Technological Terror

SwtiefightercdLet me start off this conversation with explaining that, while I usually take little interest in what is considered Star Wars canon, I have traditionally embraced the tenets of the Star Wars universe as depicted in the X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and X-Wing Miniatures games. They are all very well designed games that have (and will in the future) stood the test of time as classics. It was those video games of the 1990’s that definitively set in my mind what a B-Wing behaves like, or what the capabilities of a TIE Interceptor were. At least from my viewpoint, those early games defined and gave name to the starfighters of the Star Wars universe. In retrospect, however, I wish to now abandon some of these hard-baked tropes.

The status quo in Star Wars starfighters has the Rebel Alliance fly powerful, durable, hard-hitting death machines while the Galactic Empire skirts by with frail, vulnerable, nimble dog-fighters. By this standard, the Galactic Empire is clearly the David to the Rebel Goliath. In fact, that is part of why I love the TIE Fighter game so much; the odds were stacked against you from the start, allowing only the most skilled pilots any possibility of survival or victory. But having the Rebels bully around Imperial starfighters isn’t the tone that we really want here in a roleplaying game, is it? I want the Rebels to be the underdogs, scrappy and nimble, attacking the much more powerful Empire and winning in spite of their poor equipment, not because of it. While I understand that having weak starfighters implies a certain callousness for the lives of the Imperial pilots, it also implies that the Rebellion is short on cash while having few able bodied volunteers. Sort of the opposite of what you would expect. Isn’t the Rebellion a popular uprising struggling to find the resources they need to win against an opponent that outmatches them? For whatever reason, this strange juxtaposition has taken root.

John Powers, in his blog post here, discusses the earliest designs and artistic intentions behind starfighters in Star Wars. He, seemingly blessedly ignorant of canon, finds the heart of the matter and puts it into better words than I could:

“Rather than an interwar period, the X-wing and Y-wing fighters [were] an obvious hat tip to the military surplus of the last Great War. Luke and his rebel cohorts were flying into battle in the Star Wars equivalent of an old WWII surplus. Like the Polish aristocrats who rode out against German tanks on horseback at the very beginning of WWII, we were meant to understand that the Rebels were hopelessly out-matched.
The most advanced technologies in Star Wars are the Imperial Death Star and the Tie-Fighters. Unlike all the other ships we are shown in the first film, these alone have no visible means of propulsion (the Death Star moves from point to point, but is never actually shown in motion). Again, to use the metaphor of military technology, the Tie-Fighters are jet fighters and the Death Star a nuclear submarine, in relation to the Rebellion’s WWII surplus Grumman F3Fs and Bearcats. And the designers went to some pains to make these technologies stand out.”

So, while the Imperial craft are visually smaller than the Rebel starfighters, let us not confuse that with them being weaker. They are more mobile, better equipped, and overall superior to the Rebellion forces. The Rebels use X-Wings and the like because they have no better alternative. The Empire uses the TIE series because they are the ones in charge and use the best technology available.

The end point of this post is the following House Rule to FFG Star Wars roleplaying games, intended to bring about a shift in perception among players that Imperial craft are inherently superior. It’s a small step forward, likely not enough to get across what I want to in the narrative, but it’s a step in the right direction.


TIE series starships are Silhouette 2, increasing the difficulty to attack them and decreasing their difficulty in attacking larger starships accordingly.

In addition, all TIE series starships have Shields 1 / 1 and 1 hard point, if they did not already have such.


About C. Steven Ross

C. Steven Ross is the founder of Triumph & Despair. View all posts by C. Steven Ross

10 responses to “Technological Terror

  • Austin

    TIEs are unshielded. You’ll never convince me otherwise.

  • willmanx

    TIEs can’t have shield. That’s the spirit of these : imperial pilot and ship’s strengh is their number. They are expandables.

    Rebel have few excellente Incom starfighter. Quality versus quantity

  • James Garr

    One thing that stood out in my mind in the movies was the astromech droids in the X-Wings. To me (and I don’t know the canon from the EU, these observations and theories are just my impressions from watching the movies), the damage control the droids gave them is what gave the rebels the advantage they needed over the faster and more numerous TIE fighters. Originally the astromech droids were put in Jedi star fighters to give them the capability to calculate hyperspace jumps, but over time they developed damage control and assisted with piloting… and of course some Jedi found them to be useful companions in all sorts of situations.

