On the Inaccuracies of Storm Trooper Accuracy

If you have spent any amount of time on the internet over the past 39 years, or had any conversations about Star Wars since 1977, you have likely experienced this pop culture joke: “Imperial Stormtroopers are the worst shots in the galaxy.” This trope has been universally accepted as fact, and on any image or video related to stormtroopers you will see multiple comments about how they can never hit anything.  Yet anyone who has watched the films and payed attention should know this is a gross oversimplification.  I intend to outline exactly why Stormtroopers do not deserve this stigma poisoning their reputation.

I am sharing this idea, and adding my own observations, because I believe it needs to be more widespread.  This should not even be a discussion among Star Wars fans, and should instead be a sign of how huge an impact the franchise has had on popular culture. If we can see the true purpose of the Imperial Stormtrooper, then we can even better understand and appreciate these historical documentaries about the Star Wars.

In the opening sequence of Episode IV, we see a flurry of activity aboard a rebel blockade runner as they are being overtaken by an Imperial Star Destroyer.  At least ten rebel soldiers take defensive positions in the corridor to defend their ship from the invading Empire.  Now, when you have that many blasters trained on a single door, when you know the enemy must come from a single location and you are in cover just waiting, you will have a significant advantage over the attacker.  The airlock is breached and the rebels briefly shield their vision from the blast.  Stormtroopers immediately start pouring through the opening and the rebels return fire.  We see the first stormtrooper to enter get shot, which is to be expected when trying to enter through such a tight opening with entrenched defenders on the other side.  From this point on though, the Empire cleans up.  Multiple rebels go down and we see just three are left to retreat.  A contingent of stormtroopers gives chase and run into a second level of defenses.  There are about ten more rebels in this location, a couple on the ground and we see more begin to fall.  One more stormtrooper gets hit, but the Empire appears to be taking complete control of the ship in a matter of seconds.  By the time Lord Vader comes aboard the captured Tantive IV, there are two fallen stormtroopers by the door and the rest of the hallway is filled with rebel bodies.  The ship is so completely overtaken that the Rebel Alliance surrenders and we are shown a squad of six rebels taken prisoner.  Darth Vader is immediately informed that the boarding party has already searched the ship’s computers, and there is no sign of the stolen plans.  They have also apprehended Princess Leia unharmed and deliver her to Vader.

The speed and precision in which this situation is resolved clearly points to high levels of skill and training.  It could be argued that the rebels who are on defense are not trained soldiers; they may just be members of the ship’s crew.  Perhaps, though It’s not likely that the Princess would travel around the galaxy without a trained armed escort.  Even still, because they stacked that first hallway, and because the invaders had to squeeze through such a tight pinch-point, the defenders still had a significant advantage that the stormtroopers negated fairly simply.  It is also worth noting at this time that we do not see stormtroopers whiffing their shots in these opening scenes.  They are set up as a swift and efficient military force.

Jumping further into the film, on Tatooine Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi have been introduced.  While crossing the desert in a landspeeder, Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids come across the massive wreckage of a familiar vehicle.  Luke assumes from the physical evidence that Sand People are responsible for raiding the giant Sandcrawler.  He remarks that he has never heard of them attacking something so big before and he calls out the Bantha tracks and gaffe sticks left behind as we see that at least a dozen Jawas have been massacred.  It is a brutal sight.  General Kenobi, on the other hand, knows better.  Having lived out beyond the Dune Sea, he is more familiar with the tactics of the Sand People.  The old wizard recognizes that the tracks left by the killers are side-by-side, while Sand People tend to ride single file to hide their numbers.  But most importantly, he specifically mentions the blast points left by their laser bolts saying, “They are too accurate for Sand People.  Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.”  These are blast points left in tiny Jawas who present a target half the size of a human; a third the size of a wookie.  

Our heroes were meant to think this was a barbarian raid; just some more wasteland violence.  But consider the chilling concept that these elite soldiers go to the effort after infiltrating a region to acquire equipment from a renowned violent tribe.  They leave these items at the scene like props, even take the time to create Bantha tracks in the sand, practically staging it so no one would know they were there.  These are special forces tactics.  

The first failure we see from the Stormtroopers is at Mos Eisley spaceport where they receive news from an informant that the droids they are looking for (and probably the boy after interrogating Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru) are boarding a Corellian freighter.  They rush the hanger and begin firing on Han Solo who is still outside the ship.  They fire several shots, but Captain Solo quickly returns fire and the troopers scramble to get behind cover.  Han runs aboard while his attackers seek safety.  It is unfortunate that they missed their initial shots, but not unbelievable that no one was hit in this exchange.  Especially considering how notorious Han is for getting out of sticky situations.

Now we get into the meat of the myth that stormtroopers lack the ability to be precise.  The Millennium Falcon is pulled into the Death Star and our heroes have to find a way to escape.

