Soldiers in Star Wars
By: Matthew Lynn
Joining the Fight
“Trust me, you’re going to love it.”
The words spoken by the recruiter for the Empire in the Solo: A Star Wars Story teaser trailer when a young Han Solo looks to join the Imperial Navy to become a pilot.
These words are echoed by recruiters around the world, even mine. In 2001, shortly after the tragic events of 9/11, I enlisted with the
Galactic Empire United States Air Force. For fifteen years after that I ping-ponged around the world going on crazy adventures with some great brothers-in-arms.
Unfortunately, I didn’t meet any wookiees along the way.
Our Boys in White
Growing up in the “Dark Times” there wasn’t much to Stormtroopers; they seemed like nothing more than cannon fodder for Luke, Han, and Leia to plow through on their way to save the day. It wasn’t until the Prequels when the soldiers in Star Wars were given an identity.
In Attack of the Clones, we see that the entire Grand Army of the Republic was comprised of clone troopers modeled off of the Mandalorian bounty hunter, Jango Fett. In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we get to see the individual side of them. Even though they’re all genetic duplicates, they each have their own unique personality. From Rex & Cody to Wolf, Gree, Fives (my personal favorite), and even loyal 99, each of the clones bring something to the table that's all their own.
The clones personified a sense of brotherhood that I’d experienced in my own military career. At the end of the day, the person you had to rely on the most was the one that had your back when things went sideways. It’s no surprise that fans sometimes describe the clone-centric episodes as “Band of Brothers in Space.”
Unlike the clones, however, I had a family to come home to: a wife, kid, and a Shiba Inu name Hiro. In the military, it’s easy to feel like you’re just a number, but the clones literally were just numbers until they gave each other names.
At the end of the day they only had their brothers.
Enter the Karen Traviss novels! She wrote five clone-centric books known as the Republic Commando series – Hard Contact, Triple Zero, True Colors, Order 66, and Imperial Commando: 501st. We get to follow along on dangerous missions as she introduces us to Omega Squad a group of elite clone commandos that are called in for the Republic’s “special projects.”
These books are like riding along with Seal Team Six if they were in a galaxy far, far away. Traviss’s understanding of the military mindset is uncanny.
Expanding the Ranks
Remember those Stormtroopers I mentioned earlier? The cannon fodder?
Well in the latest volume of Marvel’s Star Wars comic series, they’ve introduced an elite group of Stormtroopers called SCAR (Special Commando Advanced Recon) Troopers.
Yes, we love our military acronyms.
Led by lightsaber-wielding Sergeant Kreel, this elite unit has been causing problems for our favorite rebels throughout the galaxy. Their original mission was to hunt down Jedi, but since that well dried up they went off the radar--only to emerge again when a certain rebel pilot blew up the Death Star.
In the sequel era, the Empire is gone and the First Order has risen from its ashes. Rather than relying on clones or Imperial recruitment to fill their ranks, the First Order shifted tactics and now take children from their homes--brainwashing them into being loyal Stormtroopers that carry out orders without hesitation.
(Hey, isn’t that what the Jedi did in the prequel era?)
In Greg Rucka’s Before the Awakening, we see that Finn, then known as FN-2187, was hand selected by Captain Phasma to be a member of her elite FN corps. When the First Order’s programming begins to fade, Phasma, tries to cover it up and reprogram FN-2187, but we all know how that turns out.
The Face of the Enemy
Real soldiers are also brainwashed, from a certain point of view.
No, we don’t have mind-controlling chips implanted in our brains (or do we?). When we’re in basic training we’re taught to cut the excess from our actions, that everything we do should have a purpose. We learn to strive to be the best, to lift each other up, and lead from the front.
There is also a dark side to this. One that will never be on a poster or any advertisement. One that transcends the army of any single nation.
When you sign up to fight in a military, your actions from there on out support killing the enemies of your country. You have to build this narrative in your mind that makes this faceless enemy undoubtedly evil. If you stopped to think about their wife, children, and the family pet, you might get weighed down by guilt and if that happens, you might slip and one of those buddies watching your back might get hurt.
To save yourself from cracking, you create nicknames to dehumanize the enemy. I won’t get into any of the colorful language I’ve heard in my time, but you see it in The Clone Wars when they refer to the droid army as “Clankers.” To an extent, the clones are lucky that the enemy they face on the battlefield are just droids. (Apologies to the droid rights activists out there.)
If you get lucky, like myself, as an Emergency Manager, you might fall into a position where your job is to save as many lives as possible. The soldiers in Star Wars have no such luxury that I’ve seen.
If you really enjoy a good soldier story, then the ones listed here are just the tip of the iceberg.
Check out Crimson Empire and the Rebellion series from Dark Horse comics; Thrawn by Marvel comics (based on the book by Timothy Zahn), the Battlefront II video game and the corresponding prequel novel, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad.
May the Force be with you.
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About Matthew Lynn
Matthew lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and two daughters. He retired from the Galactic Empire Air Force in 2016 and now he’s a full-time student. Originally from the Allegheny River Valley in western Pennsylvania, he had to travel a half-hour to the nearest town with a bookstore to buy comic books. Those comics eventually led to Star Wars books starting with the Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta. Matt loves all pop culture and would happily roll out with the autobots, fly a veritech fighter, or form the head of Voltron.