There are really only two truly iconic moments in the original The Empire Strikes Back . The other: A laser-spitting moon hovering above a forest, space ships racing towards it before it can obliterate an entire planet — the climatic scene of Star Wars.
In the Star Wars universe, Yavin is a giant gas planet, utterly uninhabitable, but circling around it are three habitable moons, the jewel of which is Yavin 4. Covered in jungle-like flora and redolent with the cries of whisperbirds, Yavin 4 is both habitable and remote: The perfect, surreptitious staging ground for the Galactic Rebellion.
Ultimately, though, Yavin 4 is threatened by the very success of the
rebellion. When Luke Skywalker and Han Solo rescued Princess Leia from
the Death Star, the Empire followed them to the rebellion’s base on
Yavin 4, in order to wipe it out once and for all. Escorted by a
Nebulon-B frigate and two C490 corvettes, the Death Star arrived in the
Yavin system and began its slow revolution around Yavin to line up its
diminutive forest moon in its site. Every second counted; it was armed
with enough weaponry to destroy the base of the rebels just as it had
earlier destroyed Leia Organa’s homeplanet of Alderaan before her eyes.
Yavin 4’s contingency defence plan was desperate: Armed only with a
fleet of twenty-two dilapidated X-Wings, eight Y-Wings and two R22
Spearhead Starfighters, the rebellion forces would make a “trench run”
along the Death Star’s chasmed equator. Their target was a small
thermal exhaust — once reached, it might allow the passage
of a single torpedo into the Death Star’s innermost core, destroying
the station through its hard-to-exploit Achilles heel.
The Rebel Alliance had luck on its side: The Death Star’s commander,
Grand Moff Tarkin, in a fit of hubris, foolishly refused to deploy the
Death Star’s TIE Fighter squadrons. Darth Vader alone recognized the
threat and ordered his personal fighter squadron to accompany him on a
His defense failed: Confronted by his own son’s affinity with the
force (and the timely arrival of the Millennium Falcon), Vader’s
exemplary piloting skills were thwarted, and the Death Star was
destroyed, spiraling Vader off into space.
The battle’s aftermath was significant: Because it had blown up
an Imperial symbol as significant as the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance
gained open credibility as a legitimate military opponent to the
Empire. But this escalated the war. The result was that the Empire
began occupying worlds it had previously failed to bother with, leading
to the oppression of billions. And since the destruction of the Death
Star was so high profile, the destruction of Yavin 4 was secured. The
Alliance would ultimately move to the frost planet of Hoth.
the Empire fell, it eventually decided that a reboot of the Galactic
Calendar was in order. The Battle of Yavin was made the reset point,
and all dates that fell before it became Before the Battle of Yavin
(BBY), while subsequent events were ABY.
There are few moments in Star Wars more meaningful than the
Battle for Yavin, either inside its universe or out. Inside the
universe, the battle is the point of reference of every major
confrontation in the Star Wars sextet. Outside: The image of a Death Star hovering over a jungle moon remains one of the most iconic images of scifi.