This is a guilty pleasure. Yes, I have read far too many books, and a star wars fan, and spend too much time on Quora.
Honestly, this is just an illustrative exercise in assessment and investigation scenarios and options. At first Glance, it would seem that anything vs the Death Star is no contest.
But a little bit of Sun Tzu, run the numbers, look at lines of sight, assess the leadership and how they do what they do.
It’s mostly Sun Tzu Chapter 1.
Enjoy. The first draft was on Quora a while back:
Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?
First, this is Spot on – Matthew Jiang’s answer to Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?
TLDR: The Empire’s best military strategist (Thrawn) can beat the Empire’s best military Governor (Tarkin). But he will have to use every dirty trick and unconventional tactic and tool at his disposal, because a stand-up fight against the Death Star is suicide.
You could go into a pretty rigorous debate between legends and the Disney canon.
But the net assessment is pretty simple:
Grand Moff Tarkin:
The Emperor’s Governor of Governor’s. The highest ranking Political leader under the Emperor.
Reasonable tactician and strategist as shown in the movies and clone war TV series.
But Tarkin was put into his position of power because he was ruthlessly loyal to Palpatine, believed in the Empire, and was able to control Anakin / Vader. Tarkin is reliable, loyal, has no love for the Jedi, and gets results.
But Even in the Clone Wars series, it was established that Tarkin was not as good at tactics or strategy as Anakin. Tarkin was however very good at politics, deceit, and manipulation – which is why he was a senior leader in Palpatine’s Empire
Grand Admiral Thrawn:
In Star Wars Legends is remarkably smart, resourceful, and creative – takes on and beats Jedi. But is older and more experienced than he is in Disney Rebels.
In Disney Rebels show (recent Disney Canon), Thrawn is younger and less experienced, but still is characterized as a military genius, superior soldier, and hand to hand combatant, and is called in as a “ringer” helping Tarkin, to accomplish feats that Tarkin and his admirals are unable to do themselves. The Emperor sent Thrawn to end the rebellion that Tarkin couldn’t handle without help.
While Tarkin was the Emperor’s Grand Moff, The Emperor Made Thrawn his Grand Admiral – the Admiral of Admirals.
Thrawn is like a Hermann Balck – he doesn’t lose battles, and easily defeats larger forces than his own.
Planet Smashing Super Laser
15,000 Turbolasers, 768 Tractor Beams, 2500 Laser Cannons, 2500 Ion Cannons…
Plus hundreds of Fighters, hundreds of small support ships, and 1–2 million people at any given time. But only 26,000 Storm Troopers.
Death Star can only fire like one full power shot a day, maybe a few lower power shots.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the Death Star can fire 6 shots in a matter of minutes capable of destroying all 6 of Thrawn’s Star Destroyers. Makes it more interesting.
You could argue ISD 1 vs ISD 2’s; Disney Cannon vs Legends.
But Basically, the Star Destroyers have a hundred plus weapons, 72 fighters each, just shy of 50,000 people including 9,000 plus Stormtroopers.
Technically 6 X 9,000 = 54,000 – Thrawn has twice the number of Storm Troopers with his 6 Star Destroyers.
By Comparison, the Star Destroyers are small, fast, and nimble.
The Battle –
The Top Political Leader in the Death Star against the Top Admiral with 6-star Destroyers?
1 – If the Death Star only gets one shot and then has to recharge, and Thrawn can find Erso’s weakness – Matthew Jiang’s answer to Who would win between Grand Admiral Thrawn with 6 Imperial Star Destroyers vs Grand Moff Tarkin with the first Death Star?
2 – Let’s go hard for Thrawn:
- Death Star is able to fire 6 shots quickly to destroy Star Destroyers in range, and will not miss (Honestly the Star Destroyers should get a dodge).
- Thrawn does not find Erso’s weakness.
What is a Grand Admiral to do to stop the Mad Moff with a Death Star?
Don’t get in Range (Duh). The Star Destroyers have faster Hyperdrives, so you simply may avoid the Death Star indefinitely.
- Sneak some nuclear warheads on to the Death Star and cripple it’s power supplies. Then it’s an easy fight if the Death Star can’t power its shields or weapons.
