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In the Star Wars films we consistently witness just how poor soldiers stormtroopers are. They show very sub-par marksmanship, crappy house searching tactics, and are easily fooled and defeated by Ewoks and Rebels.

That being said, I remember reading a character guide that defined Stormtroopers as the very best of the best (best marksman, above average intelligence, etc.). So, in the realm of the Expanded Universe, does the mold that the movies set continue to hold true or are they just the exceptions to the rule?

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Perhaps they were all excellent marksmen until they executed General Order 66. Then they were subject to the Principle of Evil Marksmanship. So, really, it's not their faul. –  Tango Jun 8 '11 at 4:53
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And don't forget how they bang their heads on the door as they rush in... –  Daniel Roseman Jun 8 '11 at 8:43
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@Daniel: If I were a commanding officer, I'd give that one a commendation for his obvious eagerness to do his duty. –  Jeff Jun 8 '11 at 13:18
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Remember that Leia was a Senator and there would have been severe consequences for killing her. While her capture was highly desired there was most likely a standing order forbbiding killing her. This can also help explain supressive fire as they are chasing through the halls. And must also explain why the rebal blasts seemed to have explosive effect where the Stormtroppers shots just sort of flashed with a little scorch. –  Chad Jun 8 '11 at 13:59
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@Chad: Power settings are nice in an energy weapon. –  Jeff Jun 8 '11 at 14:44

8 Answers 8

up vote 161 down vote accepted

Stormtroopers are not poor soldiers. Let's consider the situations in which they find themselves:

A New Hope: Stormtroopers led by Vader seize a Blockade Runner, suffering some losses. Soldiers on Tatooine are susceptible to Force Persuasion, and are slow to break out the big guns to stop a freighter from escaping. Stormtroopers on the Death Star show poor accuracy and tactics during their pursuit of the main cast. Many seem to be killed or wounded, and very few even come CLOSE to hitting the good guys.

Empire Strikes Back: Snowtroopers overrun prepared defenses at the Rebel base. The Rebels are routed and flee. Later, Stormtroopers escort Vader on Cloud City, essentially do nothing...except for completely (and virtually invisibly) taking over the entire security.

Return of the Jedi: Storm and Scout troopers guard the forest moon of Endor. A covert strike team supported by the indigenous peoples of the moon assault the base and destroy it.

Taking these in order, then:

ANH: During the boarding action at the start of the movie, the Stormtroopers assault a ship. Despite the defenders using cover and being aware of their entry point, they suffer only minor losses and quickly seize control of the ship.

The Stormtroopers on Tatooine are most likely part of the local constabulary, not regular army units - their training is sub-par, they have gotten into a routine, and they are trying to add additional duties on top of their standard ones - they're expected to monitor traffic into and out of a city the size of Mos Eisley. When it does all hit the fan, they respond with respectable speed to uncertain information (a single non-human informant, who likely was paid well for his trouble).

After the Death Star escape, Leia says it herself: "It was too easy. They let us get away." The Stormtroopers harried the main cast during their entire retreat to the ship. They continued operating under their orders (including the order to not kill the pilot or princess, to ensure that they escaped to the Rebel base) even while taking casualties. At one point in the chase, after Luke sees Obi-wan struck down, Stormtroopers are seen carefully aiming, and each shot misses, even as they are picked off. They show remarkable devotion to their duty by staying cool under fire, shooting to miss, and ignoring their natural desires for vengeance against the ones who are hurting their friends and colleagues.

ESB: Nothing to see, here. Stormtroopers doing what they do. They assault and overrun fixed, prepared defenses with such speed that they are able to cut off the internal security and overrun the base far quicker than the Rebels expected. They do this DESPITE the way their heavy artillery is hampered by the Rebel air forces.

Later, at cloud city, they seized control to the point where normal operations were not interrupted, the common persons had no idea of their presence, and maintained it. As pointed out by Mark in the comments, they did this with virtually NO prep time. So being able to flawlessly seize control of what is effectively a space station (best parallel I can come up with, despite it being technically in atmosphere), and hold it effectively indefinitely, maintain discretion even after inadvertent discovery is an application of their standard training, since they were able to do it from a standing start.

RotJ: This is the situation where the Stormtroopers are worst portrayed. In the jungle, they are unable to prevent the destruction of the shield emitter.

Their loss, however, is mitigated by several factors, many of which can be traced back to the Emperor himself:

  1. They aren't issued proper equipment for their surroundings. They have shining white armor in a jungle.
  2. They do not properly prepare their defenses - there are no 'kill zones' around the base itself, which any military would prepare in an area of dense foliage.
  3. They are forced to allow the covert group to initially succeed, while the Emperor works on Luke.

Now let's consider their opposition: the Ewoks. Yes, they seem silly. They're tiny little teddy bears, they were created for marketing purposes, and not nearly enough of them were shown dying. But from an in-universe perspective, really think about what we see. These little, curious, cute fuzzballs are completely psychotic. They volunteer in HUGE numbers to assault beings who have godlike powers (comparatively), they know the area well, they've been observing their enemies for a long time. And they're strong as hell. Ewoks are seen effortlessly lifting boulders the size of their torsos and throwing them. While it's obvious that the 'boulders' were props made of styrofoam, from an in-universe point of view, we must assume they were rock.

I don't care HOW good your armor is, the kinetic force of that much rock, at that velocity, will knock you silly. And what happens when you find yourself on your ass, concussed, surrounded by primitive creatures with the strength to rend you limb-from-limb? We should be glad for the artful cuts the movie makes.

I could go on, but this has already been long enough in the typing.

In short, the times when we see Stormtroopers 'sucking' are all times when their hands have been tied by politics, overarching military strategy, or their superiors incompetence.

