Any evil empire in science fiction worth its salt needs an army to enforce its tyrannical rule. In the Star Wars universe this role is filled by the imposing Imperial stormtroopers. Their armor alone is so iconic: a ghastly white shell evocative of a skull that strikes fear into the hearts of their enemies. From the moment they boarded Princess Leia’s ship we know they mean business.
Alas all of their intimidating presence falls apart when they take a massive dive in competence aboard the Death Star. This seemingly subpar performance would snowball across the fandom and pop culture as a whole, ultimately branding the once proud soldiers as inept canon fodder. The exact moment this shift occurs is unclear. Stormtroopers have been labeled as such since their debut in A New Hope and the reputation remains from then on. It has gotten so bad that this poor image has seeped into the Star Wars universe itself with every new project involving the stormtroopers throwing a quick jab at their expense.
In an effort to avail these proud soldiers of this egregious misnomer, let us start at the beginning and take a deeper look at their performance in the original trilogy. We will not be looking at more recent projects, as most of them play off biases that were established much earlier. They either perpetuate the joke or they overcompensate to counter it. Instead, we will focus on the original three films as this is where they made their start and we get an idea of what they were meant to be all along.
It is important to note right off the bat that the stormtroopers are the antagonistic force of the original trilogy. From a meta perspective it only makes sense that they cannot hit their targets. Any life-or-death engagement with central protagonists is doomed to fail for the troopers as a result of plot armor. It would be a very short franchise if they were able to land those hits. With that aside, it is still important that these individuals pose a threat in universe or there would be no sense of danger going forward. Thus, when the faceless troops of the Empire face off with the faceless soldiers of the Rebellion, more often than not, things go poorly for the good guys.
Even before we are introduced to the stormtroopers in person, the title crawl of A New Hope lets us know the Rebellion is in dire straits. For the majority of the war, they have had to resort to hit and run tactics to survive. This is not even enough at times. The acquisition of the Death Star plans is considered to be the Rebellion’s first major victory against the Empire. The number of prior engagements varies depending on what sources you consult. However, no matter how you look at it, it is not a promising start to a war. Their first victory is also short lived once the Empire catches up to our heroes.
"Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire."
From the first moment the stormtroopers arrive on the scene, their entrance is an explosive one. We find our troopers breaching the heroes’ ship with a boarding party. Alarms blare and the rebels on board take up arms to defend themselves. These rebels know exactly where the troopers will be coming from—a small door at the end of a narrow hallway. While the defenders have every conceivable advantage, they are quickly cut down by the attacking force. Despite this ideal beachhead, the superior training and, dare I say it, the accuracy of the stormtroopers win the day. They even manage to capture Princess Leia, one of the story’s main heroes.
“And these blast points, too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.”
We take a trip down to Tatooine where the stormtroopers are on the hunt for R2-D2 and C-3PO. We do not see much of them in action here, but they do receive high praise from Obi-Wan. Prior to becoming a joke in the franchise, this line was originally meant to be a testament to their battle prowess. As we know, Obi Wan was a general in the Clone Wars and fought alongside the touted clone troopers of the Republic. So it is safe to say his opinion on the matter should carry some weight. The film wants to impress upon us that these soldiers are not a threat to be taken lightly.
Then, we arrive at the Death Star. After all their earlier praises, this is where the stormtroopers get their bad reputation. The aforementioned accuracy is nowhere to be seen. Troopers just cannot seem to land a shot to save their lives, even when the heroes are a few feet away. This time, the villains have the home field advantage, but they just cannot seem to overcome our heroes. Is this proof of their incompetence? However, a later exchange between Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin reveals that our heroes were allowed to escape.
“They let us go. It was the only reason for the ease of our escape.”
Landing your shots in the heat of battle is no easy feat. Intentionally missing and still making your shots convincing is even harder still. As the conversation between Vader and Tarkin implies, the troopers on board the Death Star are under orders to let the enemy escape. Such a ruse requires strict discipline from every trooper involved. Throughout their flight from the battle station, our heroes have to be harassed by blaster fire, but never harmed. The troopers have no such protection and are expected to sacrifice their lives to maintain the illusion. They do it anyway seemingly without hesitation to ensure the plan was a success.
Many would cite the Battle of Endor as proof of the stormtroopers’ skills, or lack thereof. On the forest moon of Endor an entire legion of the Empire’s best troops is defeated by the indigenous Ewoks. An advanced army losing to a pack of tribal teddy bears certainly looks like a faux pas at first glance. Let us consider what we have learned from the film, however. The Ewoks appear to be the dominant race on the moon, certainly the only one we see. The skulls and bones that adorn their garb are testaments to their skills as hunters. It is these skills that almost spell the end for our heroes. If C-3PO had not been mistaken for a god, the movie may have had a much darker ending. The Ewoks’ victory is a testament to their skills, and not a result of the stormtroopers’ ineptitude.
Stormtroopers may not be an elite corps of unstoppable super soldiers, but they have it where it counts. These men and women serve their empire valiantly. That is an admirable quality even if it is for the wrong side. Sadly, in recent years, stormtroopers have become victims of bad jokes with no end in sight. Ultimately, the bad guys should always finish last in these kinds of action-adventure stories. It is just the nature of things. When you strip them of all of their menace for the sake of levity you lose any sense of danger. Unfortunately, the vast majority of more recent additions to the franchise treat them like a bumbling speed bump rather than an actual threat.
The future for stormtroopers certainly seem bleak, but not all hope is lost. The Star Wars wheel keeps turning so anything is possible. Hopefully, the stormtroopers can strike back, and regain their former glory. Despite their unsavory status, there is no love lost for the downtrodden soldiers of the empire. One need only look to groups like the 501st legion to see that. With any luck they will make an explosive comeback to the fearsome menace we love to hate. Anything can happen in this galaxy of possibilities.
Written By Micah Mitchells
Source(s): EC Henry
Syndicated From Culture Slate