Star Flaws: The Empire Strikes Out

In a darkened room, somewhere aboard the Death Star, a group of workers are gathered. They are not well known. They pass unrecognised when they walk the corridors of the Empire’s new battle station. They do not instil terror in their colleagues or enemies. They are not empowered to make decisions which affect the fate of the galaxy. They are the Death Star’s testers – the Imperial Test Technicians.

Two of them are having a heated discussion:

“You can’t leave confidential documents lying around in the canteen.”

“It was only a few minutes! I was just checking over the Spec for the guns in the trench. ”

“Yes but those Specs are supposed to stay in the lab. Apparently Darth Vader is trying to find out how the rebels got hold of them. If he traces this back to us then we are as good as dead.”

“Look, I’m sorry OK! The thing is, whilst I was looking at the Specs I noticed something strange. I feel like there might be a problem with the design of that port at the end of the trench.”

“What do you mean ‘a problem’?”

“Well it might be nothing but it just seemed weird to me that we would leave a big hole in the surface of the Death Star with a vent leading all the way from that hole to the main reactor.”

“Huh? That can’t be right.”

“It is, I swear. Look I’ll show you. Pass me that copy of the Spec.”

“As long as you aren’t going to lose this copy too.”

“Very funny! Let me see….. Ah yes, here. Look.”

“You’re right. That is weird. We’d better take this to Cass.”

“Oh man, do we have to? He’s such a nerf herder.”

Chief Imperial Officer Siward Cass is managing the construction of the Death Star. He reports to Grand Moff Tarkin, the man who is ultimately responsible for delivering Emperor Palpatine’s flagship project. Cass is not a man to be trifled with, Tarkin even less so.

“Officer Cass. Can I please speak to you?”

“I’m busy. What do you want?”

“Sorry sir, it’s just that we spotted something weird with the Specs.”

“The Specs? Do you mean the Technical Specification? That document does not concern you. Have you finished testing the routines for the trench defences?”

“We’re just working on it now.”

“What does that mean? What percentage of tests have you completed?”

“Sir, the thing is that we don’t really count our tests like that. We try to…”

“You told me that you would have completed your testing by now.”

“What I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”

“I don’t want excuses and lies! If you aren’t able to complete the tests yourself then I will hand all of this over to our offsite automation team on Coruscant.”

“But sir, they can’t test everything. Some of this requires us to think about…”

“Do not tell me what can and can not be done. This testing must be completed quickly. I have it on good authority that this offsite team can complete your testing in half the time and at a fraction of the cost.”

“I just don’t think that is possible, sir. We used that team on the development of the Super Star Destroyers. They made the same promises then, but it ended up taking three times longer than planned and the costs were many times what they initially suggested.”

“You have an alternative solution?”

“Well yes. We have created our own automation framework which will help us with some of our work. It is fast and can react quickly to changes. We call it the ‘Selenium Falcon’.”

“Spare me the details. I will give you two more days to finish testing. If you haven’t completed by then, you can explain why to Lord Vader.”

“OK sir, I understand. Can I please tell you about the problem we found?”

“Problems do not concern me. Get back to your work. Grand Moff Tarkin has called a conference and he does not like to be kept waiting.”

Back in the test lab, the Imperial Test Technicians continue their work. Things are not going well….

“It’s not fair! They promised me they fixed it! It’s not my fault!”

“What’s going on?”

“We had a new release of code last night and I’m just working back through the bug fixes. They just don’t seem to be fixed. Do those guys ever bother unit testing anything? We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.”

“What kind of talk is that? Look…. if you check the logs you’ll see that the new code hasn’t even been deployed yet.”

“I.. I don’t believe it.”

“That is why you fail.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that I keep getting these things wrong and I don’t understand it. Before I joined the team I took my GSTQB(*) certification and I thought I had this stuff covered.”

“You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

“OK… I’ll try to keep that in mind. Right now I’m more interested in how you got on with Cass.”

“Not well. He wasn’t interested in what you found in the spec. In fact he only seems interested in the schedule.”

“So what can we do?”

“Let’s keep testing the routines for the trench. Can we add in some scenarios which include a smaller fighter targeting the vent? It might help us understand the risk.”

Later that day, Grand Moff Tarkin gives the order to undertake a live demonstration of the battle station’s primary weapon – a laser capable of destroying an entire planet. As the weapon is fired, everyone on the station hears the sound and feels the vibrations in the superstructure. There can be little doubt what has happened.

“I don’t believe it… They’ve fired the primary laser!”

“This is madness! That thing could blow us all up. Didn’t you tell them it wasn’t fully tested?”

“Yes! I told Cass yesterday. I put it in the report I sent him too.”

“Do you think he’s been sanitising the report again?”

“He must have. I’ve got to do something about this.”

“Is there anyone else you can talk to?”

“I’m not going to Vader. That guy is just scary. ”

“I know. I heard he choked Admiral Motti in the conference room earlier. What about General Bast. He seems OK.”

“Yeah… you might be right. I’ll speak to him once we have run all the new scenarios. I want to take him as much information as I can.”

The next day, General Bast is on his way to the Death Star’s main control room. The station is under attack.

“General Bast! I need to speak to you.”

“What’s the matter?”

“It’s this attack sir. I’m really worried.”

“Don’t worry. There are just a few small fighters out there. It’s a desperate last stand. We’re closing in on the rebel base and we’ll soon finish them for good.”

“But that’s just it sir. We’ve been testing some scenarios and I think we have some big problems.”


“Yes sir. We’ve spotted a flaw with a vent in one of the trenches. We’ve run some scenarios involving small fighters like the ones out there and we’re worried that the rebels have found the same thing we found.”

“OK. Slow down a bit. Tell me about this vent.”

“It’s not so much the vent. It’s the long tunnel going from the vent right down to the main reactor.”

“What? How big is this vent?”

“Perhaps two metres across. We’re worried that it might be exposed to a torpedo attack.”

“Hmm. That would take a great shot – maybe one in a million.”

“I know. But the rebels now have access to the same plans that we have. They must think they can make the shot. Why else would they send small fighters to attack a huge battle station like this?”

“You might be right. I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Me too sir, me too.”

“It looks like Cass has been keeping us all in the dark. Tarkin and Vader will be most displeased. I’m going to go and warn Tarkin now. What’s your name son?”

“Jerjerrod sir, Tiaan Jerjerrod.”

“OK. I want you to gather your colleagues and all the information you have from your testing. Get into a transporter and get out of here. You can make it to Yavin and rendezvous with our troopers there. We can’t risk losing this information. I’ll clear it with Cass. You’ve done well.”

“Thank you sir.”

And so, as the transporter made its way to Yavin, Jerjerrod and the Imperial Test Technicians witnessed the destruction of the Death Star. They narrowly escaped the fate of Tarkin, Bast, Cass and the rest of the Emperor’s army.

Lord Vader escaped too and vowed that lessons would be learned from the failure of this project. A new Death Star could be created, and this time the people involved would not make the same mistakes. The Emperor would find new ways to motivate them.


(*) GSTQB – the Galactic Software Testing Qualifications Board

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