The Military Science of Star Wars

The Military Science of Star Wars

by George Beahm

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George Beahm, a former U.S. Army major, draws on his experience to discuss the military science of the sprawling Star Wars universe: its personnel, weapons, technology, tactics and strategy, including an analysis of its key battles to explain how the outmanned and outgunned rebels ultimately prevailed against overwhelming forces.

Contrasting the military doctrine of the real world with the fictional world of Star Wars, the author constructively criticizes the military strengths and weaknesses of Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire and Kylo Ren’s First Order...

From Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) to Rogue One (2016), this timely book demystifies the operational arts in an accessible and entertaining way for military personnel and civilians.

Replete with a glossary of military terms, this book is supplemented with an annotated bibliography.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250124753
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 67,188
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

GEORGE BEAHM has published more than thirty books, which have been translated into more than two dozen languages worldwide and have appeared on numerous bestseller lists including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and PublishersWeekly. A former Army major in the field artillery who served on active duty, in the National Guard, and in the Army Reserve, Beahm and his wife live in southeast Virginia.
GEORGE BEAHM is a New York Times bestselling author. He has written more literary companions than any other writer, and has published more than thirty books on pop culture icons, such as Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Indiana Jones, Anne Rice, Patricia Cornwell, The Big Bang Theory T.V. show, Caribbean Pirates, censorship, and several books on Stephen King. A former U.S. Army officer, he served on active duty and in the National Guard and Army Reserve.

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In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling and so irrevocable as in the military.

— General Douglas MacArthur

Command Climate: Leadership in the Galactic Empire

Although the Galactic Empire is military in organization, with an established chain of command, its leader, Darth Vader, is a Sith lord and, as such, is considered above and beyond the military rank structure. He reports only to Emperor Palpatine, who is also known as Darth Sidious.

In other words, Darth Vader holds no military rank, but he does command troops. His leadership and command at a senior level mean that his subordinates will watch his every move, assessing, gauging his moods, and most of all, being on guard and hoping they haven't upset him, because he is quick to use his signature weapon against them — the infamous Force-choke.

We must ask ourselves: Is Darth Vader an effective leader? And what can we learn about his management style?

A Perspective on Leadership

The U.S. Army defines leadership as "the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. ... Confident, competent, and informed leadership intensifies the effectiveness of the other elements of combat power. ... Influencing entails more than simply passing along orders. Through words and personal example, leaders communicate purpose, direction, and motivation."

As an officer and unit commander, I've had the good fortune — and misfortune — of serving under officers of varying competence. In the end, it all boils down to this: as Xenophon of Athens observed, in 400 BC, "The true test of a leader is whether his followers will adhere to his cause from their own volition, enduring the most arduous hardships without being forced to do so, and remaining steadfast in the moments of greatest peril."

An Outstanding Commander

I recall one officer who took command of our battalion right before an important evaluation from higher headquarters. Because I previously had served under him, I knew him fairly well. He took over our battalion, took charge, and energized it. As a direct consequence of his leadership, the battalion did well on the evaluation.

Had it had been wartime, I would not have hesitated to follow him to the gates of hell. I would willingly have followed him, because he inspired us, believed in us, and would do everything he could to get the mission done and get as many of us as possible back home alive.

An Incompetent Commander

General Schwarzkopf wrote about an incompetent commander in It Doesn't Take a Hero:

Instead of executing the flanking attack the situation called for, he ordered a full frontal assault. When it became obvious this tactic was a disaster, the colonel came unglued. He started running up behind troops and shaking their canteens, saying, "Soldier, why don't you have any water?" ...

I'd have felt sorry for him, except that if we'd been at war, his brand of leadership would have gotten us all killed.


The acid test: Does the leader inspire leadership, or do his subordinates do his bidding because they fear him? In Darth Vader's case, it's fear. To make a mistake means risking instant death, because he often uses his Force-choke against those who displease him.

Case in point: In A New Hope, Darth Vader is on the Death Star, in a meeting with high-ranking military officers overseen by his boss, Grand Moff Tarkin. When Admiral Motti gives Vader the sharp edge of his tongue, belittling him in front of the other high-ranking officers on the Death Star, Motti has apparently forgotten that Vader's "sorcerer's ways" include the infamous Force-choke. Motti would have been well advised to get a grip on himself rather than have Vader do it for him. To his dismay, Motti finds himself being Force-choked by Vader, until Tarkin orders Vader to stop.

