Today we ask the question: What happens when an insignificant force meets an insubstantial object? What happens when a soldier who can’t kill anything opens fire on a security guard who always dies?
IN THE BLUE CORNER
These “Star Wars vs. Star Trek” arguments usually result in a bunch of crypto-fascists coming to support the Wars side and making all kinds of ludicrous claims about Imperial competence (if you wanted to make a statement in favor of Star Wars rather than fascism, surely the side you would lean on would be the guys who actually won the Galactic Civil War). We’re not going to engage in any of that bullshit, and instead stick to what we can all see on the screen.
Offensively, storm troopers are equipped with a blaster carbine that’s only ever seen to fire single shot in the hands of the storm troopers themselves, but we’ve seen clone troopers with similar weapons firing on full-auto. The carbine itself pretty reliably kills the people it hits, but the storm trooper holding it can’t shoot for crap. Various explanations have been put forward for this in the EU, including cheap weapons manufacturers creating very inaccurate carbines, the quality of training having been drastically rolled back after the end of the Clone Wars as the emphasis shifted to intimidation (i.e. the Tarkin Doctrine) over actual combat effectiveness, and my personal favorite, “no you guys they’re totally accurate, just ignore their visibly awful hit rates on screen, they’re elite soldiers for sure, it says so in obscure spin-off material that only a tiny fraction of the audience have read, a source which clearly trumps the films because shut up.” Regardless of the reason why, storm troopers have a perfectly lethal primary weapon but can’t hit a goddamn thing with it. Video games also semi-regularly depict them carrying grenades which are varyingly depicted as sticky grenades, contact grenades, or regular old delayed detonation grenades. These are added for gameplay reasons mainly when storm troopers are playable (like the Battlefront games), but don’t seem to be part of the troopers’ movie arsenal, considering how much a grenade would’ve come in handy for them attacking Han and Leia’s position on Endor. It seems like anti-personnel explosives were another casualty of the downgrade from clone troopers to storm troopers.
Defensively, storm troopers are equipped with armor that is reliably thwarted by military grade blaster weapons of any type and is unable to reliably absorb attacks from stone age ewok weapons. Clearly it is useless against both direct hits from energy weapons and shrapnel from explosives, which is basically all the kinds of weapons used in either the Star Wars or Star Trek universes. Maybe they’re resistant to ion or edged weapons, but neither of those are particularly in the red shirt’s arsenal to begin with, so we don’t care.
In terms of mobility, the storm trooper has a grappling hook for sure on their utility belt, as we see Luke Skywalker make use of one looted from a defeated enemy in A New Hope. It’s not clear what else the utility belt contained from the movie, but it stands to reason it would have other stuff on it, so I’m referencing the EU here for the extra ammo and compact super science food pills. Also, the clone troopers’ utility belts could be used as explosives, but again, the storm troopers seem to lack any ability to flush enemies from cover by the time of the Battle of Endor.
Tactically speaking, storm troopers are prized for their loyalty and obedience over any kind of tactical acumen. It’s safe to say that these grunts are unable to do much more than find cover and shoot ineffectively in the general direction of the enemy without an officer around to give them orders. Initiative and planning are for rebel troopers.
IN THE RED CORNER
TNG set the tone for all future Star Trek series’ up until the Abrams reboot as calm, thoughtful mysteries and negotiations. While some series’ did a better job of living up to this than others, the idea for them was always to focus on dialogue and interesting sci-fi ideas and/or character relationships, rather than trying to make exciting action out of a low-budget pre-Renaissance television show. The Original Series didn’t have this forethought, and instead every episode saw Kirk and Spock beaming down to a planet with “Ensign Gomez” or some such sacrificial lamb. That sacrificial lamb is our contender.
Offensively speaking, the red shirt carries a type 2 hand phaser, which is an incredibly versatile weapon. On various power settings, the hand phaser can stun targets, heat rocks, kill enemies with similar reliability to a blaster carbine, disintegrate enemies outright, and even carve through ship bulkheads. While there’s no reason to believe that Star Trek bulkheads are especially hyper-durable, they’re still thick and metal, so carving right through one is pretty much the final say on anti-personnel capabilities. Red shirts are even reasonably accurate with the things, especially if they think to use the wide-angle setting that shoots a cone instead of a ray. Their weakness here is how incredibly slow on the draw they are. A space monster can spend upwards of two to three seconds making scary screeching noises at a red shirt before actually physically striking or grappling them, and they still won’t get a shot off, not even when they already had the phaser in their hands upon attack. Red shirts are also shown to be trained in hand-to-hand combat, although the extent of this training comes out to a couple of wrestling moves that are excessively unlikely to be relevant in a fight between two people who both have effective ranged murder weapons.
Defensively speaking, the red shirt isn’t even pretending to have any protection. No personal shields, no body armor, nothing. He’s got that red shirt on his back and that’s the end of it. It’s probably even less effective than the storm trooper’s papier-mache armor, and it certainly isn’t absorbing any blaster bolts that, through some miracle, actually connect.
In terms of mobility, the red shirt’s got bugger all. They hardly need mobility assists when they have pretty much continuous access to teleportation technology, but they can’t call on the Enterprise’s teleporters anymore than the storm trooper can call on a star destroyer to orbitally bombard the battlefield, so the red shirt’s left with his own two legs to get around the battlefield.
Tactically, red shirts aren’t idiots, but they are jobbers for the protagonists. They can take some initiative, but they don’t really come up with effective plans to save the day. We can give the red shirt some credit for being able to adapt to enemy maneuvers, but with only one combatant on either side that’s probably not going to be a difference-maker (and if we added more combatants, the storm troopers would get an Imperial officer to order them around anyway).
AND THE WINNER IS…
I know that sounds like a cop out, but anyone who’s followed this blog should know that I’m hardly afraid to be iconoclastic. Like half of the Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy posts was me telling people to fuck off with their bullshit and I’m perfectly happy to say that 4e was a dumpster fire. When I say it depends, it’s not because I’m conflict averse and would rather have an anti-climactic end to my post than get some Star Trek/Wars fans upset in my comments. It’s because it actually does depend on a single key factor, and that factor isn’t clearly defined.
Namely, exactly how rubbish is storm trooper accuracy? Are they absolutely incapable of hitting anything they shoot at, or are they merely awful shots? This makes a difference, because as we’ve established, the red shirt is going to spend the first several seconds of the fight making dramatic “oh, no!” faces at the camera. If he can survive that, a single wide-angle beam and the storm trooper’s finished. The trooper is going to have time for multiple shots in the meanwhile, though. So are we talking about A New Hope storm troopers, who can’t hit a moving target for crap but are reasonably effective against stationary rebel troopers when boarding the Tantive IV? Or are we talking about Return of the Jedi storm troopers, an entire platoon of which manage to kill a grand total of one ewok during the Battle of Endor?
Considering the drastic loss in competence between the two movies, it’s also possible that ANH troopers still have their grenades. They clearly have utility belts, and clone troopers definitely had them, but it’s not obvious exactly when they were phased out. This doesn’t actually make a difference, because without an officer on hand to smack them on the head and say “just use your grenade, then all you have to do is get within three meters of him,” the trooper is going to stick with his carbine, because he’s an idiot. So this still comes down to storm trooper accuracy, and that varies from movie to movie even within the original trilogy.