I've been watching the Clone Wars and it struck me how many battles come down to two large infantry forces facing off.

Often the tactics are WW1 era: two forces, largely ground-based, some mounted.

Often they arrive by air but disembark and make the assault on foot, despite the poor marksmanship of enemy anti-aircraft gunners and lack of guided missiles.

Like WW1 this often results in massive casualties. The lack of fresh cannon fodder is a long running theme.

Both sides seem to have the resources to build vast ships, but refrain from building WMD or even conventional bombers, let alone advanced weapons like orbital bombardment platforms.

Why is this?

  • 4
    Because shields can protect from orbital bombardment, both on a planetay scale and more locally.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 18:40
  • 36
    Because asymmetric warfare and realistic counter-insurgency operations don't make for good cinema? Because realistic non-asymmetric large-scale battles with armoured forces and air support can last weeks? (Like the Battle of the Kursk Salient in 1943.)
    – DavidW
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 18:41
  • 2
    @DavidW Ground based reactors are often shown to be able to put up a shield that can withstand indefenite assault in SW - See the shield around the DSII in RotJ or the shield on Hoth that necessitated a ground assault. Commented May 7, 2020 at 19:06
  • 15
    There's also the point that in the Clone Wars, the vast majority of the fighting force on both sides was consider disposable by those ordering them around (even more so than the troops in WWI where they were merely expendable). Commented May 7, 2020 at 21:28
  • 8
    The Death Star counts as a WMD. Commented May 8, 2020 at 10:06

6 Answers 6


Real world answer is that the Clone Wars are inspired on WW1 and WW2 movies. So good eye on catching that. In fact Filoni mentions that Lucas made them watch several of those films to get inspiration, and he also states that they wanted to recreate the "wow" feeling those movies provide.

If you want a SW answer then most probably you won't find a satisfactory one.

  • 4
    Good first answer. If you could back up what you say Filoni claimed (which I don't doubt for a second) with a link to a report of him saying it, then it would be even better. Commented May 7, 2020 at 21:26
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    I don't recall where, but he has said it several times around. Here is one giving three examples: youtu.be/4NgPKSzR0LU?t=621 - Battle of Britain WWII - Battle of the Bulge WWII - The Four Feathers (Sudan 1800s) So even older inspiration...
    – Jalex23
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 21:57
  • If WMDs were everywhere, the MAD doctrine would come in to effect and The Empire and New Republic would fall into a Cold War/detente with each other. The dramatic battles would stop because there would be no need for them anymore. (Save for maybe a small skirmish here or there) Commented May 8, 2020 at 13:17
  • For 30y, "the Clone Wars" was just a quote from a now 40yo movie. The original movies were based on WWII. The imaginary 'clone wars' was intentionally provocative of WWI's canon fodder, capturing in two words (and ultimately, 40y worth of imagining better plots down the drain...) the differences of how those wars were fought, given the level of mechanization we see in the first five minutes of, SW (1979).
    – Mazura
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 1:28

Both sides of the conflict claimed they were trying to liberate the planets from the oppressive republic or the evil separatists. When liberating a planet, bombing it with WMDs is not usually on your list of things to do. WMDs are used as a last resort to annihilate the enemy when you no longer care about casualties, or when the area they are in is no longer deemed valuable territory. While there should have been more dog fighting style fights depicted, if you want a city or town to be free of enemy forces you have to go door to door to do it.

  • 4
    But door-to-door fighting isn't like a single large mass-casualty infantry battle; clearing a moderately large city, even with numerical superiority, is a multi-day slog, with constant, but not at any single moment massive, casualties.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 21:51
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    @DavidW re " isn't like a single mass casualty ..." -> I suggest you joing the Facebook group Battle of Stalingrad forum to disabuse yourself of that notion. An interesting and sobering group. Commented May 8, 2020 at 4:30
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    @RussellMcMahon The point is not that thousands of people don't die, it's that they don't die in one large group, all at once. It's dispersed over a larger area, over entire days, in hundreds or thousands of little engagements.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 4:34
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    @DavidW Granted not all at once. But almost indiscernible from "in large chunks" from any remote command viewpoint timescale. I saw today a statement that I've not checked that a German soldier dies every 7 seconds aa Stalingrad. That's 12,000+ per day, 86000+ per week, 350,000+ per month. || A few here, a few there and it soon adds up to some real numbers. || More German troops surrendered in Africa than at Stalingrad. Commented May 8, 2020 at 7:26
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    Also, imagine the battles being portrayed as house to house fighting, with all the booby traps, illusions, holograms, types of anti personnel weapons available. You could really bring home the horror of a Stalingrad campaign home. And in that kind of battle, which MUST be the norm in a universe with quadrillions of humans, mostly living in cities, the Jedi would shine above all. House to house? I am following the closest Jedi.
    – chiggsy
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 7:31

I'll back up Jalex23's answer by saying that the ship-to-ship combat in those movies was also heavily inspired by naval combat from the age of sail; lots of big armored ships firing broadsides at each other. There's some WW2 fighter-planes dogfighting alongside for show too, but otherwise it's just broadsides.

