. That money also spells “jobs” for Americans. Factor in the money-pot the Vietnam War caused for many of them (mostly exploiting ostensibly secret technology purloined from WW2 Nazis e.g. StarLight Scope etc.).

  6. There also seems to be an assumption that the Empire wasn’t already draining the economy with construction and research projects. It’s possible the DS1, DS2, and even the Super Star Destroyer removed enough capitol to limit bank loans.
    This would only be possible if the Empire owned the banks (which they did if the Clone Wars cartoons are cannon.)

  7. I have to say, for HAD, I was a bit disappointed that the article didn’t explore hacking the Death Stars for alternate uses a bit more. The comment about “condos” was flippant, but the sheer housing potential of the death star is considerable. If jawas collecting droids in the desert is economically feasible, an FTL-capable marketplace the size of a moon would surely have a non-negligible impact. The weapons and associated power infrastructure could either be stripped and sold as scrap, or converted to terraforming purposes. Bottom line, blowing up the death stars was probably dumb in the long run, in economic terms. Morale is another story of course.

      1. Sadly, I expect there were very few refugees from Alderaan, if you know what I mean.

        And if I understand correctly, the Death Star is already more or less a small version of Coruscant. Think of it as a Spherical Todos Santos (Non Larry Niven fans, look up Arcology.) But before they allow inhabitants, I’d make sure most of those guns were decommissioned. I’d wager that the Rebels would end up making it their version of the Pentagon.

        “Meet the New Boss… The same as the Old Boss…”

        1. Iirc, Coruscant it was only the surface of the planet that was inhabited with a limited amount of subterranian slums. Any planet though you wouldn’t be able to get particularly close to the mantel without the heat becoming an obstacle to habitation. The Death Star, although it couldn’t have occupation on the surface, had the entire volume filled with housing and other things. While a lot of it was probably military based, if a habitation version was to be built it would probably be able to reach an even higher population density than Coruscant, especially if the shape was adapted to better suit it (spherical isn’t exactly ideal for efficient space usage)

  8. Elliot – The entire premise is moot for entirely DIFFERENT reasons. The Star Wars EMPIRE was supposed to be a parallel to Japan and Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s.It was supposed to be a dictatorial regime. As we know from recent Earth history a dictator like Tojo and Hitler (et al) did not have to quibble over how much something cost as they just forced the industry to do all R&D and building weapons gratis. Some did it free for other reasons (i.e. IBM etc). The only true costs was importing of materials and goods from other nations. Labor wasn’t a problem as Hitler just used concentration camp free labor. His scientists were compelled to just work for room and board and they could keep their life for a few more months or so. Healthcare wasn’t a problem as they had doctors too. So Hitler DID plan and almost did invent the first Death Star called by Hermann Oberth The Heliobeam. Ideally Wehner von Braun was to use his latest rocket in 1945 to put two or more men into orbit with a folding parabolic mirror which was to focus sun’s rays on Allied cities and ships. Allied forces claim to have interrupted the project at Pennemunde only 12-months away from roll out. Evidently the Russians did finally do it (only with LASER sans Sun). The Polyus-Skif DM was to be that DEATH STAR but supposedly it never made it to orbit. However, some ex-Soviet shadows said it did. Who’s to say?


    This thing is what prompted POTUS Reagan to start the Star Wars Arms race called SDI (allegedly).

    The Russian Znamya project was to actually use solar mirrors like Oberth’s idea. Znamya 2 was successful in 1992 and produced a 5 km wide bright spot, which traversed Europe from southern France to western Russia – and looked like a full moon. However, Znamya 3 was abandoned after the forced de-orbiting of Znamya 2.5 in 1999. .Hmmm, I wonder who caused that?

  9. I thought Feinstein probably overestimates the cost, myself.

    I’m a bit dubious about simply extrapolating 20th century production techniques or costs to the sort of high energy, highly automated interstellar civilization the Empire evidently is. It’s a bit like extrapolating the cost of an aircraft carrier based on Roman steel production levels. That’d obviously be flawed – industrial metallurgy has advanced quite a bit since the iron age, including dramatically lowered costs and increased per capita production rates.

    And now we’re talking about a galaxy spanning civilization where interstellar shipping is apparently not much more difficult or capital intensive than ocean freight or long haul trucking is in ours, and highly capable automated droids are commonplace. A galaxy with, apparently, hundreds of billions of star systems, more than a million inhabited planets, and hundreds of quadrillions of sentient citizens.

