When you were a kid, did you ever pretend to be Luke Skywalker as he takes on the Death Star in A New Hope? With R2-D2 as your faithful companion, you zoom down the battle station’s trench in your X-wing, dodging laser fire as you accelerate towards the thermal exhaust port. You turn off your targeting computer, close your eyes, and pull the trigger.
In 1987, fans could finally live that dream when Star Tours first opened its doors at Disneyland California. Created with the involvement of George Lucas himself, it was an experience unlike any other at the time, casting ride-goers as passengers aboard Star Tours Flight 45 (ST-45) shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi. Your captain, the perky droid pilot RX-24, or Captain Rex (no, not that Captain Rex). It’s his first flight, so cut him some slack, alright (wait, does he have a tag that says “Remove Before Flight”?!). His navigator, the faithful astromech droid R2-D2. However, your routine flight to Endor immediately takes a turn for the worse. Following a bumpy departure from Tomorrowland Starport, your StarSpeeder 3000 makes the jump to hyperspace only to go careening past the forest moon and right into a swarm of comets! Rex somehow manages to get through the comet storm in one piece, only for your ship to get snatched in the tractor beam of an Imperial Star Destroyer!
Lucky for you, Red Squadron comes to your rescue and ST-45 joins the X-wings in their attack on a… third Death Star? Putting your questions aside for the moment, you watch as your StarSpeeder dives towards the surface of the Imperial battle station. The ship levels off, dodging turbolaser towers and scaffolding as Rex follows Red Leader into the Death Star’s trench, exclaiming “I’ve always wanted to do this!”. Your captain blasts oncoming TIE fighters as the lone X-wing closes on the thermal exhaust port, and, unlike his predecessor at Yavin, Red Leader’s proton torpedoes go in. As the station begins shaking itself apart, Rex pulls up and jumps back into the safety of hyperspace just as yet another Death Star is destroyed by the Rebel Alliance. After one last near-collision after returning to the relative safety of Tomorrowland Starport, your wild ride is over.
Still, a question lingers; where did that Death Star come from? You aren’t going to find answers in the ride, or even in the queue. The Imagineers behind Star Tours knew the inclusion of another Death Star might some raise questions, but Disney and Lucasfilm knew that the iconic battle station had to be included in the ride. A brief in-universe explanation would be offered in an article written on the development of Star Tours by Imagineers Bruce Gordon, David Mumford, and Chris Tietz for Starlog magazine: “The Rebel Alliance has finally triumphed over the evil Empire. The Star Wars are now over, for the most part, although rumors persist about another Death Star orbiting far out in the galaxies.” Interestingly, the idea of a third Death Star predated the ride, however, as a pair of incomplete Death Stars were featured in earlier drafts of Return of the Jedi. However, the exact in-universe origins of this enigmatic third Death Star wouldn’t be elaborated on until decades after the ride opened.
In late 2013, Abel G. Peña and Daniel Wallace’s “The Imperial Warlords: Despoilers of an Empire” articles finally shed light on this third Death Star’s history: the mysterious battle station was, in fact, not a battle station at all! In the wake of the Battle of Endor, a pair of incomplete habitation spheres (spherical, self-contained colony ships) undergoing construction over Coruscant were seized by the warlord Ennix Devian, supreme commander of an Imperial remnant known as the Kaarenth Dissension. Routed to opposite ends of the galaxy, one of these hyperspace-capable worldcrafts was converted into a repair facility and shipyard hub to service Dissension ships hidden in the Spawn Nebula. The other was sent to the Moddell sector, where it would serve a more sinister purpose.
Unfinished worldcrafts already bore a striking resemblance to the Empire’s dreaded Death Star battle stations, and Devian decided to further the resemblance, converting the second habitation sphere into a mock “Death Star III” (as Leland Chee once called it on his now-defunct Keeper of the Holocron’s Blog). Perhaps ironically, the Empire had once claimed that the habitations spheres being build over the Imperial capital where “designed and assembled strictly for peacetime purposes”. In a sophisticated feint, this pseudo-battle station was sent to attack the temporary Alliance of Free Planets (the former Rebel Alliance) capital on the Forest Moon of Endor. With a little help from ST-45, the X-wings of Red Squadron destroyed this so-called third Death Star with a direct hit to its unprotected thermal exhaust port, a fatal flaw it shared with the first Death Star.
However, this was all part of a costly diversion on Devian’s part, one that allowed Dissention forces to stealthily hijack countless warships from neighboring Alliance shipyards while the threat of a purported third Death Star loomed over Endor. Nevertheless, much of this new fleet was consumed by the fiery demise of the Spawn Nebula worldcraft, courtesy of a New Republic infiltration team.
Though it remained an enigma for over twenty years, oftentimes treated as entirely non-canon by the community, the third Death Star has had a fascinating history both within and without the Star Wars universe. Beginning as the grand finale to an epic ride experience added without much concern for continuity, it was lovingly integrated back into the Expanded Universe (now Star Wars Legends), its new history tying into works like The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, Crimson Empire III, Star Wars Adventure Journal, and more.