Introduction: Death Star Christmas Tree Topper

Picture of Death Star Christmas Tree Topper
I have been collecting those nice hallmark Star Wars ornaments since 1999.  Ever since I got a decent amount of them I have wanted to put a Death Star on top of the tree.  This year was the year (inspired by the instructables community).

I didn't think this was going to be that involved, but it has been my most difficult and longest build yet (hence why I am submitting this on the last day of the contest).  I started out with a feature list that I wanted it to have.

  • AC powered
  • LED lights
    •   white "running" lights, always on
    •   8 green weapon lights
      • Will charge (iterate through each light), then fire (all on)
      • Linked up to death star firing sound effect
  • Sound
    • Randomly (or iteratively) plays Imperial March, Death Star Motif, Death Star firing sound effect.
    • Death Star firing sound will kick off weapon LEDs
    • Button to by pass motion sensor
  • Motion sensor
    • Will kick off sound play
    • Button to turn off
    • Will only trip every x minutes (time delay between trips)

With that I started collecting supplies.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

  • Mac/PC Adruino IDE and USB cable
  • Breadboard
  • Multimeter
  • #80 Drill bit
  • Hand Drill
  • Drill and Drill bits
  • Dremel
  • Good Soldering Iron
  • Utility Knife or Exacto Knife

Step 2: Schematic

Picture of Schematic

Based on the Features and the materials that I had I came up with the schematic (this is actually the final there were several iterations along the way).

As you can see there are 8 green LEDs running off the Arduino on digital outs 6 - 9.  These are the only digital outs that are available with the Wave Shield installed.

The lasers voltage regulator/control is hooked up to analog 0 or (digital 14).  I used a ROHM BA033ST which is a low dropout 3.3v out voltage regulator with a on/off control pin.  I was lucky to have access to this component and did not need to worry about finding one, I could not find this on the net so it might be hard getting the part.  The National Semiconductor LM1117 will do the same thing but without the built in switch.  You could probably accomplish something similar to the ROHM by adding a relay maybe?  Whatever you do you just need to bring in 5v and output 3.3v or whatever the laser can handle, then be able to turn the 3.3v output off and on.  The built in digital and analog pins and the 3v pin on the arduino do not output enough milliamps (I think) to drive the laser.

Motion Sensor digital read is hooked up to analog 1 (or digital 15).  I frickin' love how it looks like the top of R2D2 :)

There are two tactile momentary switches in the system.  One that will bypass what is currently happening and start the firing sequence.  The second changes modes between motion sensor, auto play and manual play.  I got the wiring for the switches from, I can't thank this site enough :)

The last bit are the two white LEDs that are used for all the windows in the Death Star.  They just say on, so it was simple.

Step 3: Program

Picture of Program

After I soldered up the Wave Shield and wired up the bread board I started writing the program.  There were obviously several iterations between the wiring and the program.  Don't just try and do everything at once.  I started with the 2 white LEDs since this was all new to me.  Then added the 8 LEDs (plus one since I did not have the laser yet), then added the motion sensor, finally the buttons.

After a bunch tinkering I came up with the program here.  Its fairly well documented, but if you have any questions just ask!

Step 4: Super Laser

Picture of Super Laser
I wanted the laser to look as close to the movie as I could.  I have seen other Death Star models that used LEDs and Lasers to give the look... but they didn't look quite right to me.  I decided to use side glow fiber optics to do the Super Laser.  That way I could do the whole merging of the 8 mini lasers into one super laser (which is obviously not possible).  I spent some time working and getting used to the fiber optic, trying to come up with a way to recreate the look.

I first started with different ways to treat the fiber for the mini beams to recreate to the broken or varying look.  I ended up using a utility knife to nick the fiber to create hot spots in it.  I also decided to bundle four them together and use clear shrink tube to keep them together.  I also decided to add one long piece to each of the bundles that was not nicked up for the main beam.  I then would attach the green LED to the bottom of the bundle with more shrink tubing.  Make sure you leave plenty of slack on both ends of the long piece to attach the light source. I failed to do this on my first go and had to redo all of them.

