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  • Battle of Hoth, a military perspective

    By Spencer Ackerman
    Inside the Battle of Hoth


    Inside the Battle of Hoth: The Empire Strikes Out | Danger Room | Wired.com


    How did the Galactic Empire ever cement its hold on the Star Wars Universe? The war machine built by Emperor Palpatine and run by Darth Vader is a spectacularly bad fighting force, as evidenced by all of the pieces of Death Star littering space. But of all the Empire’s failures, none is a more spectacular military fiasco than the Battle of Hoth at the beginning of The 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.
    Vader’s Incoherent Strategy in Outer Space

    Vader realizes the opportunity at hand for an end to the Rebellion. Yet his bumbling fleet admiral leaves hyperspace too close to Hoth, losing the element of surprise and allowing the Rebels to activate the shield. Vader rolls with it (after killing Admiral Ozzel): He orders a ground assault on the Rebel base with the sound objective of destroying the generator that powers the shield. Once the shield is down, the Star Destroyers that make up the majority of the Imperial Fleet can launch the bombardment the shields prevent. Vader further orders that no Rebel ship be allowed to leave Hoth alive.

    Sounds simple, right? Alas, Vader’s plans are at odds with each other. Vader jumps into the Hoth system with a handful of Star Destroyers; only six are shown on screen. That’s got to enforce a blockade of an entire planet. His major ally is the Rebel energy shield itself, which bottles up a Rebel escape to the Ion Cannon’s line of sight. But Vader doesn’t seem to realize the shield’s ironic value. Once Vader orders the shields destroyed, he lacks the force to prevent a pell-mell Rebel retreat.

    A smarter plan would have been to launch TIE fighters against Echo Base — since aircraft and spacecraft can get past that Rebel enemy shield — to lure the Rebels into an evacuation from Hoth through their shield’s chokepoint. Concentrating the Imperial Star Destroyers there would lead the Rebellion into a massacre. At the very least, Vader has to sacrifice the ground-assault team entrusted with bringing down the generator powering the Rebel shield for a laser bombardment from the Star Destroyers.

    Vader does none of this.
    Probe to Hoth
    Empire Arrives
    The Ground Assault

    The first phase of the battle is a ground assault launched against the generator. Vader devotes five (or maybe four, since Irvin Kershner’s directing isn’t consistent) Imperial AT-AT Walkers to the task. Vader sees no need to give them air cover, even though he’s tasted the quality of Rebel piloting during the destruction of the Death Star. Two of the Walkers are destroyed, one by Luke Skywalker’s Snowspeeder squadron, and another by Luke himself.

    Yet the ground assault is pretty successful — by accident. The weaponry on the AT-AT Walkers doesn’t overwhelm or destroy the few laser-artillery pieces the Rebels have to protect the generator. Only when Rebel General Rieekan orders the full evacuation of Hoth do the Walkers destroy the generator. (That’s an unforced error: The Rebels need to protect that generator at the cost of their lives, lest their evacuation be totally exposed.)

    Still, a win is a win. Vader is now clear to destroy the Rebel base, and the escaping Rebel ships, with a punishing Star Destroyer bombardment. Presumably, if the Rebels are abandoning their generator, they’re also abandoning the Ion Cannon that protects the evacuation.
    Empire Lands
    Ground Attack
    Rebel Defeat
    (In)Vader

    Only Vader can’t bombard the base: He’s in it. For reasons that never get explained — and can’t be justified militarily — Vader joins the Stormtrooper assault on the base. So much for his major weapon against the Rebels, and the primary reason for ordering the Walkers to invade and destroy the generator. Once Vader opts to bring down the shield and lead the invasion, he’s lost the battle.

    Worse, Vader is late to the fight. If he wanted to kill some Rebel scum himself, the only ones remaining at the base when Vader arrives are Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO, who run to the wheezing Millennium Falcon for their own escape. “This bucket of bolts is never gonna get us past that blockade,” Leia frets.
    Rebel Evacuation
    Empire Pursues Han Solo
    What Blockade?

    She shouldn’t have worried. Not only is there no laser bombardment from space once the shield is down, there’s no Imperial blockade worth speaking of. By sheer bad luck, Han flies into three of the Star Destroyers, which threaten to overwhelm the Falcon. But he’s just too good of a pilot, evading their pincer movement by taking advantage of the Falcon’s superior maneuverability. He flies into an asteroid belt — which somehow the Imperial Fleet had failed to account for when planning its hasty “blockade” — and the Falcon has defied the odds.

