Unless you’ve been living in the bottom of the Marianas trench for the past 40 years, it’s probably become apparent to you that Star Wars fans enjoy knowing a lot about Star Wars. More specifically: They enjoy advertising the fact that they know a lot about Star Wars. It is essentially impossible to stand in line with diehard Star Wars aficionados and not at least overhear someone dropping some science about R5-D4 like it was breaking news.
So when an employee at Industrial Light & Magic writes about how nearly every Star Wars nerd has gotten something fundamentally wrong about the Death Star all this time, it merits special attention. Todd Vaziri, who works at the company and was involved in the dailies for Rogue One, took to the the internet to blog about a discovery he made one morning that left him stunned by how obvious it was in retrospect. Look at a picture of the Death Star, he proposes: “Can you point to the trench that Luke and the Rebels flew down to fire upon the exhaust port that would ultimately destroy the space station?” The answer is so straightforward, most of us do it without thinking—we point at the equatorial trench of the Death Star. Only, that’s totally wrong, and as Vaziri points out, if you actually think about it, you’re confused by how you could’ve made such an obvious error. It’s actually a longitudinal trench, running north-south.
The equatorial trench is “where the hangar bays are located,” Vaziri reminds us, a place that we see the Millenium Falcon enter via tractor beam, so we know it’s a massive trench, not the tiny little inlet that barely has room for a couple small fighters to fly down. “Great work, brain,” we all think. “Fine, we were wrong about the equatorial trench. So how do we know it’s a longitudinal trench? Couldn’t it be anywhere, then?” General Dodonna would like to have a word with you, please:
The movie actually shows us where it is. During the briefing, the graphics shown to the rebel pilots clearly show the location of the trench, running north-south in the upper portion of the Death Star. Vaziri offers a couple of reasons why we all make the mistake. The first is the most logical: There are only two major distinguishing features on the Death Star from a distance: the dish and the equator. When we see the final trench during the climax of the film, those are the only elements our brains really associate with the surface of the space station. “Our brains want to connect this new trench with something we’ve seen before, and because of their similarities, and the simplicity of that connection, it’s not a big leap for us to (incorrectly) deduce the two trenches are one and the same,” Vaziri reasons.
His second point is similar, pointing out how the composition of a shot of X-wings preparing to draw fire, when lined up with a second shot of a fighter beginning its descent into the actual trench, again leads our brains to make a connection that isn’t actually true. And it’s not like we should feel too bad, Vaziri points out: Even Legoland got it wrong.