Stormtroopers are very often NOT the stealth army the Empire/Imperial forces intended them to be. They’re supposed to be a lethal, efficient, hoard-like militia that strikes fear into the souls of characters and audience alike. While many characters in the series are afraid of them based on reputation alone, (or because the script tells them to, mayhaps), the audience knows better.
We know that stormtroopers are notorious for being bad shots, we’ve watched them perform in a wildly inconsistent fashion in several battles, and we’ve watched Obi-Wan alone manipulate dozens of them when he was completely past his prime. They definitely don’t scare us. But their ever-changing uniforms, expanding roles, and functionality within the Star Wars canon still intrigues, and they are consistent providers of some of the series’ best — and most head scratching — moments. Here’s our take on the 15 most WTF things our beloved and beleaguered stormtroopers have ever done:
Considering how many different versions of stormtroopers exist these days, and how often they fall for them, it would seem prudent for the First Order to trains a crop of stormtroopers that are immune to Jedi mind tricks. Obi-Wan manipulates them several times in A New Hope, from the classic “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” line to the moment when he shuts down the tractor beam and distracts several of them with false noises.
In The Force Awakens, Rey fools Daniel Craig’s Stormtrooper after only a few tries, getting him to release her and leave his weapon behind. (It was her first time intentionally using the Force, mind you.) This kind of vulnerability seems like a fatal flaw at this point. The Star Wars Legends-verse has troopers with bazookas, troopers that can withstand radiation, even troopers that wield lightsabers -- so can’t we get some that are capable of resisting those pesky mind tricks? Plus, if Jabba the Hutt is immune to such things, shouldn’t a stormtrooper also have that ability?
The various armies of stormtroopers we see in the original trilogy -- whether they’re the cold weather assault troopers on Hoth, the scout troopers on Endor, or the classic stormtroopers we’re used to seeing in the pop culture-verse -- cannot seem to hit their targets. Ever. Obi-Wan notes early on that stormtroopers possess a certain unique precision, but, wise as he was, we never actually see this precision translated on screen.
Take the now legendary scene with Luke and Leia swinging to safety inside the Death Star in A New Hope; several shots were fired by both good guys and bad (with the latter having multiple, seemingly straightforward opportunities to kill the Rebel intruders), but the only casualties were stormtroopers. There’s the entirety of The Empire Strikes Back, in which they can’t seem to hit moving targets, or sedentary targets, or anything at all, really, and their performances on Cloud City and in the jungles of Endor are so bad, they’re worthy of their own individual entries on this list. Stormtroopers, at least in the OT, are almost laughably inaccurate, but this could be changing with the times...
Other than the several dozen shots they fired at Chirrut Imwe -- the blind hero who literally walked through a warzone to manually flip the switch that made the Rebels’ sacrifice worth it -- the stormtroopers in Rogue One were much more deadly and precise than those in the OT. Which is baffling, chronologically speaking, because the troopers in Rogue One came just before those who misfired so badly in Star Wars.
The introduction of the Death Troopers could have something to do with it. With their elongated masks, jet-black metal frames, and the ability to actually hit their targets, they look more like Cyberdyne System’s latest batch of Terminators than any previous iteration of stormtrooper we’ve ever seen. Introduced while guarding Rogue One’s primary villain, Director Krennec, they brought with them a certain sense of menace and dread we haven’t associated with stormtroopers for a long time. Together with the Shore Troopers, they were actually a formidable force against the Rebels on the Scarif beachfront, and we’re not used to seeing stormtroopers be effective. Maybe it’s a new trend?
The first time we meet stormtroopers in Star Wars, they’re essentially blasting through the Rebels’ front door, displaying vast capabilities where breaking into rooms is concerned. Then, we see that they slaughtered dozens of Jawas and poor old Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru while on a mission looking for two droids. So, on Mos Eisley, when we know their primary mission is to find and capture R2D2 and C3P0, and they manage to come across our favorite droids trapped in a locked room, we fear the worst.
Instead, we get bumbling incompetence. A stormtrooper literally taps on the door a few times, and then he and his buddies move right on by, in a very nothing-more-to-see-here kind of way. There’s none of that breaking down doors business anymore, apparently, and when the droids pop out of the doorway right after the troopers’ hasty exit, fans are left face-palming. Instead of reinforcing the idea of stormtroopers as legitimate threats, this scene turns them into comic fodder, which probably wasn’t what Lucas and Co. wanted at the time.