The times we see them doing their jobs without such problems, they perform exceedingly well.

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No, they're worse.

Those represent, according to Palpatine, who should know : "an entire legion of my best troops"

"As is your Rebel fleet! It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them."

We can assume the rest are worse than those on Endor.

Per Obi Wan, we can also assume sandpeople are possibly the worst of all :

"These blast points - too accurate for sandpeople. Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise"

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I thought "an entire legion of my best troops" was a euphemism or at least a bluff. –  mbx Jun 8 '11 at 8:47
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Pretty sure the emperor was joking. Vadar did do a snort-laugh after that comment. –  kubi Jun 8 '11 at 9:30
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Another inconsistency: Apparently Sand People gun training has greatly decreased in the last few decades, because in The Phantom Menace, they were picking off podracers flying at hundreds of kilometers per hour. –  Tomari7 Sep 9 '13 at 5:32
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@Tomari7 you should post that as a question. –  jacen.garriss Oct 2 '13 at 20:28

On the one hand this is such lazy writing as to be a common trope, sometimes called the principle of evil marksmanship - basically they can't be any good, as the heroes have to constantly be close to being caught/shot and yet always get away.

I think the problem might be universal though - hardly anyone in the universe can shoot straight. Just look at Greedo not being able to hit someone across the table (though I'd debate that Han shot first).

Given all the standard problems with projectile weapons on spaceships maybe blasters are a sucky but cheap and reliable alternative?

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Who needs The Force if you've got a Smith & Wesson! –  Ryan Jun 8 '11 at 13:27
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I have no idea what you're talking about. Greedo never got a shot off. –  Jeff Jun 8 '11 at 13:34
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@Jeff He must be watching some retconned propaganda put out by the Rebel scum... –  Ryan Jun 8 '11 at 14:20
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@Jeff - Jar Jar never existed either :-) –  Keith Jun 8 '11 at 14:58
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Who? Google search suggests you might mean can can –  Jeff Jun 8 '11 at 15:00

The reason for the discrepancy (one of them) was:

  • Orginal STs were exclusively clones of Jango Fett. The officers were specially grown/brainwashed to be more independent/better combatants

  • By ANH, only 1/3 of stormtroopers are Fett clones. Most are normal human crap^H^H^H^Hrecruits.

  • By ROTJ, even more.

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Also worth noting that due to the accelerated aging plot device that allowed for an army to be created between TPM and AotC, the Fett clones would have aged to the equivalent of 50's or 60's by ANH, meaning that they're probably not on the top of their game either. –  Tomari7 Sep 9 '13 at 5:36
    
@Tomari7: do we know that accelerated aging continues after the clone reaches adulthood? That's reasonable, you don't expect disposable soldiers to live very long, but is it established in canon? –  Jon of All Trades Sep 11 at 17:32

The best example of just how poor stormtroopers comes from comparing the Lucas approved stats in the various RPG's between Stormtroopers and the Heroes.

In WEG's Star Wars the RPG, a Stormtrooper is as good as normal people get...

Stormtrooper
Str 2D (3D for damage purposes)
__ Brawling 3D
Dex 2D (reduced to 1D by armor)
__ Blaster 4D (reduced to 3D by armor)
__ Brawling Parry 4D (reduced to 3D by armor)
__ Dodge 4D (reduced to 3D by armor)
Kno 2D
Per 2D
Tech 2D
Mech 2D
WEG Star Wars 1E, page 103

Note that 4D is actually pretty decent, with 2D as average human stats, 3D as average starting PC stats, noting that starting human player characters can have up to 4D in an attribute, and Han Solo's blaster skill is 9D...

They are, like almost all villain's armies, dangerous not particularly for skill, but for sheer numbers.

In the current FFG Star Wars, the attribute scale is 1-6, with humans normally having 2 as the minimum, and almost no PC's having 6's; no starting PC can start with a 6 as yet. Skills run 0-5.

THe Stormtrooper is Brawn 3, Agility 3, other attributes 2's, no skills, 5 WT (versus 10 base) 5 armor counting 2 points of laminate. Effective skill of a group is a single attack with an effective skill of (Number in group firing together)-1.

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Does D mean d6? –  b_jonas Dec 20 '12 at 8:47
    
in general, most of the time you see a #D, it refers to #d6. Note that WEG's Star Wars was the 2nd game of the d6 system... and used only d6's. –  aramis Dec 20 '12 at 18:46
    
@aramis: worth pointing out that these stats are after adjustment for their armor. Without the armor's penalty to Dex, Stormtroopers were at 3D dex and 5D blaster. –  Jeff Jan 7 at 14:42
    
@Jeff Wrong. See SWRPG 1E, p. 103. –  aramis Jan 7 at 21:01
    
1E is outdated. The new(er) stats in WEG Star Wars Revised take precedence. –  Jeff Jan 7 at 21:07

For RotJ, Ewoks/Rebels = Vietcong, Empire = USA (The Empire). Or Ewoks = American Colonials, Empire = Brits. Or Ewoks = Afghans, Empire = Russia. The relatively poorly armed guerilla fighters often have an advantage over the larger invaders.

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It is noteworthy that stormtroopers are portrayed to be far more competent in the Expanded Universe. Even though the old standards somemtimes crumble, crack troops still exist and are superior to most comparable units in the galaxy.

Off the top of my head I remember Timothy Zahn's Survivor’s Quest and Allegiance to be particularly good examples. In both books, we get to see action from the stormtroopers' point of view.

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In the first three episodes the Stromtroopers are brand new and fresh. So back then they were excellent troopers since they're all clones from Jango Fett(the best bounty hunter).

However, 20 years later in the sequels, a lot of them had to be replaced with standard personal. So, although, the best may be on Endor, overall they would be average.

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