I was recently posed a question about Star Wars' imperial storm troopers. It amounted to, "What good is their armor, anyway?" As someone who has watched the films many times and would like to continue (if I can get the whole "evil Jedi" thing out of my mind), questions of this nature are fun intellectual exercises. In this case, it doesn't take the most critical eye to realize that it's a valid query.
Whether clone troopers or storm troopers, the uniformly clad, high-tech soldiers strike quite an imposing sight. Watch them closely though, and despite their genetic engineering and thorough training, their armor doesn't seem to be helping them much. These crack soldiers aren't just falling to blaster fire and light sabers, but suffer humiliating defeat to an indigenous shih tzu-teddy bear population armed with sticks and stones. Sticks and stones, really? This is the best they've got? Look tough, but end up with your head being used for a drum? So, they sunk all that money into big ships and death stars and...what good is their armor, anyway?
Well, nerd that I will admit to being, I bought a series of informative, secret-revealing publications released between the original film trilogy releases back in the early eighties. They were a mix of print and pictures on glossy paper and if you unfolded them, each one opened to reveal a poster. I never hung mine and they're, of course, safely tucked away with my many many comic books. From those appetite-whetting offerings, I remember that the lightweight armor was supposed to be able to reflect anything short of a straight-on laser shot. Now we all know that good guys are inherently better shots than bad guys, but I still have to question that armor's laser-reflecting capability. I'd sooner accept that that particular specification is imperial hyperbole. Maybe as the number of troopers went up and armor production demands skyrocketed, some corners were cut so the armor quality suffered. Certainly, the lightweight material doesn't seem to do much against blunt impacts. What does that leave them?
Those shell casings they keep their troopers wrapped in actually do provide important benefits that have nothing to do with traditional armor concepts of protecting from enemy attacks. The white exterior does serve the purpose of reflecting ambient light and heat, thus helping to keep the soldier within cooler. Inside the armor, the clone trooper can be kept comfortable inside a climate-controlled mini-environment. Wherever you drop these guys across the empire, whether it's desert or jungle or frosty outside, they can stay as comfy as home. Let's face it, a comfortable worker is an efficient performer so imagine how effective a stormtrooper can be if he never even has to break a sweat. Ideally, I would also expect that they would be afforded at least limited protection against harmful gases, bugs and biological pathogens. Suddenly, stormtrooping is more fun than camping. It's not xenophobia, even if we do like to think of the imperial forces as bad guys. Back on Coruscant, I'm sure the main senate building is equipped with all sorts of decontamination protocols. When the soldiers are on the move, it's far more practical to wrap each one than to try disinfecting a planet.
The films also show us that the stormtrooper helmets contain communication equipment. Rapid, clear communications with fellow soldiers can be vitally important. I would also think that the standard gear would provide a considerable amount of audio-visual enhancement to the soldiers, making it worthwhile to wrap their heads in those helmets. Additionally, if I were designing them, the helmets would also provide tactical information displays fed by the armor's computer systems. Each trooper would be able to see an area map, know where his unit members were, see augmented reality, monitor vital signs (his own and his squad's) and even administer drugs. That last one, I would expect to include things like painkillers and stimulants. Depending on how much equipment one wanted to put into the armor, biological manipulations could be done bioelectrically through systems linked to the monitors.
So those stormtrooper suits aren't completely useless after all. How about that? Still, as impressive as they might seem in the lab, any squad still needs to be forewarned about any stick-toting, rock-throwing locals. Any weapon or technology is only as formidable as the people behind it.
Are there any other modifications you think would be a "must have" for a soldier on the go? Foot and calf massaging boots? Waste recyclers? Muscle augmentation? Pez dispenser? What are your thoughts?