In “Showdown on Smuggler’s Moon” from Star Wars’ Marvel comic, Luke gets captured on Grakkus while searching for yet another Jedi temple. While there, he is trained to fight in the fighting pits by Kreel, an elite combatant who serves as a Sergeant to the stormtroopers. Kreel, an incredible fighter, is dubbed the “Gamemaster” during his time on Grakkus, and he wields both a lightsaber and a blaster, both of which he knows how to use.
Unbeknownst to Luke, Kreel was commissioned by Darth Vader to keep Luke close before ultimately turning him over to the Sith Lord. Luke eventually escapes captivity, and it might be the only time he gets the best of Kreel — it’s definitely not commonplace to see a Jedi get handled by a Stormtrooper the way Luke ends up getting schooled by Kreel. “Next time, try a little harder not to die,” Kreel tells Luke after besting him in a sparring match. Point, stormtrooper.
Stormtroopers weren’t around that much in Empire, but when they were, they were infuriating in their incompetence -- particularly when they visited the home of Lando Calrissian. These are supposed to be elite fighters, yet their form and technique were messier than ever. Instead of hiding behind walls, incorporating some cool battle plan, or even physically attempting to dodge the lasers that were coming their way, the stormtroopers simply stand there, only one of them shooting back at a time, allowing themselves to get picked off one by one.
They also let Leia and Lando get away with a wounded Luke and the droids after allowing Calrissian and his men to get the jump on them. Lando’s a smooth talker, but shouldn’t stormtroopers be able to counter his cunning and charm? Their brief stint on Cloud City showed us that stormtroopers don’t believe in practicing effective battle tactics, and they sure don’t believe in things like reconnaissance missions.
We had only one scene with FN-2199, or TR-8R, as fans have taken to calling him, but it was a doozy. TR-8R's baton-on-lightsaber fight with Finn was definitely something we had never seen before, and it remains one of Awakens’ most memorable moments.
In Greg Rucka’s Before the Awakening anthology book, we learn that TR-8R and Finn had trained in the First Order together, and that TR-8R (who also had the nickname “Nines”) was quite the athlete and soldier. He was also kind of a pompous jerk in the book, but that’s another issue.
Onscreen, we were hooked the second he revealed his baton, which he produced in such a quick and confident manner, we knew something amazing was about to happen. When he called Finn out (“Traitor!”), and proceeded to adroitly outmaneuver the lightsaber noob, TR-8R became the unlikely breakout meme/gif generator from the film. Not bad for a stormtrooper with only one scene.
This flub remains a fan favorite. Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie are trapped in the trash compactor, about to become Imperial recycling. C3P0 and R2D2 are locked in the control room, trying to help their friends escape certain and horrific death. A group of 5 or 6 Stormtroopers finally make their way into the control room, charging in with blasters, ready to capture the droids. They’re supposed to look threatening, of course, but when one of them bangs his helmet so hard it noticeably affects his gait, all that menace goes right out the window, and, once again, this army of baddies becomes a laughing stock.
George Lucas has stated on DVD commentaries that he is a big fan of the accidental head clang, and noted that he had Jango Fett bump his head on the door of the Slave I in honor of the original head-banging stormtrooper. The moment is great for a laugh, but embarrassing for stormtroopers everywhere.
A great deal goes wrong for the troopers on Endor, but a few scenes in particular need unpacking. The first is the moment where Han, Leia, and some allied Rebels are gathered outside trying to find a way into the Imperial outpost when an Ewok goes rogue, runs off, and steals a scout trooper’s speeder (don’t those things have locks?!). Instead of one trooper telling the others: “I’ve got this. You guys stay here and guard the entrance,” three of the four guarding the door take off after one tiny Ewok, leaving one man alone to get easily overtaken.
Guarding the door to your main outpost seems like a very important job; how do trained soldiers make mistakes like this? And isn’t just one of them an even match for an Ewok? Han looks at his entourage and gives one of his signature sly grins, noting how easy those idiotic scouts just made his mission, but at this point in the OT, it’s simply what stormtroopers do: assist their enemies by being lax.
They look like aliens from the Alien franchise wearing Punisher masks, and their claws are three parts Freddy Krueger and two parts Wolverine; to learn it was Darth Vader himself who thought them up is not surprising. In The Force Unleashed II video game, we hear them before we see them, and what we hear is the clang of knives on metal and sinister, hissing breaths. When we first see them, slithering and oozing with a terrifying presence not typically associated with stormtroopers, the Terror Troopers (also called Imperial Terror Soldiers) certainly live up to their name.
