Inside the Battle of Hoth

hoth2Wired’s Spencer Ackerman breaks down the failed military tactics of Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire during the Battle of Hoth from ‘Empire Strikes Back’.

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.

When Vader enters the Hoth System with the Imperial Fleet, he’s holding a winning hand. What follows next is a reminder of two military truths that apply in our own time and in our own galaxy: Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency.

It’s hard to believe there is even more #fail on the part of the Empire in this battle aside from relying on the most clumsy military machines for a military campaign on a planet made of ice.

But, Ackerman’s premise works under the faulty assumption that Vader’s desires for the battle are aligned with the Empire’s. They are not. Vader’s true intentions are complicated and I would suspect his main desire was to simply flush Luke out of hiding.

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