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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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    Nice question, Ryan! The fate of Death Star was dependent of Stormtroopers, so they must be hand-picked advanced warriors. Nevertheless, they lost kiddie battle.. – I Love You 3000 Jun 8 '11 at 7:14
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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
  • @Chad wasn't Leia scheduled for execution by that point anyway? And she was shooting at them. – user Jun 5 '18 at 10:10
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    Trained marksmen in a shootout have about a 1% hit rate. Given the very low firing rate of blasters you could argue that the Stormtroopers are actually not doing too badly. – user Jun 5 '18 at 10:23

12 Answers 12

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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 on Bespin, 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 generator.

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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    I doubt "The Stormtroopers on Tatooine are most likely part of the local constabulary" (ANH) as Lord Vader says to the officer in charge of boarding Leia's ship to send down a detachment. So after all those troopers are from Vaders Star Destroyer not from Tatooine. – Ghanima Jan 3 '15 at 16:39
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    @Ghanima I know this is about a year old, but that detachment is probably the one that killed all the Jawas, and was probably ransacking Ben's house while the main characters were headed to Mos Eisley. The troopers in Mos Eisley were probably just responding to an APB. – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 14 '16 at 20:51
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    4.5 years later, I feel compelled to add that the Battle of Endor told from a stormtrooper's perspective portrays the Ewoks as absolute nightmares in battle. – Omegacron Mar 11 '16 at 20:33
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    @CodeswithHammer: Quantity + concealment + terrain familiarity + preparation? "Yub, yub, b*****." - The Ewoks – Jeff Apr 4 '16 at 21:58
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    They not only have shining white armor in the jungle of Endor, they use absolutely inappropriate high speed gliders with a fixed forward canon and apparently no rearview mirror. The result is as predictable. And you can’t blame the soldiers for not telling their bosses about the flaws. Expressing critique is not a good idea in Darth Vader’s army (unless you are Darth Vader)… – Holger Aug 19 '16 at 9:37
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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 I didn't think they were "picking them off" so much as shooting a lot trying to hit one. In APM they only hit one and they shoot many times, no? – TylerH Oct 2 '14 at 13:35
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    @TylerH: Ah yes, the ever-popular method of firing the arrow and then drawing the bullseye around it. – FuzzyBoots Oct 8 '14 at 18:32
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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 worse 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
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The reason for the discrepancy (one of them) was:

  • Original 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 recruits.

  • By ROTJ, even more are normal human recruits rather than clones of Jango Fett.

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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
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    @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? – user1786 Sep 11 '14 at 17:32
  • Selection and training still have an effect, even if you don't have clones. Today, we don't have clones and yet there is a huge difference between, say, your regular infantry soldier and a member of a special forces team. Picking the best and putting them through exceptional training will give you (far) above average troops, even if you have "only" access to "regular" folks. – Raphael Aug 14 '15 at 16:39
  • That the Fett clones continued to age at an accelerated rate was cannon in Legends. – Probst Mar 11 '16 at 20:40
  • Of course, since Jango Fett failed utterly to kill Senator Amidala in the prequels, maybe that explains the issues Stormtroopers have. – Oldcat Mar 11 '16 at 22:06
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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, skilled 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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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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The best example of just how poor stormtroopers are 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's 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...

The stormtroopers are, like almost all villain's armies, dangerous not for particular 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.

  • 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 '14 at 14:42
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    1E is outdated. The new(er) stats in WEG Star Wars Revised take precedence. – Jeff Jan 7 '14 at 21:07
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    Game mechanics have to fulfill a whole different set of criteria than movies. This question is specifically about movies. Arguably, the RPG is constructed to elicit the feelings of watching the movies, so Stormtroopers have to be not very dangerous. So, this does not answer the question. – Raphael Aug 14 '15 at 16:39
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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 personnel. So, although the best may be on Endor, overall they would be average.

  • "Standard personal" is pretty broad. Today, we don't have clones and yet there is a huge difference between, say, your regular infantry soldier and a member of a special forces team. Picking the best and putting them through exceptional training will give you (far) above average troops, even if you have "only" access to "regular" folks. – Raphael Aug 14 '15 at 16:36
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I tried to add some points without duplicating any existing ones.Also, if you prefer a summarised answer (Not mine): Why stormtroopers always miss on imgur.com. By 'Stormtrooper' you mean the shock troopers of the Imperial Army. We don't see the Imperial Army during Episodes 4,5 and 6 because there are no all out wars like during the Clone Wars. We almost always see the shock troopers (i.e. Stormtroopers). To answer your question: No. In fact, all Stormtroopers are excellent fighting machines. Wherever you see them miss, it was all intended.

I need not repeat what countless other sources have already stated. (You can find many other explanations).Try [Wookieepedia]:2

Stormtroopers, disparagingly referred to as bucketheads by dissenting citizens, were the elite shock troops in the Imperial Army, placed under the Stormtrooper Corps, the land-based forces of the Galactic Empire.They were particularly distinguished by their loyalty to Emperor Sheev Palpatine, the founder of the Empire, and were reputedly incapable of betraying either him or the Imperial regime.

Also we are told that they are better than the Clone Troopers we see during the Clone Wars, who had many a victory during the Clone Wars, even at great odds. Don't forget during the early years of the Empire, there were still many clones from the Clone Wars who were Stormtroopers.

The stormtroopers represented the ultimate evolution of the clone troopers, the soldiers who fought on the Galactic Republic's side against the Confederacy of Independent Systems in a prolonged and protracted conflict that came to be known as the Clone Wars.

