Let’s just start off with something important. We’re talking about these guys from Star Wars:
Not these guys from World War Two:
I’m completely fine with my five-year-old watching Star Wars. I’m really not fine with the idea of having to talk about something like the Holocaust with my five-year-old.
With that out of the way, my son is a huge Star Wars fanatic. He loves the movies (with Return of the Jedi being his favorite, because of Ewoks). Christmas was loaded down with Star Wars toys. He’s got a lightsaber. What can I say? He’s at the right age to enjoy the movies. Which is to say, he’s alive – I’ve got two lightsabers, myself, and we play Star Wars [i]a lot[/i]. And he also loves the idea of ‘a million’. I think it’s his go-to number for “lots and lots”, because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t really understand what ‘a million’ is.
“Are there a million Stormtroopers?” he asks from the back seat of the car, as he plays with a Stormtrooper and a toy dinosaur and rider that he’s just purchased with his allowance and has declared is the Emperor.
“Probably more,” I answer.
“How many more?” he asks, sounding intrigued by the idea that there can be more than a million.
“Lots more,” I answer.
So, clearly, this isn’t a serious sort of question. But I’m curious about the potential answer. Or answers, really, because there’s two different ways to answer this. We’ll start with the real answer, first. For that, we turn to the Internet Movie Database, and check the full cast lists for Episodes IV through VI.
Star Wars Episode IV names 8 people playing Stormtroopers (with 2 more added in the Special Edition), and four people voicing Stormtroopers. So, depending on how you count that, you get 8 to 14 Stormtroopers in the movie. Episode V credits 8 people, and Episode VI credits 5. StackExchange discusses this a little as well, pointing out that the live actors were padded out with matte paintings, cardboard cutouts, and blue-screen special effects.
So that’s the real-world answer. From here on out, I’ll just be indulging in naked nerdery. You are warned.
According to Wookieepedia, Stormtroopers “were the elite shock troops in the Imperial Army placed under the Stormtrooper Corps”. Their organization is described as follows:
- Squad: 8 troopers plus a sergeant.
- Platoon: 4 squads, plus a lieutenant and a sergeant major.
- Company: 4 platoons, plus a captain.
- Batallion: 4 companies, plus a major.
- Regiment: 4 batallions, plus a Lieutenant Colonel.
- Legion: 4 regiments, plus a High Colonel.
That gives a Legion 9,813 Stormtroopers, and brings us to the question of just how many legions there were. Wookiepedia doesn’t directly address this, but does point out that the Stormtroopers were the Imperial successors to the Clonetroopers of the Grand Army of the Republic. Assuming a similar structure, then, we add the following to the organizational list:
- Corps: 4 legions, plus a General
- Sector Army: 4 corps, plus a General.
- Systems Army: 2 Sector Armies, plus a general.
- Grand Army: 10 systems armies.
This brings us to 3,140,270 Stormtroopers, without considering the various specialists (such as the Scout Troopers, or the Snowtroopers, or the various and sundry other types created by the Expanded Universe). So, let’s try and compare this to the real world. Since Stormtroopers are usually the first into the breach and the first on the beach, let’s have a look at the Organization of the United States Marine Corps – specifically, at the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. This is a combined arms unit of Marines, comprising a Division-sized Ground Combat Element, a wing-sized Aviation Combat Element, and a Logistics Combat Element (which appears to be Division strength).
First, a few definitions: A wing is three or more groups of 4-6 squadrons of 6-15 aircraft. A Division is the next organizational step up from a Regiment. And the Marines follow (loosely) a “rule of three” – three squads to a platoon, three platoons to a company, and so on. So, for organizational comparison purposes, we can compare a Stormtrooper Legion to a Marine Division.
We will assume that there is a such entity as a Stormtrooper Aerospace-Ground Task Force. Stormtroopers roughly follow a “rule of four” in their organization. So, an Aerospace Combat Element for a SAGTF would probably be set up as follows:
- Squadron: 8 TIE Fighter pilots, plus an officer.
- Group: 4 squadrons, plus an officer.
- Wing: 4 squadrons, plus an officer.
That gives us an Aerospace Combat Element strength of 149 at the Wing size.
The Logistics Combat Element is a “catch-all”, handling logistics (transport, supply, maintenance), engineering (EOD, combat engineering, heavy equipment), medical, and other specialized units. The Marines get one at Division strength in a MAGTF, so you probably get a Legion-strength Logistics Combat Element with Stormtroopers. Oh, and don’t assume they’re noncombatants. They’re just not primary combatants.
At all of this, the next step up from a Legion should be the SAGTF, comprised of 19,975 Stormtroopers. Replacing the word “Legion” with the term “SAGTF” in the above estimates, we get 79,101 Stormtroopers in a Corps, 316,405 in a Sector Army, 632,811 in a Systems Army, and a total of 6,328,110 Stormtroopers.
This seems low to me, however. The Empire is enforcing its authority over a large swathe of a galaxy, after all. One which, (again according to Wookieepedia) contains 1,024 sectors. It seems reasonable that there should be a Sector Army per sector. With 316,405 Stormtroopers in a sector, that gives us 323,998,720 Stormtroopers. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
NASA estimates that there are somewhere between 10,000,000,000 and 100,000,000,000 solar systems in our galaxy. The galaxy in Star Wars is a spiral galaxy similar to our own, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that there are similar figures – call it a rough average of 55,000,000,000 solar systems. Eyeballing the map of the Star wars galaxy, I’d say that the Empire occupies roughly 70% of that galaxy – call it 38,500,000,000 solar systems.
Princeton University has an article titled Known Planetary Systems, which states we have currently found 258 solar systems. One of them is inhabited. Now, clearly we’re not a starfaring civilization. But the Galactic Empire is, and so I think it’s safe to apply this ratio to the Empire to decide that there are 149,224,806 inhabited worlds – with “inhabited” ranging from subsistance-level populations like Tatooine to mining installations like Bespin or Kessel to ecumenopolises like Coruscant. So there are only 2 Stormtroopers for each inhabited world.
No wonder Leia was so confident that: