Look, I know they’re cool, I know from a sci-fi perspective bullets and gunpowder are outdated, but the truth of the matter is, laser guns would actually be terrible as killing weapons. Despite how firmly Han Solo believes in the power of a good blaster at his side, if you stop and think about the physics of these weapons and what it is they actually do, the blasters like those seen in Star Wars or practically any other science-fiction franchise to date would be far inferior to the modern gunpowder weapons in use by today’s militaries.

For one, a laser blast would cauterize the injury instantly, meaning your intended target’s chances of bleeding out are practically nil. Bullets, meanwhile, simply tear through skin and organs alike. Secondly, bullets, as physical objects rather than particle beams or blasts of weaponized energy, can break apart and get stuck inside the body of your target, meaning extremely gentle surgery is needed to pull the pieces out. Third and finally, bullets can also ricochet around inside a human body, bouncing off of bones and into places you didn’t even intend to hit, causing irreparable damage.

What Exactly Is Cauterization?

Well, the word is defined by most dictionaries as the act of “burning tissue or a part of the body to close it off, in order to stop bleeding or infection.” Those last two things, bleeding and infection, are definitely things that would increase your chances of dying on the battlefield. This point is important: While it may seem obvious, it’s also the key to this entire argument, and that is that weapons are designed for one purpose: To kill.

Morbid as it may be, the Galactic Empire was ruthless, and not too keen on letting those pesky rebels escape to fight another day. Okay, it might seem weird to imagine a stormtrooper with an M16, but if they could manage to ever land a hit (a lot to ask of a stormtrooper, I know), the rebels might be able to drag their victims to safety, only to have them die on the way to intensive care as the bullets inside them lead them to bleed out or succumb to whatever horrifying infections one might sustain in the Star Wars universe, to say nothing of the dangers of jumping to hyperspace and traveling at the speed of light with bits of shrapnel in your organs.

This brings me to my next point…

Laser Blasts Don’t Stick Around

Not only do energy blasts actually decrease the odds of death by cauterizing your wound, but they also don’t tend to stick around as bullets do. Even after they hit you, bullets that stay inside your body can do lasting damage as they break apart into tiny pieces. Tiny, sharp, and hard-to-remove pieces. This is something you don’t get from a simple laser blast.

Bullets, from the day they were invented hundreds of years ago, have been particularly lethal weapons of war. The slowest among them travel well over the speed of sound and if they don’t go clean through you, the new hole you’ve got is the least of your worries. Delicate surgery is needed to remove every little piece, and if a surgeon even so much as nicks a vital organ, it’s game over.

Even if you can get a coagulant into the unlucky victim’s bloodstream to stop them from bleeding out, even if you can get to a safe and sterile medical environment to prevent infections, you might not have someone on hand who can get those little bits of bullet out before they do even more damage. I also don’t know the dangers related to traveling in a ship at faster than lightspeed with shrapnel inside you, but I’m just going to guess that’s not a good idea.


Now, logically, this might be balanced somewhat with the technology often seen in such sci-fi settings. Even the rebels in Star Wars probably had access to medical droids with super steady hands, who might’ve been able to remove a bullet no problem, dealing with infection, blood loss, and whatever other complications arise through advanced technology. Another bullet wound? Eh, just throw ’em in a bacta tank for a bit! Still, though, I’d much rather take my chances with a laser blast, given the bullet may mean I won’t even make it back to the medical droid.

Richo… Who?

Lastly, bullets are, you know, solid objects, and as such can not only pierce flesh but also ricochet off of surfaces. Laser blasts stand next to no chance of bouncing off of a wall and hitting you in the face from around a corner unless the walls are made from the same material as the interior of the garbage chute Luke and friends jumped into in A New Hope. Bullets, meanwhile, bounce off of things all the time, and not just walls either, but also bone.

Even after they’ve penetrated your skin, a bullet can ricochet off of your bones, likely shattering them in the process and then ending up in a totally different place than where they entered. One such instance of this is when someone is shot in the shoulder, the bullet bouncing off of a collar bone and then into your lung. Not ideal.

star wars golanarms flechette launcher

Golan Arms FC-1 (Image Source: Wookiepedi)

With all this in mind, it’s a wonder the few projectile weapons that were in the Star Wars canon didn’t sell like hotcakes on the black market or allow their users to dominate the battlefield. Wookiepedia lists the Golan Arms FC-1 and the Salus Corporation’s DF-D1 Flechette Launchers as examples, these weapons being essentially high-tech shotguns that fired canisters, which in turn released “hundreds of tiny, razor-sharp flechettes” to tear through anyone on the business end.

I’m sure Star Wars would undoubtedly have been very different had Lucas taken this into account—I’m picturing stormtrooper armor being designed to be bulletproof, or maybe at least bullet resistant, and Jedi stopping incoming fire like Neo in The Matrix.

In Conclusion:

Basically, energy or laser guns would be almost entirely useless in a fight against today’s modern weaponry. Even with medical droids and advanced medical tech, while an energy blast would cauterize the wound it created and actually decrease the chance of death, a single bullet can lead to blood loss, infection, require complicated surgery, or even bounce off a bone into a vital organ.

So, which would you rather have in a fight, a blaster, or a pistol?

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