The Stormtrooper Effect

If you’ve ever watched Star Wars, you may have noticed the the supposedly “feared” Imperial Stormtroopers are lousy shots. This is something that people in cinema of continuously commented on. You can look anywhere on the internet and see people complaining and joking about this. On forums and other websites, everybody cracks jokes about the Stormtroopers being unable to hit the broad side of a barn. This has become legendary, a trope, so to speak. In fact, at this point, it even has a name: the Stormtrooper Effect. The Stormtrooper Effect is not limited to just Star Wars, but is present in many other franchises.

But why? Why would something so strange and ridiculous be so common? You’d think that such an unrealistic trope would have no place in most media, because if the audience doesn’t buy it, it won’t make any money. However, there’s more to it than that. You see, the Stormtrooper Effect is actually inevitable in any media where the heroes are fighting against hordes of mooks. Because if the mooks all had good aim, then the heroes would be dead at the beginning, and then there’d be no story. Not only is this not unique to Star Wars, it’s downright ubiquitous!

On top of that, you have to remember that the Stormtrooper Effect is not so unrealistic. In fact, it’s very, very realistic. Most soldiers who fire their weapons in war never actually hit an enemy. It takes hundreds of rounds fired on average for one kill to be scored. This is because the Stormtrooper Effect is actually a realistic depiction of how hard it is to hit a moving, intelligent human target who doesn’t want to be shot. If anything, the lack of realism flows in the other direction: it’s the heroes who have the unrealistic aim. Their aim is unrealistically good!

If you’re a big enough fan of the series to wear Star Wars t shirts, then you can probably point out some places where the Stormtrooper Effect doesn’t apply. For example, in the prequels, whenever a main character has a lightsaber that they can use to deflect blaster shots, the Stormtrooper Effect is no longer a problem. Now that the main character has a lightsaber to protect them and make sure they make it to the end (since they’re indispensable to the plot) the Stormtrooper Effect is no longer needed. It makes sense, and also provides a sense of realism because it shows that Stormtroopers do sometimes hit their targets, even if that target is a Jedi who can deflect the shots. That’s what you see on a Star Wars t shirt.

So the Stormtrooper Effect is ubiquitous because it has to be, but you can see some places where it doesn’t apply. Generally speaking, it helps to have some variety in fiction. Having the bad guys just miss is a default option for the writers. In order to mix things up a little, it helps to have other reasons for the heroes not to get shot.

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