Belinkie: I was thinking about the scene in Star Wars where Obi Wan and Vader duel on the Death Star. They pass in front of a big window, and a bunch of storm troopers run over to watch… but only to watch. Despite the fact that this old man is clearly trying to kill their boss, they hang back. Hell, if they weren’t wearing helmets, they would probably be passing popcorn. Doesn’t this strike anyone as the icing on the Death Star Craptacular Security Cake? Couldn’t they at least ASK Vader if he wanted the guy blasted?
Mlawski: That scene never actually bothered me. Based on what we’ve seen of Vader, we can infer that he doesn’t treat his storm troopers very well. My guess is that the storm troopers both hate and fear him. In this scene, you see both of those feelings coming out. The troopers hold back from helping him out of fear — Vader might get angry if you interfere in his fight, especially since it implies that you don’t think he can win on his own. At the same time, the troopers hate Vader and probably wouldn’t be all too upset if Obi Wan happened to chop the guy’s head off.
On second thought, is it right for me to be ascribing these emotions to clones? It’s been a while since I’ve seen the prequel trilogy. The storm trooper clones act basically like regular people, don’t they?
By the way, the idea of a storm trooper asking Vader if he wants some help is making me chuckle.
Uh, hey, boss. You, uh, want me to, uh…
[wheeze] What is it now, Jenkins?! Can’t you see I’m busy? [wheeze]
But I just… I thought you might want some help. You know? Fighting Obi Wan Kenobi?
[Obi Wan and Vader stop their fight for a second.]
Is this guy serious?
Fenzel: Why doesn’t Grand Moff Tarkin reprimand him when Vader strangles General Taag in the conference room at a strategy meeting? Vader isn’t in charge of the Death Star – there are at least one or two guys around who outrank him at this point, and he’s going around threatening to murder the Empire’s equivalent of the Joint Chiefs just for talking smack. Everybody just sort of writes it off.
It’s clear at this point that the Force is kind of a fringe thing that hasn’t been around since a lot of these guys were kids. They don’t seem to know the Emperor and Vader’s relationship, or even the Emperor’s powers, at all, because they don’t believe in the Force and insult it to Vader’s face. When Vader flies off the handle in A New Hope and has super-powers it’s legitimately surprising.
It’s kind of lost in the later films, but in the very first Star Wars movie, the Empire’s conventional military don’t just hate and fear Vader, they think he’s fucking crazy. They look the other way and kind of grumble like he’s a Birther at the American Heritage Institute. A necessary ally, but an unstable, embarrassing one who talks a lot of nonsense when other people are trying to get work done.
Grand Moff Tarkin: We have the Democrats right where we want them. Fear will keep them alive. Fear of deficits, fear of national bankruptcy, fear of Mexicans, and fear of this battle station!
Vader: wheeze 9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB. wheeze
Grand Moff Tarkin: Ah, Lord Vader. It’s a pleasure for you to join us. We were just planning the final annihilation of Obama.
Vader: wheeze OBAMA IS INSIGNIFICANT NEXT TO THE POWER OF THE FORCE. wheeze
Grand Moff Tarkin: Of course, Lord Vader, but with the power of this battle station, we will crush him with a single stroke.
Vader: HE IS A MUSLIM SLEEPER AGENT AND DOES NOT CONCERN ME. wheeze
General Taag: Some of us here are trying to run a campaign! You’re an embarrassment! Your allegiance to those crazy websites will be your undoing!
Vader: YOU, IINO, DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE!
Vader: SHOW ME THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!
There seems to be a standing rule in the Death Star to ignore Darth Vader whenever he starts acting crazy. Just leave him alone, let him do his thing. Somebody upstairs seems to like him, and you don’t want to be messed up in his business.
The other side of the coin here is, yeah, it’s crazy to interrupt Vader – he’ll kill you! But it’s also crazy that he is fighting a 70 year old man and doesn’t just shoot him or hit him with his choke powers, which the stormtroopers may or may not believe actually exist. None of these guys have seen a Jedi before. Jedi are extinct – old stories from a bygone era. They don’t know Obi Wan Kenobi is dangerous when Darth Vader can deflect laser bullets and strangle senior government officials with impunity.
Also, I don’t think it’s established in A New Hope that the storm troopers are clones. Remember at this point in the story the Empire is recruiting naturally born humans to fight for them – Luke wants to send in an application.
No, the stormtroopers bumble around like regular guys who work for a massive, massive bureaucracy and don’t expect to be running around their home office chasing people. If Darth Vader is swordfighting an elderly man near the loading dock, the more likely reaction than “Look, Darth Vader is in trouble!” is “Look, Darth Vader is fucking crazy!”
Imagine you worked at the Pentagon as a personal attache to Colin Powell or McChrystal, and you hear over the PA “Alert! Alert! There is a Nazi Ninja Master loose in the Pentagon! Your orders are ‘Shoot to kill!” You get up and walk around the corner, and there’s this 80 year old man with a Hitler moustache in a black outfit, and he and Donald Rumsfeld are circling each other ominously. Both of them have katanas drawn.
Do you shoot?
