Hoth: The Dumbest Battle in Movie History

July 18, 2011

I love The Empire Strikes Back. Obviously. But let’s all be honest for a moment — the battle of Hoth doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Let’s start with the most iconic feature of the battle — the walkers, which are, perhaps, the most impractical war machines ever devised, real or imagined. Now don’t get me wrong — I love the design of the walkers. There is something sublime (read: “terrifying” in the Romantic sense) in watching these hulking machines, these mythological giants, slowly and deliberately lay waste to everything in their path. When the Rebels call for retreat, I get chills every time I see the shot of three walkers simultaneously tilting their heads down — away from strategic targets and toward the soldiers, fleeing across the icy plain with no cover, seconds from being massacred (yet another “chill moment” I forgot to add to that old YNCTwB post.)

But — artistic merit aside — from a strategic standpoint, they’re absolutely ridiculous. They’re comically slow (seriously, when Luke crashes in front of a walker, and one of the feet is descending to crush him, he has enough time to grab a handful of supplies, pour a cup of coffee, and have a nice little chat with ghost-Ben before diving out of the way, right in the nick of time), their weapons only face one direction, and their long legs create a glaring weakness. AT-ATs are slow, gangly, and awkward — not the best combination for an instrument of war. Imagine the Rohirrim riding into the battle of Minas Tirith on a thundering herd of giraffes (actually, that would be pretty awesome).

But it takes two sides to wage the dumbest battle in movie history, and the Rebels certainly pull their weight. Let’s examine their strategy. They’re fighting war machines that, as we’ve already determined, have some pretty obvious limitations. Because the walkers’ guns only face forward, and because it takes so long for walkers to change direction, there is only a very limited area in which they can hurt you — namely, a straight line directly in front of them.

And so what do the Rebels do? They insist on flying straight along this imaginary “hurt line” like they’re on some sort of two-lane highway. Now, doing this once at the beginning of the battle would be bad enough, and yet, every time the movie cuts back to the Snowspeeders, there they are again, flying directly at the front of the walkers. It’s like they’re going out of their way to put themselves in danger. Like, they race past the walkers, and then immediately turn around in a wide loop so they can get shot at again as quickly as possible. As always, I blame the Force.

Clearly, what the Rebels should’ve done was circle the battlefield to get behind the walkers. Then, they could’ve just hovered behind them and blasted the crap of their rear-ends since, you know, there were no guns back there. And by the way, where were the X-wings during all of this? And don’t say they were all escorting the transports because there were a bunch of them just sitting around after the battle. (You remember the scene — it’s when Luke and some random pilot were making upbeat small-talk after their base had just been overrun and all of their friends were either dead or fleeing for their lives.) So that armor was “too strong for blasters,” huh? Why not try a pair of proton torpedoes? They only blew up the Death Star. Morons.

Instead, Luke was too busy giving helpful orders like “attack pattern Delta” (which, apparently, is a very specific attack that involves flying between the legs of one walker and shooting the unimportant, armored top panel of another — if I were in Rogue Squadron, it would be just the sort of hyper-specific attack pattern I would enjoy, if, you know, my life weren’t on the line) and “stay tight and low,” an order he gives while, you guessed it, flying directly at the front of the walkers.

Not Commander Skywalker’s finest hour.

By the way, I realize that George tried to fix the walker design in Episode II with the, um, AAT-TETE. It has six, stubby legs, so it can’t be easily tripped up, and its guns turrets can swivel and point in more than one direction. I guess.

AAT-TETE. Awesome.

So, if you want to argue that the battle of Geoniminsimino is better than the battle of Hoth because the walkers are more practical, feel free to never read this blog again.

On the other hand, I doubt that anyone who bothered to read this entire post is in danger of thinking that.

— Reinman



  1. Yeah, the Battle of Hoth is probably the best dumb battle in epic movie history. It makes absolutely no sense — but it still manages to be incredibly effective and fun. Artistically it’s a masterpiece. Logically it’s a farce.

    I really love The Lord of the Rings, books and movies. And I really love the Battle of Pelennor Field in the third movie. But when the Rohirrim road to attack the Oliphaunts, I really could only think of the Battle of Hoth. I’m pretty sure Peter Jackson choreographed a lot of Pelennor while watching The Empire Strikes Back. The two battles hit so many of the same beats: the riders swerving beneath the thundering feet of the Oliphaunts, some riders (Eowyn? I don’t remember) falling off their horses and almost getting crushed, Legolas (read: Luke) climbing up one of the lumbering weapons and single-handedly dismantling it. Etcetera. Both battles are excellent and exciting, but also quite similar.

  2. Excellent points, all.

    I remember having a discussion with my dad after seeing “Return of the King.” We were wondering if George Lucas, in prepping “Empire,” borrowed inspiration for the Walkers from the Mumakil in “Lord of the Rings.”

    Unlikely, we ultimately decided (Tolkein, after all, doesn’t have the monopoly on large, mythological beasts of war), but it would’ve given everything a nice symmetry: LOTR book, inspiring Lucas, who inspires LOTR movie.

    By the way, I love, love, love the build up to the Rohirrim’s charge at Pelennor. I always get two separate chills during that scene. One, when we first hear the horns, and the riders appear on the hill at dawn. And two, when King Theoden rides down the line, clinking his sword against the riders’ spears (accompanied by that haunting musical theme that plays whenever something vaguely supernatural/spiritual happens — Gandalf catching the moth on top of Orthanc in “Fellowship,” the ents marching on Isengard and Theoden deciding to ride out and meet the enemy in “Towers” — it’s my favorite musical theme in the trilogy).

    Man, time to watch those again.

    • Wonderful moments. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen them, and I can’t wait to watch them all over again. Preferably with friends. And projected on a large screen.

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