Sunday, December 05, 2004

Why Private Citizens Wouldn't Have Star Destroyers

In comics and books the Star Wars universe has continued on past the end of Return of the Jedi. I don't think much of what they have done with it, though, for a number of reasons. One of them is that, in the small amount of reading I have done, a lot of the plotlines seem to revolve around former Imperial officers, pirates, and shady businessment running around in Imperial capital starships like Star Destroyers.

This just doesn't make a damned bit of sense. It isn't just prohibitively expensive for anyone but the government to design and build military materiel like fighter jets, naval vessels, and, in Star Wars, Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, but it is also prohibitively expensive to operate and maintain even once built.

Think about it. A Star Destroyer is like a mile long. Just the cost in fuel to move such a massive structure through both sublight space and hyperspace would be awesome. Then, there is the cost of manning the ship. It takes over 1000 people to crew such a ship, and many of those won't come cheap, as the kinds of engineers, navigators/astrogators, pilots, technicians, etc. are going to be skilled people in demand. But, even moreso, military equipment, which is generally at the cutting edge of current technology, is very, very delicate and temperamental.

For instance, B-1 bombers need 24-hours for crews to get them ready to fly and something like a week of refitting between missions. Though things are getting better, fighter planes generally need multiple hours of maintenance for every flight hour, not only requiring a lot of engineer/technician time, but a lot of extremely expensive parts to replace high-performance parts that rapidly wear out. Naval ships spend a lot of time in port for maintenance and have to get overhauled every few years.

All this stuff costs a lot. Without proper maintenance, a ship like a Star Destroyer, with lots of high-performance systems like its drive systems (after all, Star Destroyers have engines that can propel its huge mass faster than the Millenium Falcon), all those weapons mounts with lots of expendable parts that need constant resupply, the massive life support systems to keep everyone alive on such a large vessel, etc., etc., would break down and be unserviceable in short order, likely within a year.

There's a reason Al-Qaeda, HAMAS, Chechen rebels, the IRA, and other terrorist groups don't have F-16s and Soviet tanks. It's not that they can't get their hands on them. And it's not that some of those groups couldn't afford to purchase military materiel on the black market. But the difficulty and cost of paying technicians to keep the stuff working and finding necessary parts for maintaining the materiel is prohibitive.

So, I just don't see pirates running around in a fully-armed Star Destroyer. You'd have to hit massively rich targets every day just in order to pay for the upkeep on the ship, let alone making any kind of profit. It just wouldn't work.

And I don't think I'm nitpicking here. Certainly, the Star Wars universe doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. But the idea of private citizens running around in Star Destroyers really makes the awesome power of the Empire seem less than it should. The whole point of the Empire building these massively large, overgunned, conspicuously extravagant vessels like Star Destroyers, Super Star Destroyers, and Death Stars, for power projection: Only the Empire can afford to build, operate, and maintain ships like that, so that you see the power, both militarily and economically, of the Empire when a Star Destroyer parks over your planet. If other groups, individuals, and planets could afford to operate a similarly-sized and capable ship, then the Empire just wouldn't be as grand and awesomely powerful as they appear.

But the best the Rebels, who, in A New Hope are called, "too well-equipped," can muster is a handful of Calamari cruisers to fight at Endor against a small segment of the Imperial fleet. If the Rebel Alliance, with entire planets like Alderaan, Sullust, and Mon Calamari supporting it, can't field ships equal to Star Destroyers, I just can't see private individuals doing it.

That's one of the reasons I can't buy the comics and novels set after Return of the Jedi. The Star Wars universe has enough stuff in it that doesn't make sense already that having private individuals running around in Star Destroyers just pushes my suspension of disbelief beyond its limit.


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