Why can’t the stormtroopers in Star Wars shoot straight?

In the Guide’s weekly Solved! column, we look into a crucial pop-culture question you’ve been burning to know the answer to – and settle it, once and for all

Regardless of where you sit on the Star-Wars-Fan-Ometer TM – from bored mum to die-hard duvet-owner – everyone knows: stormtroopers, AKA the Galactic Empire’s plastic-looking soldiers, can’t shoot for toffee. This is made clear as early as Episode IV: A New Hope, when Luke and Han rescue Leia from the evil clutches of (dunn, dunn d-dunn) Darth Vader and blast their way back through the Death Star corridors to the Millennium Falcon. Wave upon wave of stormtroopers lie at every corner yet none can land a single shot and they topple like dominoes. Luke, Han and Leia use pilfered stormtrooper E-11 rifles, so Vader’s minions can’t even blame their tools. So why are they such a horrible aim?

Well, for a start, it cannot help that they can’t see properly. Not as in “stormtroopers need to go to Specsavers”, but as Luke says when he and Han don ’trooper outfits to aid their escape: “I can’t see a thing in this helmet.” Is this a design flaw or something more sinister? In A New Hope, Darth Vader states he wants Leia alive. He’s planted a homing beacon on the Millennium Falcon and needs Luke, Han and Leia to escape so they can lead the Empire back to the Rebel base. So that means those stormtroopers must have been briefed to miss. Maybe that’s why they make such a song and dance about getting flung backwards when they get shot? They’re not even hurt, and are taking a dive so they can go for an early lunch.

If they are not being ordered to miss, perhaps an unseen presence is messing with their aim. As Obi-Wan says to Han: “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” Maybe it’s the Force that turns stormtroopers into such crap potshots?

Equally, the explanation could be far more prosaic. After all, how does one become a stormtrooper anyway? In the old days of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, stormtroopers (or more accurately clone troopers, cloned from the mercenary Jango Fett) were in inexhaustible supply. But by Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the Empire is so desperate it is reduced to kidnapping children (such as Finn) to enter stormtrooper training academy without so much as an entrance exam or shooting-proficiency test. Maybe that’s why they tend to shoot from the hip, which as we all know makes it notoriously hard to aim (even if it works for John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Indiana Jones and, well, Han Solo).

Stormtroopers fight in armies, and armies have ranks, so maybe the rubbish ones are getting sent to the frontline. What we don’t see are brigadier general and field marshal stormtrooper sipping Château Lafite over target practice back at HQ.

Perhaps most crucially, stormtroopers are only human. So we should look at human psychology: namely social loafing, the phenomenon where a person will exert less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group. Your average frontline stormtrooper is poorly trained, can’t see, has been told to miss, is firing against the Force, and may not want to be a stormtrooper anyway. Wouldn’t you just blast randomly into the void desperately hoping that someone else was going to do all the killing for you? To conclude: stormtroopers are lazy and that’s why they can’t shoot straight. They just can’t be bothered.