Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Automatic Weapons In Star Wars

In working on my equipment lists (as part of my attempt to get things done in the new year), I have once again run headlong into the inconsistencies of the Star Wars D6 sourcebooks. Stats and prices are all over the place, seemingly without rhyme or reason. I am trying to wrest some semblance of order out of this mess, and as I do that I get to thinking about automatic weapons.

In the original trilogy, the only automatic weapons we see seem to be found on vehicles- from the cannons on the TIE fighters to the anti-personnel cannon on the Milennium Falcon to the side-guns on the AT-AT walkers. All the hand-weapons we see seem to be strictly semi-automatic (one trigger pull = one shot). In the prequels, however, we see several instances of Clone Troopers using fully automatic weapons (their larger blaster rifles seem to be full auto) and destroyer droids CERTAINLY use full-automatic weapons.

The question that came to my mind is…why in the heck WOULDN’T the Empire continue to mass-issue fully automatic weapons? I mean, most modern real-world militaries use them… and they do seem to exist in Star Wars. But why the sudden omission of them?

Real-world reasons are probably the limited budget of the first set of films- or rather, of the first film in particular. Perhaps it cost more money to add in all those blaster bolts. This would make semi-automatic weapons preferable from an economic viewpoint (and labor viewpoint, since I’m pretty sure all those blaster bolts were added by hand). In contrast, the prequels had everything done in CGI. Full-auto weapons were probably a lot easier to pull off.

That doesn’t satisfy my ‘need’ for an in-universe explanation, however. I briefly toyed with the idea of just changing the rules and making the weapons from the original trilogy fire full-auto. But that goes against my rule of trying NOT to contradict stuff from the movies (especially from the first movies). Full auto weapons would have changed the look of those movies- and indeed their ‘feel’. Perhaps not drastically, but it would have changed them.

So then I came up with the following hypothesis:

The Empire switched to semi-automatic weapons after the Clone Wars because they are more affordable in the long run.

As abundant as resources seem to be for the Empire, there is a finite limit to what they can afford. A semi-automatic weapon would be cheaper to produce and likely to maintain. It would consume less energy (in theory) than a fully automatic weapon would, thus conserving ammo. Yes, it is ‘energy’ ammo, but somewhere down the line, there would be a cost for producing that. The same argument was made against the use of fully automatic assault rifles in Vietnam. Many commanders thought that soldiers would expend MUCH more ammunition in un-aimed ‘spray and pray’ shots than they would otherwise in more carefully placed single or semi-auto shots. And to a certain extent, this is true- and it is one of the reasons many modern weapons switched to the three-round burst instead of full-auto.

Consider the fact that during the Clone Wars, the Republic was in the fight of its life against a foe that was nearly their equal in terms of manpower and resources. Automatic weapons, though expensive, could help turn the tide against a foe that was (mostly) armed with semi-autos. They were (perhaps) willing to throw money at the problem because a) they felt the need to and b) they could afford it (or at least could go deeper into debt). Contrast this with the Forces of the Empire. Here, even at the height of the Rebellion, the vast majority of Imperial forces were deployed in ‘police actions’ and relatively low-intensity conflicts. In these instances, semi-automatic weapons worked ‘good enough’ to do the job. Likewise, while the Rebellion would have probably LOVED to have full-auto weapons, they are even MORE restricted in what they can afford than the Empire. To me, this all tends to support my ‘economics determined weaponry’ theory.

The end result of this means that automatic weapons would remain an expensive and generally rare thing in the Star Wars setting during the ‘classic’ rebellion era. There would be the occasional light-repeating blaster carried as a squad support weapon, but your rank-and-file soldier would be armed with a semi-auto. So, oddly enough in this case, the real-world reasons seem to parallel the in-universe reasons: economics. Semi-autos are simply cheaper.

Sound good to you? Plausible? Insane? Geeky? Well, yes, of course the latter, but...

1 comment:

  1. Actually the E-11 stormtrooper rifle has automatic fire, as seen in Star Wars. As the stormtroopers break into the detention center, Han blasts one. As the trooper falls, his weapon fires a hail of shots into the air.

    The video game Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast has a conversation between two Stormtroopers complaining about the recoil throwing off their aim. And in Star Wars: Battlefront II, holding down on the fire button issued automatic fire and much reduced accuracy.