Belinkie: But Pete, you’re forgetting something. This isn’t just a regular day at the office that is randomly interrupted by a sword fight. The Death Star is under attack. A group of commandos disguised as storm troopers snuck into the detention block, slaughtered all the guards, and ran off with the leader of the rebel alliance. At least two separate groups of these infiltrators have been pursued around the base, with heavy casualties. One actually charged right at a large group of heavily armed guards, accompanied by some sort of furry monster. The other group escaped via grappling hook. Clearly, these are extremely resourceful and determined men, with no fear of death. The storm troopers have no idea how many of these rebels are onboard – they just know a lot of their friends are dead.
So let me propose another thought experiment. You’re a guard at Guantanamo Bay. Your buddy doesn’t answer the phone at the cell block, so you go to check it out. You find that all the Marines there are dead, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has escaped. Minutes later, you hear gunfire from two different places in the camp. You sprint to the landing strip to try and stop the terrorists from escaping. And when you get there, you see your commanding officer and an old bearded man in a knife fight.
Do you shoot?
Perich: If I’m in a sword fight with Moqtada al-Sadr, I don’t want anyone shooting at me.
Let’s put aside for the moment the conventional wisdom that Stormtroopers have shitty accuracy. Let’s just presume they’re regular soldiers. Regular soldiers aren’t trained for pinpoint accuracy. They’re trained to keep the enemy’s head down with suppression fire, move into superior position and then deliver the kill. Per the U.S. Government Accounting Office, U.S. forces discharge about 250,000 rounds of ammunition for every one insurgent killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (source).
How far away are the Stormtroopers – twenty yards? thirty? Firing semi-automatic carbines? The odds of them hitting my opponent are as good as the odds of them hitting me.
No, the Stormtroopers were practicing good firing discipline. They weren’t shooting into an area occupied by friendlies. Had there been a higher-up around to command them, they might have started circling in to surround the intruder and order him to put his laser sword down. But they weren’t engaging a hostile who was occupied with a civilian without orders from an officer. Especially a civilian whom they didn’t love in the first place.
Lee: Vader clearly isn’t a regular part of the Imperial armed forces’ hierarchy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a “civilian.” After all, he hops into his special TIE Fighter and clearly commands the two other pilots who accompany him. He’s more like the paramilitary CIA officer who goes on operations with regular army troops–outside of the hierarchy, but in charge of things in some ill-defined way and able to take part of combat operations.
Or maybe a better analogy would be the President’s Chief of Staff interacting with troops and sort-of bossing around military folks because he’s the President’s right hand man. Rahm Emanuel does have a bit of a Vader-ish quality to him.
Stokes: You know, from the perspective of a Stormtrooper, Star Wars takes place in a hellish dystopia.
First of all, they’re set up by their own government to be acceptable cannon fodder. In the original trilogy, you never see their faces, the point being to make it more family-friendly when they get killed. Then in the prequels, we learn that their role is pretty much the same in-universe. The main foot-soldier villains in the prequels are robots, because no one cares if a robot gets killed. Establishing the Storm Troopers as clones is meant to make it okay for them to get killed… not just for the audience, although I’m sure that’s part of it, but also for the conflict-averse citizens of the Galactic Republic. Think about those masks. Their armor doesn’t do shit against blasters, and we even see Storm Troopers taken out by Ewok-thrown rocks, so obviously the helmets aren’t for protection. But when combat footage gets posted on the Star Wars equivalent of YouTube, the masks make it easier for the average taxpayer on Bespin or Coruscant to ignore the human costs of war. We see enough of this in modern American society: our all-volunteer army draws from a limited sector of society, so a lot of voters (and worse, lawmakers), never have to deal with the possibility of someone they actually know getting killed. Now imagine that every single soldier in our army is this one dude named Chad from Biloxi. And he’s always wearing a mask. Tends to magnify the effect, yeah?
But it gets even worse, because at least the Chads all volunteered. The storm troopers, on the other hand, are a slave race. Granted, we don’t have any hard information about the clone army’s legal status, but according to the Star Wars wiki, the Kaminoan cloners pumped out some 1,200,000 identical copies of Jango Fett… all of whom went directly into the army. Do you think they were asked? Did they have a choice? If UN Elections Observations have taught us anything, it’s that 100% approval ratings are a sure sign of something undemocratic, especially if the proposition in question is “I would like to sign up to have my arms torn off by a Wookie please thanks.” Think of it like this: if the clones had the right to be anything other than soldiers, we should expect to see at least a couple of Temuera Morrisons popping up in every crowd scene in episodes IV, V, and VI. And we don’t.
So really, the surprising thing is not that the Storm Troopers don’t try to shoot Kenobi. The surprising thing is that they don’t try to shoot Vader. Even if we suppose that they’re just too damn scared of Vader to consider fragging him, we should at the very least expect them to be performing countless little acts of insubordination throughout the movies. Turning a blind eye at checkpoints when they’re supposed to be looking for droids, half-assing it on guard duty (even of critical areas like the prison and the reactor core), and intentionally misfiring their weapons during combat… huh.