The Long History of How the Rebels Originally Stole the Death Star Plans

The Long History of How the Rebels Originally Stole the Death Star Plans

In current Star Wars canon, the plot to steal the Death Star’s technical plans is incredibly straight forward: it’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the tale of Galen Erso’s sacrifice and the ragtag team that swooped down to Scarif and gave their lives to ensure that data fell into Rebel hands. But in the expanded universe, one of Star Wars’ most legendary games set the stage for a much larger, more complicated process.

Dark Forces, released in 1995—and re-released this week with a new remaster across PC and consoles—was one of the first slices of Star Wars gaming, alongside the flight sim X-Wing a couple years prior, to let gamers live out an incredible dream: as Kyle Katarn, be the hero to swipe the Death Star plans from under the Empire’s nose, and set the stage for the events to come in A New Hope. The problem is, in the years since, “steal the Death Star plans!” became just as buzzy a video game fantasy as “play the battle of Hoth!” or “become a Jedi!”—and as the Expanded Universe kept, well, expanding, version after version of the plot to steal the Death Star plans kept getting told, and needed to all interconnect in some logical way.

The result was Operation Skyhook: after learning of the existence of the Death Star while it was still under construction, Alliance leadership tasked a series of raids and intelligence operations designed to acquire information, and ultimately liberate technical data, relating to the battlestation’s superstructure, and any indicators of weakness that could be exploited. Playing out across over a decade of video games, comics, and books—and of course culminating in the events of A New Hope—Skyhook was the scattered story of how the Alliance won its first key victory against the Galactic Empire.

The Secret History of the Ultimate Weapon

Image: Lucasfilm

The Death Star didn’t hatch entirely from the mind of Palpatine; a planet-sized superweapon had been theorized for years even before the the climax of the Clone War and the establishment of the Galactic Empire gave the now-Emperor the means and desire to construct such a weapon. Early ideas for a planetary battle station were developed by Raith Sienar, a scion of Santhe/Sienar Technologies. After discovering Sienar’s design plans for an “Expeditionary Battle Planetoid,” Wilhulff Tarkin—a Republic military official and close confidant of now-Chancellor Palpatine in the wake of Valorum’s ousting—presented the plans to the Chancellor, who, in his dual identity as Palpatine and Sidious, began quietly enacting plans to iterate on the design and set the stage for its eventual construction.

It was Palpatine’s separatist allies in the Geonosians who would ultimately refine Sienar’s plans into a feasible superweapon, with their battle plans secured by Count Dooku on Geonosis during the outbreak of the Clone War, who returned the plans to his master on Coruscant. As the Clone Wars came to an end three years later—and the Republic gave way to Palpatine’s Empire—the plans for the Death Star were brought out of Palpatine’s personal veil of secrecy and enacted as one of the first great works of the new regime. Constructed in shadow, the need to avoid potential insurgent activity from discovering the weapon prior to its completion, the plans were split up into various files and distributed across Imperial research stations and facilities across the galaxy, in the hopes that a single breach would uncover Palpatine’s plans.

Capture and Discovery

Image: Lucasfilm Games

The Death Star was constructed over the course of the next few decades and kept under wraps—until a moment of hubris set the stage for Operation Skyhook to begin. The signing of the Corellian Treaty in 2BBY officially, formally established the Alliance to Restore the Republic underneath Senators Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and Garm Bel Iblis, themselves leaders of multiple resistance groups working against the the Empire.

Through the deception of Palpatine and his apprentice, Darth Vader, the meeting was interrupted by Vader, and the captured senators—alongside the rebellious former dark acolyte trained by Vader, Galen Marek—were brought to see the still-under-construction Death Star in all its glory before their execution. Marek, turning to the light side, sacrificed himself to buy the senators time to escape the facility, and in his memory the newly formed Rebellion established its first major operation in open war with the Empire: find the technical plans of the Death Star and analyze them for a weakness so that it could be destroyed.

First Covered In: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)

Phase 1: Raid on Corulag

Image: Lucasfilm Games

After Captain Raymus Antilles, acting on Bail Organa’s behalf, recruited the smuggler Han Solo to plant tracking devices and EMPs on a ship bound to an Imperial research facility in orbit over the planet Corulag, a Rebel raid recovered data to “confirm” the existence of the battle station Alliance Command had been captured on, as well as the scope of its destructive capability. Also recovered during the raid was the personal slave of now-Grand Moff Tarkin, recruited to the Rebel cause: a young Mon Calamari named Gial Ackbar.

