In my last blog, I talked about what a deep well of story possibilities the stormtrooper was. Some of them stand out in my memory as some of the most intriguing, and not all of them would come to mind if you had to guess. Over the years, some of the Empire’s faithful have been featured in books, comics, and animated films where they get a lot more time for development than a feature film can offer. Here are a few of the ones that stick out in my mind for one reason or another, but all of whom have contributed to my own personal passion for troopers.
Imagine “Joker” from the movie Full Metal Jacket, then add a little ingenuity for advancement and self-preservation, and you have Davin Felth. Bright-eyed and optimistic when he enlisted in the Empire, he quickly learned how to survive the Empire’s grueling training regimen. But he adapted quickly, learning how to survive while still nurturing something unheard of in the Empire: a conscience. Created by author Doug Beason in the 1995 Star Wars anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Felth was one of the sandtroopers on the scene during the search for R2-D2 and C-3P0 on Tatooine. Yep, he’s the guy who holds up the metal ring and utters the line “Look sir, droids.” But you probably didn’t know he later went on to “frag” his commanding officer, Captain Mod Terrik. And before that, he proved himself a natural at piloting an AT-AT and even tried to warn General Veers that an AT-AT in standing position could be brought down by a low-flying fighter with a tow cable. Veers didn’t listen, and Luke Skywalker was probably glad of that on Hoth. So how did Veers reward Davin? Why, ship him off to the desert, of course! Branded trooper 1023 while in armor, Davin wasn’t too fond of the slaughtering of Jawas or the Lars family. So when he sees Han Solo fighting off the stormtroopers in Docking Bay 94, Felth did what anyone sick of his homicidal boss would do: blast him in the back and blame it on cross-fire. Okay, maybe he wasn’t the poster boy for Imperial teamwork, but Davin Felth reminds us even a stormtrooper can have an interesting character development arc.
Don’t pretend you don’t remember this stormtrooper. Odds are, if you’ve been on the Internet in the last 10 years you’ve seen him, grinding in armor and bringing grins to fans worldwide. Just as the 501st Legion were gaining traction in fandom, this dude typified the fun we were all having with the stormtrooper icon. Playful, funny, and totally irreverent: reminds me of me! Who was he? Not actually 501st, I’m sorry to say, but a bloke at an airsoft tournament in Portsmouth, UK, named Steve McGarry. Legend has it that it was dress-up day at the tournament and some buddies improvised some fun on the spot. The clip went on to fame starting in 2004. It ranks the 52nd most discussed video in YouTube history and spawned scads of tributes. Rock on, Steve! You can learn more about this urban legend at Know Your Meme: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/dancing-stormtrooper
Clocking in at only 4:33 into the very first Star Wars film, and fresh off the amazing introduction of stormtroopers breaking into the Tantive IV, we see a brief glimpse of something out of place. Just as Vader is entering the room a trooper leans over to check on his fallen comrade. What’s this? A few seconds earlier our only impression of these guys is that of shock-and-awe. Then one of them shows some compassion? Or was he just checking for money the guy owed him? Or maybe he wanted to upgrade to the cool new model of helmet and that guy had one. Who knows? I’m not sure how it worked into the script or if it was improvised, but the image stuck with me as a kid. I wanted to know all about these soldiers. So I pondered this image a lot. Maybe these guys could be terrifying and still have a heart? It’s the stuff of great storytelling to get you thinking. Star Wars has always had images and details in it that give the viewer something to think about, little bits that worked in the background subtly to convey a sense of things. That’s why it’s timeless. I’m still scratching my head over this one, and that’s enough to put this stormtrooper into my list of favorites.
No article about stormtroopers would be complete without Captain Rex. The face of Star Wars merchandising for a time, he was _the_ trooper for a new generation of young fans. In the Clone Wars series Dave Filoni took advantage of a rich opportunity to tell the tales of the faceless soldiers. Through Rex we saw a wide arc of character development, from unthinking clone automaton to loyal and thought-provoking individual in his own right. Granted his own name by ARC Trooper Alpha 17, Rex faithfully served Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan, Ahsoka, throughout the war. He was rugged, aggressive, a skilled tactician, and while he put on a stern face in front of his men, he cared for their well-being like the consummate leader that he was. What made him especially intriguing as a trooper in my mind? Maybe it was the scar on his chin that hearkened to Harrison Ford, or the way he groused about the clone trooper upgrades and insisted on welding on pieces from his original suit, or the fact that he took command of the 501st Legion itself? There’s too much about the character to do him justice here, but I loved the guy at first sight. In 2007 I was hanging out back stage at Celebration Japan with Dave Filoni shortly after he previewed footage of the upcoming series. Filoni talked about how he’d always loved stormtroopers too and that this would be a way to finally tell the story of these fighting men. Much like the series Band of Brothers, it would show their loyalty to one another and their courage. I have to say, I was profoundly honored to have the unit I created brought to life in The Clone Wars and led by someone as epic as Rex. Maybe they noticed my bald head and thought it would look great on a trooper? Nah, I’ll just write that one off as coincidence. Maybe…
You remember him as the sandtrooper who stopped Luke’s land speeder and harassed him about his droids, only to be befuddled by that crazy old wizard’s mind trick. Fans worldwide know him as a laid-back, world-traveling musician always ready to chat like a longtime friend. Cast by George Lucas to play Fixer in A New Hope, Anthony Forrest was all set to woo Camie and torment Luke at Toschi Station but unfortunately the scene was cut. Thankfully, Lucas asked Forrest to play a trooper and he got the chance to act opposite screen legend Alec Guinness. The few times I’ve gotten a chance to chat him up, he’s always ready with his summer camp stories: horseback riding with the cast, goofing around with Mark Hamill off the set, George Lucas himself dressing his armor with more and more and more dirt. He almost fell over the first time they put the trooper backpack on him. As many times as I’ve suffered in stormtrooper armor, Forrest was one of the guys doing it in an actual desert! So here’s to Anthony Forrest for setting the bar high on what it takes to be a real stormtrooper — maybe he dropped the ball on finding those pesky droids but, like most of my own trooping memories, he made sure to have plenty fun out-of-armor to justify the experience. Rock on, trooper brother!
Albin Johnson was a lowly stormtrooper on Detention Block 2551 before Lord Vader lost a bet and allowed him to found the 501st Legion, “Vader’s Fist.” He’s also man-servant to R2-KT, “the pink Imperial droid with the heart of gold.” You can learn more at 501st.com and r2kt.com or follow Albin’s off-duty antics at albinjohnson.com.