  • Build Bundles:
    • Cut four 3" pieces of fiber per bundle (use utility knife not scissors or wire cutters)
    • Cut one long (like 18") piece per bundle
    • Use utility knife in a chopping motion to nick up 3" fiber pieces
    • Cut a 3" piece of clear 1/16" shrink tubing
    • VERY CAREFULLY shrink tubing using whatever (I used a candle) in a close and back and forth movement (You will have to play around with this as the fiber is very sensitive to heat.  Its a pain in the butt, but I think it turned out awesome).
  • Attach LED:
    • Use 1/2" pieces of gradually larger sizes of shrink tubing to add thickness at the base of the bundle
    • Solder positive and negative leads to the LEDs
    • Use a 2" piece of 3/16" black shrink tube to attach the LED to the bundle.
    • Follow the schematic for wiring the bundle with resistors and all.
    • I installed a connector so I could easily take the top and bottom halves of the model apart.
  • Attach Laser:
    • Take the long pieces of fiber coming out of the base of the bundle and shrink tube them together.
    • Again build up a large wad of shrink tubing leaving a 1/2" or so sticking out from bottom of wad.
    • Use hot glue gun on low heat to attach the 8 fiber bundle to the laser.
    • Use a piece of 1/2" or 3/4" black shrink tubing to secure the bundle to the laser.
    • Wire the laser into the connector (or voltage regulator).
We still have to shrink the main beam but will do that after installing into the model.

Step 5: Model Prep and Painting

Picture of Model Prep and Painting

There was a lot of talk out on the net about how crappy this model is... and it is... crap.  But it was the only thing I could use without recreating one from scratch.  The seems need to be sealed and putty applied.  Glue the 4 pieces together for each half.  Paint the inside flat black because you can see through it if you hold it up to the light.

For mounting the Death Star to the tree cut two slots in the arm that acts as the stand.  Also trim the plastic nubs off the bottom.  This arm will be what mounts to the tree with zipties.  Glue the arm to the bottom half of the model.

Then paint the outside to your liking.  I used two cans of Model Masters 1930 Flat Gull Gray for the base.  I don't have an airbrush, so I hand painted all the panels.  I used two colors Model Masters Dark Gull Gray and Light Sea Gray.  This step is long, but if you enjoy it, its fun in its own right.

Step 6: Prepare Model for Mounting Components

Picture of Prepare Model for Mounting Components

For Mounting of the components I decided to either hot glue or use nylon screws and nuts to hold things in.  While probably not the best solutions its the best that I came up with based on time, knowledge and what I had available.  I had thought about using a circuit board for the weapon, but it didn't work out.

For things with screws (Arduino board and Speaker) attach them to the components then set them in the model and glue them down.  I used model cement and that didn't seem to stick very well, so try hot glue instead.

Drill 8, 1/8" holes around the superlaser keeping in mind the plastic structure on the back.  Drill holes for the motion sensor facing the front and down, widen with a dremel.  Drill hole and dremel spot for the Power plug.  Use 1/8" drill bit and drill two holes for the buttons on back facing down.

Use a small hand drill (I picked one along with the bits up at my local hobby shop) and the #80 drill bit to drill all the holes for the white light fiber optic.  I drilled 192 (3 bundles of the 64 strand fiber) holes.  I should have done more, but didn't order enough fiber.

Touch up any paint that you destroyed in the process.

Step 7: Solder the Rest Together

Picture of Solder the Rest Together

Solder the motion sensor, buttons, white LEDs, and connectors to the Arduino Wave Shield.  This is the last step before installing everything.  You can look at my pics but I am sure there are better ways to do this, but again, this was all very new to me... and it works :)

Step 8: Install Components

Picture of Install Components

Install the superlaser by inserting the fibers into the holes previously drilled.  Hot glue each segment in place.  Take a long piece of 3/32" clear shrink tube and bundle to long fibers together for the main beam.   Again carefully shrink the tubing.  It would probably be best to add some kind of stiffener to keep the beam straight, but I didn't think of that until after the fact.

