The blatant inability of the Star Wars’ henchmen to hit, as my Dad used to say, a bull’s arse with a handful of wheat, is as legendary as Darth Vader’s villainy. But, to quote Professor Julius Sumner-Miller, why is it so? After all, stormtroopers are professional soldiers of a ruthless military power. How is it possible that they’re such universally bad shots?
You might to tempted to blame their firearms. After all, not all guns are equal. The Chaucat light machine gun used by the French in WWI was legendarily “impossible to aim”. The real-life stormtroopers of Nazi Germany might also have pointed to the Krummlauf, an attachment for the MP-44 assault rifle, designed to shoot around corners. In reality, it sprayed bullets at random angles and as often as not shattered the attachment.
But the stormtroopers’ E-11 blasters are supposed to be an impressive and deadly weapon. Certainly, the good guys are frequently able to pilfer them off downed stormtroopers and use them to deadly effect. So, a bad stormtrooper can’t blame his tools.
Are they just bad soldiers? In the prequel series, it is explicit that clone troopers, cloned from mercenary Jango Fett, are the original stormtroopers.
(The clone troopers, it should be noted, were originally loyal servants of the Republic and the Jedi. But, unbeknownst to even them, they are secretly implanted with a bio-chip which, at a set time, enacts “Protocol 66”, which programs them to turn on their erstwhile masters. The clone troopers’ tragic story arc is a fascinating sub-plot of the often-underestimated Clone Wars animated series.)
So, the first generation of stormtroopers are highly trained, engineered battle troops. They are shown, in the prequels and Clone Wars series, to be deadly in battle. What happened to them, to make them such terrible shots by Episode IV: A New Hope? Perhaps Protocol 66 messed with their heads so much that they forgot their marksmanship? A New Hope is set less than twenty years after Revenge of the Sith and the fall of the Republic, so possibly many of the original clone troopers have been replaced with new recruits.
As Episode VII: The Force Awakens shows, the First Order is reduced to kidnapping children to conscript into its armies, but in A New Hope, Luke’s friend Biggs talks of entering the Academy as a trainee pilot, so it seems that the Empire’s stormtroopers are probably volunteers.
Maybe their training is just deficient – or their motivation. Even the lowliest private in the US Marines is ruthlessly drilled in marksmanship, so training seems unlikely. On the other hand, the Empire, being a dictatorship trying to suppress internal rebellion, might be less choosy – and its grunts decidedly less enthusiastic.
But Obi-Wan doesn’t seem to think so. As he remarks to Luke when they find the massacred Jawas: “These blast points… too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise”. Obi-Wan, by this point, has fought against and run away from stormtroopers often enough that we must assume he knows what he’s talking about.
But the most obvious explanation might be that they just can’t see where they’re shooting.
When Luke and Leia, completely untrained civilians (although farmboy Luke claims to be dab hand at bulls-eyeing womp rats), appropriate stormtroopers’ blasters, they shoot to kill with admirable accuracy. But when Luke dons a stormtrooper’s helmet as a disguise, he immediately exclaims, “I can’t see a thing in this helmet”. It might seem odd for the ruthlessly efficient Empire (order and efficiency, remember, was Anakin’s prime motivation for siding with Senator Palpatine, the future Emperor) to design rubbish equipment, but then, the afore-mentioned Krummlauf was designed by Germans, who are somewhat renowned for their engineering ability.
Another possibility is that the stormtroopers are just faking it, at least in A New Hope. After all, Darth Vader has ordered that the fugitives be taken alive and deliberately allows them to escape, to track them back to the hidden Rebel base. So, it’s entirely possible that all those stormtroopers firing wildly and ostentatiously dropping “dead” at the first shot were taking a dive like Italian soccer players. It’s not hard to imagine them waiting for the smoke to clear, then whispering, “Are they gone, yet? Can we get up now?”
Yet, their marksmanship never improves, even in later movies where they’re trying in earnest to kill the Rebel scum.
But, all of this ignores the simplest and most likely explanation: George Lucas is just a hack writer who inserts whatever plot holes are necessary in order to get his heroes off the hook.
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