They’re in both The Force Unleashed II book and video game, and their impact is definitely felt more when they’re both seen and heard. In the video game, we meet them when Fett asks Vader for some help on a mission, and Vader offers the terrifying killers up. “They’ll do,” Fett says, sizing them up. When Boba Fett needs assistance, he doesn’t mess around.
Here’s another scene on Endor that needs some unpacking. Luke and Leia have just arrived on the planet, and have presumably never ridden or used speeder bikes before. Scout troopers have presumably been there a bit longer, and should by now have mastery of their primary vehicles. Yet somehow, Luke and Leia proceed to take down and outmaneuver four of these highly trained military men, in mid air, at top speed.
Luke is a Jedi, and an established pilot, so his skills are expected, but that doesn’t mean the scout troopers had to be such (literal) pushovers. The siblings’ dalliance with the troopers was over in a minute, and it was yet another unrealistic moment establishing stormtroopers as complete failures. The biggest eye-roll inducing moment of all comes when one scout actually outsmarts Leia, getting her to fall off her bike. Then, he promptly turns around to look at her instead of watching where he’s going, and crashes his speeder immediately.
If we were to judge the Empire based on the behavior of stormtroopers during this scene alone, we would never fear them, those in their employ, or their actions, ever. Darth Vader would be embarrassed at having ever been seen with them, and if Kylo Ren were around back then, he would have had the mother of all lightsaber fits.
Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewey run into seven Stormtroopers, who are looking to capture and/or kill the Rebels. One trooper yells: “It’s them! Blast them!” and Han fires, taking one of the seven down. Their response? Instead of blasting back, or seeing that they still had the advantage in numbers, or taking cover, or carrying out their mission in any way, they turn and run away. It’s great fun watching Han charge right after them, eventually running into a room full of troopers. If it had been an intentional move to trap the Rebels, it might have worked, and they might have come across as savvy. As it stands, it remains yet another laughable failure on the stormtrooper resume.
When examining the entirety of their poor performance on Endor, the troopers’ battle against the Ewoks arguably makes them look the worst. Sure, the Ewoks outnumbered the stormtroopers, and they had the benefit of home field advantage. But again, this is supposed to be the army of the Emperor, the baddest baddie in all the galaxies. They should not be felled so easily, and in such benign ways.
Several times, Ewoks have zero difficulty sneaking up on troopers, physically outmaneuvering them, or making them look plain silly. At one point, Ewoks basically hit them a few times with their spears, (not stab — hit) and they crumble like cookies. Later, when a troop of these highly trained Imperial soldiers get taken down by some medium-sized boulders with not much oomph behind them, even the most forgiving fan is face palming. When all is said and done, the Ewoks end up playing bongos on the villains' helmets, and the stormtroopers are the galaxy far, far away's punchline yet again.
This was more of a WTF moment because of the sheer enormity of it, as well as its devastating impact on both sides. Few survived the great Jedi purge, and those who did became legendary. During the execution of Order 66 — and it was indeed an execution — stormtroopers everywhere, on land, mid-flight, mid-training, stopped what they were doing and began carrying out a new primary mission courtesy of Palpatine: the extermination of the remaining Jedi.
Obi-Wan was shot down mid-flight, Twi’leks were gunned down in swamps, and other Jedi across the galaxy were swarmed by stormtroopers, who they'd been working alongside previously. An attempt was even made on Yoda’s life, although he and Obi-Wan both managed to survive, of course, although most Jedi did not. It was a moment in time that was as shocking as it was devastating, and it was a rare moment when stormtroopers actually carried out their orders with great success. It also helped allow Palpatine to establish his temporary dominance, the reverberations of which are still felt decades later in The Force Awakens.
This was a huge disappointment. Instead of resisting the intruders in any way, the much-hyped leader of the stormtroopers just gives Han and Finn exactly what they’re asking for. Maybe it’s because we’re used to seeing Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth, the steely, strong, fiercely loyal warrior she plays on Game of Thrones. When Finn gets haughty and demanding while asking her to betray those she’s most loyal to, we expected her to box his ears or something. But there’s zero Brienne in Captain Phasma, nor are there any witty retorts, or snappy, tough comebacks, and she doesn’t even try to fight back or overpower them. Instead, there’s just…compliance.
Considering that when we first meet her, Phasma has no trouble okay-ing and partaking in the mass slaughter of innocents, her compliance with her enemies makes her seem weak at best and extremely cowardly at worst. She'll be back in Episode VIII, so there’s room for redemption, but as it stands, she has one of the biggest WTF moments of them all.
What major stormtrooper WTF moments did we miss? Are they more effective than people give them credit for? Let us know in the comments.