    In terms of steel, 1.08×10^15 tonnes amounts to only a couple of kg per head with those numbers, about the same as what the roman empire was producing per capita with pre-industrial technology 1800 years ago. Our own civilization already produces a hundred times that per capita. It’s not unreasonable to assume a high energy interstellar civilization with space-based industry could do at least another couple orders of magnitude better – or something like 10^19 tonnes/year galaxy-wide. With those numbers, a DS is a mere 0.01% of annual galactic output (steel-wise, and we can assume other costs scale similarly).

    And it may even be easier than that. Once you have the blueprints drawn up, building something like the DS could theoretically be almost as simple as dropping a small seed fleet of automated constructor ships in a rich enough asteroid belt and setting them to work. Almost no actual capital input required. (I don’t think anything you see in the movies necessarily contradicts this scenario – we see some non-droid workers and crew on the in-progress DS2, but for all we know those are mostly supervisory personnel, technicians doing light integration and testing work, etc.)

    1. You brought up the point I was going to make, that their galaxy already had interstellar travel, non-union robots (I think, it was an evil dictator after all), and the ability to mine asteroids, making the DS venture a lot cheaper than the terran budget.
      But you did it so much more eloquently! B^)

      1. They also had planet cracking lasers, which could be used to *create* asteroid fields from planets. With a galactic empire it couldn’t be that difficult to find a planet which was relatively uninhabited/isolated and just blast it with a prototype to get the materials for the space station

  10. There’s a huge assumption that Palpatine runs the empire on a deficit and screwing the next generation with lies and smoke and mirrors. I see no reason why the deah stars were not funded with cash from reserves. Palpatine was in it for the long run, and I find it hard to believe that he’d not be running an excess – and even harder to believe that government could have lasted 1000s of years on deficit.

    1. Perpetual Deficit Spending can be sound governance and economic policy, especially in an empire that can be considered thousands if not more systems. Any invention or advancement in one system can be converted to growth in all the rest of the systems. A growing economy will make deficit spending profitable, generating more money on the invested money than it would have done not being focused by the uber monopoly that the empire can implement.

      Also, if the Empire were to fund their deficit spending the way the US does, it’s less of a loan to the US, and more of a tribute. China doesn’t buy T-bonds because they are a good investment in and of themselves. They buy the T-bonds based on their ability to prop up our economy and drive more macroeconomic activity. Although they actually lose money on the T-bonds against what that money could have done in a traditional investment (factory, public works, hospitals, etc) they make a huge ROI based on keeping happy US consumers able to buy their exports. Of course, the Galactic Empire could use other forms of tribute that are more direct and enforced by laser canon, but the conventional wisdom that deficit spending is bad and that the US (or other countries, your household) shouldn’t do it is missing the whole picture. It feels wrong, but debt is a tricky thing. I recommend reading “Debt, the first 5,000” years.

      Also, this is a hit piece against a thought exercise based on a licence property of a relatively silly group of movies, so it’s turtles all the way down in terms of debunking whatever assumptions anyone makes. It’s kind of neat, that instead of playing with the purchased action figures, we get to have a shared sandbox experience that is free from license. True culture. Who knew.

  11. Atomizing all that material that was so expensive to assemble in one place in space… ouch. Sunk costs, yes, but wouldn’t we love to have all that stuff floating around with which to build stuff? But an important question remains… were the architects and builders atomized along with the star, were they sent home upon completion, or did Darth silence them permanently before the star became operational? If all that expertise were destroyed along with the star… that’s not all just sunk costs, since presumably those were some of the best scientists and engineers and were difficult to replace.

    Peacetime industries certainly gained from technologies and knowledge accumulated during WWII projects, but not as much as they could have were everything declassified (I didn’t say where those industries might be located). What percent of the death star’s designers’ knowledge could be used in peacetime industry after the star’s destruction, leaving what percent unusable due to classification for decades or centuries?

  12. Hoo-boy! When I have to deal with people in business or engineering who somehow missed the sunk cost lecture, it drives me crazy!

    I always try to think of economic decisions in terms of potential future world states I’d like to realize. When you think of it that way, sunk cost is already implicitly included in your process, since you are looking at the world as it is now and trying to the actions most likely to bring about the world state(s) you desire to be in. Past actions only get involved in the sense that you can ask yourself questions like “well, I took action X before when I wanted outcome Y: Did it have the effect that I intended?”

  13. The biggest problem for me with all of the Star Wars franchise has always been scale. The writers just have no concept of what meaningful numbers are in their own setting. Here is an example…

    The SW galaxy is roughly the same size as ours. So 400 billion stars, with an average number of planets per star of 2.5 (not planetoids, planets). This means roughly 1 trillion planets.

