Part: One Two Three Four Five
A. The First Death Star
In the image sequence above, several things can be seen. First, the Death Star's lower half seems to explode (or at least show evidence of the explosion) first. The first ring appears two frames after this explosion becomes apparent, and a wisp of a trailing ring is also present. It is just barely visible in the final shot above. It takes the first ring 93 frames to reach the left side middle of the screen. Working backward and assuming the same speed and point of origin (neither of which are firm assumptions), the ring should be present some nine frames before the third-to-last shot above, and in fact, that frame is approximately the first in which we can see anything which might be related to the ring.
Intriguingly, the most distant portion of the main ring seems to begin an evaporation of its trailing edge concurrent to or shortly after the trailing ring becomes visible, and the closest part of the main ring visibly weakens. By the final frame above, the distant part of the main ring is not visible at all, and only a wisp of the closest portion remains. (Unfortunately, we can't see if the leading edge closest to us has weakened further or dissipated altogether, but it is likely given the symmetry of the rings.)
In any case, the plane of the rings would seem to be unrelated to any known feature of the Death Star.
One thing cannot be seen . . . as the script puts it: "Several small flashes appear on the surface. The Death Star bursts into a supernova, creating a spectacular heavenly display." The small flashes are not visible. They are described in the script, and also present in the novel. If they exist, they must be too small to be visible.
B. The Second Death Star
1. The "Poof"
The DS2 destruction event is a bit different than that of the first Death Star. As seen below, an enormous (80 kilometers wide or better) discharge or explosion of some sort occurs in the area of the superlaser dish.
I say "discharge" since it does no observable damage to the Death Star, and behaves rather oddly in other respects as well. After erupting and covering about 80 kilometers of the Death Star in the space of one frame, the discharge simply dissipates into a bluish-white 'mist'.
Of course, by this point the reactor has already exploded. The Falcon was chased along her exit route out of the superstructure by the fireball, "always just ahead of the continuing chain of explosions" according to the novelization. The equatorial area was also suffering at this point, as we saw when Luke escaped "just as that section began to blow apart completely".
Note also the peculiar lighting effects, most of which seem to be within the interior of the Death Star. (Some are on the exterior as well, such as the scintillation to the lower left of the Falcon in the first image.) One would generally presume that these are related to internal explosions. However, several things should be noted:
1. The reactor explosion and other observed explosions all had a distinct orange glow, as opposed to the ghostly white of the internal glow above.
2. The glows above extinguish during the discharge, only to start up again a moment later.
3. The behaviors of the glows are uniform across the entire Death Star. When it is bright or dark in one location, it is bright or dark in all. Thus, it is presumably one glow, with one origin.
Though the Death Star was obviously incomplete, it would've had to have been a mere wisp of a battlestation for some internal light source to have been able to shine through it in this manner, with few or no opaque obstacles. Further, there were obviously-incomplete sections through which the glow did not shine. This makes little sense, though it is similar to the odd glows noted in Section I.
2. The Blast and Ring
The next frame shows us a huge explosion:
This massive blast appears to represent the end of the Death Star II. One frame after the above, a very substantial ring (as compared to the one from DS1) has already formed, apparently within the fireball:
As with the DS1, the orientation of the ring of the second Death Star seems unrelated to any observed feature of the battlestation. It is close to the plane of the DS2 equator, but not actually on it. Curiously, this ring (and the explosion itself) are not centered on the Death Star's central core, as can be seen in the overlay shot below. Given a 160km diameter DS2, the offset is clearly dozens of kilometers. The explosion and ring are focused on what appears to be the incomplete Death Star's center of mass:
No second ring is visible this time, and the ring has completely disappeared from view 137 frames (5.7 seconds) after it is first observed, suggesting a greater velocity than the DS1 ring. This ring also does not appear to evaporate as did the DS1 main ring . . . it seems to continue expanding until it simply goes out of visual range.
In the novel, we are told that Moff Jerjerrod was turning the station toward Endor, as per the Emperor's order that if the shield generator should be destroyed, so too should the moon. This explains why Endor is not visible in the shot above, and why the Falcon's course away from the station sends it toward the moon. This also explains why the view of the battlestation's destruction as seen from the Endor surface appears to be at the same angle as the last shot above.
(Incidentally, the rotation procedure took hours, as per the timeline here. Further, since Endor ought to have been within line of sight of the dish even prior to rotation, and most certainly during the rotation, this would seem to indicate that planet-killing shots had a lesser off-axis fire capability than the ship-killing shots.)
This concept leaves us with an oddity, however, insofar as the ring is concerned. Based on the angles, it should almost certainly have struck Endor. Endor itself was never shielded. It seems quite peculiar, then, that the moon was not subjected to any apparent effect whatsoever, if the ring were thought of as perhaps being high-velocity flaming debris, or even related in some way to the planar shockwave of an AoTC seismic charge.
Nevertheless, we see the survivors of the Endor battle on the ground at the time of the DS2 destruction, and later that evening in celebration. The planet seems to have sufferred no ill effects. This need not imply that the rings are completely non-destructive, of course, but it would imply that the effects would be quite limited, at least at DS2 orbital ranges.
C. Synthesis of Section IV
Both Death Star explosion events feature planar effects, similar to what was experienced at Alderaan and the ship-killer shots from the DS2. Both Death Stars were also destroyed by missile attack on their reactors. However, as demonstrated by the planar effects being present at the ship-killer shots but not other reactor-related or missile-related starship destruction events, it would not follow to assume that the Death Star planar effects are directly caused by the reactor explosions, or any sort of fuel or weapons ignition. Thus, there is a correlation in regards to the Death Stars, but there is none in regards to the reactors, or the missile attacks.
The only viable connection between all five planar-effect events is the superlaser. Both Death Stars had their superlasers charged for use against a planetary body, and the three other incidents involve direct hits by the superlaser.
Finally, the odd interior glow and
related exterior flashes of the
second Death Star (and the flashes of the DS1 in the script) may be quite telling. Remember the strange glows that
appeared on the hulls of the Calamari ships and the surface of Alderaan, when
the superlasers struck? Well, ask yourself what would happen if the
superlaser's energy or particles, instead of being fired at and hitting a target
to produce the glow, were released internally due to malfunctions caused by the reactor
explosions. One might expect that, for all practical purposes, it would
look like an internalized version of the superlaser hits . . . glow and all.
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