Death Stars: The Ultimate WMD


I (Tim) wrote an article for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (the keepers of the Doomsday Clock!) about the appropriation of nuclear weapon imagery and themes in Rogue One and Star Wars. I am talking about the Death Star, of course.

Here is a highlight:

The central plot of Rogue One involves our heroes stealing the blueprints to a new secret weapon of the evil Galactic Empire: the Death Star, a moon-sized, space-based battle station equipped with a laser capable of destroying an entire planet in a single stroke. There is hope that the plans could hold the key to finding a weakness in the station that could be exploited by the Rebellion to start a “chain reaction” and put an end to the weapon.

The Death Star, in Star Wars generally and particularly in Rogue One, serves as a stand-in for the nuclear weapons arsenal with all the accompanying nuclear imagery, deterrence theory, and dangers shown to the audience. Rogue One deploys the Death Star as a visual, technical, and thematic stand-in for thermonuclear weapons.

To read the full article, click here. Joel and I also did a podcast episode on this idea, which you can listen to by clicking here or on iTunes, GooglePlay Music, etc. Enjoy!

Low Yield Hot Take: Iron Man 2

Low Yield Hot Takes are short blog posts about films with noteworthy nuclear plot points but not enough of an impact to escalate to a full podcast episode.


Iron Man doesn’t think we need a nuclear triad. Just an Iron Mono-ad?

I haven’t seen Iron Man 2 in a while, but I’m surprised how much movie plays with metaphors and terminology drawn straight from nuclear weapon history: misjudging proliferation timetables of adversary’s arsenal (iron man suits vs. Russia’s Joe-1), the fear of vulnerability after losing one’s deterrent (Iron Man going rogue or to a bar), weapon design theft (Ivan Vanko vs Klaus Fuchs), etc.

And with the Russian villain, rogue military industrial complex, and proxy wars, this movie could have really been called Marvel’s Iron Man: Cold War.

Fun random fact: one of the CGI software tools used by Industrial Light and Magic in the final fight scene of Iron Man 2 is called Nuke.