Background

The Battle of Yavin is the epic, fictional space battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire from the end of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. This Rebel victory cemented their position as a credible threat to the Empire, drawing much-needed support for their cause.

The Empire, ideally, wanted to crush the Rebellion before it could grow powerful enough to become a significant problem for them. But they needed to find it first. To this end they planted a tracking device on the Millennium Falcon, which they knew would be headed for the Rebel's hidden base to deliver the stolen schematics for the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star. They hoped to use the Death Star to destroy the entire moon the Rebels were using, wiping them all out in one massive decapitation strike.

For its part, the Rebellion was able to quickly analyze the schematics and identify a weakness in the Death Star's defenses. A two meter exhaust port for the Death Star's power reactor lead directly to the reactor's core, and if they could drop a proton torpedo into the shaft, it would set off a chain reaction in the reactor which could destroy the entire battle station. The Empire, although aware of this weakness, did not believe that this was realistically possible to do, and proceeded with the attack.

Theater Resources
  • Galactic Empire (Commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin)
    • One Death Star battle station
      • Superlaser (capable of destroying a planet)
      • An unknown, but large, number of fixed turbolaser emplacements
      • An unknown, but large, number of TIE fighters
      • One TIE Advanced fighter (Darth Vader's personal fighter)
  • Rebel Alliance (Commanded by Jan Dodonna)
    • Pretty much the entire Rebel army. However, as the capital ships would have been useless against the Death Star, the only deployed resources were:
    • 10-20 X-Wing fighters (Red Squadron)
    • 4-10 Y-Wing fighter-bombers (Gold Squadron)
    • 1 Heavily modified Correllian freighter (Millennium Falcon)
    • 1 Jedi in training (Luke Skywalker)

The Battle of Yavin

The Arrival of the Death Star

The battle began with the arrival of the Death Star from hyperspace to the Yavin system. Fortunately for the Rebellion, the moon serving as their base happened to be on the far side of the planet Yavin IV at the time, and the Death Star would require approximately 30 minutes to orbit the planet and bring the Rebel base into sight to deploy its superlaser. Meanwhile the Rebellion's leaders quickly explained the Death Star's weakness and scrambled its fighters. Rebellion morale was low, as the feat seemed impossible. Imperial morale was high due to their unwavering belief that the massive and powerful Death Star was impervious to attack. Some would classify their attitude as cocky.

The Millennium Falcon meanwhile left the scene, as captain Han Solo was not part of, nor did he owe any allegiance to, the Rebellion. He had been rewarded by the Rebellion for services rendered to this point, and his most pressing need at the time was to pay off his debts to the gangster Jabba the Hutt. He also did not believe the Rebellion had any serious chance of victory.

The original battle plan was to have the X-Wing fighters escort the slower Y-Wing fighter-bombers to the massive trench which encircled the Death Star, destroying turbolaser emplacements and engaging any TIE fighters to clear a path for the Y-Wings to attempt the bombing run on the exhaust port. The Empire was initially not concerned about this attempt and thought their turbolasers would be sufficient to repel the attack.

It quickly became apparent to the Imperial forces however that the turbolaser emplacements were not accurate or nimble enough to hit the fast-moving fighters, having been designed to defend against capital ships because fighters were not originally perceived to be a threat to the station. The first ten minutes of the battle saw only one X-Wing fighter shot down by the fixed weapons. Instead they shut down the turbolasers to launch the TIE fighters and engage the Rebels in ship-to-ship dogfights.

10 minutes

While the X-Wings engaged the TIE fighters, three Y-Wings entered the trench to begin the bombing run. The Imperials noticed this and launched three more TIE fighters — Darth Vader's TIE Advanced with two wingmen — to intercept. The result was a spectacular failure for the Rebels. The already sluggish Y-Wings were trapped by the canyon-like walls of the Death Star Trench and all three were shot down within thirty seconds when the more agile TIE fighters entered the trench behind them. Darth Vader made all three kills.

At this point, Grand Moff Tarkin became firmly assured of the inevitability of Imperial victory. When approached by a subordinate who identified the Rebel strategy, he went on record saying "Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances."

27 Minutes

With three minutes left until the Death Star had orbited the planet sufficiently to bring the moon base into sight, three X-Wing fighters, lead by Wedge Antilles, attempted to make the bombing run. Although the X-Wings held a smaller payload and a less advanced targeting system than the Y-Wings, the Y-Wings had proven too vulnerable. Only one proton torpedo was strictly necessary, and it was possible the more nimble X-Wings could evade the TIE fighters long enough to bring the target into range.

Two X-Wings were shot down by Darth Vader before the target was in sight, but Antilles was able to launch two proton torpedoes at the exhaust port. Unfortunately, there was too much sensor interference from the Death Star's electronic countermeasures for the targeting computers to handle, and the torpedoes impacted on the surface of the massive station doing only superficial damage.

With time quickly running out and only three X-Wing fighters and one Y-Wing left (the rest having been destroyed by dogfighting TIE fighters), Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles attempted one final bombing run on the Death Star's exhaust port, leaving Biggs Darklighter outside the trench to spot for TIE fighters. Antilles was forced to abort the run after suffering minor damage from Darth Vader's fighter. The decision was made to let Antilles go since the threat to the station was the fighter in the trench. Darklighter replaced Antilles as Skywalker's wingman, but was quickly shot down. In all, Darth Vader had six confirmed kills, significantly more than anyone else in the battle.