    Nor does that “blockade” trap Luke, who flies to Dagobah without a single Imperial ship harassing him. That’s the worst possible news for the Empire: Luke is about to rekindle the Jedi order that poses the biggest danger to the preservation of everything Vader and Emperor Palpatine have built. While I’m not comparing the Rebel Alliance to al-Qaida or the Galactic Empire to the United States, in strategic terms, this is like Osama bin Laden’s escape from the December 2001 battle at Tora Bora, Afghanistan — a disaster masquerading as a tactical success. Indeed, once Vader returns to his Star Destroyer, he gets a message from Palpatine explicitly instructing him to prevent Luke from training as a Jedi. Oops.
    Luke Escapes
    Han Solo Escapes
    So Much for Striking Back

    What did the Empire gain at Hoth? It had the opportunity to deal the Rebel Alliance a defeat from which the Rebels might not have recovered: the loss of its secret base; the loss of its politically potent symbol in Leia; and most of all the loss of its promising proto-Jedi in Luke. Instead, Luke escapes to join Yoda; Leia escapes with Han to Cloud City (where Vader has to resort to Plan B); and the Rebel Alliance’s transport ships largely escape to join up at a pre-established rendezvous point, as we see at the end of the film.

    At the very most, the Empire’s assault on Hoth killed a couple of low-ranking Rebels and destroyed a few transit ships — which we don’t even see on screen. Instead of crushing the Rebels, it scattered them, leaving them to survive for the additional successes they’ll achieve in Return of the Jedi. It’s a classic fiasco of overconfidence and theology masquerading as military judgment — and the exact opposite of the Empire striking back.
    “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all” -- Joan Robinson

  • #2
    It's a plot drive story. The story calls for the escape of the Rebels from a near annihilation. Of course the Empire was gonna fail in its objective.

    Comment


    • #3
      The Empire struck back by capturing (General) Solo at the end of the movie. By smashing the rebel's base at the start of the movie and personally by revealing to Luke the power of the dark side and that it was a possibility for him to join (SPOILER ALERT) his father. At the end of A New Hope the empire had received a massive defeat and been shown to be vulnerable - indeed the Rebels had shown they could hurt the Galactic superpower "at home". At the end of the Empire Strikes Back that had all been reversed.

      1) I have never understood why coming out of hyperspace too CLOSE to Hoth ruins the surprise - too far away would mean approach at sublight speed and thus being able to be detected and a defence readied - Closer the better in my opinion - perhaps someone can help me on this one.

      2) Whilst the shield protects the base on Hoth and forces the rebels to escape along the line of the cannon - they could just drop the shield and run for it in any other direction, probably with as much risk - what with space being very much a 3D theatre of war you don't actually need to go in any particular direction to achieve an escape - all bar straight at the oncoming fleet would be good! So yes, here the Empire is in the pound seats.

      3) Vader hardly joined the land battle too late - he had the chance of capturing Leia (the most important figure in the rebellion) and a droid that might well have in its memory the rebel's plans etc. Also Solo was by then General Solo - so you'd have to assume an iconic hero of the Death Star assault to the rebels. Vader values these later as he starts torturing them (SPOLIER ALERT) his own daughter remember this man is motivated.

      4) We have to assume that the blockade was more reaching than depicted by the on screen numbers of ships - certainly with the original release of the movie due to special effect limitations.

      The real weakness of the battle seems to actually be Empire hardware - the AT-AT (and later we see the AT-ST in the forest) are just not very good at covering uneven ground. The walking action is easily defeated. Whereas the speeders the rebels have are much better -and we know the empire has access to the technology since they have the smaller speeders on Endor.

      Speaking of Endor - after the rebels destroy billions of tonnes of Death Star full of all sorts of powerful reactor technology - it's quite likely that the Forest moon's gravity would trap a lot of the wreckage leading to some widespread devastation - hey probably just collateral damage in the big scheme of things.
      at

      Comment


      • #4
        Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players:ace pilot Han Solo;
        I think you mean smuggler (read: Criminal and therefore probably not the most trustworthy of individuals) that managed to get himself dragged along for the ride after Yavin and is past being ready to ditch the Rebellion and pay off his crime boss for a long-overdue debt. Which probably isn't a bad thing after all, because his own propaganda and fighting value aside, what else does the Rebel Alliance need besides the Empire breathing down their neck? How about world-spanning crime syndicate looking for the good Captain Solo?

