Star Wars ISD – a good design, or not so hot?

posted in: Science fiction | 12

Oh, man. The majestic Imperial Star Destroyer.  I’ve said before it was one of the reasons I fell in love with Star Wars. Here it is in all its glory. Bristling with weapons, a space-going aircraft carrier cum assault ship. According to Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, the 1.6km long ship carried 9,700 soldiers, 72 TIE fighters, 20 AT-ATs, 30 AT-STs and an assortment of barges, gunboats, transports, shuttles and Skipray blastboats. Look at it, all angles and details, with its huge bridge (complete with picture window) and shield generation domes. Be still my beating heart. I built the plastic model, of course, and added lots of spiky details. It was/is a thing of beauty, and a joy forever.

And yet, that’s not what the battle cruisers in my novels look like. Why is this so?

Not, as you might imagine, the copyright issue. Nor is it anything to do with streamlining. In space, streamlining is not an issue. (In fact, the space battles in the Star Wars movies were giggled at by most of us who know a little about space. Those fighters maneuvered as they would in atmosphere, diving and curving like World War I Sopwith Camels.) Getting back to the capital ships, provided they stayed out of a planet’s atmosphere, they could be any shape the mind can conceive. Let’s face, it that pointy bow is unnecessary, even if it looks cool. Same with the angled deck surfaces.

My reservations about the design are more about that bridge structure. Would you really put all your commanders in such an obvious place? I know it’s based on a sea-going ships’ superstructure but I think even in the world’s navies, the actual command centre is well-protected, within the ship. That great T-bone up there is an obvious target. Remember when, in The Empire Strikes Back, an asteroid collides with the bridge of one ISD and takes out the ship? Oops. And then the bridge of the great SSD Executor is hit by a rebel fighter in Return of the Jedi. Double Oops. What’s more, those shield generators must have a pretty mighty job to effectively blanket the whole ship from that position. Clearly, from the previous, with a certain lack of success.

So my ships aren’t pretty. They’re a bunch of rectangles stuck on top of each. The largest and lowest contains the hangars, the hydroponics, the artificial gravity generators, and down the far end, the engine rooms. The level above contains the troop accommodation and training areas, kitchens, workshops and the like, and the highest contains the bridge (although well down the decks) and Fleet accommodation. It’s a big ship, more like 5km long, plenty big enough to support a task force. And of course, it would usually have escorts to protect it. Although it carries quite a bit of its own protection in the hangars and the weapons (missiles and energy weapons) deployed around the decks. The shield generators are on the lowest level and carry charge to a network of emission sites over the hull.The ships have two drive systems, one for shift space when they travel enormous distances through different dimensions, and another for travel in normal space. Like Star Wars ships, they can make a jump within a system, arriving fairly close to a planet. The drives themselves use controlled nuclear fusion. Don’t ask me how. Just look at a star. We know it works.

So… would any of you care to share your observations or feelings about Lucasfilm’s creations? Or wax lyrical about your own?

12 Responses

  1. Allan Douglas (@AllanDouglasDgn)

    I like the ISD because of the visual impact, and I like the wedge shape because it allows side mounted weapons and sensors to be aimed out the side or forward, requiring fewer batteries for the heavier weapons. Also the angled plating presented from the front and side may help to deflect inbound shots, where as something shaped like a brick would offer maximum target surface, As you say, aerodynamics don’t come into play at all. I COMPLETELY agree (and always have) that the T-Bone bridge is just the height of egocentric folly.

    I tend to think that the “best” hull shape for a deep space vessel is the sphere: it offers maximum structural integrity, internal volume, is easy to steer, and can be spun to simulate gravity in the outer areas (living quarters, mess hall, rec room, gym, etc) while core functions (command, weapons control, communications, scanner control, etc) would be inboard where security is more important than gravity. Or put the deck perpendicular to the engines (if low thrust, always on engines are used) and let the thrust from acceleration provide “gravity” (as I’ve done with the Amerigo Vespucci in New Eden).

    Or… you can just toss in AG deck plating and, “Because I say so.” 😉

  2. Paul Trembling

    With a starship as with anything else, form follows function. Except that in Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other Star – TV / Films, they design something that looks cool and then invent reasons for them looking that way (if they can!). Good SF, though, has some sort of logical reason for starships to look they way they do. I particularly liked the way David Weber worked it out in his ‘Honor Harrington’ series. The design was dictated by the technology, and in turn influenced battle tactics.

    The ptorix ships in your ‘Iron Admiral’ books, Greta, were good, especially in the way that ptorix art / writing were included, showing that design also derives from culture. I would have liked more description on the human ships, though. I couldn’t properly visualise them.

    A lot of SF I’ve read seems to default to spherical spaceships. Logical, perhaps, but a bit boring!

    • Greta van der Rol

      Somebody else said they couldn’t visualise the Human ships. I’ll bear that in mind next time. Because I even drew the battle cruiser out, so I know exactly what it looks like. I suspect the description got lost in one of the endless edits. Thanks for commenting.

  3. pippajay

    I would imagine a future human society might aim for spaceships on familiar lines simply out of habit or tradition, for a sense of familiarity. But I’m sure at some point someone would probably go for a radical new design just because they can. I liked the Shadow ships out of Babylon Five BECAUSE they looked so alien, and I loved the Liberator from Blake’s Seven, although that still had the central wedge shaped feature. Going back to Star Wars, the B-Wing fighters weren’t a conventional shape.

    • Greta van der Rol

      Tradition might play a part, but I think economics would be well into the mix, which is why the ISS looks the way it does. Some of the fancy bits right now would be a total indulgence. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. juliabarrett

    I actually prefer a doughnut shaped ship – one that rotates and generates its own gravity for long voyages. It would be pretty unpleasant and unhealthy to be without gravity for a prolonged period of time.

  5. ralfast

    The wedge shape does have has several advantages: focuses the bulk of the firepower on a single point (down the “nose”), presents a small target for returning fire (ships would have to maneuver to attack either the top or bottom), and it protects the engines. As for the bridge, command center, it should be in the center of the ship, or deepest part of the structure protected by armor and the ship’s structure. That is how modern ships operate. The “bridge” would only be used for docking maneuvers and the like, but be of secondary importance.

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