Economics Of A Death Star Revealed: ‘Star Wars’ Battle Stations Would Have Caused Galactic Financial Crisis

As the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens looms, the internet is flooded with content (both crazy and otherwise) dissecting the events of a galaxy far, far away. A new study published by an assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering takes an unusual look at the original trilogy, however, modeling the economic systems that surrounded the construction (and destruction) of the two Death Stars, as well as the collapse of the Imperial government. As it turns out, the Emperor’s twin battle stations would have had a cost far greater than most fans ever realized.

Zachary Feinstein, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis. As AV Club notes, he recently released a paper, “It’s A Trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill,” which examines the systemic risk surrounding the construction of the Death Stars. As part of his research, Feinstein calculated the price tag for each battle station (using the Manhattan Project as a real-world analogue), as well as the scope of the entire galactic economy ($4.6 sextillion).

It turns out that the first Death Star would have cost the Empire roughly $193 quintillion to build, while the second battle station would have had a much higher price tag, coming in around $419 quintillion. If you’re thinking that’s a lot to spend on two (relatively) easily defeated moon-sized warships, you’re not alone. If you were a citizen of the Empire, however, the destruction of the Death Stars would have had almost unimaginable economic consequences for you, as Yahoo News points out.

According to Feinstein, the collapse of the Imperial economy after the destruction of the second Death Star over Endor would have required a bailout on the order of 15 to 20 percent of the galactic economy (which totals out at $4.6 sextillion, remember). Without this intervention, the events of Return of the Jedi would have sent the Star Wars galaxy into an almost unthinkable economic tailspin, as it essentially experienced the effects of the Great Depression on a galactic scale overnight.

Feinstein says that without the required bailout, there would be “a non-negligible chance” that the galactic economy would contract by over 30 percent in just days. This is comparable in the real world to the total peak-to-trough losses of the Great Depression (over four years). If you were a rank-and-file Imperial citizen who had his or her life savings tied up in the Empire’s version of the stock market, the outlook for you would have been exceptionally grim indeed. Looking to the embattled Rebel Alliance for help would have been almost a non-starter as well, according to Feinstein, who asserts that the fledgling New Republic wouldn’t have had the time to act economically, summoning the “political will and financial resources” to bailout the galactic economy only after it was already too late.

After modeling the galactic economy and banking sector, Feinstein asserts that his most surprising result was the size of the economic collapse facing the Star Wars universe in the wake of the Death Stars’ destruction. For those interested in digging deeper into Feinstein’s conclusions, both the highlights of his paper and the entire thing have been posted online. The newest chapter of the Star Wars saga, meanwhile (which doesn’t include a Death Star per se), hits theaters in just under two weeks.

[Image via Serious Cat | Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0]