Imperial Imprecision

by Chris Large

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.13.57 PMIt’s long been known that Star Wars: A New Hope contains examples of some of the worst marksmanship in the history of cinema, particularly with respect to the Emperor’s ‘elite’ forces. But how bad were they really? Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a statistical measure of exactly how astonishingly bad imperial stormtroopers were at hitting their mark?

Well, fortunately, there is. In the United States, where police forces undergo rigorous (well, at least annual) firearms training, statistics are kept, and made available for, exactly the type of public scrutiny in which we are about to indulge.

But first to the question of “How can we calculate the number of shots fired and hits scored by stormtroopers in Star Wars in order to make a valid comparison with real-world figures?” The answer is simple. I counted them. Yes, I did. No, I’m not shitting you. Inspired by the purchase of a brand new TV boasting no less than 55 inches of HD LED OMFGoodness, I took it upon myself to re-watch Star Wars: A New Hope. And just for fun – because that’s how I roll – I decided to count each and every shot fired by stormtroopers in the name of generating an accurate hit-rate for comparison with figures issued by the NYPD. Before we get to the nitty gritty of raw statistics, I’ll briefly touch upon some potential excuses given by simpering Empire apologists for the atrocious stormtrooper hit-rate, and deftly debunk them all.

Empire Apologist: “It’s difficult to see out of stormtrooper helmets.”

In Star Wars: A New Hope Luke disguises himself as a stormtrooper, making the comment: “I can’t see a thing in this helmet,” and you know what? I could almost buy that excuse, if not for the fact that when clone troopers (properly-trained, 1st generation Jango-Fett clones) wearing similar helmets, were ordered to slaughter the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, they basically mowed them down without missing a trick.

Empire Apologist: “Stormtroopers were under orders to miss.”

Empire sympathizers argue that, at various points throughout episodes 4-6, Vader wanted to either capture the heroes alive, or that he allowed them to escape on purpose. I would like to point out to those sith-loving sycophants, that at the time the heroes were fighting their way out of the Death Star, a certain little droid was carrying the Death Star’s blue prints inside its ‘rusty innards’. Blue prints I’m reasonably certain the Empire (with the benefit of hindsight, or without) would rather the rebels didn’t get their hands on. So no, the ‘ordered to miss’ argument holds no water whatsoever.

Empire Apologist: Psychologically, it’s easier to shoot a faceless, dehumanized drone, than a living, breathing person.

Sith-loving sycophants argue that the above catch-phrase completely explains the fact that an untrained hillbilly farm-boy was able to blast numerous faceless stormtroopers into clone oblivion, while said faceless stormtroopers were unable to even wing the untrained hillbilly farm-boy.

I’m calling mindless, incoherent, psychobabble on that. A soldier is trained to kill his enemies regardless of the moral implications of his actions. It’s his freaking job for crying out loud.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.14.05 PM

“Why is she laughing, TK-422?”

“Jeez, I dunno. But for Chrissakes, point that thing someplace else!”

“Hey, it’s cool. I’ve never hit anything anyway.”

“Really? Wow. Me neither.”

“Weird.”

TRaider“These blast points… Too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise.”

-Obi-Wan Kenobi, commentary on a Jawa Massacre.

Obi-Wan – What a guy. Why he would have made the above statement we may never know. Dementia perhaps? More likely he’d been a hermit for too long and his observations were based on outdated information. And pity the poor sand people, who, in his estimation, had even worse aim than imperial forces. Given that they were hunter-gatherers it’s truly a wonder they didn’t starve to death.

So modern technology is a wondrous thing, and in the right hands it can be used to achieve some truly outstanding outcomes. In my hands, however, it has been used to produce a hit-rate for imperial troops vs. rebel heroes in Star Wars: A New Hope. For comparison, I have also produced a hit-rate for rebel heroes vs. imperial troops. The PlayStation 4 has a super-slow-mo function which allowed me (and two helpers whose identities will remain safely anonymous) to keep tallies of: shots fired by stormtroopers, shots fired by rebels, hits registered by stormtroopers, and hits registered by rebels – for each and every encounter. The results are now in. Drum-roll please…

Scorecard:

Stormtrooper Shots Fired: 440

Stormtrooper Hits Scored: 11

Rebel Shots Fired: 247

Rebel Hits Scored: 58

The above figures give us an overall hit-rate for Imperial Stormtroopers of 2.5%, based on shots fired vs. hits registered. The rebel forces, meanwhile, including soldiers, princesses, smugglers and untrained hillbilly farm-boys alike, manage a far more respectable hit rate of 22.6%. So how do these figures compare to real-life law-enforcement? Well, the NYPD’s historical hit-rate comes in at approximately 10%. In more recent times the NYPD have had a little more luck. Figures released several years ago, detailing statistics of encounters between 1998 and 2006 show an improvement in hit-rate to 18% once animal shootings and suicides are removed. Of course the NYPD don’t like to examine figures purely in terms of hit-rates. It looks kinda bad. They prefer to look at it this way:

