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.


  1. This raises some interesting points, I never really thought too much about them not being able to hit anything by aside from them not being main characters, and it's certainly the best explanation I've heard for them (and I've heard some good ones, and REALLY stupid ones).
    I can't help but feel the stormtroopers aren't helped by the later editions either, where they make jokes at them like adding a sound effect when one of them hits his head on a door for example.

    1. Yeah, it was just something which came to mind when I was last watching the trilogy and suddenly went "hang on, why can't they hit anything HERE and yet have pinpoint accuracy HERE," Out of interest though, could I ask what some of the really stupid explanations were?

      Well, to be fair the later editions are pretty much reviled by everyone for a lot of changes Lucas made. I personally did not mind the CGI additions when he re-released the films first time around (most of them anyway, some were fairly pointless) but they did ruin a lot of scenes. Adding Vader yelling "NO!", Luke screaming as he fell down the main shaft of Cloud City and Greedo shooting first ruined a lot of great bits.

    2. I've seen some say that the helmets they wear in their bases allow for next to no visibility to train them better when they are in the field, I've seen some explanations that say they have terrible guns, because training to shoot with terrible guns during peace time will mean they'll be more accurate with better guns during a war (which is completely inaccurate), I've seen an explanation say they hat killing anyone with a face they can fully see and that's why, when they kill most of the rebels, it's through smoke and lastly I've seen some explanations that say they never expected to face heroes in their bases, or Jedi's, so they're terrified of what's going on.

      There's a lot of theories.

    3. ...


      There's insane theories, then there's just sheer stupidity.

  2. I found this on youtube today....the best answer to the storm trooper accuracy insults. Made me LOL...

  3. They were ordered to make sure their biggest targers like luke, han and leia to avoid being harmed. Or it might be a fear that makes them bad shot

  4. The Ewoks are more impressive than you might think. Just because they are round does not mean they are fat. For all we know, they could be bundles of pure muscle. Look at what tech they have, despite working with stone tools. There are well-crafted tree-top villages, and they have working hang-gliders and prepare effective traps against AT-STs. Yes, they first tried to trip one with a rope, but you could also see that as a typical barbarian mentality of wanting to test their strength against the metal giants. Once that proved ineffective, they had at least two different traps ready to go, both of which were effective, the logs rolling underfoot, and the booms crushing one's head. Any time someone is alone or helpless in the woods, the Ewoks are there and ready for them. Wicket detected the Scout trooper well before Leia had a clue, and got under cover before the trooper knew he was there. They hunt things that eat meat and need a five person net to hold. They had the bunker's surroundings all scouted out and were able to guide Han & the Rebels to its weak point. When they needed a diversion, a primitive, stone-and-wood weilding Ewok STOLE A SPEEDER BIKE! And unlike the Jedi Knight or the life-long rebel operative, managed not to crash on his first ever flight. He even figured out how to stabilize it in mid-flight, and cut his losses by bailing on the vine, once he had accomplished his objective of drawing the guards into pursuit. And we don't know what Stormtrooper armor is built to prevent. Maybe it is intended as minor protection against getting thrown around by explosions, and against the heat or radiation hazards one might find on space ship battles, rather than the raw force and power of a hammer driven by dense Ewok muscles and concentrated on a small area. And for all we know, they took more casualties, but with a PG-13 rating, masses of cute fuzzy bears getting mowed down was just not getting onto the screen. And even if they did score a little too well against the stormtroopers, Lucas' generation was probably affected by the popular perception of Vietnam, with low-tech natives using the forest to get the edge on high tech soldiers from the first world.