The Star Wars Meme that deserves to die...by a Stormtrooper's E-11 blaster
I'm a huge Star Wars fan. One of my earliest memories is watching it at a drive-in in '77 (before it was Episode IV and subtitled A New Hope). A rambunctious little shit hook (as my father lovingly called me), I was bouncing over the car. Then the Tantive IV screamed overhead, blaster bolts lancing across the screen and exploding when they hit their target before the gigantic Star Destroyer The Devastator glided in pursuit. I immediately planted my ass on the giant arm rest of our '72 Pontiac and was enraptured for the next 2 hours.
My parents thought I had died and would poke me occassionally to make sure their kid hadn't died from some sort of ecstatic stroke.
Fast forward to the 1990s and the stone age of the internet. The joke about Stormtroopers not able to hit anything is going around the series of tubes invented by Al Gore.
It was funny at first; a moment to pause and reflect on the beloved franchise. Only to realize it's just a joke and a pretty superficial reading of the on-screen action and move along. But is it true or some sort of zeitgeist infecting the fanbase like a virus? And by questioning it--does that make any less of a fan?
Is it true? From a writing perspective...
There are two factors at play here: not paying attention to the narrative and a complete ignorance of combat. The criticism is the allegedly elite troopers who are "so precise" cannot hit any of the main characters. Unfortunately, the meme has taken on a life of its own and eclipses the narrative to the point that fans have come up with unnecessary theories about why Obi-Wan thinks they "...are so precise."
This is where the lack of attention to narrative comes into play. In Star Wars (A New Hope), they're not hitting the Scooby Gang in Space because they are under orders not to. Princess Leia observes this when she tells Han "They let us go. It's the only explanation for the ease of our escape." This is shortly confirmed when Grand Moff Tarkin presses Darth Vader about the tracking beacon installed on the Falcon. There is no need for a fan theory because it's explained in the narrative.
This theme is repeated in The Empire Strikes Back when Vader is looking to capture Luke. He's looking to use Luke's friends as bait. They're purposefully aiming to miss. As the gang is running to the Falcon on Hoth it looks like the Snowtroopers are aiming to disable the ship. A tactic that continues on Bespin.
Things change in Return of the Jedi. The Emperor has foreseen Luke delivering himself to their Sith clutches. There is no need for elaborate traps; and no need for his Rebel scum friends. Leia gets her speeder bike shot out from under her which should've been fatal. (Admittedly, that she survived with barely a scratch is some plot armor; but that has nothing to do with Stormtrooper aim.)
Later on R2-D2 is hit and a few moments later, Leia takes a hit.
At this point one could argue that Leia only gets a flesh wound and so this wasn't a "kill shot" and indicative of how bad and ineffective Stormtroopers are. On the other hand, R2-D2 is incapacitated in his shot. Now he's a secondary character and a droid that can be repaired (along with no really gives a shit about droids other than a few characters like Luke). But still he's a beloved character whose injury ramped up the dramatic tension of the scene.
There's something else at play with this criticism and it's my next point: the idea that Stormtroopers are bad at their job is less about what's on-screen and the lack of knowledge about combat by the commentator. The reality is in the original trilogy we see a highly effective combat force that routinely decimates their Rebel opponents.
Is it true? From a real life/combat perspective...
Adam Holmes of Cinema Blend asserts: "Of course, in real life, any stormtroopers who were failed to hit their targets as often as the ones onscreen did wouldn’t even be out in the field." This is not the case in real life.
Accuracy and precision exist only in target practice and qualification. It's different when your targets are firing back and you're running and gunning. Heart rate effects aim. Pulling the bang button while you're on the move effects aim. Taking quick shots from cover or concealment effects aim. Additionally, you're not aiming at stationary targets but someone who wants to hurt/kill you and live to fight another day so they're moving and trying to make themselves not a target at best and a hard target at worst.
So what's the facts of real life combat?
A 2010/11 report from the Government Accountability Office estimates that the US expended 250,000 rounds of ammo for every insurgent killed.
It's counterintuitive, but I was taught in Combat Lifesaver that around 95% of gunshot wounds on the battlefield are survivable if they get to a hospital within an hour of injury. This is called the Golden Hour.
Not every round is fired with the intent to hit the enemy. Suppressive fire is sending bullets downrange to make the enemy keep their head down so your team can flank them.
What we see in the original trilogy is a highly effective fighting force. Our first exposure to them is filing through a fatal funnel (aka: a door) where they slice through Rebel troopers like a lightsaber through butter. They have the discipline under fire to follow orders to NOT kill people actively killing and wounding them.
For a more succinct telling; check out this video.
What's the big deal?
As only a meme? Nothing. However, there's a problem when it crosses into the franchise itself. In The Mandalorian "Chapter 8: Redemption", Jon Favreau (writer) and Taika Waititi (director) dedicate about a half a minute to a joke and thereby canonizing it. It's an eyeroll and then move on. However, it later effects the storytelling in season 2.
Following "Chapter 14: The Tragedy" I had a buddy call to vent. He was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) in Afghanistan and knows tactics at the ground level. The ineffectiveness of the Stormtroopers robbed the story of dramatic tension. Yes, it's five years after the fall of the Empire and we see through dirty armor that the Imperial Remnant is now a shadow of the height of the Empire. But to have them loose all combat sense and literally get rolled over by a boulder. Maybe one or two caught by surprise; but a dude shooting his E-Web at a giant rock rolling his way? (Even if it is a great homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark!)
I loved the first season of The Mandalorian; it along with Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One are the best Star Wars live action media to come out since 1983. However, the second season left me less fulfilled. A major reason being how ineffective they are undoes the suspension of disbelief and sucking the dramatic tension out of the story. All of which built up to the assault on Moff Gideon's cruiser where this trope continued with a full frontal assault and none of the heroes were even incapacitated. Imagine how much more dramatic the scene would've been had Cara Dune or Koska Reeves had been taken out in battle.
And this negative effect the joke is having on the franchise is why TK-421 should kill it with his trusty E-11.