This comes down to the fact that film is an almost purely visual medium; you have to show people things that they can understand. Realistic space combat would be completely invisible to the human eye. Ships would be firing from extreme range (literally millions of miles), and dodging randomly to avoid being hit by invisible laser beams, then exploding for no obvious reason. Both the ship and the ground combat has to work visually, and that means there's no artillery firing from over the horizon, or hypervelocity projectiles that arrive with no warning, etc. Just easily-understood formation fighting.

In fact, the way the troops arrive, then form up into formations, then fight would have been completely understandable to the ancient Greeks. A Greek war consisted of about a hundred men marching about a hundred miles to a neighboring city-state, then forming up into the ranks and files of a phalanx in a nice open field outside the city. The city's army of about the same size would form up at the other end of the field. At this point both sides would put on all their armor (you don't wear 70 pounds of bronze plate while you're marching), then the two phalanxes would walk towards each other. At the last moment they would charge at each other, so that they would have enough momentum for spears to potentially pierce armor. That single battle would decide the entire war, and casualties on both sides would be quite low compared to WW1.

Aside from the fact that they arrive in spaceships, and are using blasters rather than spears, I think that a lot of the combat in these movies is not so different. One author I read says that the decisive infantry battle is the "Western Way of War", a common heritage that has shaped our history and culture for over two and a half thousand years. I find it hard to disagree.

  • 5
    A beam with enough energy to blow up a planet should make interstellar dust pretty visible. Commented May 8, 2020 at 10:11
  • 3
    I like the point about culture and history affecting how war is fought. There is definitely something to be said about different cultures fighting differently. Not just on technological standing, but on honor systems and the training they had received and what they had learned from history. This is why 'War Crimes' had to be more defined after WW1 and more after WW2. An example is that it was incredibly taboo for western countries to kill unarmed medics at first, but the Japanese thought they made better targets. SW galactic culture may have just dictated infantry was better. Commented May 8, 2020 at 15:36
  • 6
    Some Heinlein works (for example, Citizen of the Galaxy), portray a more realistic version of space combat, but it works because it is in print - the author can go into depth describing the emotions felt by a gunner as they scan what appears to be nearly empty space waiting to smash the trigger with their finger as soon as their subconscious starts to register a blip starting to appear on the screen. You can't do that very well in film or TV. Commented May 8, 2020 at 16:16

Infantry were cheaper

Both forces literally mass produced their infantry, either as clones or droids. When it comes down to it, a great many wars (all of them from a certain point of view) come down to logistics. Sips and large weapons are expensive and have to be more carefully managed, and can be used against you if captured by the enemy. Soldiers on the other hand will function independently based on their last orders. There is far more that goes into all of that of course, but depending on the economic dynamics (which are never totally clear) that could be a very simple reason.

  • 2
    Infantry are also easier to move. If you're forming a transport service on the quick from impressed (or purchased) civilian passenger and light freight liners, self-loading cargo like infantry is a lot easier for those ships to handle than big armored vehicles.
    – Cadence
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 23:29

I'm surprised nobody else has mentioned this but the large-scale weapons(WMD) route has it's drawbacks. In fact, Episode IV highlighted this

TARKIN: Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

TAGGE: And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.

There's two points to this end

You need to project your power and WMDs won't do that

What Tagge is saying (in a roundabout way) is that a small group of people were threatening the WMD. If the Rebels found and announced they have a way to take down the Death Star it would have blunted its impact.

If you kill everyone, whom will you rule?

So you blow up planets. nice. But... how many planets do you need to blow up to keep the "local systems in line"? One? Two? Ten? Instead, once you get to that level of fear, you put garrisons out there to keep the rules. Sooner or later, you need infantry. Blowing up every planet with rebels isn't feasible.

  • 4
    That explains why you need infantry, but it doesn't explain why you don't have close air support or strategic / tactical ground-attack ships in a strike role. There's a lot of room between "infantry-only meat grinder" and "blow up whole cities / planets". Commented May 8, 2020 at 16:38
  • 1
    The reason you don't have close air support is X-ray lasers, perhaps?
    – chiggsy
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 7:51
  • 1
    Tarkin's answer to the question of how many, according to the novelization of Rogue One, is "As many as it takes so that nobody will dare to ever rebel again." He was, perhaps, not the best example of a sensible attitude toward the concept. Commented May 9, 2020 at 11:48

I'll add to both Jalex23 and db48x by stating that an infantry battle is much more personal to an audience member who has never seen combat of any kind than a ship-to-ship battle can ever be.

In an infantry battle, you can see guys running around, ducking for cover, taking fire, returning fire, and getting hit on various parts of the body. Even if they are in head-to-toe armor they still have the overall shape and movement of humanity. Each person in the audience can visualize themselves in that exact same situation.

Contrast this with a ship-to-ship battle. You see a ship blow up. You know that there are anywhere from one (in the case of a fighter craft) to thousands (in the case of a capital ship) of people on board, but unless there is a shot of the pilot going "I've been hit--AAAAAARRGGGGH!" before he crashes his ride, there's no personalization when the ship blows up.

And Lucas' point (among several) is that war is fugly. Nothing brings that home like infantry combat. The opening of Saving Private Ryan is an intense example of this.

  • I'd say Star Wars and especially Clone Wars has done a good job of showing the horrors of capital ship naval battles. They've shown explosions on board, people getting sucked overboard, and of course the [spoiler-free] ending of Season 7
    – Scott
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 19:01

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