Why The Galactic Empire from Star Wars Was Doomed to Fail

Source: Star Wars art by David Meilleur

Although the Galactic Empire commanded vast resources and power, it was always doomed to fall apart. Its incompetence and mismanagement was the Rebel Alliance's greatest weapon.

Headed by Emperor Palpatine, the Galactic Empire rose after the fall of the democratic Galactic Senate. It quickly became the most powerful, ruthless, and feared military force in the galaxy.

The Empire ruled with an iron fist, with no reservations against the murder of its own innocent civilians and all-out genocide to hold it back. However, in its tight grip over absolute power and control over the galaxy, severe cracks are evident from the bottom to the top of the organization, making its downfall inevitable.

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Blind Stormtroopers

Serving as the galaxy’s thuggish military and police force, the iconic Stormtrooper is ill-equipped, undertrained, and typically unmotivated to competently handle even basic tasks. Why else would an armed search party looking for missing droids on Tatooine be deterred by a locked residential door?

Lucasfilm once tried to sue the man who designed the Stormtrooper helmets for $20 million and lost.
In real-life, Lucasfilm tried to sue the man who designed the Stormtrooper helmets for $20 million and lost.

It’s not hard to see why Stormtroopers, which usually represent the common face of the Empire, often fail at almost everything that they do. The odds are stacked against them from the start. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi examines a field of slaughtered jawas and states that “only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise” with their shooting.

It’s not entirely clear if the observation only applies when compared to sand people (who were improperly framed for the massacre) or if the old man was simply out-of-touch with reality because Stormtroopers never demonstrate any sort of precision.

In fact, they even have trouble hitting the broad side of a spaceship, or a small group of rebels in a narrow corridor at close range with vastly superior numbers. Some fans theorize the Stormtroopers are missing on purpose so that they can somehow give the rebels a false sense of security and expose their plans. That isn’t a great explanation given the number of soldiers that have to die to keep the ruse going.

Another theory attributes bad aim to a person’s innate subconscious desire not to kill, coupled with the fact that aiming and shooting during a firefight is extremely difficult. This is probably why in real-world combat scenarios, the vast majority of shots miss despite military training. Although, this theory also seems contradictory since Stormtroopers obviously have no problem slaughtering unarmed jawas and human moisture farmers alike.

The actor playing the Stormtrooper explained in 2017 that he wasn't paying attention and thought he was out of frame. Source: Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977
The actor playing the head-bumping Stormtrooper wasn't paying attention that day and thought he was out of frame. Source: Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977

The most likely issue is with the Stormtrooper combat armor, which may look imposing, but fails to do anything useful. They obviously have trouble seeing out of the tiny eyeholes in their helmets. This is exemplified numerous times, particularly with how one soldier hits his head against an opening blast door and when Luke Skywalker remarks how he “can’t see a thing” when he disguises himself as one.

On top of the limited field of view, the cheap, mass-produced armor doesn’t appear to protect them from anything. The only camouflage it offers is in snowy environments. Otherwise, they completely stand out everywhere else. Additionally, one shot from a small laser pistol will kill soldiers as easily as heavy combat rifles.

In Return of the Jedi, diminutive Ewoks and rebels are able to defeat the armor using arrows, sticks, rocks, and even bare fists. They’re also ill-equipped and completely unprepared for combat. Their blaster rifles have iron sights only, and almost all Stormtroopers shoot from the hip, despite having no recoil to worry about.

Again, in Return of the Jedi, the “secret” entrance to Endor’s control bunker is guarded by four unarmed troopers. Three of them are successfully lured away when an Ewok steals one of their speeders, suggesting that the fourth would have also chased after the wascally wabbit if he hadn’t gotten his ride stolen. 

These are supposed to be the Empire's elite soldiers. Source: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
These are supposed to be the Empire's elite soldiers guarding a critical installation. Source: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Yet, even with all these disadvantages, they’re expected to run into battle using sheer numbers as their sole advantage. It’s likely that they know that they’re disposable soldiers who could be mindlessly tossed into the meat grinder at any time. That’s why so few show any sense of loyalty or initiative, and why they tend to take their frustrations out on aliens by treating them as second-class citizens.

The ruthless “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude gives the rebellion its best advantage since it drives the vast majority of citizens to hate the Empire and motivates them to take up arms against it. For instance, Luke Skywalker originally aspired to become a pilot in the Imperial Fleet. However, after a group of Stormtroopers needlessly killed his aunt and uncle before burning down his home, he was ready to get his revenge on.

Terrible Vehicles

Whatever the Empire saves on equipping its troops, it spends on horribly designed vehicles. We’re not just talking about the TIE fighter, which has a long list of problems. Practically every single war machine in the Empire’s arsenal seems built to fail.

Take the famous AT-AT walker as a prime example. They certainly made for an epic battle sequence during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but the imposing troop transports are loaded with problems. They’re slow, only have forward facing cannons, and don’t have any secondary weapons to make full use of their height advantage.

They’re also extremely easy to target and relatively easy to destroy if you have some long cable to trip them up. Otherwise, you can just run up to them and attach explosives to their undersides. AT-ATs are meant to show the Empire’s imposing presence, but it’s strange that military designers would use legs instead of hover technology to turn the tanks into flying fortresses.

