Riffing on Star Wars: #17 – The Aim of Stormtroopers

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The Galactic Empire for nearly two decades slowly ground the galaxy underneath its proverbial jackboot heel.  Lead by the sinister Emperor Palpatine and terrorized by Darth Vader, the Empire’s capital ships became symbols of oppression, used as recently as the last Rogue One trailer.  In short, there’s a lot about the Empire that intimidates and frightens, but over the course of the nearly forty years since the premiere of A New Hope the stormtrooper has become something of a mocked figure.

The humor directed at the white armor clad minions of the Empire most often boils down to a perceived inability to hit anything with their blasters.  This joke even appeared in Season Two of Rebels, wherein “Stealth Strike” we watched Captain Rex and Kanan Jarrus complain the stormtrooper helmets make it impossible to hit anything.  And perhaps, the ability of the lowly stormtrooper was undermined by a certain battle on a specific forest moon, where primitive Ewoks managed to serve up a bitter dish to the legions.  It didn’t start out that way, and arguably, the status of the stormtrooper resisted much if any diminishment across the original trilogy.

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In the first film of that series, stormtroopers are the first human representatives of the Empire in A New Hope.   Their introduction arrived in an explosion of smoke, sparks, and fire, before the worried faces of the defenders of the Tantive IV.  The worry was real, as the stormtroopers who formed the boarding party, quickly left many of the friends and comrades dead on the deck of the ship.  The stormtroopers went on to make short order of the rebels on Princess Leia’s consular ship, and nor were they the last to fall to Imperial blasters.

On Tatooine, in search of the plans of the Death Star, the stormtroopers wiped out a sand crawler’s worth of jawas, and but for the sharp eye of Obi-Wan Kenobi, might have succeeded in framing their slaughter on the Sand People.  The same stormtroopers who tracked the path of the droids to the jawas, also followed the trail to the Lars farm stead with tragic results for Luke Skywalker.  Throughout the film, with the sole exception of our heroes, the stormtroopers repeatedly proved themselves capable of effective fighting and ruthless execution of the Empire’s will.  This didn’t change, either, in the sequel that followed.

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A fan made computer game, based on the flight sim X-Wing, offered players the chance to pilot a snow speeder set during The Empire Strikes Back.  That game was appropriately called Hell Hoth No Fury.  The Battle of Hoth, due to the ineptitude of Admiral Ozzel, became a victorious land battle under the command of General Veers and one again, which was made possible by the ability of the stormtrooper in the form of the snowtrooper.  No few number of rebels were left to snowy graves in the aftermath of the hasty retreat.  Not until Return of the Jedi were stormtroopers tested against a questionable enemy, the Ewoks.

The Battle of Endor has been criticized for the presence of those furry pint sized forest pygmies and in particularly, their success, albeit limited, against Imperial troops.  Watchers of the battle are treated to storm troopers being hit on the head with large rocks, strangled by bolas which wrapped around their necks, and aerial attack from Ewok gliders above.  In this case, it’s best to remember two things.  First, the Ewoks had home court advantage.  Everything about the Ewoks offered one advantage after another, from size and appearance, to their own obvious knowledge of the terrain.  Second, the Ewoks didn’t win the battle, and were in full fledge retreat until Chewbacca captured an AT-ST and offered the rebels a new tactical advantage.  But the question arose in Jedi, as it did in every film before it, if the stormtroopers were so good, why didn’t they ever hit what they were shooting at?

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Specifically, we refer to our heroes, Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca.   All but Leia emerged unscathed after repeated encounters with the legions, and had a stormtrooper simply better aim aboard the Death Star, there wouldn’t have been a Tatooine bush pilot making an incredible shot at an exhaust port only a number of hours later.  The answer to this question is obvious, they are the heroes.  The protagonist(s) enjoy the storytelling equivalent of Teflon, with author directed destinies that hold their adventures will not end until the happy ending.  The stormtroopers could not any sooner hit any of the heroes than they might the viewer.  Thankfully, the fearsome reputation that George Lucas bestowed upon the Empire’s foot soldiers continued on under the banner of the First Order, who like the Empire’s stormtroopers, don’t hesitate to wipe out a village on Jakku (with one exception, of course!).

With large black insect-like eyes and a permanent frown, the stormtroopers who answered the call of Darth Vader and the Emperor did so with lethal ability and little regard for the lives or rights of those who stood in the way of performing their job.  Rogue One promises more opportunities to see stormtroopers in the field, doing what they love to do most, killing rebels.  How many will they miss? How many graves will they fill?  Until December, 2016, we can only ponder the aim of stormtroopers.

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4 thoughts on “Riffing on Star Wars: #17 – The Aim of Stormtroopers

  1. Ewoks were the worst things about the Star Wars movies, and sealed the fate of the Stormtroopers as guys to be mocked. I can’t get over their laying down their energy weapons when the (carnivorous and anthropophagous) furry savages revealed themselves.

    I would have gone down shooting, man.

    Like

    • Well, you do have to appreciate the fact that the Ewoks may have well been eating Imperials for some time. They were super eager to start roasting Han and Luke until C-3PO intervened. Going down shooting comes across as a much better alternative!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In my view, the poor aim of the stormtroopers can be explained in the dialogue of the movies.

    ANH
    In ANH, there are two scenes of dialogue that suggest the stormtroopers were ordered to allow the heros to escape the Death Star.

    Firstly, after the Falcon escapes the Tie attack, dialogue between Tarkin and Vader indicates that they let the heros escape so that they would lead the imps to the rebel base.

    Secondly, Leia says to Han that their escape was too easy and she believes that they were allowed to escape.

    These taken together suggest that the stormtroopers were ordered to let the heros escape. The logical assumption following on from this is that the stormtroopers were also ordered to miss their targets. Thus I would argue the stormtroopers showed tremendous accuracy and discipline is deliberately missing their targets during the Death Star escape. Can you imagine how difficult is must be to fake pursuit of and deliberately shoot to miss an enemy who is shooting back?

    When you consider the blaster bolts flying about and the confusion of the situation, the stormtroopers showed their skill by failing to hit the heros, even when a chance hit, however small was statistically more likely.

    I addressed these points in two FanFiction stories I posted on FanFiction.net, in case anyone is interested.

    TESB
    The same situation applies to the escape from Bespin by Leia and Chewy. When Vader finds out that Leia has is escaping Bespin, he gives orders to catch the prisoners alive. By inference, the stormtroopers must have been ordered that they could NOT shoot to kill. Thus, they were in no position to fire freely at their targets. So again, it is unfair to say they couldn’t shoot straight. I assume that their main aim would be to pin them down their targets and perhaps stun them. This would be difficult to do against military trained opponents like Leia and Chewy who were shooting to kill.

    RotJ
    Unlike, the other two movies, there is no direct indication that stormtroopers were ordered to shoot to miss. However, there is circumstantial evidence that this may be the case, at least with respect to the heros on Endor.

    Firstly, we know that Vader wanted to turn look. It would be in Vader’s interest to catch Luke’s friends alive to have leverage over him. This is not said in the movie, but it is a logical conclusion.

    Secondly, it is indicated that Vader knew that Leia may have known Leia was his daughter. If that is so, he would want to capture her alive. And he would want her companions alive for the same reasons as in the first point above.

    Thirdly, Leia and Han were both high ranking members of the rebellion. It would make sense to capture them even if the Empire won the battle to obtain information.

    So there are good reasons to believe that stormtroopers were ordered to be careful with their shooting, especially when it came to the heros. Not just because they were the heros, but because it was in the interests of the Vader to keep them alive.

    Liked by 1 person

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