- Have human spies sabotage the power supply, then take it by force.
- Have droid spies sabotage the power supply, then take it by force.
- Have Slicers (Hackers) sabotage the power supply, life support, weapons, etc, and take it by force.
- Have Saboteurs hyperspace jump the Death Star into a planet, moon, or star.
- Have Assassins kill Grand Moff Tarkin.
But that’s boring… What? HOW? The Death Star has over a MILLION people on it at any given time. A million people consume plenty of food, clothing, etc. There has to be constant cargo traffic to sustain a city of a million people living in the Death Star, and that gives Thrawn an opening to use asymmetrical warfare.
Conventional Assault –
The Death Star is HUGE. Given its size and shape, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that only 1/2 of its weapons could be brought to bear at any given angle. And the closer you get, the curve of the sphere works against the defenders.
Given the height of towers, the curvature of the surface, once you are on the surface, assuming the weapons are essentially evenly distributed across the Death Star… When you are on the surface at any given time probably only a few hundred of those towers can actually see and engage you.
(Math – with 80 km Radius – the Surface area is about 80,000 square km – 20,000 weapons, roughly one weapon per 4 sq km, or roughly a weapon every kilometer. Depending on what you guess for tower height, for something the size of a Star Destroyer VERY close to the surface, roughly every tower for 25 km will have a line of sight to engage. A 25 km circle on the surface of the death star will have around 400 towers in it, firepower roughly comparable to 2 star destroyers.
So on the surface, at “point blank range” a force of Star Destroyers is roughly equal in firepower and has advantages in mobility and shields in that position.
Granted that’s still a problem. But if I jump a couple Star Destroyers to within a mile of the surface, and quickly land – now I have an exploitable advantage, and I’m below the main shields and can easily engage the towers while using Star Destroyers like big tanks hovering across the surface of the Death Star.
Thrawn is known for highly precise hyperspace jumps and micro-jumps.
So Thrawn would basically use scouts and spies to aim a Hyperspace jump behind the death star where the big gun is worthless, land his ships on the Surface of the Death Star, and essentially start an invasion deploying ground troops and mechanized units targeting power systems and life support where a minimum of Death Star Weapons may be brought to bear, and Thrawn can take advantage of having twice the infantry, and much more mobile heavy cannons.
Unconventional / Mixed Strategies – After Reading too many Star Wars Legends books
Given the size and maneuverability of the Death Star, I’d wait for it to be in a predictable spot, and use mile-long Star Destroyers to pull in the largest asteroids or bombs I could come up with – delivering them with precise close-range hyperspace jumps that the Death Star cannot dodge. How do you miss a target 160 kilometers wide?
Honestly given the resources of 6 Star Destroyers, I would seriously raid some systems and gather additional resources for a few weeks to set up a battle I can win. One Star Destroyer can control a planet. With 6? I can hold multiple Star Systems at Gunpoint and take whatever I want.
Get ahold of as many explosives, ships, loaded fuel tankers, asteroids, and nuclear weapons that I can find.
And hire as many pirates and mercenaries as I can find. Maybe even make a deal with the Rebel Alliance if it suits my needs. Or simply empty the nearest imperial prisons and arm the criminals as irregulars against the Death Star.
While gathering planet killing asteroids, have spies, saboteurs, hackers, droids, and assassins independently infiltrate the Death Star to use software hacks and physical sabotage to disable, disrupt, and / or destroy the Death Star’s command and control systems, life support, power supply, engines, propulsion, food supply, water supply. They can use poison, biological weapons, chemical weapons, anything they can sneak on board. Spread any available plague.
Imagine those little mouse sounding black car droids spreading plague in all the cafeterias….
And see if some assassins get lucky and manage to kill Tarkin.
Based on schedule, signals, scouts, recon – we can determine when the Death Star is having problems from sabotage and is a sitting duck:
- Only Jump to the Backside where the Super Weapon can’t get you.
- Ram it with as many fuel tankers and cargo ships filled with explosives that you can find – hopefully hitting the Death Star basically while still in hyperspace.
- Ram it with as many Asteroids and Comets that you can tow through hyperspace. Or improvise hyperspace engines onto asteroids and hyperspace jump them into the Death Star.