    Now, lets assume that only one in a MILLION planets has a population of sentient life. We aren’t going to concern ourselves with mining colonies, pirate bases, space stations, or asteroid bases. We are only going to bother counting planets with populations ranging from ~200,000 (Tatooine) to ~1,000,000,000,000 (Coruscant). Lets say that the average population of our primary inhabited worlds is about 5,000,000.

    So right now we can guess that the population of the galaxy is at least 5 trillion.

    Now, during the Clone Wars, the Republic had some clones made. Then they had a second batch of clones made. How many clones did they have made? What number of clones might make a meaningfully large army to fight in a galaxy with 5 trillion plus people?

    1.2 million, and then 3 million.

    This is the kind of thing you see over, and over. Their numbers area always terrible, because the writers have no idea how things work at this scale.

    Further, I don’t think that this economist is qualified to make statements about an economy as large as an entire galaxy. We all know that linear extrapolation does not always work when you scale things up to big.

    Finally, can we consider the loss of the DS 1 & 2 ACTUAL losses in assets? Do we know for certain that they were built entirely with loaned money? Were the workers not paid? Were the materials used not payed for?

    How much of the cost of the Death Star was put right back into the economy?

    1. Why would it cost anything, AI + robots + space travel + asteroids etc. = Death stars that build themselves, once they are designed.

      Also not only could the writers not count, their geometry is just as weak. For example no matter how fast a Jedi is they can never block 3 shots that arrive from 3 different angles at the same time if their paths can’t be intersected by the line formed by the light sabre. This would be obvious to anyone having to deal with Jedi and the tactic would always be used against them thus ensuring that they were completely ineffective.

      Can we now stop pretending the Star Wars is even remotely comparable to reality?

        1. Ah no not what I mean, the angle would be small enough to negate the effect and perhaps the Jedi could even move out of the way. However it would not be hard to synchronise the blasters from three people so that the shots arrived at the same time from a wider set of angles, but one shooter must also be lower or higher than the other two. Then the Jedi can only cover one side of the triangle with the sabre, but they need to cover two sides so that all three shots are blocked. They would all need to have two sabres, then you need even more shooters. Soon the Jedi runs out of hands. :-) It would have been better to have the sabres able to open up into a shield like disk.

          1. Your first description was clear, and understood. Some of the blaster-deflection scenes in Ep. 1-3 had so many shots coming in that the scenario you describe should have happened randomly, even without any attempt to synchronize fire. It was a rather obvious stretch, realized while watching one such scene, and wrecked my suspension of disbelief (well, what little was remaining by that point). At that point my mind started wandering, and I thought that if it were at least somewhat realistic, at least ONE person in that universe should have realized that too. And come up with an Anti-Jedi weapon, which could be as simple as a blaster with three barrels in a triangular arrangement, each 4″ apart. Different angles aren’t necessary, parallel vectors are fine. As long as the shots arrive with spacing at least 2x the saber diameter, in a non-linear arrangement, it’ll still be unblockable. And could only be dodged, which is *much* harder.

    2. Almost all SciFi involving really large populations has the numbers extremely wrong. Start with the one and only example we know of, Earth. Right now, the entire live human population could fit within the State of Texas and each person would have nearly 2,000 square feet of land.
      Divide up all the land into 2,000 Ft^2 parcels and that’s around 81 billion. Round it to an even 80 billion just for ease of mathing.

      Now let’s cover all Earth’s land in a building. Four levels, ground level for all the mechanical, electrical, manufacturing, waste handling. Top level and roof for food production and recreation. For the middle two levels, give 50% for hallways, HVAC, plumbing, electric and other services, light shafts and public spaces.

      So now on two levels there’s still 80 billion people, each with 2,000 Ft^2 each. Divide space by 2 and we’re now at 160 billion with 1,000 Ft^2 each. 320 billion at 500 Ft^2. 640 billion at 250 Ft^2. 1,280 billion at 125 Ft^2 each.

      With numbers like that on just two levels, on around 30% of the total surface area of Earth, Trantor, Coruscant, Helior, Freeground Station, the Pierson’s Puppeteer homeworld and any other tale with a world girdling city or even just a lot of mega-scraper buildings has far too much living space for the depictions of cramped conditions.

      Since this is a Star Wars article, how many trillion people live on Coruscant? Would have to be so many or every individual would have their own epic super apartment with all the building volume that’s been shown.

