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In the chat room, Gilles linked to a very interesting article about the military shortcomings of the Empire's strategic decisions when attacking the rebel base on Hoth.

It points out (correctly) that Vader missed several opportunities to slaughter the rebels (e.g., when escaping through "their shield’s chokepoint" or when the shield generator was down, by bombarding them from space with his fleet).

It says:

[..] Vader is now clear to destroy the Rebel base, and the escaping Rebel ships, with a punishing Star Destroyer bombardment. Presumably, if the Rebels are abandoning their generator, they’re also abandoning the Ion Cannon that protects the evacuation.

[..]

Only Vader can’t bombard the base: He’s in it. For reasons that never get explained — and can’t be justified militarily — Vader joins the Stormtrooper assault on the base. So much for his major weapon against the Rebels, and the primary reason for ordering the Walkers to invade and destroy the generator. Once Vader opts to bring down the shield and lead the invasion, he’s lost the battle.

(emphasis mine)

However, it was my impression that Vader's ultimate goal (which he did fail to accomplish) was to capture and turn Luke Skywalker, while destroying the rebels was a secondary (albeit important) goal. Although I admit, that I do not recall if he was aware of Luke's identity at that particular moment. But he was certainly obsessed with finding some particular rebels.

Now, given these priorities, were his strategies really as horrible as depicted in the linked article? And is this characterisation of his priorities accurate?

After all, a brute-force attack to simply kill everything on (and escaping from) Hoth would also kill his "high value targets". This would also explain why they didn't simply shoot down (or at least try to shoot down) the escaping transporters and why Vader intended the attack to be stealthy rather than brute-force-y.

  • I saw this from Schneier's blog. He links to some rebuttals. I know nothing about the topic myself. – user56 Mar 4 '13 at 21:31
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    In what way does this question have an answer that would fit a Q&A format? All we will end up with is a bunch of differing opinions. There is no good objective answer and the subjective are going to reflect personal opinions. This question should be closed. – sarge_smith Mar 4 '13 at 23:38
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    @sarge_smith: I disagree. What Vader's motivation was can be answered in a good subjective manner. The battle on Hoth was a key plot element and the disastrous military decisions taken by Vader according to the article I link to would draw a very different picture of the oh-so-universally-skilled Anakin Skywalker. The article raises good points and I ask for a fact-and-quote based evaluation of those with regard to his motives. You can of course flag a mod, but in my opinion this will not solicit discussion. – bitmask Mar 4 '13 at 23:51
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This entire analysis presumes the standpoint of epic, not Orwellian Dystopia.

Battle of Yavin notwithstanding, Imperial Dominance in the galaxy is beyond question. Palpatine pursues the rebels because by creating a foe, he may subject significant portions of the Old Republic/Current Empire on the basis of fear of an unseen, poorly organized rebellion with just enough military power to disrupt the comfortable existence of any single system, but in general, not enough military threat to truly challenge for dominance. Palpatine's motivations are to maintain the standard of wealth he has earned, and the is only possible by engagement is a fake war against an ideology. It is so mind-boggling expensive to subjugate the galaxy, he requires huge taxes which can only be justified in the face of a significant threat. If public perception of the Rebels was that of a band of mostly harmless, ineffective ingrates, then Palpatine would not be able to levy the crippling taxes necessary to keep his Imperial Army/Navy funded. And allowing the destruction of the original Death Star allows Palpatine to continue to impress the need to funnel huge taxes to his friends in the Military Industrial complex to build another.

Couple this Orwellian Manipulation with the imperial dominance watering down its officer's military training. Given the strategic edge they have over every conceivable opponent, their doctrine shifts from carefully achieving victory to minimizing losses of high-value targets. And strategic thinking? Demonstrably non existent. Once you Realize the Rebels are at Hoth, a sensible Prince ala Machiavelli or Sun Tzu would do everything in his power to keep the Rebels at Hoth. Staying on a frozen wasteland will do nothing but deplete resources. There is no rebuilding on Hoth, there is no resupply; all there is comes down to wound-licking and frostbite. And in the face of a Jotenheimian hellscape, Hoth quickly destroys any positive morale to be had by the destruction of the Original Death Star at Yavin.

Vader is show to be a fairly daft fellow (cf Episodes 1-3), easily manipulated, impulsive and incapable of foresight. In essence, he is given the fool's errand by Palpatine to keep him busy, because questions of intellect aside, he is shown to be a mighty enough warrior to challenge Palpatine in a direct confrontation. As an axeman, Vader ranks highly, as a stratetician, he is very poor. Unfortunately, Palpatine can't really get rid of him either. There is no justification, nor any replacement which would serve to bolster up the fear. Remember, as fierce as Palpatine may be in combat, he weakens his imperial authority to be shown 'getting his hands dirty' from the throne. He's stuck with Vader.

In essence, Vader lost at Hoth because Palpatine set him up for failure. Vader is a figurehead general, and no more.

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    Interesting point, but how do you incorporate The Emperors attitude towards ending the rebel alliance at the end of RotJ? He appears very keen on wiping them out for good. Don't get me wrong, I like this interpretation (although I wouldn't credit Lucas to have come up with it originally), but in order to accept it there should be additional evidence taken from canon, preferably the old trilogy. – bitmask Mar 5 '13 at 12:14
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    The shift in tenor is due to the realization at the end of ESB that there is a new Jedi in town, and this elevates the Alliance to a true threat. This was not obvious until the final duel in ESB. Vader's inability to turn Luke shows a lack of master of the Dark arts at the Sith level, and presents the Alliance as a foe with a real weapon. – Lighthart Mar 5 '13 at 15:40
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    He reenacts the Tarkin trap with a stronger, more operationally sound situation, and commands the mission himself. This 'getting the hands drty' is an acceleration of involvement which would be indicative of that revision. – Lighthart Mar 5 '13 at 15:48
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    Very interesting answer. Gives more depth to Admiral Ozzel. He does not seem to like having Vader onboard and talks to him like to a child. He's even smug about Vaders apparent lack of knowledge about the rim systems. For me I always took it as the fleet knew they was on a fools errand. Combined with fear, perhaps not the most efficient fleet in the galaxy. – Michael Viktor Starberg Mar 7 '13 at 23:05
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    The Emperor obviously craves absolute power, but Where is it implied that the Emperor has any interest in wealth? He wears a plain robe, for the Force's sake. – user1786 Mar 6 '14 at 14:26

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