I’ve previously written about how the original Star Wars movies treat the Imperial Stormtroopers far more respectfully than movies treat their nameless bad guys. But there’s still the problem of the Stormtroopers repeatedly missing the heroes at close range.
The obvious explanation is this: every time the heroes escape from the Stormtroopers, we were supposed to be seeing a skin-of-their-teeth escape from some very dangerous bad guys. Had there been more money to spend on getting the staging just right, all the fights would have been shown happening under circumstances (in terms of range, available cover, etc.) that would actually make it plausible that even highly trained marksmen could miss, and even then it would have been clear that the heroes got a little bit lucky.
I’ve discovered a couple of less obvious explanations browsing the internet, though. One blames the Stormtroopers’ poor marksmanship on defective rifles, which strikes me as a silly piece of fanwank. But there’s another explanation I really like, enough to make me wonder if it was in fact Lucas’ intention: in the scenes aboard the Death Star in Episode IV, at least, the Stormtroopers were under orders to let the heroes escape.
Remember, after all, that the Imperials had attached a tracking device to the Millennium Falcon, which is how they found the rebel base on Yavin, leading to Episode IV‘s climax. That plan wouldn’t have worked if the Stormtroopers had killed Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie.
This theory also makes sense of a couple of really weird bits of the Death Star sequence. Like, that one bit where Han charges a group of Stormtroopers at close range, and they don’t even try to shoot him but instead run away? Watch that bit with the “orders to let the heroes escape” theory in mind, and suddenly what you see is a bunch of very confused Stormtroopers wondering how they’re supposed to keep up the facade when the enemy does that.
Or: when it looks like the heroes aren’t going be able to escape because Stormtroopers are blocking the path to the Falcon, but then they march out of the way to watch the Vader/Obi-Wan fight? Totally bizarre taken at face value, makes perfect sense if you imagine their commander radioing to them, “uh, you’re going to have to move so the rebels can escape.”
So it’s an amusing theory, but can it really have been what Lucas had in mind? If it’s what he had in mind, why didn’t he make it more obvious? Well, for one thing, there’s already pretty good evidence that Lucas unintentionally set off some fanwank by not making something else obvious enough: Han is a liar. Specifically he lied when he claimed his ship “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.” This was explicitly stated to be “obvious misinformation” in one draft of the script, but everyone missed this leading to fanwank about how that line in the script could possibly make sense.
So maybe Lucas screwed up making his intentions clear with the Stormtroopers too… and if he did, I’m sympathetic. Personally, I hate it when movies and TV shows make what’s going on way too obvious, to the point of the heroes looking like idiots for not being able to figure out what’s clear to the audience. If my analysis here is correct, Lucas didn’t handle things terribly well, but I do think we ought to recognize that this kind of thing is hard to handle properly.