        Originally posted by xinhui View Post
        and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.
        Pure hindsight. Skywalker was obviously a great pilot with an added propaganda value of being the Death Star blower-upper (So let's send him out alone into the wastes of Hoth on a routine recce!) But other than that really lucky shot (Who in the Alliance really believed he was strong in the Force? Who could tell? Leia, maybe? Great but she's one person, regardless of her stature)


        A smarter plan would have been to launch TIE fighters against Echo Base — since aircraft and spacecraft can get past that Rebel enemy shield — to lure the Rebels into an evacuation from Hoth through their shield’s chokepoint. Concentrating the Imperial Star Destroyers there would lead the Rebellion into a massacre. At the very least, Vader has to sacrifice the ground-assault team entrusted with bringing down the generator powering the Rebel shield for a laser bombardment from the Star Destroyers.

        Vader does none of this.
        The TIE Fighters would've presumably been easy meat for whatever anti-air the Rebels had. And grouping the Star Destroyers around that chokepoint would've made them easy meat as well for that Ion Cannon which is pointed -guess where!- straight down the throat of their escape route/chokepoint.


        The first phase of the battle is a ground assault launched against the generator. Vader devotes five (or maybe four, since Irvin Kershner’s directing isn’t consistent) Imperial AT-AT Walkers to the task.
        Or more accurately, ILM, since Kershner was swamped with the live-action sequences, but whatever.


        Vader sees no need to give them air cover, even though he’s tasted the quality of Rebel piloting during the destruction of the Death Star. Two of the Walkers are destroyed, one by Luke Skywalker’s Snowspeeder squadron, and another by Luke himself.
        It's called arrogance and complacency...the same kind that causes an F-117 to get blown out of the sky over Serbia and AH-64's to get shot to pieces over Karbala.

        Yet the ground assault is pretty successful — by accident. The weaponry on the AT-AT Walkers doesn’t overwhelm or destroy the few laser-artillery pieces the Rebels have to protect the generator.
        Uh, yeah it does. You see them getting blown apart and their still-fiery charred ruins later on.


        She shouldn’t have worried. Not only is there no laser bombardment from space once the shield is down, there’s no Imperial blockade worth speaking of.
        Probably because Admiral Ozzel, while a fool, at least knew how to deploy a fleet for blockade, while the newly-promoted Piett, while far more competent is also just minutes from being a captain and therefore not only unused to fleet command but likely not a known "admiral quantity" to the other Star Destroyer commanders.

        Nor does that “blockade” trap Luke, who flies to Dagobah without a single Imperial ship harassing him.
        One guy in a single fighter vs dozens of transports...which would you go after? And it's not like he was trailing a massive banner with his name on it, announcing who he was.

        That’s the worst possible news for the Empire: Luke is about to rekindle the Jedi order that poses the biggest danger to the preservation of everything Vader and Emperor Palpatine have built. Indeed, once Vader returns to his Star Destroyer, he gets a message from Palpatine explicitly instructing him to prevent Luke from training as a Jedi. Oops.
        Yeah, once again, hindsight...and not even accurate. According to the title crawl, Vader was already looking for Luke...probably having sensed him during the Yavin battle (he clearly knew that mysterious X-Wing pilot was strong in the Force.


        Anyway, I loved the article, it made some great points and I'm making all these nitpicking rebuttals because the author clearly loves Star Wars as much as the rest of us fanboys and discussing it thusly is a pure joy
        My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

        Comment


        • #5
          IIRC, the attack on Hoth killed a lot of the Rebel HQ and general command staff.

          Comment


          • #6
            Brilliant piece. If I didn't have finals, I'd be getting my nerd on with the rest of you, but alas.....
            Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

            Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.

