Star Wars vs. Star Trek, part 2: you and what army?

For the second post in a series critiquing George Lucas’s construction of the Star Wars universe, we focus on how small the galactic armed forces are, especially compared to the much more believable size of the Federation’s military in the Star Trek universe.

In Star Wars: Episode Two,we learn that the cloners on Kamino have 200,000 clones ready to deliver to the new Grand Army of the Republic, with another million in the pipeline. Presumably those first 200,000 clones are the ones we see in the Battle of Geonosis at the end of the film (famous for the kick-ass fight scene between Yoda and Count Dooku), when the army hands the droid/rebel/confederation army its ass. Fair enough. An army of 200,000 well-trained and well-equipped troops seems like a realistic number for one battle in one specific location on one world.

The problem comes in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, about 2 years after the clone wars began with the Battle of Geonosis. If we assume the extra million clones were made available, the maximum total number of clones in the new Army of the Galactic Republic would be 1.2 million. Even though clone growth is accelerated, clones are not battle-ready until they are about 10 years old. That means that even if Palpatine placed an order for millions of new clones after the success at Geonosis, they wouldn’t be ready for another 8 years after the events in Episode III. So they’re stuck with no more than 1.2 million clones as the backbone of their galactic army. Yet during Episode III we see detachments of the clone army scattered across the galaxy, doing battle from the Wookie homeworld and Utapau to Coruscant, the galactic capital, and dozens of other locations to boot. So purely from a distributional perspective, the clone army seems badly outnumbered at all of these engagements. They win, of course, but should they?

Here on Earth, we currently have about 19.7 million people in uniform, with most of those in the Chinese, Russian, American, Korean, and Indian armies. The largest single military force by personnel is China’s, with nearly 3 million enlisted personnel.As a share of world population (6.8 billion), we currently have about 0.29% of the human race under uniform. At those levels of enlistment, we experience significant limits on what military power can achieve in the world. Just think about how tough it has been to conquer and hold on to Afghanistan over the years.

How do the galactic armed forces stack up? The 1.2 million uniformed clone soldiers must be divided by galactic population (or just the population of the Republic). The movies don’t tell us exact population size, but we know that Alderan, Princess Leia’s apparently normal home world, had a population of about 2 billion when it was blown up by the original Death Star. Coruscant, the capital of the Republic and later the Empire, is one giant city with an estimated population of 1 trillion. Star Wars nerds (the ones who read the novels) say there are about 20 million worlds with sentient life and a total population of 100 quadrillion, or 100,000,000,000,000,000 beings. So while we have about 0.3% of our Earth population in uniform, the “Grand Army” of the Republic had just 0.0000000012% enlisted? For those of you who don’t want to break out the slide rule, that’s a factor of 241 million. If the Grand Army of the Republic were to have the same percentage of its population under uniform as we do on Earth, the clone army would have to be about 270 Trillion strong.

Of course, technological advances do reduce the number of soldiers needed to pacify a given population. The clone army benefits from laser rifles, imperial walkers, star destroyers, fighters, and the hyperdrive. So maybe we can cut them some slack on the ratio. But there’s little evidence from the movies to believe that the storm troopers were some sort of super shock troop that went in light and fast. These guys travel in huge battalions, and a remarkable amount of combat still takes place on the grunt vs. grunt level.

Simply put, 1.2 million clone troops is a shockingly weak order of battle for a government with galactic aspirations. They’d need several trillion at least to really project some force. In retrospect, the rebellion could have been forgiven for taunting Palpatine, “Oh yeah? You and what army?”

The Star Trek universe is a totally different story. The United Federation of Planets includes 150 worlds and 1,000 semi-autonomous colonies (with much lower populations). We know basically nothing about the population of those worlds, but if we take the same average density as in the Star Wars universe (100 quadrillion beings over 20 million worlds = 5 billion per planet), then we’d estimate a population of 750 billion in the member worlds, with a small number of potential recruits in the lightly-populated colonies. To equal our current-day Earth uniform ratio of .29%, the Federation would need a little over 2 billion beings under uniform. As best I can tell, they fall short of that mark by a factor of about 1,000, with 2 million service members, adding together about a million stationed on starbases (700 starbases with a little over 1,000 crew each) and outposts, and a very rough additional million scattered across starships, central command, the academy, and land-based garrisons. Not quite what we’d expect from the current Earth ratio, but the Federation still manages to mount a force from its tiny portion of the galaxy about as large as the ‘Grand Army’ of the Galactic Republic.

Time for the obligatory caveat: I’m clearly a huge nerd, and as such I really enjoy both universes. But once again, it seems like the Star Trek creators were a whole lot more successful in designing a believable universe than George Lucas.


4 Responses to “Star Wars vs. Star Trek, part 2: you and what army?”

  1. 3 ^EL^ April 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I am a huge sci fi fan and I have to agree.
    Star Trek is a more realistic world.
    Not to mention the Enterprise-D is awesome.

  2. 4 Elana August 2, 2014 at 7:33 am

    But the Kamorians didn’t say 200,000 clones were ready, but 200,000 units.
    A Unit in this case meant a battalion of 576 clones.

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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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