Is Stormtrooper armor useless? The EU gives us an answer
One of the things I love most about the EU is how it explains away a lot of problems people see in the movies. In this which is retroactively the 7th in this series of articles, I’ll be looking into another problem that people seem to have with the Stormtroopers, and that is their apparent useless armor.
While not as meme worthy as the infamous Stormtrooper accuracy that I have covered previously, the apparent ineffectiveness of their armor is something I see commonly brought up and laughed at. In the films, Stormtroopers are often taken out with a single shot, and by various primitive weapons used by the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. So, it would be easy to just write off their armor as ineffective, right? Well not exactly.
Something that isn’t as well known about armor is that there it does not follow a one size fits all rule. What I mean by that is that one type of armor rarely will be able to stop all different forms of damage. In our own world armor that is effective against stabbing type weapons is not effective against firearms, armor good against firearms isn’t good against explosives, etc. Without getting too technical in how each of these works, as I could spend pages talking about that, these armors are made differently, using different materials in different ways to make them the best possible protection for what they are designed to protect the user from. However due to constraints like weight, cost, and the fact that no armor is completely resistant to what it is designed to protect the user from, an all in one type armor is simply impossible to make. So, modern militaries give their soldiers armor that while not effective against everything, gives them some basic protection from the kinds of dangers they may face. The same is true of the Empire and Stormtroopers.
So, what kind of dangers do Stormtroopers face? Well there is the obvious one which is blasters and I’ll get to that one later as it is the reason I wanted to write this. But what of the others? Well there aren’t any really. Yeah slug throwers are around and typically used by assassins, big game hunters and bounty hunters due to the fact they can fire at longer ranges than blasters, but they aren’t a common enough occurrence to be of concern for the average Stormtrooper, pretty much the same for the primitive type weapons of the Ewoks as throwing watermelon sized rocks at Stormtroopers is simply only something crazy teddy bears would try. Vibroblades they would see sure but they don’t really need to make their armor vibroblade resistant as typically when you are that close to an armored enemy with a dagger type weapon you aren’t aiming for the plates but the gaps in the plates that allow them to move, you can reinforce these sure but at a cost of the soldiers being able to move so again the Empire didn’t bother. Finally there is explosions which is something that the Stormtroopers would face, however, there is also the fact that explosions are unpredictable in nature and a big enough bomb will thwart any type of armor. So, while yes it is partially designed to give some protection in this regard it is not total protection in all cases.
Now for the blasters. Unlike slug throwers Blasters have 2 components that are spent when it is fired, a power pack, and a gas cartridge. Now depending on the make and model of the blasters these can be combined into an all in one component that needs to be replaced, for easier reloading, or separated into 2 independent components. However in both cases, unlike firearms of our time, these components are not quick to change out, especially in a firefight. Now they aren’t as bad as the muskets and rifles of the Napoleonic era, they are still slow enough to change out that in Star Wars when someone depletes a charge pack or gas cartridge they often abandoned the blaster for a backup blaster or one from a fallen soldier. Why is this important when considering armor? Well simply put the more powerful the bolt that is fired the faster the charge pack and gas cartridge is expended. This is what Stormtrooper armor is meant for. It isn’t completely blaster proof, as like I said earlier it would be too heavy and too cumbersome for a soldier to wear, but it is blaster resistant enough to force the enemy to use the most powerful of blasters when facing them, and in the process the enemy in a fight is forced to use weapons that have essentially a lower ammo capacity and therefore fire less shots.
Now you may think that a larger blaster would mean a larger charge pack and or gas canister? Well you would be right and wrong. A lot of the larger blaster companies make power packs gas canisters for their blasters semi universal, meaning one type and size of either of these would work in a multitude of different blaster models within the same family of blasters. And smaller companies often use these power packs and cartridges as well as they are so abundant and it Is cheaper to use a semi universal design than to make your own. Point being while not all blaster power pack and gas cartridges are the same, they are generally similar enough that multiple different types of blasters end up using power packs and gas cartridges that hold similar amounts of charge and gas. So the difference in how much of a charge and gas is a bigger blaster and a smaller blaster often isn’t much and does not always offset the extra gas and power the larger blasters need to use.
This is why you see in the movies the heroes and the Rebels killing Stormtroopers in 1 shot, it isn’t because the armor is useless, it is because they are using the right weapons. This is why Han uses a heavy blaster pistol, why Chewie uses a bowcaster, and the alliance uses blaster rifles and carbines, and why these weapons were made illegal on planets that were ruled by the Empire.
In short, Stormtrooper armor is doing precisely what it was designed to do. It just doesn’t look like it all the time when watching the films as the heroes are using the right weapons or attacking in ways that the armor was not designed to defend.