- Basically bombard the back side of the Death Star as hard as you can with as much as you can find – the point being to soften up its defenses.
Then when you run out of things to Ram the death star with –
- Give immediate special forces support to sabotage efforts to bring down the remaining power for shields and weapons. (Just like Ezra and Sabine did to Thrawn’s Interdictor in SW Rebels)..
- Also, have teams deploying additional biological and chemical weapons into the air and water systems of the Death Star.
- As soon as you get enough of an opening of confusion, surface damage, diminished weapons and shielding-
- Precise jump super close to the Death Star with half your Star Destroyers (3), keeping 3 in reserve. Also, bring in any other additional ships available, and have them directly support the assault.
- Have the irregular force of Pirates, Mercs, and Rebels assault / invade the Death Star under cover of Star Destroyers.
- Also in Thrawn style see if there are any number of dangerous predators that you can find, quickly enhanced with some cybernetics, and release on a few hundred thousand unsuspecting and unarmed Death Star workers away from the main fighting. Even a few packs of hungry wolves dropped by droid shuttles roaming the halls could do well to add to the chaos.
- Land Assault force in best available position in the Death Star, where the surface defenses are the weakest after the bombardment.
- Set up Fighter cover for the invasion force
- Have one Star Destroyer modified as a massive Space Tug, or a Ship or giant bundle of Engines modified to essentially bolt onto the Death Star, and push it using the hyperspace engines into the nearest planet/moon.
- If you can get tractor beams large enough that you can mount them on a nearby planet or moon or comet or large asteroid, and use the tractor beam to pull the Death Star and the big Rock into each other.
The goal here being to basically make the Death Star a no man’s land that everyone on board wants to leave. Use a Golden Bridge Strategy – Attack one side with punishing force, sabotage every life sustaining system, and make the rats desert the sinking ship by giving them a safe place to escape. Let them use all those shuttles, support craft, and escape pods to leave. More confusion and rational choice disrupting chain of command.
If your buddy got Ebola yesterday, you are under emergency lighting because the power is out, you felt a bunch of earthquakes, all the Stormtroopers are being shuttled to the far side of the DS station, and there are reports of predatory animals and droids attacking people. Would you just hang tight and follow orders? Or would you grab your friends, find the nearest shuttle, and get out of there?
Well, you’d probably hang tight until you find out the Death Star lost engine power and is now on a collision course with the Planet it was orbiting for resupply, and the bulkheads are on lockdown because primary life support is out, and you have been ordered to use an oxygen mask. And oh yeah, the functioning air systems are filling up with smoke and nerve gas. Then you may be willing to risk disobeying orders and abandoning ship.
And while all that confusion and battle is taking place, either overload the main reactor to make the damn thing explode, crash it into the nearest rock bigger than it, or hit it with enough asteroids and comets that it breaks apart, or set off enough nukes inside it to make it a radioactive slag.
All while keeping 3 Star Destroyers in reserve, as a quick reaction force, because odds are Tarkin can pull some tricks and call in some favors, and he’ll have help within hours.
Hopefully, by the time Tarkin’s reinforcements arrive, they will see a powerless, burning, disease-filled hulk swarming with ships; crashing into the nearest planet while Rebel, Pirate, and Tarkin loyalist infantry try to figure out how to get off the cursed thing before it kills them.
Thrawn may have to sacrifice a few Star Destroyers to get the job done and push the Death Star to its death (Moving slowly unless they have some Star Trek or Star Gate Engineers to rig the hyperdrives to do something Sci-Fi to speed it up). Worth the price.
Do it right, Thrawn could have the Death Star and the Rebel Alliance destroy each other while he makes the killing blow to each.
“No, you see the exhaust port is too difficult for fighters to hit. We’ll soften up the Death Star with some sabotage and kamikaze attacks, then you need to land an army on the surface, fight your way to Erso’s reactor weakness, and plant demolition charges manually. Send your best troops, I’ll provide you with maps and schematics, and 50,000 Storm Troopers. We’ll cover you with the fleet.”
To quote Patton – “Fixed fortifications are a testament to the stupidity of man”
Hope you had as much fun as I did.