In another instance, in The Empire Strikes Back, Admiral Ozzel is subjected to a Force-choke, as others look on in horror, wondering which of them would later suffer the same ignominious fate.

* * *

The command climate created by Vader is such that no disagreement is allowed, and mistakes are dealt with too harshly. One wrong call on your part, and you're in deep Bantha poo. Better to hold your tongue than to speak and have your tongue protruding from your mouth as Vader chokes you.

That was the unspoken wisdom among Galactic Empire officers, who lived in perpetual fear when Vader was around.

Vader's officers were not the only ones who came to fear him. No matter where he went, his reputation, like his black flowing cloak, followed him. In A New Hope, for instance, Vader interrogated a rebel ship's officer and demanded, "Where are those transmissions you intercepted?" The officer's response displeased Vader, and he soon felt Vader's strong fingers around his neck, his life slowly squeezed out of him.

The lesson was not lost on Vader's men.

Kylo Ren

In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren, who serves Supreme Leader Snoke, is seen contemplating the smashed and melted helmet of Darth Vader, like Hamlet considering Yorick's skull. Ren reveres Vader, so it's not surprising that he wishes to follow his example. Thus, in one scene, when Ren gets unwelcome news, he goes on a rampage, attacking everything in sight with his lightsaber while a subordinate looks helplessly on, silently thankful that he's not on the receiving end of Kylo Ren's wrath.

Like Darth Vader, Ren cannot control himself. And, like Vader, he holds a unique leadership position, answering only to his master, Supreme Leader Snoke. Both Vader and Ren are in control of legions of troops but often can't control even their own selves.

That goes a long way toward explaining why neither of them got the optimum performance from their subordinates, who feared them.

Fear Trumps All: Desperate Despots

Regardless of how they came to power, despots share one fundamental flaw: they use fear to rule. North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un comes readily to mind, as does Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the deceased Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The Galactic Empire's strategy of ruling by fear ultimately proves counterproductive. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Grand Moff Tarkin told the others in the conference room on the Death Star, "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station." Instead, the rebels' fear was transmuted into hope, and even before the countless people on planets throughout the system were aware of the existence of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance destroyed it.

Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People

1. See themselves and their forces as dominating the environment (arrogance/hubris).

2. No clear boundary between leader's personal interest and that of the Organization.

3. Leaders who think they have all the answers.

4. Leader who ensures everyone is 100% behind them, eliminating opposition.

5. Leader who devotes the largest portion of their time to the unit's image.

6. Underestimate major obstacles.

7. Leaders who revert to what worked for them in the past (yesterday's answer).

Source: Dr. Sydney Finkelstein, Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes (Portfolio, 2004).

Admiral Piett on the Bridge of the Executor

Admiral Kendal Ozzel, commanding a fleet during combat operations, is suddenly and unexpectedly relieved by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Ozzel, in fact, is summarily executed by Vader because of what he perceives to be a tactical blunder on the part of Ozzel: the admiral took the fleet out of light speed too close to the planet Hoth, with the result that the rebels who have a base on its surface were alerted to the fleet's presence.

Vader then turns to Captain Piett, upon whom he bestows an unexpected field promotion. Captain Piett is now Admiral Piett. He is, of course, grateful for the promotion, despite the circumstances, but in the back of his mind he's wondering if and when he might suffer the same fate as his predecessor.

In Return of the Jedi, we see Admiral Piett in action. He is now the fleet commander, and he's at the bridge of his flagship, a Super Star Destroyer called the Executor. The ship is the pride of the fleet. It's the biggest ship by far, eleven miles in length, and from its bridge Admiral Piett conducts an air battle. He's under attack by the Rebel Alliance and gets a crash course in how quickly things can change during combat operations.

The flagship's command tower, as we're told in Star Wars: Complete Locations (DK Publishing, 2016), "is practically a ship in its own right. It houses a profusion of vital components, including shield generators, communications systems, and sensor arrays, as well as officers' quarters, briefing rooms, and escape pods for the vessel's upper-echelon commanders."

Of those components, the shield generator is of paramount importance, because when the shield is down, enemy ships are able to attack the vessel itself.

What subsequently happens is unthinkable. When the command tower is attacked and the shield generator becomes inoperative, the flagship is suddenly vulnerable. Unfortunately, a rebel fighter, spinning out of control, heads directly toward the panoramic viewing window of the bridge as Admiral Piett and the ship's captain look helplessly on.