First Covered In: Star Wars: Empire at War (2006)

Phase 2: Death Star Rebellion

Image: Lucasfilm Games

Meanwhile, during construction aboard the Death Star itself, prisoners staged a violent uprising against Imperial forces stationed there. In the chaos of the rioting, the first technical data about the Death Star recovered was beamed to a Rebel cell operating on the planetoid Polis Massa—before Vader’s personal Stormtrooper legion, the 501st, quelled the riots. Formerly stationed aboard the battle station, Vader put the 501st to work hunting down the now-missing plans.

First Covered In: Star Wars Battlefront II (2005)

Phase 3: Transfer to the Tantive IV

Image: Lucasfilm Games

Rebel listening outposts stationed in the Cron Drift recovered further technical data about the Death Star, leading to Rebel operative Biggs Darklighter personally escorting the information from there to the Mon Calamari cruiser Independence, which then transferred the data to Organa’s personal ship, the corvette Tantive IV. Defended by the X-Wings of Red Squadron and several blockade runners acting as decoys, the transfer was completed and the Tantive IV fled to a base on the planet Toprawa.

First Covered In: Star Wars: X-Wing (1993)

Phase 4: Dark Forces Rising

Image: Lucasfilm Games

The combination of the data from Polis Massa and the datastolen in the Cron Drift laid the foundations for the bulk of the Rebel Alliance’s knowledge of the Death Star’s layout, but a vital piece of the puzzle remained missing: layouts of the station’s point defense systems. After tracking down a potential set of schematics to the planet Danuta, Mon Mothma hired the mercenaries Kyle Katarn and Rianna Saren to recover the plans held there. Both successfully completed their missions and beamed the data to the Rebel operatives on Toprawa.

First Covered In: Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995), Star Wars: Lethal Alliance (2006)

Phase 5: The Battle of Toprawa

Image: Dark Horse Comics

The Rebel spies based on Toprawa, now in possession of almost all of the Rebellion’s knowledge of the Death Star, launched a raid on Imperial research facilities there to recover the final pieces of technical data required—including potential weaknesses in the superstructure’s design. The raid and subsequent capture of the data lead to finally combining the gathered information into a complete technical schematic of the Death Star held by Leia Organa aboard the Tantive IV which escaped the blockade enacted on the world in response to the Rebel attack.

In the Expanded Universe continuity, it was this, not the Battle of Scarif, that was the “first victory” mentioned in A New Hope’s opening crawl.

First Covered In: Jedi Dawn (1993)

Phase 6: The Last Stand of Polis Massa

Image: Lucasfilm Games

Concurrently, the 501st finally tracked the initial leak of Death Star data stolen during the prisoner uprising on the station to Polis Massa, where they encountered and eliminated a Rebel cell—but not before discovering the signal from the cell’s transmission of the data to the Tantive IV, tracking the stolen plans to the ship.

First Covered In: Star Wars Battlefront II (2005)

Phase 7: Siege of the Tantive IV

Image: Lucasfilm

Eager to save face after the embarrassment the 501st faced during the prison uprising, Vader took his forces in pursuit of the ship, which attempted to resist capture under Leia Organa’s senatorial immunity before succumbing to an Imperial boarding action. With the majority of the crew killed during combat or captured by Vader’s forces in the aftermath, Senator Organa was rendered into Imperial custody—but the stolen plans were nowhere to be found in the Tantive IV’s databanks. Little did the Empire know that an escape pod containing two droids was hurtling down to the nearby desert world of Tatooine with the data in one of their memory banks, and… well, you know the rest of it from here, don’t you?

First Covered In: Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

Many Bothans Died, Anyway

Image: Lucasfilm Games

Mon Mothma’s utterance of the phase “Many Bothans died to bring you this information” in Return of the Jedi was in reference to the technical readouts of the second Death Star in construction above Endor, not the first iteration of the battle station. That small detail, however, did not stop the EU from slaughtering a bunch of Bothans for the first time round anyway.

Sometime before the Polis Massa cell recovered the technical data stolen during the Death Star uprising, a defecting Imperial Moff, Kalast, worked with the Bothan Spynet to crack a series of Imperial command codes related to the Death Star’s systems and transmit them to the alliance. A furious Palpatine traveled to the Bothan homeworld, Bothawui, to punish its people for the Spynet’s complicity, personally slaughtering untold numbers of Bothans alongside his personal guard. A surviving Bothan begged for their life by revealing the Tantive IV as the location of the stolen codes and plans were being sent to, leading to Vader’s chase.

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