NYPD Annual Firearms Discharge Report 2011 – Page 63 (PDF 81)

1971-2011
Officers shot and killed by subjects 119
Subjects shot and killed by officers 1049
Kill Ratio 1:9

Officers shot and injured by subjects 661
Subjects shot and injured by officers 2399

Injury Ratio 1:4

Extrapolating to A New Hope

Stormtroopers shot and killed by rebels 58

Rebels shot and killed by Stormtroopers 11

Kill Ratio: 5:1

Immediately apparent is the utterly horrendous number of shootings occurring in New York City, although it should be noted that those figures were collected over a 40 year period. Another incredible statistic is that there are no stormtrooper injuries. I mean, literally none. It’s a bizarre, and long overlooked fact, that Imperial forces simply do not suffer injuries. Every single encounter is a life or death equation for a storrmtrooper. Injuries are not an option. A zero injury rate also means, of course, that the Empire would not require field medics for its forces. Happy days for Palpatine.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.14.38 PM

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, if you were a criminal involved in a shootout with police in New York City, whose law enforcement boasts a modest 18% hit-rate, you could potentially dodge a few shots, but you would also be nine times more likely to die in the exchange than you would be to kill a single police officer.

If you were a rebel involved in an altercation with stormtroopers, on the other hand, you could reasonably expect to take out up to four of them without any problem at all. With two or three friends you could probably take on around 12-15 imperial troops safely. And no need to worry about injured troops inconveniently regaining consciousness and rejoining the fight. When a Stormtrooper goes down, he goes down permanently.

To put the above figures into context, B.P Hughes (1969) estimated that during the Napoleonic Wars (specifically at Albuera, 1800s), British infantry managed a hit-rate of around 5% from a distance of 100 yards. There was a common saying among musketeers of the era that “To kill a man required expenditure of an amount of lead equal to his weight.” Okay, so lead is heavy, but still… dat a lot o’ lead. To add even further context:

  • French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars were said to be so hastily trained that they “couldn’t hit a cow’s ass with a banjo”;
  • misfire rates of up to 20% were common;
  • lead shot was not fitted tightly to the barrel of muskets resulting in unpredictable trajectories;
  • plumes of gun-smoke sweeping the battlefield made it impossible to tell friend from foe;
  • and to top it all off, line infantry had no idea of the range of their weapons, and most were not even taught to aim before firing.

Yet, astonishingly, imperial stormtroopers managed only half the hit-rate of British infantry fighting under such conditions. I mean, it’s just totally mind boggling that anyone could possibly be that bad. To put it another way, elite imperial forces achieved a worse hit-rate than untrained laborers wielding weapons which were difficult to load, impossible to aim, and which misfired 20% of the time. Quite a feat. In fact, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. At the very least it shows that for most stormtroopers, their hearts simply aren’t in the job.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.14.49 PM

But are they the most incompetent gun-toting villains in the Star Wars universe?

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.15.01 PMUnbelievably, the answer is no. They’re not. The guy with the worst aim in the Star Wars universe is this guy, who couldn’t hit a stationary target from a distance of two feet. Proof positive that all the technology in the galaxy can’t help you if you’re just that bad.

I wonder how Redcoats in the Napoleonic Wars would have fared against the French had they been provided with laser blasters. At least 2.5% better than stormtroopers I guess, but then, that’s not really saying much now is it?

3 Comments on Imperial Imprecision

  1. Though to be fair, Greedo *was* shot first.

  2. The argument about stormtroopers not being ordered to miss isn’t valid. Yes, in retrospect, the Empire surely regretted the rebels having the plans. But at the time they believed that allowing the escape would lead them to the rebels. They didn’t the plans would result in the discovery of a weakness in the Death Star that the rebels could exploit. Yes, they were overconfident in that belief, but the fact that they were wrong doesn’t mean they didn’t believe it.

    In fact, they were almost right. Allowing the escape did lead the Empire to the main concentration of rebel forces. The weakness in the Death Star was very difficult to exploit — it required a shot beyond the ability of the available targeting computers. If Luke hadn’t trusted the force, he would have used the targeting computer, missed his shot, and the rebels would have lost.

    The Empire had a good plan, and it almost worked. The fact that it didn’t work is not proof that their plan didn’t exist.

  3. Yes Peter, I see what you’re saying, but at least until they were almost crushed in the garbage disposal, the empire was trying to kill them.

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