Modeled after war elephants, AT-AT walkers are imposing, but not well designed. Source: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Modeled after war elephants, AT-AT walkers exemplify the Empire's extraordinary powers of intimidation and wasteful spending. Source: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Wouldn’t it be just as intimidating to put the resources and manpower it takes to build one AT-AT into building a huge army of hover tanks? Let’s not delve too deeply into the AT-STs, which walk around like chickens. They’re so pathetic that they can literally be destroyed using rocks and logs. Suffice to say that the Imperial war machine has a major problem with allocating its resources. Instead of maintaining a skilled fighting force to maintain order in the galaxy, it would rather blow all its credits on Star Destroyers and stupid projects like the Death Star.

The Death Star

The infamous Death Star. A mistake so big that the Empire made it twice. On its face, having a massive superweapon makes sense. On Earth, having an incredible destructive capacity is a defining characteristic of a world superpower. As such, it stands to reason that a galactic superpower should have planet destroying capabilities.

However, the Empire already controls everything, and its only foes are groups of localized rebellions. So, there’s no need to blow up planets except to show off its giant laser. Destroying a planet, especially a peaceful one like Alderaan, demonstrates immense shortsightedness by leaders like Grand Moff Tarkin.

It would cost roughly $852,000,000,000,000,000 to build a Death Star, about 13,000 times the world's GDP. Source: Star Wars.com
A real-life Death Star would cost roughly $852,000,000,000,000,000 to build. About 13,000 times the world's GDP. Image Source: Star Wars.com

First, it eliminates all the natural resources, wealth, and manpower that planet provided – resources that are needed to build things like Star Destroyers, AT-ATs, and Death Stars. Second, by destroying a peaceful planet because a handful of its people committed crimes tells the rest of the galaxy that there’s no point in playing by the Empire’s rules. You could be good and still get blown up.

Lastly, firing the weapon tells the rebels and all other angry citizens that this is the thing that needs to be destroyed at all costs. By demonstrating its power, Tarkin essentially painted a giant target onto the Death Star. Yet, the Empire decided to build a second one after the first was destroyed with a single magic shot.

The worst part is, the Empire already had what they needed to maintain absolute control throughout the galaxy: Star Destroyers. These massive ships are packed with enough TIE fighters, troops, and armaments to invade planets. If a world steps out of line, they could form a blockade and bombard from orbit until the planetary government surrenders.

They could even drop off some Stormtroopers and armored units to clean up what’s left. Of course, leave it to the Empire to screw up their best weapon, because it wasted a ton of money and resources building the Super Star Destroyer.

An Executor-class Star Dreadnaught (aka super star destroyer) was the largest starship constructed by the Imperial Navy. Source: Star Wars
An Executor-class Star Dreadnaught (aka Super Star Destroyer) was the largest starship ever constructed by the Imperial Navy. Source: Star Wars

Even though the vessel was supersized, its armaments weren’t. It used the exact same guns as the normal-sized Star Destroyers. Imagine if the US Navy built a massive battleship, but instead of arming it with bigger, more powerful, and longer-range guns, it was outfitted with the same weapons as cruisers half its size. That’s how ridiculous the Super Star Destroyer was.

Not to mention, the Super Star Destroyer had serious vulnerabilities. There was a single easy to destroy the shield generator, and the entire thing was taken out by a single out-of-control A-Wing that crashed into its exposed bridge. What a disaster. There are some Imperial designers out there who need to be Force choked.

The Leadership

You can hardly blame the Imperial military for being terrible at everything that it does. The entire organization is rotten and mismanaged at every level. The top leaders were Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, followed perhaps by Grand Moff Tarkin. All three, especially Vader, controlled forces using intimidation and fear, which doesn’t inspire loyalty.

Vader will quickly murder anyone who fails to meet his arbitrary standards or makes the mistake of displeasing or disagreeing with him. This doesn’t foster an environment where leaders will take initiative and demonstrate skill.

The Force Choke, one of Darth Vader's favorite moves. Source: Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977
The infamous Force Choke, one of Darth Vader's favorite moves. Source: Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977

It would be far better to keep your head down and go unnoticed until your superior is unceremoniously killed, leading to your sudden promotion. Instead of admitting to mistakes or setbacks to learn from them, which will no doubt lead to your death, leaders are more likely to cover-up problems by lying or passing the blame onto others.

That kind of environment might explain why the Empire has such impractical vehicles. While Vader is a ruthless killer, the Emperor himself is a recluse whose sole purpose is to maintain his grip on power without providing a clear strategy for how to best do it.

Palpatine doesn’t even trust Vader, the person he relies on for most of his information about the ongoing battle with the Rebel Alliance. At the same time, he’s likely squeezing the Empire dry through heavy taxes to pay for all his expensive weapons. It’s no wonder every single planet in the Empire celebrated when the Emperor was defeated, including the Imperial Capital, Coruscant.

Perhaps more than anything else, the Emperor’s demise reveals the biggest flaw in the Imperial command structure. It pretty much rested on two or three people. There was no clear line of succession after Palpatine, Vader, and Tarkin were gone. No wonder the Empire’s entire military structure collapsed, leaving its remnants to form splinter organizations such as The First Order. Judging by how things are headed in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, history is doomed to repeat itself. Perhaps in more ways than one, since the teaser trailer for The Rise of the Skywalker concludes with the famous villain's laugh. The joke's on you, galaxy!

Editor

Steven is a pop culture junkie who regularly binges on sci-fi TV shows, movies, books, and video games before completely overthinking them.