After thinking about the issue of the development of this type of vehicles, I have some doubts about why the decision of this type of transport and not another.

Realizing that AT-AT and AT-TE are very large military vehicles that would require a fairly high cost, both production and maintenance. My questions about why choose these incredible giants are:

  • What benefits would make them really useful apart from their great firepower and their use as transport of troops?

  • Why "walkers" with legs? What does this mean for other types of vehicles?

  • What would be their main disadvantage?

  • Possible improvements to make them more useful.

Edit: I ask about these types of vehicles in particular, obviously have points in common with other types of similar vehicles but also have their unique characteristics, so the answer regarding wicks is not very specific since we can understand is like a robot and is very different .

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    $\begingroup$ Advantage: They look cool. Disadvantage: They can't walk with three legs $\endgroup$
    – user10945
    Mar 10, 2017 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ Pro: Walkers can walk where wheels can't roll, and even treads falter. Con: Vulnerable to teddy bears with rocks and sticks. $\endgroup$
    – cobaltduck
    Mar 10, 2017 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of the advantages and disadvantages are discussed in this question on mecha: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10320/… $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Mar 10, 2017 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ Legs perform better than wheels in many sorts of terrain. I'll take my horse many places where I doubt anyone could take a motorcycle or quad. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Mar 10, 2017 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - For situations where wheels won't do, there's helicopters. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 10, 2017 at 19:00

8 Answers 8


There are no advantages to legged battle vehicles. Such top-heavy combat machines on legs would be doomed to instant and terrible failure in the "real-world".

All those joints, and digits would fail sooner rather than later, and would be incredibly vulnerable to enemy fire (imagine an AT-TE stepping on a mine, or walking into a trip-wire). Furthermore, both machines have a very high profile on the battlefield, and make excellent targets (especially those nice joints).

A very sought after quality of main battle tanks, scout vehicles, and APCs alike is a low profile such that they can more easily hide behind terrain features (because you'd rather that enemy fire hit the pile of dirt you're hiding behind, not your vehicle).

It's also good to note that vehicles are typically specialized. Not too many main battle tanks (one that I know of) are capable of carrying and deploying troops - that's not their purpose! They're meant to be heavily armored, and fight other tanks! And no matter how much armor they carry, there's always a weapon that can take them out, because they can only carry so much armor. APC's on the other hand are far more lightly armored, and are meant to protect troops from small arms fire, maybe some light artillery (shrapnel), or chemical threats (such as nerve gas attacks).

The AT-AT, however, is supposedly invulnerable to pretty much anything the rebels can throw at it (including their big laser batteries on Hoth), strides across the battlefield in full view of the enemy, and can carry a fairly large number of storm troopers.

That's not a good design from many points of view:

  • By sheer size alone that thing is a target for anything and anyone on the battlefield.
  • Its center of gravity is way high off the ground, which makes it very prone to tipping over, or stumbling.
  • If it trips and does fall over it has no mechanism to get back up, and it'll probably be too busted up anyway (crew will probably be dead as well).
  • As for the soldiers it carries ... just imagine rappelling to the ground from one of those things while under enemy fire - it's essentially suicide!
  • Every time it wants to shoot at something it needs to turn its bloody head, which pivots on a very vulnerable looking joint, and holds a crew of 3 or 4 to boot.
  • The sides, underside, and back of the machine are utterly defenseless. Doesn't Luke climb into one from underneath, and throw a grenade in? Sounds like a pretty terrible oversight to me.

AT-TE's are better designed due to a lower height, and better support base (6 legs), but they are still quite vulnerable:

  • Little to no awareness of activity on your flanks or behind you.
  • Slow to turn around.
  • No mechanism to get it back up if it falls over.
  • Great target for the enemy.

Essentially, all these things have going for them is that they look cool.

When I first watched Star Wars as a kid I was absolutely fascinated with the fighting machines the Empire deployed. I had a bunch of figurines of them, and a book with a ton of original sketches, and explanations as to how they work, etc. Every detail of their technical abilities was explored.

However, as a budding engineer, it soon hit me that most of it was horse manure. These vehicles and their capabilities were envisioned by artists. They were meant to inspire certain feelings and emotions, not make sense from a militaristic point of view.

For example, the X-Wing design allows us to see the pilot, and the uniform design shows their faces. To the viewer they're human. Whereas the TIE fighter pilots are not visible inside their ships, and even when shown, remain faceless minions.

The idea behind the AT-ATs, was that they are large, monstrous machines which inspire dread, and communicate just how powerful and intimidating the Empire is.

When you realize that that's their real purpose, you understand why they look like they do.

