Warning: Spoilers from Jedi: Fallen Order and various other canon works
“There is no place more sacred to the Jedi.“Ahsoka Tano
Today I wanted to talk about one of my favorite planets in the Star Wars galaxy–Ilum. This planet has appeared in various forms of Star Wars media over the years (originally dating back to a Legends continuity novel–Jedi Quest: Path to Truth, 2001) With the planet appearing in several recent pieces of canon (most recently Jedi: Fallen Order) and an icy planet appearing in the new Mandalorian Season 2 trailer (I’m not saying it’s definitively Ilum!) I was reminded that I’ve been wanting to write about this planet for a while.
Ilum was an azure chunk of ice and snow located in (*checking Wookieepedia*) the 7G sector of the Unknown Regions in the Ilum system. To the average explorer, Ilum might look like another single-biome planet cast adrift in the far reaches of the galaxy. The planet was far from ordinary, however. It held immeasurable spiritual importance to members of the Jedi Order and beneath Ilum’s frosted crust lay one of the most important items in any initiate’s quest to Jedihood–kyber crystals.
“The heart of the lightsaber, the crystal is.“Yoda
Note: I want to write about kyber crystals in-depth in a separate post, but I cannot explore Ilum without at least touching on why they were so special.
Kyber crystals were rare, Force-imbued crystals that held great significance to the Jedi Order before Order 66 and the Great Jedi Purge. When the time was right, Jedi younglings would travel to Ilum with Master Yoda in order to participate in a ritual known as The Gathering.
The Gathering had two functions. First, each youngling would learn a unique lesson such as facing one’s fears, the value of cooperation between fellow Jedi, or the evils of pride. The second function was, of course, to find the one unique kyber crystal that called to the youngling through the Force. Once this trial was completed, the young Jedi could begin constructing their lightsaber with the aid of Huyang, an ancient droid with centuries of accumulated lightsaber knowledge and designs.
“From the Battles of Rashfond, to the Peacekeeping of Parliock, to our very own Clone Wars, the lightsaber is a Jedi’s only true ally. But how do they work? Hmm? Yes, you have brought me crystals, but they’re all useless unless you give them life. Do you know how to awaken the Force within the crystal? No? Then I suggest you listen and learn, until you think of a question this droid cannot answer.”Professor Huyang
The Dark Times
After the end of the Clone Wars, Order 66, and the Jedi Purge, it became very apparent why the Jedi worked so hard to keep Ilum a secret from the rest of the galaxy. The newly declared Emperor Palpatine (secretly Darth Sidious) used navigational data found in the Jedi Temple to locate Ilum and the Empire began to tear this sacred world apart for its resources.
The Galactic Empire’s main prize was, of course, the kyber crystals that the Jedi sought to protect. You see, kyber crystals weren’t only useful in lightsaber construction. Their unique structure made them excellent conduits for channeling large amounts of energy as the scientist Galen Erso discovered. This feature made kyber crystals the ideal resource for constructing superweapons such as the DS-1 Orbital Battle Station–better known as the Death Star.
There are only two known accounts of Jedi Purge survivors visiting Ilum after the fall of the Order. Ex-Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano briefly visited the planet looking for new kyber crystals and witnessed the Empire’s strip-mining efforts. She specifically noted that magma could be seen bubbling from the core even from space.
The second individual to visit Ilum after the Clone Wars was Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan who survived Order 66 and went into hiding. He was brought to Ilum to search for a new kyber crystal after he accidentally destroyed his deceased Master’s lightsaber. Cal obtained his new kyber but was forced to flee Ilum as the Empire began to invade the planet in force. Should the player have Cal return to Ilum later in Fallen Order, a large trench can be seen around Ilum’s equator–the result of continuous strip-mining by the Imperials.
“Ilum was our planet, Cal. Don’t let them forget that.”Cere Junda
Post Galactic Civil War
After the conclusion of the Galactic Civil War and the Empire’s defeat at both Endor and Jakku, remnants of the Empire retreated to the Unknown Regions and reformed under the banner of the First Order. One of their many projects was to complete the excavation of Ilum whereupon they converted the planet into a superweapon known as Starkiller Base. The kyber crystalline core of the planet made it the perfect setting for such a weapon. Starkiller Base would be used to destroy the capital of the New Republic–Hosnian Prime.
Unfortunately, Ilum was ultimately destroyed when Resistance pilot Poe Dameron destroyed a thermal oscillator leading to a chain reaction which destroyed the planet. The resulting destruction left a new star which was dubbed “Solo” after the death of the legendary Rebellion hero Han Solo.
I have to hand it to Lucasfilm. They played the long game with what I’m about to discuss. In the months leading up to The Force Awakens a new galactic map was revealed which showed the First Order superweapon, Starkiller Base, in the same location as Ilum on older maps. This led to years of speculation that Starkiller was a converted Ilum (further solidified when it was revealed they both had the same planetary dimensions.) The explicit link was not confirmed until 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary.
And that, my friends, is the current and tragic canon story of Ilum so far. While there are other sources of kyber crystals in the galaxy, the Jedi Order lost a very special and spiritual place to their sworn enemies–the Sith. It’s doubtful that Rey understood the significance of the planet she escaped from in TFA, but I hope that she learns of Ilum’s importance and passes that knowledge on to future Padawans who will likely need to find their own kyber crystals one day.
Thanks for reading! Ilum is one of my favorite planets in all of Star Wars and I still mourn its loss, but it was still fun to talk about. I want to do another canon highlight soon. I’ll try not to go 2 years between posts this time!
May the Force be with you!