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So I watched The Force Awakens in December and absolutely loved it, but there was one thing I didn't quite get:

There was a moment when the rebels were showing Han the schematics of the First Order's base/gigantic weapon/planet-thing, telling him that it was totally different and way more powerful than the Death Star.

And... it was just a ginormous version of the Death Star.

A funny gag, but it doesn't entirely make sense to me why the First Order would go with "Let's make a Death Star, just bigger" as a viable tactic, when the less-giant Death Star had failed in the past (and they could reasonably expect the rebels to be prepared to fight a recreation thereof, given that many of them had fought in the battle against the last one).

So... am I missing something? Was there something that actually was significantly different and/or improved with this weapon/planet/ship other than size? If not, why was the First Order so confident in this weapon? Why did they even make it instead of going with an entirely different tactic?

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Because bigger always = better of course. After all, it couldn't possibly fail a third time... – DangerZone Feb 1 at 19:28
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Because they're schmucks. – user7812 Feb 1 at 19:40
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... Because "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."... and again and again... Apparently, they didn't have an Einstein to tell them: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (or whoever actually said this)... – Catija Feb 1 at 20:36
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Do you have a better idea? – corsiKa Feb 1 at 22:20
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Because the Sun Crusher, the Katana Fleet and cloaked asteroids are no where near as epic, even though they are infinity better plots. – Mazura Feb 1 at 22:49
up vote 12 down vote accepted

For a short explanation by JJ Abrams himself:

Starkiller Base was created for the 2015 film Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens. The film's director, J.J. Abrams, stated that the superweapon's similarities to the two Death Stars from the original trilogy were intentional, as the new generation of Imperials within the First Order would want to prove that they were stronger and more advanced than their predecessors in the Galactic Empire.

So basically: they wanted to do things bigger and better than the Galactic Empire did, so rather than construct a space station, they transformed an entire planet and used the acquired knowledge of the now defunct Empire to improve upon their original plans.

And really, that's about the only explanation that's needed. The First Order doesn't just want to be some offshoot vestige of the Empire itself: it wants to surpass them in any way possible to achieve the Empire's original goal. What better way to do that than transform a planet into a super weapon, capable of consuming the entire power of a single star, and jettisoning it out into hyperspace to annihilate any star systems in the galaxy that might oppose you?

The sheer capabilities of this new weapon were far beyond anything the Empire was capable of decades earlier, and shows that the First Order has managed to take what they learned and enhance the Empire's original capabilities exponentially.

They were confident in the weapon because the shielding around the planet had only one weakness: a ship penetrating the shield at lightspeed, only to drop out and right itself at the last second. A weakness for sure, but even Han knew how dangerous it was to plot a course haphazardly when making the jump to light speed in A New Hope. They figured they had eliminated any major vulnerabilities compared to the original Death Stars, and in some ways you can't really blame them for thinking that.

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Maybe he was inspired by a certain George Carlin bit about missiles. – corsiKa Feb 1 at 22:19

Much of this answer is highly speculative. There are no official sources being quoted.

it was just a ginormous version of the Death Star.

There may have been some practical reasons for this. As noted by MattD's answer, a re-creation that remains may be a powerful statement in favor of the First Order. A re-creation that gets destroyed early on would be particularly humiliating. My guess is that the First Order wasn't preferring to have that happen.

I suppose I could counter with the question, "Why not make it look like a Death Star? Why must the new contraption look notably different?" The question poses some thoughts about this. However, those ideas might even have been considered, but just not be more compelling than reasons for similarities.

It may be useful to define, more precisely, just what is meant by "looking like the Death Star"? Is this observation largely based on the fact that it is spherical?

The fact that this weapon was built on a planet may be one key reason why it had its spherical shape. It could be that the StarKiller was going to be the first part of a much larger lattice/snowflake-like hub. Building around a spherical planet would have led a sphere to be the easiest first step. Additional modifications could be made in subsequent years.

The fact that this weapon needed to contain the energy of a sun may also have had some impact. Since I haven't personally studied the plans of an invention capable of storing that much energy, I don't know just what technical requirements exist.

Maybe a future plan was to ram the StarKiller into the center of a planet, to absorb energy from all directions more quickly.

The Death Star had a sphere that was used to unleash a tremendous amount of power into a focused direction. The StarKiller base performed this same functionality, which may be another reason why there were some physical resemblances.

Many people like their wireless phones to make a "phone-like" sound, despite the fact that the modern smart phones are simply playing a "WAVe" file, which could sound like anything. It could be that the board of directors could have chosen a base that looked like anything, and that similarity to the original Death Star seemed appropriately symbolic of what they intended to accomplish this time.

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I didn't mean to suggest that the movie said it would become a ramming weapon. However, they seemed to take a long time to suck the energy of the star, and I would think that they would eventually seek a faster method, perhaps by getting inside the star. And if they might do that eventually anyway, why not study the idea as a possible option early on? I also don't think we know all of the details from discussions that happen behind the scenes, or maybe only in the mind of a powerful Sith Lord. "It's was" [sic] "never intended to be"... I suggest we have no basis to know about unshared plans – TOOGAM Feb 2 at 1:06
    
This answer focusses on the form of the starkiller... when I think the question refers to the function. Looking at the Movies the only think deathstars appear to have done is made the Empire Vulnerable to a skirmish attack... so repeating the same tactical mistake with minimal changes seems to be a blunder on the same order as Hitler invading Russia during winter. – NPSF3000 Feb 2 at 3:35

EDIT: They built Starkiller base because it is NOT another death star, it is way more AWESOME and SHOULD have won them the title of "heavy weight champion of the galaxy" for the First Order, had they not been so incompetent at defending it (slash if the writers at Disney knew anything about warfare and how incompetent they made Snoke look for not utilizing Star Killer base properly.)

The real problem that any true military mind would understand is that the First Order created an incredibly good weapon which the rebels shouldn't have been able to destroy.

A stationary long-range weapon has the advantage of forcing the opponent to attack its position. Therefore Starkiller base had defender's advantage. Defenders advantage coupled with superior military forces (in both quality and number) are what make it improbable that the rebels could have destroyed it.

All the First Order had to do was station their entire fleet to defend it, up their defensive cannons and so forth to the max, utilize shields well, and then just randomly destroy life-sustaining planets all over the galaxy until the rebellion surrendered. Snoke is a useless villain if he couldn't figure that out.

I have a knack for these kinds of things.

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I'd also kind of like to point out that Starkiller base didn't have the same time constraints that the death star had. They could have kept it hidden until it was perfectly well defended. So there's no excuse for it not winning the war. – user3822522 Feb 2 at 7:49
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I'm not sure this actually answers the question the user asks - why they built a bigger Death Star, as opposed to what was wrong with their build of the Starkiller Base. I do love that you say "I kind of a have a knack for this sort of thing", with regards to discussing the build and usage of a planet destroying weapon :) – Andrew Martin Feb 2 at 8:19
    
One might argue that the answer is trying to make the point that it was not just another Death Star but far superior and thus there was a good reason to build this. However, if this is really the point you want to make (and this could make for a reasonable answer), then you should clarify this a bit more (and leave out subjective assessments of the story making no sense or ruining the movie for you). – Napoleon Wilson Feb 2 at 10:19
    
Yeah, for those who missed it, the point is that they built Starkiller base because it is AWESOME and SHOULD have won them the title of "heavy weight champion of the galaxy." – user3822522 Feb 3 at 18:06
    
Meh, might adress the question better, now. Still awfully subjectively phrased. But at least it's more of an attempt at answering now, I guess. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 3 at 18:18

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