What they see horrifies them. What they know is that, because the shield generator is down, they have only seconds to live.

The rebel fighter slams into the bridge, killing the ship's two most senior officers. Mayhem results. The Super Star Destroyer, out of control, spears the second Death Star, setting the stage for General Calrissian and his fighters to move in for the kill.

Looking back at the sequence of events, we come to the inescapable conclusion that none of that should have happened. It's instructive to ask ourselves what happened and why, and how things could have been done differently. In short, what lessons can be learned?

1.Admiral Ozzel. In fandom, most fans share Darth Vader's low assessment of Ozzel. As I'll discuss elsewhere in this book, I don't believe this was a tactical error on Admiral Ozzel's part. I submit that Admiral Ozzel, with his many years of experience, should instead have been relieved of his duties and reassigned, since Darth Vader is the boss and is unhappy with Ozzel's performance, right or wrong. It's Vader's prerogative to relieve any subordinate commander for any reason.

Keeping all of that in mind, we must ask ourselves, if he had not been relieved and he had lived to command operations during the Battle of Endor, would he have made the same mistakes his successor did?

2.Admiral Piett. I submit that Piett was promoted too soon. Of course, as the second-in-command, Piett was the logical choice, but between the time he was promoted and his appearance on the bridge of the Executor, three years have elapsed.

During those years, we must assume that he has undergone additional training to ensure he is capable of commanding the fleet. Ideally, he'd go to an Imperial Navy course for newly minted admirals and then return to the fleet for field duty. Clearly, given his additional rank and responsibilities, Piett would have benefited from additional high-level training.

Tactical Considerations

1. The flagship is the fleet's principal command and control (C & C). As such, it is a high-value target and must be protected at all costs. Therefore, Admiral Piett should have positioned the Super Star Destroyer so that no rebel ships could get anywhere near it. In other words, the Executor should be sufficiently distanced and protected from any enemy aircraft.

For whatever reason, Admiral Piett positioned his flagship too close to his Star Destroyers, as well as too near the second Death Star. Even if the unthinkable happens and the Executor is damaged or destroyed, it should not be so close to the Death Star that it will present a hazard.

In the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the issue of overcrowding is carefully monitored during air combat, and available airspace is "deconflicted" to minimize midair collisions. Likewise, the navy maintains similar safe zones to prevent overcrowding that can lead to collisions on and below the surface.

2. The shield generator is too exposed. In the Star Wars universe, emphasis is placed on the importance of the field/shield generator: the Gungans used it as their principal defensive weapon (The Phantom Menace); the Rebel Alliance used it to protect the base on Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back); the Galactic Empire used it to protect the second Death Star (Return of the Jedi); and the Empire used it to protect its flagship, the Executor, in the air battle near the Endor moon.

In all these cases, though, the shield generators were not adequately protected, and no backup shield generators were available. As a result, the Gungans were forced to retreat in sudden panic, the Rebel Alliance had to evacuate its base, the Galactic Empire's second Death Star was destroyed, and Admiral Piett's flagship was destroyed and collided with the Death Star.

With all pieces of critical hardware, such as a shield generator, redundancy management is indispensable. In Piett's case, he had no backup, and as the fighter aircraft, spinning out of control, headed directly toward the window of the bridge, he ordered "Intensify forward firepower," but it was too late. The fighter slammed into the bridge's window.

3. The defensive system on the Super Star Destroyer was inadequate. We're told it's twelve times the size of a Star Destroyer; moreover, it "bristles with thousands of turbolasers and ion cannons, and carries starfighter wings and ground troops sufficient for a planetary invasion." In other words, it has extensive offensive and defensive capabilities. So how could a single disabled fighter aircraft possibly take it out?

The enemy fighter should (1) never have gotten that close to the fleet, (2) never have gotten that close to the flagship, and (3) have been blown up by close-in weapons systems — onboard guns, antiaircraft guns, or missiles.


Admiral Ozzel's sudden relief opened a vacancy filled by Captain Piett, who was not sufficiently trained in combat fleet operations. Whether it was due to lack of adequate training at the appropriate service school or for other reasons, the fact remains that Admiral Piett's fleet lacked defense in depth. The fleet was not properly positioned. Consequently, a disabled, errant rebel fighter breached the flagship's airspace and destroyed it, setting off a chain reaction: the second Death Star becomes disabled and is subsequently destroyed.