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    $\begingroup$ So we can reduce the benefits is that they looks cool and can be intimidating? $\endgroup$
    – Gawey
    Mar 10, 2017 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Gawey - essentially, yes. I'll add an update $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 10, 2017 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ RE "strides across the battlefield": Do you consider the engagements we see (in Eps 5 & 6,& Rogue 1) as battles? Could the Empire be thinking of them as counter-insurgency instead? In the real world I guess the US is currently driving APC's around Baghdad in a similar way (and finding they aren't invulnerable). $\endgroup$
    – The Photon
    Mar 10, 2017 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @thephoton - keep in mind they later invented a lot of other vehicles and weapons in the cartoons, etc. But who keeps track of all that stuff? Star Wars was never meant to be realistic. It was meant to be romantic sci fi. Glorious Good vs Evil fights, a princess that needs rescuing, freakin' knights who rush to her rescue, etc. Everything else was window dressing. Even the Death Star is ridiculous. Why build such a weapon when you can simply nuke any planet out of existence at a fraction of the cost? Anyway, I'm sure to upset some hard core fans, so I better shut up now. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 10, 2017 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ Quick note: you mention AT-TE's as having 2 legs, but the ones with two legs are actually AT-ST's. AT-TE's are not in the original trilogy and have 6 legs. $\endgroup$
    – Brien
    Mar 10, 2017 at 21:13

I tried to look at what is out there in the real world, and started spinning a bit on that:

There are a few legged machines in the real world for transport (see boston dynamics' products, look especially at LS3, Big Dog and Cheetah, they are actually aiming for military use afaik). And there exist legged machines that are used for harvesting trees (a quick google found me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzaXMzYFtSM).

Why do they use them? Because legs are actually better than wheels for getting through difficult terrain. In case of the tree havester it would also be to do less damage to the terrain. But that comes with the price of a much higher complexity! That is more complexity for designing, building, maintaining and driving. To my knowledge, the German army up to today still has a group with mules, because those are better for traversing mountains than any machine built today, with the advantage that the design and production has been done by nature.

I don't know of any leged machines used for actual combat, and I think the complexity would make them a bad idea, because they would be too vulnerable by enemy weapons.

If you think about robots/machines with legs, one principle in designing them is: more legs -> slower, more stable movement, less legs -> faster, less stable movement.

Compared with wheeled vehicles, they would always be slower and less stable on good terrain (that's why we use roads), but in real tuff terrain (forest, swamp, mountains), they might have a legitimate use. I would not see them on an open battlefield (as on Hoth), but a sensible design might be useful in a forest (which contradicts Star Wars drastically, as on Hoth the walkers won the battle, and on Endor they lost - but on science terms contradicting Star Wars might not actually be a bad thing... and using something with more than two legs and the centre of gravity further to the ground than those Endor walkers might be sensible). If you want to move through a forest without leaving a gigantic trail, wheels and tracks seem out of the question. Legs might let you through without destroying any trees and only leaving a trail that would be hard to track after some weeks or so, if you do not suspect it. Also some commando operations where you need not just a few people but some heavy stuff they could not carry might come to mind.


The main reason someone would develop vehicles suck as AT-ATs or AT-TEs is in their very name: All Terrain Armored Transport / Tactical Enforcer. Being on legs means that they can walk almost anywhere, even when wheeled vehicles or tracked ones can't. Think for example of a heavily entrenched or bombarded zone, or even worse a swamp: your standard issue humvee would be nearly useless to move around, and so would a tank (though to a lower extent).

A similar reason is why agencies such as DARPA are encouraging the construction of legged robots, to use in emergency situations.

Another point, which is both a con(and a big one) and a pro:

(shock and) AWE

Granted, the shock factor does not really apply seeing how fast both AT-ATs and AT-STs are, we will focus on the awe factor: imagine yourself on the battlefield, and you spot far behind the enemy lines somehting that big, which, you know can and will fire on your positions, and probably holds more enemy soldiers that you have to face. Chances are your morale will drop, so will your fellow soldiers'. The same won't apply however for the enemy, which will "rally" at the sight of such wondrous weapons.

As stated in other answers though, being that big and awe inspiring makes such vehicles huge targets. Granted if they are armored enough to take a beating and don't stumble because of a length of rope, they might be viable to use in the field.