      Want one that’s got it right? The planet Avalon in the Dark Space series. How many people on it? 100% of all the humans who have ever died since “backup” implants have been secretly implanted in everyone at birth. You die and *poof* a fresh copy of you in a perfectly healthy body wakes up on Avalon. The planet is all covered in multiple levels and has the trillions of inhabitants to not even come close to filling it up. I assume the author actually went and used a calculator to do a bit of simple math that few, if any, other SF authors bother with.

      1. Yes, but don’t forget that it is a government and commerce planet. The Senate grounds are HUGE. Remember that each planet in the republic has senators. Each of these senators LIVES on Coruscant, along with their entire service and security staff.

        Coruscant may be hundreds of levels deep, but many of then are filled with automated warehouses, automated heating/cooling/ventilation systems, and automated waste processing systems. And we still haven’t talked about the facilities required to repair, maintain, and build the Driods that take care of the OTHER automated facilities on the planet.

      2. Some sources put Coruscant down as some kind of super Earth too – several times the diameter, but with a lightweight core giving it a tolerable surface gravity. If it’s about three times the diameter, that’s an order of magnitude greater surface area. A trillion people could pretty much rattle around on that.

    3. It’s not an issue of “did they use loaned money” or not. Death Star fabrication is the result of economic activity. The labour and materials that went into its production could have gone to other activities, probably ones that would have generated more economic value than the DS. So, regardless, it represents an investment. The issue raised in the Hackaday article is whether or not that investment has any value in a post-Rebel-victory world, and whether or not destroying resulted in a loss of that value. The actual cost to build it once it has been built is irrelevant; only it’s actual value matters at that point.

    4. It’s worse than that. This is the source I found for my previous post: http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/76421/what-is-the-population-of-the-star-wars-galaxy

      Assuming the sources quoted there are authoritative, the Republic supposedly had a population of around 100 quadrillion beings (short scale, I assume, so 10^15), on something like 50 million populated planets (I messed up above when I said 1M planets — I guess that’s just the number of regional capitals or something, the ones with representatives). Neither the Republic nor the Empire controlled the entire galaxy, only a large fraction, so the overall population might be several times larger.

      So yeah, a few million clones don’t seem like they could make any difference at all. There are literally more inhabited planets than clones. (And how common/rare are jedi knights supposed to be? Even if there’s only an average of about 1 per planet, that’s already 50,000,000 jedi – outnumbering clones more than 10:1. For non-jedi troops, why wouldn’t you just ask for a few volunteers or conscript a couple thousand from each planet? That’d be orders of magnitude more forces.)

      Given that perspective, the deathstar itself doesn’t even seem like much of a threat. Sure, it can take out a few planets, which is horrific. But if you assume it takes a week or so to hyperspace it into position and charge up the firing capacitors, it can only get to about 50 planets a year. If it had set out on a mission to wipe out the galaxy when neanderthals were first emerging 500,000 years ago, it’d still only be halfway done today.

      I think they try to write around this sometimes – e.g., the rebels are a plucky, tiny guerilla force picking at the edges who basically only win by getting lucky and assassinating the Emperor. They could have been squashed easily if even a fraction of the imperial fleet (millions of ships) had ever gathered against them, but of course that’s hard to manage. The imperial forces have lots of other duties, and need to be spread around patrolling and keeping the peace in the rest of the galaxy.

      That’s not entirely convincing though.

  14. Another good reason NOT to blow up DS2 while in orbit is collateral damage. This would have had a devastating effect on Endor. The DS was big, and Endor was small. In fact, the tidal forces resulting from placing it in orbit there were probably pretty severe as well.

    1. Is the moon Endor or is Endor the plane the moon orbits? “Forest moon of Endor” what? Whichever, smashing up something as large as Death Star Mk2 that is *hovering* over one spot will have much of it entering the moon’s atmosphere and impacting the surface with the potential to kill all living things on it.


      What is the main construction material of DS1 and DS2? Certainly not steel. At that size, the mass of steel is too high. It would need something with a far greater strength to mass ratio.

    2. Or would it? SOME of it would certainly fall to the moon, but most would stay in orbit.

      The DS was probably in geosynchronous orbit, or something resembling it. When it blew up, it would just fill that orbit with millions of tons of floating shrapnel.

      1. When the USA detonated a nuclear weapon on an old battle ship parked near an atoll the ship just vanished and there was a black dust everywhere, it turned out to be the iron oxide from the iron vapour that burned away instantly to rust in the atmosphere. The heat wave travels faster than any physical object can so chances are that there would just be a huge amount of plasma hitting the upper atmosphere.

