Are Stormtroopers Really Bad Shots?

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Poor stormtroopers, forced to wear limiting armour (you try shooting when your eye slot is so small), relentlessly teased for the inability to shot straight.

What do people know about them? They were the successors to the clone army that defeated the Jedi, supposedly inheriting a peaceful situation. Their activities tended more towards policing than large scale military action. They can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

It’s not just the stormtroopers who are bad shots

We know that Lucas modelled much of the Star Wars military universe after World War II films. Maybe the weaponry inaccuracy was also a reflection of that source. It’s not just the stormtroopers who are bad shots. So are the heroes (although the heroes are all Hollywood Grade A good shots when the plot needs).

According to one source, the US military industrial complex (if you could call it that in the 1940s) made over 47 billion rounds of small arms ammunition to be used in World War II. Chrysler alone was manufacturing 12.5 million rounds of ammunition a month, according to a different source.

This ammo wasn’t just for American soldiers. It was distributed among many allies, and there is no evidence that it was all fired, but that number, 47 billion, also doesn’t include ammunition made by any other country either. Germany had a big industrial war machine, as did England and Japan.

I think we can reasonably assume that 50 billion rounds of ammunition were fired over the course of the war.

So, how many people were killed in the war? Obviously exact numbers are almost impossible to find, but most estimates put the number at around 60 million people, or about 3% of the world’s population at that time. Not all of those people were killed by munitions - death camps, civilian casualties, starvation and other privations would have added to the toll as well, but for simplicity, I’m using the 60 million number.

Using those two numbers, 50 billion rounds and 60 million deaths, we softball a figure of 834 rounds fired for every death caused. That number rises to 926 rounds per death if we take out the approximately 6 million people who died in death camps.

A World War II era soldier would fire between 834 and 926 rounds to make a single kill.

So on average, a World War II era soldier would fire between 834 and 926 rounds to make a single kill.These numbers don’t distinguish between bullets and bombs. The destruction of soft targets like Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed amazing rates of return on ammunition used, further skewering the numbers. Obviously, the bigger the weapon the larger the potential number of victims. It could easily have been that a foot soldier would need to fire on average 1,000 rounds to make a single kill.

Now do our stormtroopers look so bad?

Let's compare the firefight from the first film -- just after Vader kills Ben -- to the ensuing spaceship battle. Using the blaster, and not hindered by stormtrooper armour or helmet, Luke and Han kill all their adversaries (Luke even managed to hit the door blast door controls.) The stormtroopers can’t even hit the slow moving droids.

Minutes later, on the Falcon, both Han and Luke miss far more often than they hit when shooting at the Tie fighters. In fact even the Tie fighters, with a big fat target lumbering in front of them, don’t score a great deal of hits.

In World War II air combat, again, a source for Lucas' combat scenes, an estimated 459.7 billion rounds were fired from aircraft. The USAF estimates that it fired 12,700 rounds for every enemy plane destroyed. Being a bad shot when both the shooter and the target are moving was a given in World War II.

This raises the question of why doesn’t a galaxy-wide, multi-species, spacefaring civilization have better technology. Maybe there wasn’t the need. Jedi had been the guardians of peace for a thousand years before the Empire rose. Military budgets may have been cut, military research left underfunded.

The ground assault troopers in The Empire Strikes Back seem to be better shots

Remember that the Imperial ground assault troopers in The Empire Strikes Back seem to be better shots that the original stormtroopers. Perhaps once the rebellion had ‘gotten real' the empire started giving serious weapons training to it’s otherwise pedestrian police force. Perhaps they’d started investing in technology.

But what happens if the technology gets too good?

One of the least believable scenes in The Force Awakens is when Po flies his X-wing (in the atmosphere above Maz's castle) and manages about ten kills in very quick succession. Finn, watching from the ground, cheers, but those in my theatre muttered, “yeah, right…” We’d already gotten accustomed to the idea that Star Wars weaponry just isn’t that accurate. It's the one thing in the whole Star Wars universe that seems real.