Wired’s Spencer Ackerman breaks down Darth Vader’s military strategy in Empire Strikes Back showing how, what could have been a trouncing of the Rebels on Hoth, ended up as an Imperial pratfall.
For more meticulous skewering of Star Wars’ logic, check out the incisive Red Letter Media reviews of the prequels.
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.
Update: Spencer Ackerman held a roundtable discussion of experts & nerds with dissenting opinions on the what, why, and how of Hoth.