Star Wars was arguably the most influential movie in the history of cinema. George Lucas began with the fundamental viscera of 1950's-era Saturday afternoon adventure serials, conjured a pleasantly weird outer space setting, and then built his epic story around strangely engaging characters about which the audience could become genuinely concerned. The remarkable voyage he set upon in 1977 still fills theaters today.
In the interest of full disclosure, I really like Star Wars. I don't own any Yoda underpants, but I do know that the Princess was held in cellblock AA23 and that Han Solo's Stormtrooper operating number was TK421. I have a fairly ridiculous gun collection, but I would gladly trade the whole shebang for a single operational light saber. If you find that none of this makes any sense, then you have my pity.
Respect of the Jedi
Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi stand awestruck in the presence of a burned-out Jawa Sandcrawler. The massive vehicle has been disabled and its occupants inexplicably slaughtered. Luke theorizes that this carnage might be the result of an ambush by the feared Tuscan Raiders, known locally as Sandpeople. Ben counters that the forensic evidence indicates otherwise.
"These are the same Jawas that sold us R2 and 3PO," Luke says, growing concerned.
"And these blast points, too accurate for Sandpeople. Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise," Ben observes.
"But why would Imperial troops slaughter Jawas? If they traced the droids here, they must have learned who they sold them to and that would lead them back...home!"
For those among you who might not share my insensate enthusiasm for Star Wars, Luke returns home to find Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru reduced to skeletal ash at the hands of the evil Empire. Realizing that the last vestiges of his family have been obliterated on the desert planet of Tatooine, Luke agrees to accompany Ben on his mission to find Princess Leia, return the stolen Death Star plans, and restore freedom to the galaxy.
The compelling saga of a young moisture farmer-turned-Jedi Knight unfolds right up to the present. I count the days until each new installment. I am also on opening night giddy to a degree that might appear unseemly for a middle-aged physician who really is too old for such as this. However, what I take umbrage with this day is Ben Kenobi's admiration for the typical Stormtrooper's marksmanship skills. The safest place in the galaxy seems to be downrange from a tooled-up Stormtrooper fire team. Those guys couldn't hit the ground if they had a map.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Google knows everything. The total body count for the first Star Wars film was one hundred fifty-one. This does not include the millions of anonymous innocents on Alderaan when it exploded or the poor sots unfortunate enough to have been billeted on the Death Star when it got pulverized. Of those one hundred fifty-one, Luke Skywalker personally accounted for eighty and Han Solo
offed a respectable sixteen. Leia and Chewbacca nailed two each. Darth Vader ganked eight. The rest are accounted for in ship-to-ship combat and similar ancillary mischief.
What is notably absent from this list is any sort of martial success attributed to the feared Stormtroopers. Far from being the scourge of the galaxy, I am beginning to suspect that the vaunted Stormtroopers might actually be a bunch of out-of-shape undertrained Imperial pansies. Think of them like Democrats in space.
Stormtroopers were purportedly bred for combat. Where previously the droid armies were utterly craptastic and the clones not appreciably better, the current crop of genetically engineered Imperial troops was supposedly programmed from their youth to be warriors. As a former Army Officer myself I'm curious as to why they always seem to suck so bad at individual marksmanship.
Perhaps their training was deficient. It's got to be hard to find live-fire range time on a space-faring battle station. What happens if some overzealous young stud has a negligent discharge and inadvertently punches a hole in the side?
We also should at least consider that it might be an equipment problem. If the Blas-Tech E-11 Stormtrooper blaster was an organically flawed piece of hardware then somebody should likely alert the Emperor. The M-16 certainly had a rocky start. Might something similar have occurred a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?
The Blas-Tech E-11 blasters used in the original films began life as modified Sterling L2A3 submachine guns. A handful of the props used in A New Hope, the first Star Wars film, were actually live guns that had been modified to fire blank cartridges. In certain spots in the movie the astute gun nerd can spot empty casings ejecting out the sides of the various blasters. The dummy guns used in non-firing scenes were bodged together out of Japanese-made replicas.
I have access to my own E-11 Stormtrooper blaster. Mine began life as a Wise Lite Sterling proffered by Century International Arms. While these guns are no longer available for sale, the enterprising gun bodger could conceivably fabricate one from scratch using a parts kit from Apex Gun Parts (ApexGunParts.com) built up on a new homebuilt semiauto receiver. Apex can be found in the pages of this very periodical. Weld the stock closed during the build and use a proper semiauto bolt to avoid any unfortunate Imperial entanglements.
