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Price of the Death Star: Just How Much Did That Explosion Cost?

When disasters strike around the world, one of the most common facts news outlets report is the extent of the damage done in dollars.  For instance:

  • The estimated physical damage done to New York City during the frightening terror attacks on the World Trade Center was around $55 billion.
  • Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005 dealing somewhere between $108 billion and $150 billion worth of damage, depending on your source.
  • The tragic tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 is said to have done around $300 billion dollars in damage.

That practice has also been taken up by diehard fans who seek to estimate the devastation wrought upon our favorite fictional worlds, as well.  In 2013, consulted Watson Technical Company to estimate the damage done to Metropolis during Superman and General Zod’s climactic battle in Man of Steel.  The verdict:  Around $750 billion!

And just this month, Zachary Feinstein, an Assistant Professor with the Electrical and Systems Engineering Department at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, did the same (and more) with the destruction of both Death Stars in the Star Wars cinematic universe.

Price of the Death Star: By the Numbers

Feinstein uses some mathematical magic – namely via reasonable assumptions, comparisons, and approximations – to establish that:

1.  The first Death Star cost the Empire approximately $193 quintillion.  (Since a quintillion is not tumblr_mk2tfq2PYR1s5jjtzo1_400a number you see regularly and to save you a Google search, it is a 1 followed by 18 zeros = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000).  Also, the steel alone for this first – and the smaller of the two – Death Stars would cost around $852 quadrillion (a 1 followed by 15 zeros = 1,000,000,000,000,000) which Centives reports is approximately 13,000 times the whole world’s GDP in 2012.

2.  The second Death Star, being significantly larger (900km in diameter versus the 160km of the first according to Wookieepedia) cost significantly more; namely $419 quintillion.

3.  The Gross Galactic Product, via a comparison of the Death Star to the Manhattan Project, is approximately $4.6 sextillion per year. (That is a 1 followed by 21 zeros = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000)

He then gets in to some economics that, quite frankly, are more complex than I ever received schooling for to establish that a generous estimation of the Empire’s fiscal responsibility leaves them saddled with around $515.5 quintillion in outstanding debt after the dissolution of the government with Palpatine’s death and the destruction of both weapons. That is roughly 84% of the total costs of both weapons (Feinstein graciously assumes that the Empire paid 50% of the first one off, but none of the second by the time of Palpatine’s demise).

Then, predicting and assuming factors like GGP growth, asset depreciation after a terrorist attack (the Rebels’ actions against the Empire), and even deposit insurance (which would have to be held by the Rebels), Feinstein states that “the Rebel Alliance would need to prepare a bailout of at least 15%, and likely at least 20%, of GGP in order to mitigate the systemic risks and the sudden and catastrophic economic collapse. Without such funds at the ready,” concludes Feinstein, “it is likely the Galactic economy would enter an economic depression of astronomical proportions.”

Price of the Death Star: Final Thoughts

Seeing the Death Stars blow up is one thing; ascertaining the impact of said explosions is a whole giphy-4‘nother level of nerdy appreciation.  Its not as if the Empire just went, “Aw…That stung a bit, but we’ll get ’em next time!

There are layers to our favorite universes.  The happenings in those universes have repercussions in those universes.  The Empire has cabinets, committees, and panels deliberating over dollars, campaigns, and economics just as we do.

They just don’t make for the most thrilling cinema so they usually (looking at you, Phantom Menace!) remain nothing more than assumed in the movies.  But these numbers grant us scale, and scale, perspective.

Now when I watch the Death Stars explode, I won’t think, “Well there goes the Empire’s greatest weapon” (though Vader eerily cautioned that the Force is far more powerful when he said, “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”).  Hereon out I’ll think, “Well there goes the galaxy.”  For as Feinstein proved in his paper:  There is simply no avoiding cataclysmic financial depression after the second Death Star goes boom.

You can read Feinstein’s paper in its entirety (only 10 pages including reference citations) here.

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