All the confrontations on the Death Star until Leia is rescued are initiated by Han and Luke surprising various guards.  After Vader says he senses Obi Wan’s presence and to leave the Jedi to him, that is when the ability of stormtroopers appear to change.  On the detention level, stormtroopers pour through a breached door similar to the opening of the film.  They fire continuously down the hallway without really getting close to hitting any target.  In military terms this is known as “suppressive fire.”  Its purpose is not to kill, but instead put pressure on the target and disrupt their mission.  The stormtroopers could be trying to pin them down until another team flanks and forces a surrender.  They could also just be forcing our heroes into an escape position.  If the odds are shown to be overwhelmingly against them, the rebels will instead opt to get the hell out of there.  I believe this is a key point.  Once the Princess has been rescued, the Empire does not act interested in recapturing them, but instead works to force them out.  This is reinforced when the heroes jump into the trash compactor.  The Empire does not appear to follow them.  If they wanted to kill the rebels, that would be solved by tossing a thermal detonator down the chute.  If they wanted to capture the now cornered rebels, it would be as simple as opening the magnetically locked door.  

When they get out of the garbage, there is a lot of chasing and a lot of shooting, but no one is hit.  At one point, Luke and Leia take a wrong turn and need to cross a gap.  Stormtroopers are raining blaster shots down on them, but not really getting close.  It is obvious suppressing fire: shooting at them when they are still in cover.  As the door behind the twins begins to open, the Stormtroopers could have shot them in the legs, but choose not to open fire until they have made the swing to the other side.  

When they run to the ship while Darth is fighting Ben, there are about six troopers who turn and return fire.  Our heroes stand in one place yelling to each other that they need to get out of there, but the blaster shots again are not hitting close to them.  The only major character who sustains damage in the escape is Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Vader never intended to let him leave.  They had been reunited after so many years, and, in both their minds, this is where their conflict would end.  

Shortly after escaping, a group of tie fighters descend upon the Millennium Falcon.  The fighters do some damage to the ship, but they are ultimately destroyed.  This is the weakest part of the argument.  Why would the Empire send out four tie fighters and four fighter pilots to their deaths?  Was it really just to sell the escape and make it look good?  If that is the case, it appears to work.  Immediately after the escape is complete, Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin discuss the homing beacon that was placed aboard the Millennium Falcon and how big a risk it is if this does not work.  They are obviously talking about the ramifications of letting a leader of the Rebel Alliance go free on the chance that they will be able to destroy them before the Princess makes them regret it.  But perhaps the size of the risk is also determined by the number of lives and resources they gave up to let the Princess escape.  All of this is obvious to Leia who reiterates the point back on the Falcon, saying how the Empire obviously let them go and their escape was entirely too easy.  

That statement is shared with the audience twice.  The Empire let them escape so that the tracking device they placed on the Corellian freighter would lead them to the Rebel base.  All the theatrics on the Death Star were not to kill them or even recapture them.  It was to let them escape while making it look like they were successful in escaping.  If they felt safe and successful, they would not worry about going straight to the primary rebel base.  The stormtroopers involved did not have terrible accuracy.  They were completing their mission.

The plan of course works and the Empire learns of the rebel base on Yavin IV.  The Rebel Alliance briefs an attack party as the Death Star moves into position to destroy the moon base.  From this point on, the Empire and its pilots pull no punches and almost annihilate the rebel forces.  Accuracy is not an issue, for the pilots or the gunners in the trenches.  Any missed shots are explained when an Imperial officer says the rebel ships are too small and their defenses are having trouble picking them up.  This is precisely the reason why the rebels created this attack plan based on the stolen Death Star plans.

I hope this accurately describes what motivated the stormtroopers and how rumors of their incompetence has been greatly exaggerated in popular culture.  There is a brief section of the film where their abilities appear suboptimal, but only if you misinterpret their motivations.  They act with the greater purpose of uncovering the larger threat and the hope of wiping out their only opposition in the galaxy.


During the editing of this article, a discussion came up asking “how such an elite unit could be beaten by a bunch of Care Bears.”  It is true, during the climax of Return of the Jedi, a band of Ewoks and a handful of rebel soldiers are able to beat a large unit of stormtroopers and capture or destroy their armored All Terrain Scout Transports.  My prefered analogy is to compare the battle on the forest moon of Endor to the American Revolutionary War.  

The Empire is easily relatable to the British Empire of the time: superior weaponry, superior numbers, and superior battlefield tactics.  The rebel unit and their Ewok friends could be compared to the colonial American militia and their alliance with France.  On their own, the rebels probably would not have been successful on that mission.  But when a foreign group decided to help, who did not really need to, then they are able to find victory.  

Because they are beaten by a race of tiny bears does not mean stormtroopers are a joke branch in the Imperial military.  During the American Revolution, there is no reason why the colonists should have beaten a substantial military force.  If they had met on the open battlefield, where the British tactics could be utilized, the rebels would certainly have been crushed.  Knowing this, the colonists instead utilized guerrilla warfare.  Guerrilla warfare is exactly what the Ewoks used to help the rebels drive the Empire from their moon.  As history is known to repeat itself, it did again a long time ago in our very own galaxy.