            Comment


            • #7
              Although I will point out one thing: Look at the Battle of Coruscant in Episode III, when Chancellor Palpatine has been captured by Grievous. Look at the amounts of laser and turbolaser fire directed at and between any two ships. Terajoules of energy are being shot back and forth and yet ships are not destroyed. Now compare that to 22 years later, where one ion cannon takes out a Star Destroyer. Even if the shields were down (which there's no reason for them to be, capital ships and snubfighters ALWAYS have their shields up unless they've been damaged, there's no way one ion cannon, no matter how strong, could take out an entire Star Destroyer...
              Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

              Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Skywatcher View Post
                IIRC, the attack on Hoth killed a lot of the Rebel HQ and general command staff.
                Right, the article assumes that just because we didn't see it happening on screen (like the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the blockade) that it didn't happen.
                My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Trooth View Post
                  The Empire struck back by capturing (General) Solo at the end of the movie. By smashing the rebel's base at the start of the movie and personally by revealing to Luke the power of the dark side and that it was a possibility for him to join (SPOILER ALERT) his father. At the end of A New Hope the empire had received a massive defeat and been shown to be vulnerable - indeed the Rebels had shown they could hurt the Galactic superpower "at home". At the end of the Empire Strikes Back that had all been reversed.
                  Also, following the destruction of the 1st Death Star, the Rebel Alliance still small and poorly funded lost Yavin to the imperial fleet, though recruitment and funding went up. However, imperial pressure by Hoth has forced the Rebels into two main pockets. The main fleet sitting outside the galactic borders in deep space and its major land side base to coordinate efforts throughout the Galaxy- Hoth.

                  1) I have never understood why coming out of hyperspace too CLOSE to Hoth ruins the surprise - too far away would mean approach at sublight speed and thus being able to be detected and a defence readied - Closer the better in my opinion - perhaps someone can help me on this one.
                  Emerging from FTL travel probably releases tachyons, nuetrinos or something that are easier to detect if the target is closer since the little particles haven't had time to appreciable spread out. Come put of FTL far enough out and using emcon, celestial blocking and relative movement you might be able to come in on a system in shadow and completely undetected.

                  2) Whilst the shield protects the base on Hoth and forces the rebels to escape along the line of the cannon - they could just drop the shield and run for it in any other direction, probably with as much risk - what with space being very much a 3D theatre of war you don't actually need to go in any particular direction to achieve an escape - all bar straight at the oncoming fleet would be good! So yes, here the Empire is in the pound seats.
                  We only see what may be just 1 squadron of the blockade fleet. The Imperial Navy had 25,000 star destroyers. Running in other directions may not have been possible. Its also possible that interdictor cruisers were creating gravity anchors forcing the rebels to fly down the Imperial barrel.

                  Also, despite other races, the most common race is human, and most humans think 2D not 3D and this is refelcted in Star wars naval tactics used by all sides.

                  3) Vader hardly joined the land battle too late - he had the chance of capturing Leia (the most important figure in the rebellion) and a droid that might well have in its memory the rebel's plans etc. Also Solo was by then General Solo - so you'd have to assume an iconic hero of the Death Star assault to the rebels. Vader values these later as he starts torturing them (SPOLIER ALERT) his own daughter remember this man is motivated.
                  Vader was there at the express command of the Emperor, who had forseen the events. Post movie fiction claims the Emperor wanted Luke to supplant Vader as the new Sith Lord. So in some ways Vader's actions are those of a puppet.

                  4) We have to assume that the blockade was more reaching than depicted by the on screen numbers of ships - certainly with the original release of the movie due to special effect limitations.
                  Yup

                  The real weakness of the battle seems to actually be Empire hardware - the AT-AT (and later we see the AT-ST in the forest) are just not very good at covering uneven ground. The walking action is easily defeated. Whereas the speeders the rebels have are much better -and we know the empire has access to the technology since they have the smaller speeders on Endor.
                  The walkers and mecha in general have certain limitations compared to tracked/wheeled designs, but advantages as well. Speeders/Hover seem to have the most agility, but in the Star Wars universe we never see large speeders so there appears to be a weight limit which direct impacts military applications. Also, there is no reason not to assume that the AT-ST is not blaster fire protected. Much like the planetary shield allowing ships through, the walkers protection was designed to stop energy fire, not kinetic impacts.