Like the original movie props, my blaster sports a little Imperial window dressing. The cooling fins began life as extruded aluminum stock from our local Home Depot. I finished the gun using bake-on engine block paint that has since scuffed up nicely. Although Century International Arms did offer P-rail scope mounts in two sizes for the Sterling semi-auto carbines, my scope mount is fabricated from scratch, and the red dot optic is something cheap but functional. My gun is hardly a ringer for the originals (the original optical sight was some kind of non-functional tank periscope). However, it will pass for the real deal in dim light, and the gun runs like a scalded Bantha.
All the shooting depicted in the first Star Wars movie was done at fairly close range. Luke, Chewie, and Han effortlessly blast the various sensors in the Princess' cellblock, and Luke obliterates a control panel that slams a set of heavy blast doors from all the way across a hangar. Otherwise engagements span the spectrum from bad breath range out to maybe 25 meters with most being on the near end. As such, we settled on fifteen meters as our test distance.
Imperial Stormtroopers always seem to run their blasters from the hip. This might potentially explain their suboptimal marksmanship. Luke frequently wields his blaster using a classic two-handed isosceles stance. As an experimental control of sorts we thought we might test our blaster slow fire from a simple rest as well. At no point in the movie do we ever see a blaster in action with its stock deployed.
Only hits count. We will be running standard 9mm ball rounds rather than whatever sort of gee-whiz directed-energy plasma ammo the actual movie blasters fired. Even if we had access to the particle beam version of the E-11 we undoubtedly lack the appropriate range backstop to shoot it safely.
The E-11 is fairly heavy, on the order of 6.5 pounds all up with accouterments. As such, it will indeed run off-hand like a handgun, but you would not want to spend any great amount of time holding the weapon outstretched at the ready. Such hijinks would serve as punitive PT (Physical Training) should some recalcitrant trooper be caught fraternizing with the fairer members of the TIE fighter maintenance cell or be found in possession of Wookie porn.
When run from the hip the E-11 offers pretty typical Stormtrooper-grade accuracy. I landed a whopping three of five shots on the paper at fifteen meters. Running the blaster from Luke's iconic isosceles stance offered better accuracy. I landed all five inside a standard silhouette, but they were distributed from the eyeballs to the belly button. When fired from a simple rest the blaster is indeed a precision tool. My best group ran less than an inch at this range.
After a delightful Saturday afternoon spent turning 9mm ammunition into noise I have drawn an incontrovertible conclusion. It's obviously not an equipment problem. Rather, Imperial Stormtroopers just cannot shoot. If an untrained teenager from Tatooine, a roguish space pirate, and a 51-year-old, maturity-impaired, doctor-become-gunwriter, can get such stellar performance out of the E-11 then crack Stormtroopers should be capable of so much better.
The bottom line is that the E-11 is a credible weapon system that has proved itself in brushfire conflicts across the galaxy. This iconic gun is relatively lightweight and imminently portable. The magazine protruding out the left side of the weapon means that it cannot be packed in a holster on the right. Drawing the gun from the left is a tedious chore, but the standard Imperial-issue left-sided drop leg holster is comfortable enough.
I haven't worn a military uniform myself in two decades, and I still shot better than the purportedly highly trained troopers in the film. Of course I didn't have a force-capable youngster shooting back at me. There also was no Dark Lord of the Sith awaiting my return from the range for a personal critique and debrief. However, the weapon is clearly capable of doing everything the Empire asks of it. Just like out here in the Real World, the problem is likely a lack of proper trigger time.
Basic blaster marksmanship among the Stormtrooper legions is simply embarrassing. With Grand Moff Tarkin vaporized and Darth Vader blown out of control to Lord-knows-where, it is hard to divine who exactly might be in a position to address this deficiency. Darth Maul got vivisected in a previous movie, and Emperor Palpitine is by now older than dirt. He might even be senile.
For now this explosive conclusion will remain our secret. Our valiant boys and girls in the Rebellion need every advantage they can get. May the Force be with you!
This article originally appeared in Firearms News Issue #2 2018.