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    $\begingroup$ Small robots on legs which approximate a pack mule are fundamentally different than enormous mecha. The swamp comment was especially ludicrous - think of the pressures all that weight would exert on such a relatively tiny area as its footprint. Heavy mecha trying to walk would sink so deeply and likely triggering subsidence to such an extent that it would be risky on anything less stable than bedrock. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2017 at 20:45

While its true that AT-ATs and AT-TEs, as designed, are less than ideal on the battlefield, I would like to point out that the US military is currently building and funding legged robots. One needs look no further than Boston Dynamics' Big Dog to see what some very intelligent people with real-world experience have to say about using such a "flawed" design. In the abstract of the white paper, the authors state "Less than half the Earth's landmass is accessible to existing wheeled and tracked vehicles. But people and animals using their legs can go almost anywhere." Imagine an 2-M Repulsor or a 48 Roller wheel bike on Dagobah. Cargo capacity appears to be another advantage. The 2-M is only capable of carrying 200kg of cargo! The AT-AT doesn't list a cargo capacity, but it can carry 40 troops and surely they and their equipment are ~200kg each.

So the big advantage they would have if they were designed for function (rather than form as Andrei points out) is that they would be able to go more places than a wheeled, tracked, or repulsor lifted vehicles while carrying more cargo.

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    $\begingroup$ It's also interesting to note that the first significant US military action of the 21st century was done on horseback :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Mar 11, 2017 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I was aware of horses still being used, but I didn't realize the extent until your comment. Now I'm having dreams/nightmares of marines with four legged powered armor based on BigDog or Cheetah. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Mar 12, 2017 at 14:07

The element of fear.

Consider the AT-ATs: Imagine you are sitting around in your nice house on an alien planet when all of a sudden there's a series of loud thuds approaching from the distance. You walk out into the street to find out what the noise is and find a towering tank on legs looming over your nice little town. Many people would flee, leaving the remaining citizens outgunned, outnumbered and overrun by masked troops.

The AT-AT is not a practical fighting machine, it is an iconic symbol of the empire. The Empire did not build a giant planet destroying space station for the sake of practical planet destruction, they built it to strike fear into anyone who dared to oppose them. The reason TIE/ln fighters look so ominous and make such an awful noise is almost certainly for the same reason: fear.


Tactically the only use I could picture would be crowd/riot control, think police not military.

I could see these vehicles being fairly effective against a poorly armed and disorganized mob. Their height and high visibility makes them somewhat imposing to civilians. Their primary purpose would be to intimidate and corral much like mounted (on horseback) police in these situations.

Think about it, the empire is probably accustomed to putting down minor civilian uprisings on a fairly regular basis, it would make sense for them to have purpose built vehicles for the task. Think of the At-at as more of a paddy wagon than a tank.


The idea behind them is the same as behind Death Star: Because we can
Why destroy planet if you can use it later? For psychological effect. Try to f**k with empire now you rebel scum.

Now imagine you are on a battlefield. And instead of tanks you see this monstrous, slow machines. With almost the same armament as T-47 it would be a laugh. Easy to flank, with no side or rear weapon. But those things push. With every step you hear thud and the earth shake. And you see the Empire have money to spend.
Try to not get your pants brown and keep your post.


I think fear is only part of the equation. AT-ST and AT-AT weapon systems are a rational, tactical response to the unique operating requirements of a force such as the Imperial Navy.

Summarily, walkers like the AT-ST and AT-AT represent the requirements of assault vehicles that need to be able to operate across an incredibly diverse number of environments.

One way of understanding this is to consider the available alternatives in the Star Wars Extended Universe:

  • Aircraft
  • Hovercraft/Speeders (both ground-effect and antigravity)
  • Wheeled/Tracked vehicles

Aircraft operate only in atmospheres thick enough for their lift surfaces.

Hovercraft and Speeders may not operate in all electromagnetic fields, gravity wells, or over all types of surfaces.

Wheeled/Tracked vehicles are unable to operate over heavily broken ground and are generally slow to accelerate.

Legged vehicles have no such restrictions.

Furthermore, we can understand some concrete benefits associated with legged vehicles:

They can carry more weight/armor/armament than aircraft and hovercraft of a similar size.

If their propulsion system breaks down they are not going to crash.

They can provide variable view height for operation above or below tall grasses, forest canopies, rivers/lakes, ground fog, broken ground, or engagement from defilade/hull-down.

They provide enhanced survivability against IEDs, mines, and detection mechanisms hidden in the ground.

Many of the problems associated with AT-STs and AT-ATs vanish when you consider how the Imperial Navy typically deploys them:

  • as close to enemy emplacements as possible, from orbit
  • embedded with infantry divisions as opposed to in their own armored corps
  • preferably after air superiority has been achieved

The tow-cable attacks deployed against AT-AT walkers on Hoth by Rebel ground speeder craft represent an attack of opportunity against a hastily-deployed force attempting to cut off as much of the rebel escape window as possible. A more properly deployed walker force would advance only after speeder contingents had been drawn out and destroyed by TIE space superiority fighters and bombers, and Imperial speeders.


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