Even though the Empire gradually lost its number of original Stormtroopers who previously were clones in the Grand Army of the Republic, most of the Stormtroopers we see in the movies belong to the 501st Legion (Death Star was manned mainly by them). They were Darth Vader's personal troops. He commanded the same men during the Galactic Republic as well. And only the best were promoted to this legion. Vader maintained the highest of standards.

The 501st Legion, also known as the 501st Battalion, was an elite unit of clone troopers in the Grand Army of the Republic during the Clone Wars

Stormtrooper cadets underwent extreme training for a really long time.Only the best were selected.The quality of the stormtrooper may have been reduced during the later years of the Empire. But even so, it would not be a good idea to assume that the small portion of Stormtroopers we see in the movies describes every other Stormtrooper of the Empire.

Unlike their predecessors, the majority of stormtroopers were non-clone recruits. Imperial cadets were shipped off to Imperial Academies, and subjected to rigorous training programs in order to produce highly trained shock troopers fiercely loyal to the Empire. Among other things, cadets would train to fire blasters, learn to pilot Imperial walkers, and the ruthlessness it took to become a stormtrooper. Cadets who attended Imperial Academies were also forced to face programmable obstacle courses designed to test their strength, agility, reflexes and intelligence. Such courses and tests of skill became increasingly difficult over time, and accountability for losses were harsh. While cadets attended the academy, they wore white uniforms and specialized helmets, similar to the standard stormtrooper or pilot gear. Aside from their basic training, many cadets were also assigned other non-combat duties on base. Such duties offered cadets the opportunity to gain experience over their peers, and were often presented as rewards for excellent performance during training exercises. As cadets were being evaluated, the officers in charge were often instructed to take note of performance that might denote an affinity for the Force, and report it to one of their superiors.

I hope I brought something new to the table. Thank you.

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Stormtroopers are often even worse in the books than they are in the movies, including the new canon books. In the first Aftermath book, a rebel commando named Jom kills dozens of stormtroopers while unarmed, with a broken arm (starting on p. 212).

In the second Aftermath book, the author literally describes the stormtroopers as 'incompetents' (p. 364):

Jas takes down troopers left and right with her slugthrower. Jom is altogether more brutal—he and the Wookie get right in there, scraping bodily with their foes, flinging white-armored incompetents left and right often into one another.

In the book Lost Stars, which is also canon, the stormtrooper's second-greatest triumph seen on screen (their first being taking the Tantive IV), the Battle of Hoth, is a complete disaster. The Empire took over 700 casualties, probably mostly stormtroopers, according to the battlefield footage being reviewed by Ciena Ree.

Additionally, the role of Stormtroopers has changed since this question was first asked 5 years ago. In the 1990s EU stuff, there was a separate 'Imperial Army' that was less elite than the stormtroopers. This manifested itself in many video games like Star Wars Galaxies, where stormtroopers were a special 'elite' segment of the Imperial military.

This position became much less credible after Attack of the Clones came out, and then Revenge of the Sith. It is pretty obvious that the Stormtroopers were a direct descendant of the Grand Army of the Republic, not some special forces thing.

'Elite' has been reinterpreted to mean 'better than the average' rather than 'special forces.' The Stormtrooper corps is now explicitly a part of the Imperial Army regulars, and in the books they are frequently just the garrison of whatever planet is in question.

They are recruited from most planets in the Empire, and were rotated in and out of planetary garrisons up until the death of Palpatine, at which point many different garrisons became permanently attached to planets, unable to get reinforcements or leave.

In the Aftermath series, and Lost Stars, for example, there's no mention of Imperial Army regulars outside of the stormtroopers. That interpretation of 'elite' hasn't been in effect by authors really since the mid 2000s, and with Disney's canon wipe, it is largely irrelevant now.

I speculate that part of the reason why stormtroopers are so bad at combat, is that many of them rarely train in the field. In Lost Stars everyone trained indoors, on their destroyers. Only stormtroopers placed in planetary garrisons would have regular access to field training, as others spend years in space.

In planetary garrisons, unlike on Star Destroyers, they frequently took on the roles of police and (literal) slavemasters and were constantly busy doing jobs that others should be doing.

In Lost Stars it was stormtroopers watching the Bodach'i slaves, and making them work not local law enforcement, slavers, or even wardens.

In Episode IV we see stormtroopers performing police checks in Mos Eisly.

Only on highly urbanised worlds like Coruscant and Corellia does their seem to be an effective and large local law enforcement so that the stormtroopers don't have to do that.

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People get the wrong ideas when they watch the movies. If the stormtroopers would have had clone trooper independent survival training they would have been better. Stormtroopers' greatest strength is their teamwork. If more time was spent on honing every trooper into the perfect soldier... a lot more would be living to fight another day while taking out enemies.

  • Do you have a source for this or are you just speculating? – Null Dec 19 '14 at 21:52
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Reading Before the Awakening, the stormtrooper program is quite rigorous and only provides the best stormtroopers, leaving the weak ones to fall behind and be forgotten. I honestly don't know how the training of the stormtroopers was in the past, but considering that if the stormtroopers had been more "on their game" in the older movies it would have changed a lot of things and messed a lot of things up for the rebels, potentially making for a very different ending, maybe even a less satisfying ending if you like the old Star Wars movies.

I don't think stormtroopers are that bad, they just had to be played down for the sake of the victory of the rebels, and let's not forget that they don't always mess up, like in the beginning of A New Hope (they don't always miss!). To answer your question, though, I think they're better because of how they are portrayed in the books, and because they don't all play directly into the victory of the rebels making the story writers write them to their full potential.

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