                  Speaking of Endor - after the rebels destroy billions of tonnes of Death Star full of all sorts of powerful reactor technology - it's quite likely that the Forest moon's gravity would trap a lot of the wreckage leading to some widespread devastation - hey probably just collateral damage in the big scheme of things.
                  Yup, we even see the parts streaking through the sky in the movie. Even if none of the material survived reentry the billions of pieces burning up over a relatively compressed time frame would lead to some serious atmospheric heating. Plus while the moon was able to settle into a symbiotic relationship with the 2nd Death Star slowly as it was built, the sudden destruction and loss of gravitational equilibrium probably caused massive tidal forces- volcanoes, earth quakes, tsunamis. The Ewoks did not long survive the Emperor...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by bigross86 View Post
                    Although I will point out one thing: Look at the Battle of Coruscant in Episode III, when Chancellor Palpatine has been captured by Grievous. Look at the amounts of laser and turbolaser fire directed at and between any two ships. Terajoules of energy are being shot back and forth and yet ships are not destroyed. Now compare that to 22 years later, where one ion cannon takes out a Star Destroyer. Even if the shields were down (which there's no reason for them to be, capital ships and snubfighters ALWAYS have their shields up unless they've been damaged, there's no way one ion cannon, no matter how strong, could take out an entire Star Destroyer...
                    Planetary defense Ion cannon in the case of Hoth the V-150 are much larger than typical star ship weapons in terms on power output. Coast artillery vs cruiser guns...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by zraver View Post
                      Emerging from FTL travel probably releases tachyons, nuetrinos or something that are easier to detect if the target is closer since the little particles haven't had time to appreciable spread out. Come put of FTL far enough out and using emcon, celestial blocking and relative movement you might be able to come in on a system in shadow and completely undetected.
                      Ta very much. I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense.

                      The walkers and mecha in general have certain limitations compared to tracked/wheeled designs, but advantages as well. Speeders/Hover seem to have the most agility, but in the Star Wars universe we never see large speeders so there appears to be a weight limit which direct impacts military applications. Also, there is no reason not to assume that the AT-ST is not blaster fire protected. Much like the planetary shield allowing ships through, the walkers protection was designed to stop energy fire, not kinetic impacts.
                      Don't we see the trade federation having heavy troops carriers (i.e. the armed robot army transporters) that seem to use hover technology (sadly enabling the saving of Jar Jar Binks from being crushed ...) so perhaps whilst the republic / empire didn't choose to explore that option I think the technology was there. I guess you fight the war with the weapons you have, but presumably after Hoth and Endor republic designers would be scrapping vehicles that totter about on spindly legs!
                      at

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                      • #12
                        No, legged vehicles were still in use at least as late as 11ABY (After the Battle of Yavin), when an Imperial general used MT-ATs to try and capture Anakin Solo, and AT-ATs were still used against the Yuuzhan Vong in the Liberation of Coruscant in 29ABY. According to the Legacy series, AT-ATs were still used as late as 138ABY
                        Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

                        Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Trooth View Post
                          Don't we see the trade federation having heavy troops carriers (i.e. the armed robot army transporters) that seem to use hover technology (sadly enabling the saving of Jar Jar Binks from being crushed ...) so perhaps whilst the republic / empire didn't choose to explore that option I think the technology was there. I guess you fight the war with the weapons you have, but presumably after Hoth and Endor republic designers would be scrapping vehicles that totter about on spindly legs!
                          Different cultures, different values, different needs, different designs.

                          It's been said that the use of Walkers [over the more practical hover technology] was for intimidation and imagery.

                          It's not unlike the "goose step", which as Orwell describes it, could easily be referring to Imperial Walkers:

                          “The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber.
                          It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face."
                          My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

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                          • #14
                            contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face."
                            Just ask Dak Ralter:

                            Attached Files
                            Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

                            Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Trooth View Post
                              Ta very much. I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense.



                              Don't we see the trade federation having heavy troops carriers (i.e. the armed robot army transporters) that seem to use hover technology (sadly enabling the saving of Jar Jar Binks from being crushed ...) so perhaps whilst the republic / empire didn't choose to explore that option I think the technology was there. I guess you fight the war with the weapons you have, but presumably after Hoth and Endor republic designers would be scrapping vehicles that totter about on spindly legs!
                              Oops,

                              Perhaps cost? With 25,000 star destroyers plus who knows how many ground garrisons we are talking at least 100,000 AT-AT's for the Empire.

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