This May the 4th, Give the Stormtrooper His Due

If you grew up in the 1970s or early 1980s, odds are you at some point dressed as a Stormtrooper for Halloween. You had to, even if you loved the good guys. From the moment they blasted their way onto Princess Leia’s ship in A New Hope (which we simply called Star Wars back in “the day”) in those sleek, white uniforms, Imperial Stormtroopers secured a place in science fiction history as one of the coolest cinematic military forces ever. 
Lookin' good, boys. Also, all rights belong to Disney, of course
and we're hoping like heck this is fair use. We're praying
they don't "alter the deal" if you get our drift.

Now we here at Damper Three feel the need to, in a way, stand up for the Stormtrooper. It seems that after a few decades of being the Emperor’s cannon-fodder, they’ve become known more for not brutally gunning down the heroes in the first two minutes of each film, so as to make for much grittier but also shorter stories.

But this klutzy popular persona that they suck at shooting has obscured an incredibly important aspect of the Stormtrooper: they are, by far, a highly professional military force. Often to a fault. In fact, it was this dedication to military professionalism that the Rebellion exploited to ultimately defeat the Empire in the end.

Let’s take a look at the evidence:

  • After boarding Princess Leia’s ship, Stormtroopers stuck to orders to capture prisoners even after Leia coldly gunned down a Stormtrooper despite them having quite vocally stated “set your blasters to stun.” It takes a lot of discipline for a solider to calmly say “she’ll be alright” after watching a comrade get wasted seconds before.
  • Obi Wan himself, though dismissive of them as “weak minded” admitted Stormtroopers were precise marksmen. This comes from dedicated military training.
  • Despite the destruction of the friggin Death Star and the death of Grand Moff Tarkin, Imperial forces STILL drove the Rebellion from Yavin, so that they had to set up at Hoth, only to be beaten there as well by overwhelming military force.
  • These guys are SHARP in formation.

Don't lock your knees. First trooper to faint in formation
gets to scrape mynocks off the Death Star.

But the truest evidence of the professionalism of the Imperial Stormtrooper comes from the Rebels, especially in Return of the Jedi. You’ll notice that, regardless of the circumstances, Luke, Han, Leia, and even C3PO expected that if the bad guys ever got the upper hand, the Empire would give them a chance to surrender. We got a glimpse of this in The Empire Strikes Back, when Han and pals were being pursued by Vader and the Imperial Fleet. At one point, C3PO asks why they can’t just surrender, because that is perfectly acceptable in times of duress. And that wasn’t the first time 3PO expected capture over being blasted into pieces. Back to the capture of Leia during A New Hope, remember there’s a raging battle going on. But 3PO’s concern was “we’ll be sent to the spice mines of Kessel.” He expected to be taken prisoner, not executed. 

And there’s even more pointed examples of this in ROTJ. When the Emperor sprung his trap, C3PO and R2D2 watch from a distance as Stormtroopers rush inside of the back door to the power generator. C3P0 doesn’t say “OH NO, THEY’RE ABOUT TO DIE!” He exclaimed instead, “Oh no, they’ll be captured!” This shows the there was an expectation of a certain kind of adherence to rules of warfare.

Want an even more pointed example? How about in the middle of firefight? There’s the scene where Han is trying to open the blast doors to get inside of the power generator. He and Leia are actively slaughtering Stormtroopers when Leia is wounded. What happens next says a LOT. Knowing they wounded a rebel and that they were distracted, the Stormtroopers rush up behind them and…demand the rebels surrender. This was a firefight, and the endgame of the Emperor. As far as we know, there were no orders to capture Luke’s friends. Yes, they were the bait to lure him to the Death Star but Luke was already in Palpatine’s clutches. And yet the troopers were giving wounded rebels a chance to surrender. To which Leia and Han replied with “ha, ha, thanks but here’s a laser to your face for your professionalism.”

It’s pretty clear that Stormtroopers were merciless killing machines when ordered to be. There are things like the slaughtering of Luke’s aunt and uncle for no good reason. So there’s that. No one is saying that no Stormtroopers would ever be dragged before a human rights commission. But this May the 4th, as least as far as their military effectiveness, give them some slack.


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