Install all the other components.  Use the screws and nuts that were glued in a previous step.  Hot glue the motion sensor and buttons in place.

Step 9: Install Running Lights

Picture of Install Running Lights

I did this step before installing all the components.  Please for the love of all things good... please don't do that.  It was extremely aggravating as they kept pulling out after they were glued and I had to worry about touching them with the hot glue gun.

Insert the fibers into the holes that you drilled earlier.  Glue with white glue.  Don't use super glue or plastic cement as they make it melt or make it fragile.  Epoxy might work better, but didn't try.  If you need to hold them in place use a small piece of masking tape on the outside of the model to hold it (make them look like little flags).  After the glue dries cut the fibers with an exacto blade.

Now attach to the white LEDs with more black shrink tubing.

Step 10: Put Halves Together and Install on Tree

Picture of Put Halves Together and Install on Tree

Put the two halves of the model together.  Attach to the tree with zip ties.  Plug power brick into the wall.  I made sure one of the strands of lights ended by the top of the tree.

Sit back and enjoy the fact that you are a HUGE GEEK and you are now the envy of all star wars geeks world wide.


EthanC80 (author)2017-11-05

Awesome project! Wish I was that skilled!

maverick7582 (author)2016-10-07

Can the holes be drilled into the side without the fiber for the white lights? Jut have the light glowing on the inside of the model and the white will leak out through the holes instead of using the fiber?

craineum (author)maverick75822016-10-07

you could do that, but you would have to seal the model pretty well or else it would leak light. It is worth a try.

MatthewN20 (author)2016-09-24

the pins on the schematic dont seem to match up with whats on the arduino board. For example there's no P14-P17. am i reading this wrong?

VinceC13 (author)2015-11-26

I bow before thee. This is the coolest build ever. Just amazing..

craineum (author)VinceC132015-11-26

Thank you! It is definitely the one I enjoy the most ;)

kj_steel (author)2014-12-03

this is amazing! i'm currently deployed and my husband and I are both star wars nerds something fierce. i can't make it where i'm at and i would like it to be a surprise. would there be a way for you to make this and I can pay you via Paypal or something to send it to our house as a xmas surprise?

craineum (author)kj_steel2014-12-04

Thank you for such a wonderful compliment. However, as this build is rather involved, and I have many other things keeping me busy, I will not be able to make one to send to you. Sorry :(

zumchikara (author)2014-12-02

Where are the instructions for making this? That is incredible and something I've been trying to figure out how to build for the past 10 years. Just didn't really have the know how.

craineum (author)zumchikara2014-12-02

It should be on the page where you made this comment. There are multiple steps/pages so make sure you click the "Next" button to see it all.

cmartin48 (author)2014-11-30

This is amazing - hugely impressed! I'm going to give it a shot, although I'm sure it won't be ready for this years tree :) I searched for the SG23 fiber optic cable but am coming up short. Based on your experience, do you think the SG35 would be ok instead? As I understand it, it's still 0.75mm, just more strands. Thanks!

craineum (author)cmartin482014-11-30

Yup that should be just fine. You can also make this simper by not using a laser, and just using LED's.

ksykes (author)2014-11-25

Really well done! Nice build.

craineum (author)ksykes2014-11-26

Thank you :)

christina.ogden.3 (author)2014-11-07

I know this was posted a while ago, but I really need to know how to do this. I love boyfriends birthday is coming up in december and it is incredibly crucial i have this for him.

