Posts Tagged ‘original trilogy’

[Jonathan Jeckell is a regenerated U.S. Army officer striving find unique ways to remain useful to his country.]

Stormtroopers have been the butt of jokes across the galaxy for their poor marksmanship. Some conspiracy theories claim that the Emperor deliberately sabotaged their marksmanship on key occasions as part of elaborate plots, such as allowing rebels to escape to follow them back to their base. Only the most fanatically dedicated and well-disciplined troops would deliberately miss their targets and sacrifice their lives, and the Emperor’s plan only relied upon weaknesses in his forces, including weaknesses he deliberately left in place. All dictators both need and fear the people that keep them in power, so naturally Palpatine did not want his military forces becoming too competent, lest they rise up in a coup to depose him. This bias was also at the root of the creation of the Death Star and other monolithic, centrally controlled systems over more resilient, distributed architectures.

funny-star-wars-trek-red-shirt.jpg

Stormtrooper inaccuracy is a joke across the multiverse.

Infantry were not regarded as relevant or necessary with this overemphasis on centralized control. The Emperor clearly intended to run the Empire primarily through the Death Star, and secondarily through the Imperial Navy, which were orders of magnitude weaker than the Death Star and therefore no threat. Infantry troops inside the Death Star just might be, which is why he also had his own special force of personal bodyguards.

With the Droid Army defeated, the Empire no longer required mass armies. Infantry only served for boarding vessels (marine role) or constabulary duties. The Emperor intended to use orbital bombardment (or worse in the case of Alderaan) to maintain control.1 Palpatine certainly did not want to provide strong forces to regional governors who could return to the capital to overthrow him.2

Figure 1: Clone Trooper with rifle

 

Clone Troopers used long rifles in their role as a mass land army during the Clone Wars, fighting engagements with the Droid Army in a variety of terrain that often called for heavy firepower and accurate long-range shots. But most Stormtroopers were issued pistols that fit their new role in short-range engagements, like fighting insurgents in cities or in the corridors onboard ships. Short weapons are handier than rifles for shock troops leading boarding parties fighting in confined spaces and also as lightweight sidearms for constabulary forces dealing with a few unruly civilians (or keeping the governor and other regional elites in line).

Figure 2: Stormtrooper with blaster pistol

 

As we discussed before (Jedi Way of War), the Old Republic lacked military experience and doctrine, and had plentiful troops (the Clone Troopers), which came to be tacitly considered expendable and inexhaustible. The Old Republic lacked the social feedback of public outcry over casualties or any other impetus to develop military doctrine that considered minimizing casualties as a priority. This underlying logic carried over in the transition from Clone Troopers to Stormtroopers even as their roles and relative importance changed. After all, the Empire could press-gang as many Stormtroopers into service as necessary, and the numbers required were dramatically less than the Clone Army. Casualties remained uncontroversial after the Emperor consolidated power.

The transition from rifles to pistols has a profound effect on the range and accuracy of engagements. A rifle provides a long foundation to support the weapon to control where it is pointed with many opportunities to brace it to keep it steady. A standing shooter has control of the weapon in at least three points across its length. The non-firing arm holds the end of the barrel, the butt of the weapon is planted firmly in the shooter’s armpit, and the firing hand holds the rifle in the middle. The shooter may also brace against a solid object, which substantially increases stability and the ability to accurately hold the weapon on target long enough to fire.

Pistols in contrast are held by one point (or two in the case of the long pistols used by Stormtroopers). The shooter’s body has many joints between the pistol and the ground, all of which continuously jostle despite efforts to hold them steady. The short barrel means that even the smallest movement results in larger deviations from the target as the shooter struggles with a single bracing point, trying to hold many levers (all the joints in your body) steady without jitter.

To illustrate the difference, the maximum effective range of the U.S. Army’s Beretta M9 9mm pistol is 50 meters, which means that the average person will hit 50% of the time at 50 meters. Meanwhile, the maximum effective range for the M4 Carbine is 500 meters—10 times further.

This becomes even more difficult when the shooter must react quickly and under extreme stress. Many shooters who excel on the range fail to hit what they are shooting at in combat unless they also train in realistic stressful quick-reaction scenarios. Police and the FBI maintain more useful statistics for pistol engagements because they are all studied in-depth afterwards. The FBI has found that pistol accuracy suffers when shooting in a real engagement. FBI data from 1989-1994 shows that the majority of engagements occurred within 6-10 feet (yes, feet). Less than 40% of the engagements were over 21 feet (7 meters). 60% of the engagements were within 0-21 feet, 30% from 21-45 feet, and 10% from 45-75 feet. None occurred beyond 75 feet. The average defender fires three rounds against a single assailant. The bad guys shooting at police hit their target just 14% of the time, and 95% of the police who achieve a 1st shot hit survive. This drops to 48% on the second shot. Law enforcement officers average 75-80% missed shots.

This means that Luke, Leia, and Han make some really unbelievable shots with pistols (and the scope doesn’t help). Chewbacca’s bow is held like a rifle, so his shots don’t stand out as much on the battlefield as being extraordinary. This makes the Stormtroopers’ normal human precision seem inferior in contrast. We know Luke is a Jedi, which can explain his extreme long-range accuracy with a blaster. We also know Leia has latent Force powers, which explains hers as well. Han may not be a Jedi, but he may have latent force-sensitivity despite his skepticism about the Jedi and the Force. Despite laughing off the Jedi, his piloting skill surpassed normal human capabilities like one, even though he always laughed off the Jedi.

Figure 3: Han’s shooting and piloting skills far exceeded natural human ability

I estimate the distance from Luke to these Stormtroopers to be at LEAST 150 meters, yet he shot two in quick succession here, then shot a foot-square door control before egressing from the fight. Leia and Han regularly made many such shots throughout the series.

Figure 4. Force-sensitive Luke fires uncannily accurate shots with a Stromtrooper’s long pistol.

 

 

Figure 5: A wounded Leia gets the drop on a prepared Stormtrooper. One of many supernaturally quick and accurate shots.

 

1. Like Genghis Khan’s sieges during his conquest, Palpatine would only need to make examples of a few systems for the mere threat of the Death Star to coerce compliance.

2. Many Roman and Chinese regional governors were given sizable armies on the frontier to protect the empire from hostile border tribes, but instead turned their armies against the empire and attempted to take over.

Advertisements