    In my mind, that’s what took the Empire by surprise early in the civil war. The rebel pilots took a tactic from the Jedi of the old Republic, not from the standard pilots, and used it to manage those shields and perform repairs during the fight. It was a clever hack, and that’s how the rebels operate..they worked with what they had and came up with solutions to counter the superior numbers and technology. It didn’t always work, just ask Jek Porkins.

    So I don’t have a problem with the X-Wings being superior to TIE fighters early in the war. The A and B Wings are just an example of how the Rebels grew in manufacturing ability and were able to respond with high technology created by the alien races the Empire ostracized, and so I have no problem with those outpacing the more advanced TIEs later in the war.

    The Empire always has the numbers, and I like that. It shows their disregard for life and the enormous credits they have to spend. If I want to make the rebels (or smugglers running from the Empire in my EotE campaign) feel more like underdogs, I’ll just throw more ships against them, and limit the number of ships available to them. It’s a different kind of underdog situation, but I like it just fine.

    “There’s too many of them!” – Lieutenant Telsij at the Battle of Endor

  • Andy Strauss

    Affirming that the TIE Fighter has shields (or not. Vader has, others not?) out of watching Ep4 is like determining the number of carried missiles of the MiG-28 out of watching Top Gun.

    The games that followed, TIE fighter in particular, are awesome. But they are the representation of what Larry Holland though was starfighter combat in the Star Wars Universe mixed with playability and heroic storyline. Player craft of the games of that era (90s) usually had 3-4 times the hull/shields of their NPC version as to give the Player a good chance.

    I agree completely that Rebel craft are “militia” or a generation (or two) older than current Imperial craft. After all, if you are a small rebellion, you must use Rule #2 at all times.

    Rule #2 – If you entered a fair fight, you failed at planning.

    The apparition of Y-Wing on the Clone Wars cartoon was great. It was the Fighter/Bomber of the time. Kinda like the Bf-110/Mosquito. Twenty years later, the Rebels modified it to the max, to keep it usefull. Sure, great designs can last generations (e.g. B-52) with proper modifications.

    Remember the Ep4 statistics:

    Shot down with 1 “hit”
    -Everybody not below

    Survived 1 “hit”
    -Red Leader (“I lost my starboard engine!”)
    -Death Star (Red Leader’s attempt)
    -Luke (Got a little cooked, but I’m alright”)
    -Vader (and spinned wildly after it)
    -Wedge (“I`m hit!”)

    Shot down with 2 “hits”
    -Red Leader (“Aaaaargh!”)
    -Death Star (Luke’s shot)

    Survived 2 “hits”
    -Luke (“I lost R2!”)

    Survived more than 2 “hits”
    -Falcon with all the heroes aboard
    -Tantive IV with the MCGuffin aboard


  • BigPapa

    I’ve always felt it was a doctrinal difference. The Imperials were all about large, massively overpowered capital ships that were designed to strike fear and intimidate it’s opponents. The strength of the Imperial Navy was in it’s Capital Fleet, not it’s star fighter corp. (Hence the small, cheap, multitudes of unshielded TIE’s with no hyperdrives).

    The Rebellion had no such capital fleet (at least early on), they had to rely on Blockade runners and the occasional Nebulon-B for the corp of it’s spaceborn operations. They had to rely on Starfighters as their backbone out of necessity, mainly because they had nothing else, and because it fit their doctrine of strike hard, fast and in a way the Empire couldn’t respond with it’s strength – it’s Capital Ships. (Hence why the first Deathstar had so gravely underestimated the Rebel fightercraft, and why they failed to launch an adequate fighter defense against their attack.)

    Add in that the Rebellion quickly embraced alien technology that the Empire loathed (Mon Cal, Verpine, etc), as well as liberating disenfranchised manufacturers like Incom and they quickly began to equal Imperial might.

    It took a few years for the Imperials to change up their doctrine to counter the Rebels, hence the development of the TIE Interceptor, the TIE Advanced, and the myriad of other very capable Imperial fighter craft.

    Basically, the Imperials were comfortable early on because they had no serious challengers. Once the Rebellion countered their doctrine of bigger and scarier is better, the Imperials developed and deployed fighter craft that was on par with their rivals, and in greater numbers. Had the Rebellion not succeeded at Endor, I think they would have found their early doctrinal superiority quickly evaporating.

  • Nico

    “Like the Polish aristocrats who rode out against German tanks on horseback at the very beginning of WWII, we were meant to understand that the Rebels were hopelessly out-matched.”

    The Polish charging tanks with horses is a myth….

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