The directions and most of what I remember are here. To make it a little easier you could do without the laser. And there might be LED to fiber optic connectors now as well. You could make it way easier and do it without the sound and controller board. Send me any questions you might have and I will try to answer them.

sunpialia (author)2013-05-13

I found a site to offer these LED lights to decorate your Christmas trees which is

knikoleh (author)2013-02-24

Would anyone be willing to make one of these for me? I am willing to cover the cost of the supplies and extra for labor and time!!!

hmccarthy (author)2012-11-29

Incredibly difficult build but twice as fun to do. The genius behind this creation has gone above and beyond as he has helped me as I make my own version of this tree topper.

mrfoltz (author)2011-09-12

You know what would be cool? Is to have a silver X-mas tree??? It would make it look even more "spacey"?
FANTASTIC Ideal though!

big-jamie (author)2010-01-20

that is by far, one of the coolest things ive ever seen lol

jobard (author)big-jamie2011-07-21

You should start making some more research...

hungyhipo 2 (author)2010-02-01

I thought it would hurt your feelinings and I would get kicked off the website. any ways i like star wars too but i am not that geeky about it

craineum (author)hungyhipo 22010-02-01

Keep reaching for the stars, and your dreams will come true.

hungyhipo 2 (author)2010-01-31

no hard fellings but you are a star wars geek

craineum (author)hungyhipo 22010-02-01

I don't know why you said it like that... I am proud to be the geek I am ;)

Bigev (author)2010-01-24

I'm just nerdy enough to appreciate this. Yay.

jupeter5 (author)2010-01-20

The awesome ness just eminates from such a project, but then Luke just had to blow it up!!!!

koal1 (author)2010-01-18


WardXmodem (author)2010-01-14


So many movie/tv special effects are physics-impossible i.e. like the bending rays (without magnetism etc). 

SO modelling it - realistically - or at least WONDERFULLY (as I don't quite remember the original) is GREAT!  

What a COOL idea having light pipe to simulate "rays".    Thank you thank you thank you, I'm smiling!  That's good!

koal1 (author)WardXmodem2010-01-18

usually when a baby smiles it means he pooped in his diaper so maybe its not so good ur smiling

Ward_Nox (author)2010-01-14

OH man i may justhave to make one of these for my uncle and make sure soem one takes a pic of my aunt when he opens it

he has ALL the star trek and star wars Halmark ornaments and this would be a wonderful companion

Cpt. Caleb (author)2010-01-06

"that's no moon"

I love that you saw this and had to comment too. This is why we are friends.

leafrog (author)2010-01-04

I am in awe of this. Brilliant.

And now I plan to start collecting Star Wars tree ornaments.

Danno_B (author)2010-01-03

Waitaminit!  That's no moon - that's a Christmas tree topper!  Woot!

boblordofmonkeys (author)Danno_B2010-01-03

 nice comment dude

jerjod (author)2010-01-01

 Such an awesome idea.  The Hallmark guys really missed the boat.  Fiber optics for super laser = genius.  Love it!

dwcarr (author)2009-12-29

OMG this is wonderful!!  I am so glad there are people like you.

I wore my ECCO Boba Fett hoodie to work today and no one recognized it! (lots of young women at my work place)

I am 50+ and a girl, btw


AngryRedhead (author)2009-12-28
Nothing says "Merry Christmas" much like the destruction of a peaceful planet.

Love it!
craineum (author)AngryRedhead2009-12-28

Come on.. its a star :)

AngryRedhead (author)craineum2009-12-28
It's a small planet.

OMG!!!! ITS PLUTO!!!!! wait its firing a laser.............

bounty1012 (author)AngryRedhead2009-12-28

Yes, there were alderaan chunks everywhere!

Rocko Bonaparte (author)2009-12-28

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out, "Merry Christmas!" in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

ha ha ha hilarious

bounty1012 (author)2009-12-28

wow, now I want one.

thepelton (author)2009-12-28

My father was a doctor, and got a lot of free stuff from drug companies that wanted him to prescribe  their pills.  One thing he got was an anatomically correct plastic eye on a hollow stand.  I remember that thing sitting on the top of the Christmas tree as probably one of the most unusual tree toppers I had ever seen.  Kind of reminded me of the pyramid with the eye on the back of the dollar bill.  Annuit Coeptis!

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