In my series Inside the Stormtroopers, I’ll be examining one of the most iconic elements of the Star Wars universe. In part one we will consider their reputation and whether or not it is deserved.
There are few subjects in the Star Wars universe, or in all of Science Fiction for that matter, that conjure so many opposing images. On the one hand they are the cold, dreadful, elite troops of the Empire. On the other, they are often maligned for being inept, mouth breathers who can hardly hit the long side of a sandcrawler. Which of these reputations is more deserved though? I would argue that the former is more accurate and that the latter is begot by misinterpreting just a few scenes within the films.
Let’s address their poorer reputation first. How did it come to be that Imperial Stormtroopers got such a rotten distinction as the worst shots in the galaxy? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that this comes almost entirely from A New Hope, specifically the Death Star pursuit of Han, Luke, and Leia. On the surface it seems that the troopers couldn’t hit a single thing no matter how hard they tried. However, it is often noted that the Empire deliberately allowed the rebels to escape in order to track them back to the hidden base on Yavin IV. The Stormtroopers had to miss in order for the plan to succeed. They needed to put up a convincing enough fight in order to dispel any suspicion, but not actually seriously wound or kill any of our heroes. Obviously Leia is aware of this, but it seems to have fooled Han and Luke well enough. It has even been suggested that some Stormtroopers allowed themselves to be shot in order to make the escape that much more believable. I don’t necessarily endorse that interpretation. I think it’s more likely that some of them just happened to get hit in the course of the fire fights. In fact I would hazard that Imperial command on board the Death Star didn’t even come up with the “let them escape” plan until after they freed the princess. Until that point they were legitimately trying to kill Han, Luke, and Chewie. The fight in the cell block was a real effort by the troopers.
Another source of the incompetent Stormtrooper myth is the Battle of Endor. I mean how could the empire’s “best troops”, according to the Emperor, be beaten by such a puny force of rebel commandos and teddy bears? Well because those cute little teddy bears are a vicious race of carnivorous BEARS! Think about it. What was the first thing the Ewoks were going to do in Return of the Jedi? Eat Han, Luke, and even Chewie. These little dudes mean business! They had a sophisticated society and certainly had advanced Neolithic technology if not early bronze or copper weapons. Compounding this apparent blood lust they appear to possess an advanced, complex, and hierarchical warrior society. There are village elders who seem to take on spiritual and leadership roles who denote their rank by adorning themselves with the skulls of felled beasts. IF that doesn’t scream ferocity I don’t know what does. This is not a gang of bloodthirsty warriors that I would want to confront. In addition, they are capable of complex labor organization as evidenced by their treetop villages and siege engines. During the Battle of Endor we witness a showcase of Ewok engineering from tree-trunk battering rams (demonstrated to be a viable weapon by the mythbusters) to a massive log-roll. This also demonstrates that the Ewoks had for some time been monitoring imperial avenues of approach. They clearly knew who they were fighting and how to beat them. The level of organization and intelligence required to successfully conduct reconnaissance on imperial MSRs (Main Supply Routes), prepare ambushes along those routes, and avoid detection rivals that of any species.
The empire on the other hand was clearly woefully unprepared, but not due to the incompetence of the Stormtrooper corps but, rather the one critical flaw apparent throughout the empire; hubris. Individual Stormtroopers remain some of the best troops ever raised in the galaxy. Unfortunately their officers were not prepared for the sort of guerrilla force the Ewoks represented. The Imperial Command clearly didn’t even consider the Ewoks a threat at all. They most likely just wrote them off as fauna. It’s not surprising then that the Stormtroopers were so thoroughly beaten by a viscous species of intelligent pack hunters that they were totally unprepared to face. (As an aside, did the Ewoks eat the Stormtroopers’ remains after the battle of Endor? I mean we already know they eat people. They were probably celebrating with a giant human feast right? Did the rebels feel weird about that at all? I dunno, I’m just sayin’.)
Aside from these two instances the Stormtroopers (and their forebears the Clonetroopers) appear to be crack troops. Throughout the Clone Wars they performed admirably. In every battle we witness they seem to handle the droid armies extraordinarily well. They defeat them at Geonosis. They wipe the floor with them on Kashyyk. On Utapau they ambushed the droids seamlessly. In every instance the clones defeat their enemies handily. They are even able to kill Jedi by the thousands, a notoriously difficult task. Later Obi-Wan remarks that ”These blast points are too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.” Obviously imperial skill was known to Obi-Wan and he held their marksmanship in high regard. On Hoth the Snowtroopers execute a flawless assault on a fortified objective. It was apparent that they were not only well versed in that type of operation but that they had rehearsed it and planned accordingly and we shouldn’t be surprised by that. I mean they were Darth Vader’s personal troops, he wouldn’t pick a bunch of lousy conscripts. He wanted the best.
The Stormtroopers are without a doubt some of the best soldiers ever fielded in the Galaxy. Their poor reputation being undeserved, they were without a doubt a force to be reckoned with. In Part two of this series on the Stormtroopers we’ll discuss the iconic ivory Stormtrooper armor and how it reflects their institutional organization.