The Death Star would take over 800,000 years and $852 quadrillion to build
Two weekends ago, George Lucas joined the Disney-led greed parade by re-releasing “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace” reformatted in 3D. However unlike “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” his film will never be confused with being a classic. Most “Star Wars” fans loathe Lucas for ruining his original intergalactic trilogy with prequels filled by bad CGI and Jar Jar Binks. So his decision to re-issue the films that abandoned his fiercely loyal fanbase hasn’t helped regain their trust — neither has his recent negative comments about fanboys.
Nevertheless the film has made over $30 million since its release, overtaking “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” as the eleventh highest grossing film of all time. The recent lazy Hollywood craze of unnecessary 3D re-releases is one of the many examples of the ever-growing list of problems with the film industry. It also proves that even a billionaire can never have enough money.
George Lucas easily has enough cash to satisfy all his earthly needs, but if the calculations of Lehigh University economics students are correct, Lucas is far, far away from having enough money to build his very own Death Star.
We began by looking at how big the Death Star is. The first one is reported to be 140km in diameter and it sure looks like it’s made of steel. But how much steel? We decided to model the Death Star as having a similar density in steel as a modern warship. After all, they’re both essentially floating weapons platforms so that seems reasonable.
Scaling up to the Death Star, this is about 1.08×1015 tonnes of steel. 1 with fifteen zeros.
Which seems like a colossal mass but we’ve calculated that from the iron in the earth, you could make just over 2 billion Death Stars. You see the Earth’s crust may have a limited amount of iron, but the core is mostly our favourite metal and is both very big and very dense, and it’s from here that most of our death-star iron would come.
But, before you go off to start building your apocalyptic weapon, do bear in mind two things. Firstly, the two billion death stars is mostly from the Earth’s core which we would all really rather you didn’t remove. And secondly, at today’s rate of steel production (1.3 billion tonnes annually), it would take 833,315 years to produce enough steel to begin work. So once someone notices what you’re up to, you have to fend them off for 800 millennia before you have a chance to fight back. In context, it takes under an hour to get the steel for HMS Illustrious.
Oh, and the cost of the steel alone? At 2012 prices, about $852,000,000,000,000,000. Or roughly 13,000 times the world’s GDP.
Now, you may be wondering where I’m going with all of this. Why would George Lucas want to build his own Death Star? He seems like a happy enough guy, why would he want the power to destroy entire planets? I am not sure. But after ruining the most beloved science fiction adventure of all time with the banal Episodes 1-3, even the most casual “Star Wars” fan should realize that Lucas has made a habit creating swift, all-consuming disasters. We are just lucky this one is out of his price range.