Saturday, 12 July 2014
The Myth Of Stormtrooper Marksmanship
Of all the elements in the original Star Wars trilogy made fun of the most, Stormtroopers easily the biggest butt of all jokes. Despite being a supposedly elite and superior assault force who represents the seemingly unstoppable Galactic Empire, they rarely seem to hit the heroes nor do they pose any real challenge. The thing is though, when you actually look at the scenes, their overall competence dramatically changes from fight to fight. There is also a very good reason for this.
Now, think for a moment about how they were first shown to the audience. They successfully board the Tantive IV and fight their way inside. Despite facing an opposing force several times their number, and having to enter via a choke point that Alliance troops have carefully covered, they fight inside with minimal casualties. From there on every scene with them has rebels on the run, and the Imperials manage to capture a good number of prisoners. The shots in these scenes are far more accurate than what would later follow and there are none of the wild misses we get later on.
The same goes for on Tatooine, when we see a Stormtrooper patrol covering the area where the escape pod crash landed. They carefully comb the area to the point where one single trooper manages to find a small fragment of scrap metal and accurately deduce they're after droids. The first real points where we get signs of potential incompetence is when a group are mind trick'd by Kenobi (an experienced and highly respected Jedi Knight, even if he is the last of his kind) and when they fail to stop the Millennium Falcon from lifting off. I wouldn't say these really count as other media shows Kenobi quite happily doing this to various trained forces with extreme ease, and the heroes had a distinct advantage in the latter case. It was a small patrol of troopers against the Falcon's guns, with the latter still leaving after only a few seconds shooting.
Then we get to the Death Star and suddenly the Stormtroopers cannot even begin to stop the heroes, whether it's keeping up with them or even being remotely precise with their blasts. The thing is though, for much of their time on the Death Star, the Empire's entire plan hinged upon the Rebels escaping and leading the Imperials back to their base. We can probably assume that they were under orders, and directed to let them escape. After all, we never see the Rebels stopping to check if a lot of the troopers they shot were killed, so there's always a chance that a few were faking death. Okay that last one might be a possible stretch but it's not entirely out of the question, and Leia does comment afterwards that their escape had been far too easy.
The same thing suddenly happens in The Empire Strikes Back when it comes to the troopers. The Battle of Hoth is a rousing success, with the Rebellion taking heavy causalities and only slowing the Imperials at all thanks to their air support. Even once they leave behind the AT-ATs and continue on foot, the Imperials are still doing well. They only fail to capture the Rebels thanks to the Falcon's weaponry once again. Even in the face of being mowed down the troopers don't retreat, and even attempt to hastily set up an anti-tank gun to stop the vessel taking off.
When we get to Cloud City, during Luke's arrival, all of a sudden the Stormtroopers are back to being unable to hit anyone. Just as before this was due to the will of their superior. Vader wanted to directly face Luke to confront him, so we can logically assume they were under orders to keep him alive. The same might go for the other heroes as Cloud City is evacuated, as Vader had sabotaged the Falcon's hyperdrive system.
Despite all this, the big one always brought up is the Stormtroopers losing to the ewoks on Endor. I will personally agree this was definitely a stupid part of an otherwise decent film, and it does seriously diminish their threat. At the same time however, the Stormtroopers were definitely outnumbered and the ewoks did take down the Rebels just as easily. This seems to speak more about the abilities of those furry bastards than any lack of it when it comes to Stormtroopers. Plus, we do see that troopers can accurately make precision shots when Leia is hit in the guts by a bolt.
This list is avoiding Expanded Universe material for the sake of simplicity (there are a great deal of examples which show extreme competence or depict them a drooling morons) but the point is clear: This reputation is largely undeserved. Really, if you remove the bits where the villains' plan hinged upon keeping the heroes alive or they were totally outgunned, you're not left with much to show they are cannon fodder. It's really the Aquaman effect all over again, where one particular failing and status in pop culture overshadows their actual capabilities.