Stormtrooper Evolution: The Forces of the Republic, Empire, and First Order

The galaxy's white-armored soldiers grew more ruthless and faceless as regimes changed.

A military filled with well-trained soldiers in white armor is a common trait shared by the Galactic Republic, Galactic Empire, and First Order. This is no coincidence, as each generation of combat forces influenced the battle dress of its successor. However, the Republic’s clone troopers, the Empire’s stormtroopers, and the First Order’s stormtroopers have their own unique attributes, with various levels of disparity existing in their recruitment processes, training procedures, levels of conformity, and the images they project to citizens living in the territories that they control.

While all three entities filled their ranks with humans, the Republic obviously did so with human clones who had their aging accelerated and were trained from birth on Kamino. While the initial army of Imperial stormtroopers was originally comprised of former clone troopers, the Empire gradually phased in human recruits who eventually became the core of its fighting force. The First Order’s enlistment tactics were similar to the Republic’s breeding programs in that they were morally questionable, except the First Order resorted to identifying potential soldiers and stealing them from their families at a very young age. By default, the oppressive Imperial regime ironically had the fairest program with its use of voluntary recruits.

The Clone Wars

The clone troopers of the Republic.

In another strange twist of fate, the Republic’s legions of clone troopers displayed the highest level of individuality of the three organizations. Clone troopers were assigned designation numbers, but each soldier quickly picked up a nickname that became their primary source of identification. The real names of Imperial recruits were also replaced with serial numbers, while First Order stormtroopers never know of any name other than their own numerical classification. Some First Order soldiers do have nicknames, but the formal nature of the organization requires their numbers to be used on duty. In fact, stormtroopers of the First Order are not even allowed to remove their helmets without permission from their superiors. Imperial stormtroopers were also faceless warriors, their identities masked by helmets. On the other hand, clone troopers were afforded the luxury of removing their helmets, even in the midst of battle campaigns. Their faces were identical, yet clones often distinguished themselves with facial tattoos and unique hairstyles.

By the end of the Clone Wars, the Republic’s forces had customized armor designs tailored to specific soldiers and units. Clone troopers frequently displayed their individual personalities, as well. Often seen joking with one another in their downtime, these soldiers could even exert a level of free will that ran counter to their genetic conditioning. Such anomalies included clone trooper Slick’s betrayal of the Republic to the Separatists and Cut Lawquane’s decision to desert the army and live the life of a family-oriented farmer. However, even Slick and Cut Lawquane still felt an attachment to their fellow soldiers. Clone troopers often referred to each other as “brother” and developed bonds of friendship and loyalty between one another. When a trooper was killed in action, the clones felt sadness and dismay at the loss of their friend. Nevertheless, these well-trained soldiers did their duty and kept fighting.

A New Hope - stormtroopers

Imperial stormtroopers take the Tantive IV.

The aforementioned qualities of friendship and individuality exhibited by the Republic’s army are contrasted by the policies of the Galactic Empire and the First Order. Imperial stormtroopers did not customize the plain white surfaces of their armor. Conformity was instilled by their superiors, and the Empire’s training regime emphasized tactical procedures that were uniform throughout the ranks of stormtroopers. The Imperial way was a far cry from the brotherhood of clones, as stormtroopers seemed unphased when their comrades were struck down in battle. The First Order decided to change course and focus on improvisational abilities when training their soldiers, but their stormtroopers are similar to their Imperial counterparts in that the loss of their compatriots does not seem to bother them and their standard armor bears no decorative customizations. The only First Order soldier to show empathy and concern was Finn, who chose to leave his life as a stormtrooper and was considered defective and a traitor by his former peers.

The receptions that members of each organization received from their respective populaces and the purposes of each fighting force also contain significant differences. The Grand Army of The Republic was created to wage a full-scale war against the Separatists after attempts to quell dissent failed. Citizens loyal to the Republic viewed the clones as a welcome sight, as shown by the interaction between clone troopers Waxer and Boil and a young Twi’lek girl during the Battle of Ryloth. The clones brought hope to Republic worlds besieged by Separatist forces. Of course, that mission changed after the genetically encoded Order 66 was executed and the clones transitioned into being the first group of Imperial stormtroopers.

The Force Awakens - Stormtroopers

First Order stormtroopers mass at Starkiller Base.

Stormtroopers, on the other hand, evoked fear and paranoia amongst citizens under their authority. The Imperials utilized their shock troops to suppress small rebel cells and engage the Rebel Alliance in small-scale battles prior to the widespread Galactic Civil War. First Order stormtroopers also spread fear and initially fought in small skirmishes against the Resistance, but their goals were to increase their strength and reconquer the galaxy. While the Republic’s clone troopers were seen as noble during The Clone Wars, Order 66 unveiled in them the same ruthless quality present in Imperial and First Order stormtroopers. This cold and calculating behavior was demonstrated by the slaughter of Jedi Knights by clone troopers, the killing of Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle by Imperial stormtroopers, and the massacre at Tuanal committed by First Order stormtroopers.

The Galactic Republic’s clone troopers, Galactic Empire’s stormtroopers, and First Order’s stormtroopers have an intriguing set of similarities and differences. The soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic, with their seemingly incongruous clone heritage and history of individuality, stand apart from the conformity shown by troopers of the Empire and First Order. This makes perfect sense, since the Empire’s rule was a far cry from the democracy of the Republic, and the First Order chose to model its infantry after Imperial stormtroopers. However, due to no fault of their own, the majority of the Republic’s clones succumbed to the programming of Order 66 and eventually found themselves among the Empire’s anonymous ranks of stormtroopers.

Jay Stobie is a science fiction writer who admits he has a perfectly normal obsession with Star Wars, Star Trek, and the various starships that inhabit those two universes. He can be found on Twitter at @CaptStobie.