In a Death Star showdown, my money’s on The Lexx

I discovered a cool ‘face off’ contest the other day between sci-fi spaceships. If you had to take on a Death Star, what ship from another TV show or movie would you use?

The answers spanned the usual gamut from multiple Galactica-verse Battlestars to the Enterprise (various editions), and so forth. One of the most ingenious was the TARDIS, which as far as I’m aware isn’t armed…but I seem to recall one episode where the Doctor used it to tow the entire Earth. Anyway, he always wins through cleverness, so of course he’d find a way of beating the Death Star.

'That's no moon'. Wait - yes it is. It's Mimas, orbiting Saturn.
‘That’s no moon’. Wait – yes it is. It’s Mimas, orbiting Saturn. Public domain.

First off, let’s detail the Death Star. It’s usually cited as 140-160 km in diameter, making it a bit smaller than Saturn’s moon Mimas which, coincidentally, looks just like it. So it’s small even for a moon. But, of course, it’s a made object – the steel required for it is equal to 833 years worth of Earth’s entire industrial steel output. It also has a ‘superlaser’ that can reduce an Earth-sized planet to rubble in a few seconds.

That weapon drags in even bigger numbers. Planets are held together by gravity, and the energy required to reduce one to rubble is the same as what’s needed to accelerate the entire mass of the planet to its own escape velocity. It’s not easy even if you have the energy. If you blast it from one direction, as the Death Star does, it probably won’t blow up because the energy is being delivered asymmetrically. Worse, because every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the energy beam wouldn’t just ‘zap’ the planet, it would impart an acceleration on the Death Star that I calculate to be around 2,600 G, assuming a 3-second burst from the superlaser. Darth Vader might be able to escape being reduced to jam on the inside wall, under a pile of all the other inside walls, but nothing else would. On the other hand, the superlaser is obviously a really good space-drive…

But let’s ignore those physics for a moment. How much energy does it take to ‘do in’ an Earth-sized planet, like Alderan in the original movie (you know, Part 4). The answer works out to about what the Sun generates in a week.

A large solar flare observed on 8 September 2010 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Public Domain, NASA.

Ummm… OK, so that probably won’t work in practise either. But that aside, what could blast the Death Star? Remember, it’s big, but it’s not planet-sized.

In the thread I saw, somebody mentioned the Lexx, which nobody much remembers these days. But it’s the obvious pick. This was the ship from a bizarre German-Canadian sci-fi co-production of the mid-late 1990s. The show ran for  four seasons, featuring a giant spaceship that could also blow up planets (and, like the Death Star, without suffering pesky real-world physics issues…)  Unlike the Death Star, the Lexx was organic – a gigantic, sentient, wingless dragonfly. The winner in the showdown with the Death Star would be whoever got in the first hit, and my money would be on the Lexx because (a) the Lexx appears to be a lot more manoeuverable, and (b) the whole show was so totally bizarre on so many levels – and I mean absolutely berserk – that it’d just win, probably by accident or without the crew (a latrine cleaner, a ‘love slave’, a dead guy and a robot’s head) noticing.

An “Eagle” from Gerry Anderson’s mid-1970s “Space 1999”. A picture I made with my “Celestia” software. See what I mean by cool?

I didn’t spot a Space 1999 Eagle Transporter on the list, though that’s another likely starter. Three reasons. First is that the capabilities of the Eagle seemed to vary (conveniently) depending on plot requirements. Second, its laser cannon would make a handy job of zapping the ‘soft kill’ weak spot carefully designed into the invincible Death Star. And third, it was just cool, and what more do you need?

Of course we needn’t stop there. If the idea’s expanded to sci-fi generally, what else could take on a Death Star? There’s Larry Niven’s Ringworld meteor defence system, for a start – a device that generates solar flares and uses them to drive a laser at gamma frequencies.

I’d put even money on Stanislaw Lem’s Invincible, too – a huge space-cruiser armed with antimatter cannons. The equation for calculating the energy released by a matter-animatter reaction is E = MC2, so we’re talking relativistic energies. In the novel, the ship releases one broadside with enough energy to boil an inland sea, unleashing radiation so intense it even breaks through the ship’s own counter-shielding.

There’s also E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s ‘Lensman’ universe, which I seem to recall ended up with fleets of fleets going into combat, space-torpedoes with planet-busting warheads, and occasional ‘splats’ as stars were rammed into each other, head on. If you think about it, that style of weapon would have relativistic effects too – masses moving at velocities sufficient to bend space and time.

Representation of gravitational waves produced by two orbiting neutron stars. NASA, public domain, via Wikipedia.
Representation of gravitational waves produced by two orbiting neutron stars. NASA, public domain, via Wikipedia.

As to who might win? Well, I think the answer’s ‘whatever the script-writer wants’, but it’s a lot of fun to think about. And can you think of an imaginary spaceship yourself? My own take is something suitably large, armed with a ‘gravity torpedo’. This comprises two 30-stellar mass black holes orbiting each other in close proximity at 75 hertz. Launch this at the target (don’t ask me how). When it reaches the target, one of the black holes spirals into the other one (don’t ask me how this might be achieved on command). The resulting collision releases energies that (briefly) outshine every visible star in the known universe, and sets the very fabric of space and time ringing like a bell. The target? Er – what target?

Do you have a favourite sci-fi ship or weapon that might take on the Death Star? Or think of one that might have a go at it? Tell me in the comments.

Oh – and has anybody seen Lexx?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


3 thoughts on “In a Death Star showdown, my money’s on The Lexx

  1. I stayed up late to watch Lexx every week. I don’t remember anyone else knowing about it, but it was truly bonkers. A sort of Dadaist version of Blake’s 7 without the polystyrene sets. (And didn’t everyone want the Liberator from Blake’s 7? Must have been a decent bit of kit as well.)

    1. Blake’s 7 is still one of my favourite sci-fi shows, cheap sets and all. As I understand it, the production team had come directly from doing ‘Softly Softly’ and the Beeb had given them much the same sort of budget, except ‘Softly Softly’ could keep costs down even as a police procedural drama by exploiting exterior filming…

    2. Oh – and yes, Lexx was absolutely crazy! Definitely Dada sci-fi. But it had a surprising following – I heard a story that one of the actors in the original ‘movie-length’ mini series was filming something out here in New Zealand, six or seven years ago, and ended up in conversation with a petrol station attendant who recognised her from Lexx. So maybe the show made a wider impression than we might imagine..

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