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The Imperator-class was designed as a massive, powerful, mid-sized warship,, and appeared in limited numbers during the Clone Wars, where it served in several Republic task forces. As the war neared its end in 19 BBY, the production lines of new Imperator-class and Tector-class destroyers expanded, while the lines for the older, lighter Venator-class slowed down.
The first vessel was named the Executrix, while the second was the Exactor, which later served as the first personal flagship of the Imperial enforcer Darth Vader. There was also an Imperator among the Mk.I models, sharing the class name. Following the Great Jedi Purge and the establishment of the Galactic Empire in 19 BBY, the Imperator model was renamed Imperial-class and production of the class was increased even further and refined. Despite the name change, some Imperial documents continued to use the original name to identify the class.
Imperial-class Star Destroyers had a distinguished career in the Imperial Starfleet, where they symbolized the Empire’s military might (for better or worse). Eventually, these Star Destroyers rendered older vessels, like the Venator-class, obsolete.
Capable of laying waste to entire worlds (provided those worlds did not have planetary shields), the Imperial-class became infamous as the prime enforcer of Imperial rule, and even served as a small, peacekeeping battleship. According to official records, over 25,000 were eventually produced. The Navy’s immense demand for Star Destroyers led Kuat Drive Yards to subcontract the design out to various other shipwrights, which occasionally led to a number of design quirks: Star Destroyers built by the Corellian Engineering Corporation were considered the fastest ships in the Imperial Navy, both at sublight and hyperspace speeds. Many Star Destroyers were destroyed in the fratricidal warfare that consumed the Empire after the death of Emperor Palpatine at Endor in 4 ABY, while others defected or were captured over the years.
Within sector-level fleets, the ISD served a central battleship role, being the flagship of the unit known as the “Battle Squadron.” A Sector Group was responsible for patrolling a given sector and was composed of 24 Star Destroyers. It was also observed to operate more or less independently and often far from support ships and facilities. Through many operations, the ISD functioned as a destroyer, a capital ship fast enough to chase down blockade runners and protect fleets. As an escort, it also supported Imperial Star Cruisers and Star Dreadnoughts in fleet combat.
When he assaulted Hoth, Darth Vader commanded the Star Dreadnought Executor and brought along a flotillaof Imperial-class vessels from Death Squadron to assault the planet. The Rebellion’s heavy ion cannon, powered by the reactor of a battlecruiser, easily overwhelmed individual Star Destroyer shields and rapidly disabled ships in orbit.
In the New Republic era, Imperial-class Star Destroyers continued in the escort role for larger vessels in campaigns like Operation Shadow Hand in 10 ABY. The Super Star Destroyer Allegiance led a task force of Imperial-class ships and World Devastators during the First Battle of Mon Calamari. This was one of many fleets that struck out from the Core as part of the operation, which was aimed at taking back most of the Galactic Empire’s former territories. Operation Shadow Hand saw a relatively heavy use of different types of Super Star Destroyers supported by Star Destroyers.
However, due to lack of logistics, not all Imperial splinter factions made use of Super Star Destroyers. For instance, Grand Admiral Thrawn massed a sizable force in 9 ABY, but could not obtain any larger warships. In those instances, Star Destroyers like the Imperial-class acted as main command ships of a navy.
This particular class of vessel saw extensive service in other navies, including that of the successor-states the New Republic and the Galactic Alliance. Some New Republic Imperial I-class Star Destroyers, like the Mon Mothma, were refitted to include gravity well projectors.
One Star Destroyer was operated by a private individual—the Errant Venture, formerly the Virulence, which had been captained by the smuggler Booster Terrik. The warship was claimed by Booster in the wake of the decisive Battle of Thyferra that concluded the Bacta War, but was in poor condition for many years owing to the great cost of maintaining such a large vessel. In addition, she was stripped of the vast majority of her armament: only ten turbolasers were permitted, and even those were not always functional.
Years later, the vessel received a comprehensive refit in exchange for Booster permitting its use in a New Republic special-operations raid on an Imperial base. The most notable part of this refit was a deep red paint job instead of the classic Imperial white. While Captain Terrik was not permitted to keep all of his weapons after the operation, they were reinstated when the Yuuzhan Vong War occurred. During the Yuuzhan Vonginvasion, she served as a temporary Jedi sanctuary and also as squadron flagship.
Imperial II-class Star Destroyer
Several variant designs and refits were made using the Imperial-class as a basis. The most famous and widely produced, was the Imperial II-class Star Destroyer, the second iteration of the class. It included improved armor and weaponry, a different sensor tower and other cosmetic differences.
Similar to how some Victory-class vessels borrowed design elements from the Imperial-class, at least one Imperial variant borrowed elements of the Victory-class. It had an elongated command tower and wing-structures on the side of the superstructure.
Interdictor-class Star Destroyer
Another variant was the Interdictor-class Star Destroyer, heavily modified Imperial-class ships that were fitted with gravity-well generators and utilized to halt hyperspace travel for enemy ships.
Behind the scenes
There has been some disagreement over the name of the class. Early material by Geoffrey Mandel, now considered unofficial, showed the Star Destroyer model smaller than they later appeared. The class-name Imperator was used for these drawings, and the ships were to be produced at the Gyndine shipyards. Many of the designs were greatly upscaled shortly before production began. Some critics suggest that naming one of the Empire’s class of ships Imperial is redundancy in name.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Incredible Cross-Sections eventually put the debate to rest, by clarifying the issue—while the class was originally named Imperator, it was renamed Imperial at some point after the Great Jedi Purge. Other sources would later on reference Imperator, including the novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader and the EU-section on the Venator-class Star Destroyer’s . The word “Imperator” is Latin and was used as a title for “An army commander in the Roman Republic”. Later, during the Roman Empire, it became a title worn by the Emperors and signified “The supreme power of the Roman emperor”.
Based on an animatic of a Revenge of the Sith TV spot, an Imperator-class Star Destroyer was scheduled to make an appearance during the final scenes of the film, but was apparently cut out and replaced with a Venator-class in post-production.
Imperial-class Star Destroyers have featured prominently in many Star Wars computer games. However, they have generally been “toned-down” to allow the player some chance of defeating them with a starfighter. Some of these game mechanics have included shooting sensor globes and reactor bulbs with your starfighter to bring down the whole ship.
Imperial-class Star Destroyers have sometimes been referred to as cruisers. The book Starships of the Galaxy(Saga Edition) referred to most common Star Destroyers as being classified as “star cruisers”, with lowercase letters. It also noted that unlike the term “Star Destroyer”, “star cruiser” means “a naval cruiser that travels through space”. Since the Imperial-class has also been called a “star destroyer”, the class can be seen as either a naval destroyer or a cruiser, given similarities in their roles. Imperial-class ships have also been described as battleships (more specifically, “peacekeeping battleships”). This is presumably because one Imperial constituted a line on its own. RotS:ICS also mention warships being “downscaled”, depicting at least two separate classification systems, one where regular Star Destroyers are destroyers and another where they are battleships.
Numerous Expanded Universe sources state that the Imperial I is armed with 60 identical turbolasers and 60 identical ion cannons. However, analysis of the Star Destroyer models used in the films shows that this is a flawed description. The Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections factbook followed the movie model more closely, describing three twin-barreled heavy turbolasers and one ion cannon on each side of the command tower, one quad-laser cannon in each side trench, three cannons in front of the terrace superstructure, and numerous smaller guns lining each trench, as well as several tractor beam projectors located inside the vessel.
The Star Wars Technical Journal offers a slightly different number for the crew requirement: 4,520 officers and 32,565 enlisted men making a total crew of 37,085.