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Analysis / Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy

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So why were the Stormtroopers in Star Wars such bad shots?

Fans have come up with extensive exercises in justifying the Stormtroopers' terrible aim and come up with a number of possible explanations:

  • They're not actually that bad. We have to start here — the Stormtroopers' reputation is a bit exaggerated. The very first time they try to shoot someone on-screen, they do it in one shot, hitting Princess Leia with a stun gun. They also do quite well against the Rebels in the beginning of A New Hope and in the Hoth battle in The Empire Strikes Back, showing that they can hit rebel soldiers from at least ten meters away when hip-firing. One explanation for why the Stormtroopers appear to be missing is that Star Wars blasters are Slow Lasers, so you see many more shots than you would from a conventional firearm, and the same hit rate would look much less accurate. The problem arises when the protagonists are involved, as they have prodigious Plot Armor and tend to aim a lot better than the Stormtroopers in many scenes.
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  • They're trying to let the heroes escape. This isn't always the case, but in a couple of scenes, the Empire has a lot more to gain from letting the Rebels escape. In A New Hope, for instance, they had specific orders from Tarkin to allow Luke and company to escape from the Death Star so that they could lead them to the Rebel base they were looking for all film long, so at least some of the Stormtroopers were missing on purpose.
  • They weren't properly trained. They're disposable soldiers; why bother spending time training them? Many Star Wars sources further state that there was a progression from the professional Kamino clones seen in Attack of the Clones to the Stormtroopers we see in A New Hope, which are Spaarti clones and not the same. They're much cheaper and faster to grow than Kamino clones, but they also have no innate training and are given only the most basic instruction to compensate, which probably doesn't include how to aim a blaster correctly. And they also probably got mixed in with conscripts and clones from people who are not badass Bounty Hunter Jango Fett. In the 30-odd year span between these two films, a lot of Kamino clones probably got killed and needed to be replaced; Star Wars: Battlefront 2 explained that many of them were stationed on the first Death Star when it blew up. This extends to the droids, too; the battle droids seen in The Phantom Menace were part of the Trade Federation's quantity over quality battle strategy, and accordingly, their aim was so terrible that they were more or less comic relief.
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  • They have crappy equipment. Star Wars Legends claims that standard issue Imperial rifles were defective, and it was all but impossible to aim with them. Fanon adds the idea that the helmets restrict their vision (recall Luke's "I can't see a thing in this helmet!"), which further explains how the protagonists can use the defective rifles pretty accurately when they get their hands on them. The Imperial administration probably knew what was up but was too cheap or lazy to fix it. Again, there's probably a progression since Attack of the Clones, as the original Clone Troopers were a smaller force and the Republic could splurge on better equipment; observe how in Revenge of the Sith, the Clone Troopers wear camouflage armour on Kashyyyk, but in Return of the Jedi, the Stormtroopers have to wear their standard, blindingly white armour.
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  • They know not to aim at people with lightsabers. The ones who are actually trained know that lightsaber users — like quite a few of the main characters — can deflect laser blasts right back at them. So they miss on purpose, to put the blasts out of their reach. This, of course, does not explain why they do the same thing to other characters who are just using blasters; the Fan Wank here is that they're panicking a bit more firing at someone who can actually fire back (lightsaber users can also try throwing it, but it doesn't always work, as video game players well know).
  • Psychology. Real Life studies have shown that people, even trained soldiers, are more hesitant to fire at individuals with visible faces compared to targets that can be dehumanised. This explains how the Stormtroopers' aim is much better when directed at faceless Jawas, uniformed Rebel soldiers, or large machines and vehicles (hence why "only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise"), and why it sucks when directed at Luke and his friends, whose faces are clearly visible. The Stormtroopers' own face-concealing armor didn't do them any favors in this equation. Cracked has adopted this explanation.

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