Luke Skywalker had joined the rebellion just before the battle, having come along with the Millennium Falcon to deliver the Death Star Schematics. Although an accomplished pilot, this was his first military mission and he was inexperienced with the X-Wing fighter. Electronic countermeasures were jamming his targeting computer, he was trying to hit a very small target, and he had three TIE fighters on his 6 o'clock position with maneuverability restricted by the walls of the trench.

Skywalker had two advantages though. First, he had just begun his training as a Jedi knight, giving him the ability to target the exhaust port by channeling The Force rather than relying on the jammed targeting computer. Second, the Millennium Falcon just happened to show up at this critical moment.

Han Solo, overcome with guilt over abandoning his new friends, returned to the Yavin system just in time to engage the three TIE fighters on Skywalker's tail. Flying in undetected against the sun, he hit one, and with the close wing formation imposed by the confines of the trench the other two TIE fighters collided. The two basic fighters were destroyed, but Darth Vader's TIE Advanced was structurally stronger and escaped with heavy damage.

30 minutes

Now free to worry only about the target in front of him, Skywalker shut off his targeting computer, causing not a small amount of confusion and worry in the command center, which was now in sight of the Death Star's superlaser. As the superlaser was commencing primary ignition, Skywalker fired two proton torpedoes and watched them enter the exhaust port. The remaining two X-Wings, one Y-Wing, and the Millennium Falcon fled the Death Star as the proton torpedoes made their way down the shaft to the reactor. Just before it was ready to fire, the Death Star exploded in a massive plasma cloud as a result of the proton torpedoes setting off a chain reaction in its reactor. The only survivor was Darth Vader, who escaped undetected in his damaged Tie Advanced. Rebel casualties were all fighters but two X-Wings, one Y-Wing, and the Millennium Flacon, but all personnel still stationed on the moon base were saved.

What went wrong?

Given the enormous disparity in resources between the Galactic Empire and the fledgeling Rebel Alliance, the Battle of Yavin should have been an easy and decisive victory for the Empire. Several factors contributed to their defeat.

  1. Overconfidence.
    Grand Moff Tarkin was contemptuous of the Rebel forces and did not believe they were a credible threat to the station, even though they had the complete schematics for the Death Star's design and had discovered its weakness. The exhaust port weakness was all but impossible to exploit even under normal circumstances, and the ray-shielding and electronic countermeasures should have ensured that it was completely impossible. As a result, the Death Star did not bring along any Star Destroyer escorts, and launched only a small percentage of TIE fighters from what must have been an enormous supply. Very likely, the Empire thought that they could destroy the Rebel Base without sustaining any casualties at all by using only the "invincible" Death Star.

  2. The Force.
    The Jedi knights were all but extinct at the time of the Battle of Yavin. Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi were the only individuals left in the galaxy known to be able to channel The Force and perform feats normally thought to be impossible. Since the first two were on the Imperial side, Yoda was in hiding, and Kenobi was killed by Darth Vader shortly before the battle, Luke Skywalker was an unknown resource for the Rebellion.

  3. No preparations made to deal with reinforcements.
    Even considering the Empire's overconfidence and the wild card represented by Luke Skywalker, the battle still would have been lost had it not been for the unbelievably timely return of the Millennium Falcon. Had Han Solo arrived any earlier, he would have simply joined the battle and had little impact on the outcome (a Correllian freighter being too large to enter the Death Star trench). Had he arrived even seconds later, Luke Skywalker would almost certainly have been shot down by Darth Vader before launching the fateful torpedoes. Even though such an incredibly lucky feat of timing could not possibly have been accounted for, it revealed a complete lack of foresight on the part of the Empire for dealing with possible reinforcements. This was likely because they believed all Rebel forces were at their base at the time.

  4. Fortunate positioning on the far side of Yavin IV.
    The battle of Yavin would have been over before the Rebellion could have even scrambled their fighters had their moon base not been on the far side of the planet Yavin IV from the Death Star's hyperspace approach. If the moon was on the near side, the Death Star would have targeted and destroyed it very quickly, just as fast as it could get a sensor lock and charge the superlaser. Instead, the Rebellion had thirty minutes to scramble fighters and make three bombing runs on the exhaust port while the Death Star orbited Yavin IV.

Aftermath

During Skywalker's trench run, Darth Vader sensed the young Jedi's power. Vader subsequently made it his personal mission to track down this Rebel and turn him to the Dark Side of The Force.

The Battle of Yavin was a critical victory for the Rebel Alliance. The Galactic Empire lost their most powerful weapon, and the time and resources involved in its construction, and the enormous number of personnel and upper-echelon leadership gathered there. The Rebel Alliance demonstrated that they were a credible threat to the Empire. The Rebel base, now discovered, was moved to Hoth. The Empire devoted more time and resources into tracking down and destroying the Rebellion, going so far as to employ independent bounty hunter help.

The Battle of Yavin convinced several other systems that the corrupt and ubiquitous Empire was not all-powerful and could in fact be defeated. The Rebellion gained a number of powerful allies as a direct result of this victory, eventually gathering a force large enough to topple the Imperial government about six years later at the Battle of Endor.

Disclaimer
This analysis of the Battle of Yavin does not take into account any of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, only the movies.

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