In Star Wars: A New Hope, Vader first tells Tarkin to not worry about Leia and Obi-Wan escaping, as Obi-Wan has no intentions of escaping. (Though, Obi-Wan's intention of not escaping doesn't mean Leia didn't intend to.)

From the script


The princess! Put all sections on alert!


Obi-Wan is here. The Force is with him.


If you're right, he must not be allowed to escape.


Escape is not his plan. I must face him alone.

Of course,

Vader cuts down Obi-Wan

Leia and the rest of the crew escape aboard the Millenium Falcon. Vader and Tarkin discuss the fact that their escape was allowed by Vader/Tarkin.


Are they away?


They have just made the jump into hyperspace.


You're sure the homing beacon is secure aboard their ship? I'm taking an awful risk, Vader. This had better work.

Leia is a sharp one, though. She knows what's up.


Not a bad bit of rescuing, huh? You know, sometimes I even amaze myself.


That doesn't sound too hard. Besides, they let us go. It's the only explanation for the ease of our escape.


Easy... you call that easy?


Their tracking us!


Not this ship, sister.

A number of (expendable) Imperial Stormtroopers were lost during the escape, along with some TIE Fighters. Were the military personnel involved aware of Vader/Tarkin's plan to allow the escape (thus, partially explaining the horrible aim of the Stormtroopers and pilots), or did Vader/Tarkin just intentionally not send enough resources to properly give chase?

  • 1
    I would suspect not, but I have no support to back that up. When you're trying to keep a secret, you don't let everyone involved know, just those who need to know
    – The Fallen
    May 19, 2014 at 16:57
  • 2
    Stormtrooper #1,789: "Dude, bro, why'd you shoot me? I was told to just shoot my blaster wildly but let you go!"
    – Kromey
    May 20, 2014 at 15:35
  • It's 80's man! The bad guys not aim perfectly.. sorry Greedo, but Solo shot first (and hit!)
    – Magno C
    May 20, 2014 at 17:12

5 Answers 5


It's fairly safe to assume a few things from the dialogue and an understanding of how the Imperial forces operate:

  • Based on the dialogue, it was Vader's idea to let them escape.
  • Tarkin is not entirely comfortable allowing a high-profile prisoner like Leia escape (with the plans, no less) but Vader convinced him that they could track the Falcon back to the hidden Rebel base and then destroy it.
  • Knowledge of the plan was probably highly compartmentalized, with only Vader, Tarkin, and a few key officers aware of the plan.
  • It's extremely likely that guards & patrols were pulled from key areas in order to ensure a successful escape.
  • Imperial troopers, and even junior officers, are trained to obey without question. Even if the re-assignment of troops & resources was odd, very few if any would suspect anything.
  • Neither Vader nor Tarkin would think twice about sacrificing men & equipment to find the Rebel base.
  • Does Tarkin fear Leia escaping or R2D2 with the plans?
    – Mazura
    Jun 4, 2014 at 0:23
  • Well, you have to remember that A) Tarkin has complete confidence in the Death Star and doesn't think the plans will be of much use to the Rebels, B) he assumes that it won't matter since the base will be destroyed soon after she arrives anyway. I will update my answer to include the plans in the second point, though.
    – Omegacron
    Jun 4, 2014 at 18:49

It's entirely possible that their ability to escape to the Falcon was not part of the plan at all.

If you'll recall from the dialogue you yourself shared, Tarkin and Vader were caught unaware by the intruders, and Leia's escape was likely a surprise to them.

What was planned was the inexcusably small attack force they sent after the ship. Seriously - four TIE-fighters for an extremely high-profile target?

So while their escape aboard the Death Star may not have been orchestrated, once they were off the station, and therefore interrogating Leia was no longer an option, that may have been when Vader made the decision to let them go, having one of the TIE fighters attach a homing beacon to the ship (Or even knowing they had planted one on it while it was in the hangar).

It's difficult to know exactly when they would have coordinated this plan, but given Vader was preoccupied with Obi-Wan until just before the Falcon escaped, it seems likely that the plan came into formation after the rebels had gotten onto the Falcon and off the station, rather than before.

  • I think the four TIEs were patrol ships, not part of a force launched from the Death Star to intercept the Falcon. But, you're right, the Death Star could have sent hundreds of TIEs in pursuit (if not chase the Falcon with the Death Star itself) and/or attempt to shoot down the Falcon with the Death Star's turbo lasers.
    – RobertF
    Aug 31, 2018 at 14:54

This is certainly a popular theory among those who want to explain away lousy stormtrooper performance in the movies, both on the Death Star and Bespin. It is actually more plausible on Bespin, as that was a case in which the Empire had deactivated the hyperdrive on the Falcon, with Vader presumably expecting them to rescue Luke as a contingency. There was thus vastly less risk involved, as they had no way of knowing that R2 would have had a conversation with the central computer on Bespin telling him of this fact and how to fix it.

In the case of the Death Star, it is also plausible, but slightly harder to justify because it is not clear at which point this occurred. While it is true that they were ordered to let them go by the end, perhaps excusing some of their worst accuracy, it is not clear at which point this decision was made. Certainly it didn't happen in the detention block itself, as they had no way of having made that plan at that point, and their accuracy there was also not any better than in the rest of the Death Star escape.

Also, as to the more broad claims of stormtrooper competence, current sources beyond the films seem to support the thesis of stormtrooper incompetence. The clearest cut cases are Rogue One and Rebels, which need to introduce specialized stormtrooper units to increase tension. While there are some elite units that we see, and there are a few more effective stormtrooper units we see in some sources, the overwhelming mass of stormtroopers are generally not all that effective.


Tarkin is fail as commander of a space station populated by 30 million people. Only four "sentry ships" available to converge at any given point along your entire defensive grid? (you really gonna use TIE fighters for that?) Where are all the orbiting support ships in defensive position? Who left the dock door open? Who hired TK-421? One or more of the following is true:

  1. Imperial protocol for space dock procedures needs work.
  2. Orders were given not to open fire/permission never granted.
  3. Only Vader and Tarkin need be aware of the ruse.
  4. The homing beacon installation crew had their guesses.
  5. Intentional or not, interception was not possible as no capable ships were in orbit. With the tractor beam out of commission they could let them go or blow 'em up just outside the dock. Any ships launched in response would be to late. Once out of range of the deck guns and a few TIE noobs later, your in the clear.
  6. The "awful risk here" is bringing aboard a vessel containing unknown quantities. The USS Cole incident isn't going to be for a very long, long time.
  7. They did send enough resources; the Death Star. To your house. Ding-dong.

I think Tarkin sent less and may have told the men who he sent not to try that hard.

  • 2
    Why? What are you basing this on?
    – phantom42
    May 19, 2014 at 23:08
  • 2
    well the stormtroopers did keep missing everyone! Of course then you have to explain why the plan was still active for two movies more.
    – Oldcat
    May 20, 2014 at 0:08
  • @Oldcat: They did fairly well on Hoth, against rebels without plot armor (TVTropes link). As for how an entire legion of the Emperor's best troops was overcome by 3-foot teddy bears with rocks, I got nothin'. May 20, 2014 at 7:14

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