        No doubt very messy but I am not sure exactly what sort of messy it would be. I guess some sort of expanding disk or ring of heat as the metal plasma chemically reacted with the upper atmosphere generating shock-waves.

        It would be spectacular, but I think it would also kill the biosphere.

        1. How can a heat wave travel faster than the atoms of a material that the thermal energy is contained in can?

          Either the matter itself IS traveling that fast, or the energy is in some other form, which results in distant objects absorbing it and raising in thermal energy.

          Semantics aside though, the Death Star has enough energy to cause planets to violently explode. Probably many planets. Perhaps causing it’s reactor to overload would be a bad thing for everything in the entire star system.

          1. Wikipedia explains it thus:

            Nuclear weapons emit large amounts of thermal radiation as visible, infra-red, and ultraviolet light, to which the atmosphere is largely transparent. This is known as “Flash”.

            If you wanted to be very picky you would calculate the radius of the death star and compare that again the distance the particles travel as a fraction of that to determine their speed. Whatever it is it would be less than the speed of the “flash” due to relativity.

            But anyway the entire “explosion” sequence is probably completely wrong. If the flash is generated in the core it would be down converted to longer wavelengths as it bounced around in the spherical plasma mirror that it created from the materials it interacted with until it emerged and the flash wave front was emitted from the surface of the expanding plasma sphere.

            Have a look at this and also keep in mind there are not in the vacuum of space where things would be very different, the only gas would be the vaporised death stars materials.


          2. Ian – to destroy the Death Star all you need are some really motivated Israeli military scientists to devise a way to upload the STUXNET virus to the DS’s mainframe. And if they are using Siemens controllers then viola a dead death star! BTW blowing up a planet with a death ray was so 1950’s Flash Gordon thinking. Notice the Shoemaker-Levy comets impacting Jupiter not too long ago? Jupiter is not even rock or soil. It just absorbed them like nothing. And when our Jovian orbiter plunged into the Jovian upper atmosphere? It’s explosion only caused a black soot dot to form on the surface for a little while. So that planet destroying DS’s ray is just Hollywood’s lack of physics knowledge. Earth is here to stay for eternity. Now the life upon it is another question all together. The only thing that could take out a planet, planetoid, or moon is a Super Nova. And even then it would have to be within the local group around that star. What force caused our Asteroid Belt is a real mystery though. There’s a lot of destroyed objects in there – except of course Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea (mostly planetoids between Jupiter and Mars).

    1. As far as “sunk costs” DS1 was already finished, its building “crew” was probably working on DS 2.0 when DS1 blew up. But since, DS2 was still under construction, its building crew became “Sunk Costs”.

      1. What costs? What military contractors built the Death Star(s)? The only cost would have been the physical cost of lives used to mine the alloys on some God forsaken rock near the home world, Dictators don’t worry about financial costs as they usually have some precious resource to exploit like blood-diamonds in Africa, gold, silver, etc. The human lives (i.e. slave labor) is key. Robots make a good slave-labor resource too. They don’t require food, housing, or even companionship. Just make sure they don’t become sentient! :-D

        Also you can steal the imported stuff like how USA stole the rare ore Unobtainium* from Pandora in the movie AVATAR (2009). *Turns out this is a REAL word in the Skunkworks world!

  15. “financial engineering” oh god “soft science” semantics..

    What about all the $100.00 3D printer and $10.00 1Ghz computer posts here, or the amateur satellite posts? I’m probably even leaving some out,,

  16. Since the concept of money in the Star Wars franchise (not just random individual planet’s currency) isn’t really explained in any of the movies this is really hard to figure out anyways. Also, (imo) other write offs like “slave labor’ etc. would factor into building the DS, You think they really paid anyone to “help” build it? With the former as an example of just one of the small caveats involved this whole question of “cost” just gets harder and harder to answer. peh – well thought out hypothetical dollar costs are still fun to read about though.

    1. The Galactic Credit Standard, simply called a credit or abbreviated to cred, colloquially referred to as Republic Dataries, and later known as the Imperial Credit, was the main currency in use in the galaxy since the time of the Galactic Republic.

      The galactic credit standard was established on Sojourn. From its inception, the credit was backed by the immense wealth of the planet Muunilinst and the InterGalactic Banking Clan (IGBC). During the Clone Wars, the IGBC backed the currencies of both sides, as it would do so again decades later for the New Republic and Imperial Remnant.

      One tenth of a credit was called a decicred.


  17. It’s sick.

    So… the rebels would be trying to save the banks which funded a planet destroying weapon that killed billions of people.

    The worst part is.. it sounds plausible. That’s how our own society really would handle such a thing.

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