The Chain of Command

In the U.S. Army, the chain of command is long and composed of many links. It starts from the person in charge at the top and goes all the way down to the lowest-ranking individual in the unit. It is an unbroken chain that ensures that the mission, which comes first, will not be lost for lack of leadership. The chain of command is as follows:

1. Commander in Chief (the president of the United States)

2. Secretary of Defense

3. Secretary of the Army

4. Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

5. Commanding general, US Continental Army Command

6. Theater commander

7. Army group commander

8. Army commander

9. Corps commander

10. Division commander

11. Brigade commander

12. Battalion/squadron commander

13. Company/battery/troop commander

14. Platoon leader

15. Section leader

16. Squad leader

17. Fire team leader

All-In: Combating Stereotypes About Women in War

Give Rey a hand ... or not. In a scene from The Force Awakens, the scrappy Rey, played by British actress Daisy Ridley, is running like hell when the First Order stormtroopers show up. She's with Finn, a stormtrooper who's defected to the rebel side, and when he tries to grab her hand, she yells out, "I know how to run without you holding my hand!"

She can run like the wind, fight like a demon, and fly the Millennium Falcon like a bat out of hell. She can take care of herself, just as she's done for years as a scavenger. She's clearly a survivor type, and just as clearly doesn't need to have a male protector around.

Finn finally gets the idea, after he tries again to grab her hand and she yells at him, "Stop taking my hand!"

I suspect Rey would get along splendidly with Jyn Erso (played by another British actress, Felicity Jones), who is every bit as feisty, smart, and badass as Rey. In Rogue One, Jyn is an inspirational figure, stepping up to take on the Galactic Empire when the leadership of the Rebel Alliance backs down.

"Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way." That, in a nutshell, is the order of the day for both Rey and Jyn Erso.


Excerpted from "The Military Science of Star Wars"
by .
Copyright © 2018 George Beahm.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader
Preface: May the Military Force Be with You
Introduction: The Starstruck Vision of George Lucas’s Star Wars: A Long Time Ago . . .

Part 1: Personnel
Command Climate: Leadership in the Galactic Empire
Admiral Piett on the Bridge of the Executor
All-In: Combating Stereotypes About Women in War
Jyn Erso, Rebel with a Cause: A Study in Leadership
The Right Stuff: Women in Combat Roles
US Army Battledress: What to Wear in Combat
The Danger of Overconfidence: The Galactic Empire’s Leadership
General Standards: Does Jar Jar Binks Have the Right Stuff?
So You Want to Be an Army Officer: Pathways to a Commission
From Smuggler to General: Han Solo
A Rising Star—From Princess to General: Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa
From Farm Boy to Jedi Knight: Luke Skywalker

Part 2: Weapons
From Flintlock to Blasters and Beyond: Small Arms and Assault Rifles
When East Meets West: The Jedi Knight
The Flower that Shatters the Stone
Size Matters Not: The AT-AT
The Death Star
Redesigning the TIE Fighter
A Misfire: The Imperial Army’s Howitzers
Rethinking the X-wing Starfighter
No Pain, No Gain: Torture
The War of the Machines
Part 3: Technology
Battledress for Success: Dressed to Kill
Artificial Intelligence: The Droids We’re Looking For
The United States Has Death Stars
Fly the Unfriendly Skies: The Fighter Pilot’s View from the Cockpit
Luke’s a Skywalker: From Fighter Pilot to Astronaut
Picture This: Holograms and Virtual Reality on the Battlefield

Part 4: Tactics and Strategy
Following Orders: Luke Skywalker, His Targeting Computer, and the Force
Only One Dead Ewok
The Final Solution: Kill Them All
Death Star II
The Importance of Standard Operating Procedures

Part 5: Lessons Learned from Key Battles
The Ground Battle of Naboo
The Battle of Yavin
The Ground Battle of Hoth
The Battle of Endor
A Skirmish on Jedha
Basic Battle Analysis
Coda: “We Have Hope.”

Afterword: It All Started with a Droid—The Film Future of Star Wars

Part 6: Resources
Official Star Wars Books
Unofficial Books about George Lucas and Star Wars
Military Books of Interest
Miscellaneous Star Wars Resources
List of Operational Terms
About the Author

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