Monday, September 13, 2010

Elite Military Units in the Star Wars Universe

Though there is a lot I dislike about the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, there are some things that I find pretty darn cool. Among these are the the various Elite military units that have sprung up from various sources. These have a real-world precedent in things like the “Flying Tigers”, “Black Sheep Squadron” and “Merrill’s Marauders”. These, in turn, were the inspiration for a lot of unit names in some of my other favorite games (Battletech, for instance). Below are just a few of the most famous (and fun) elite military units in the Star Wars galaxy- including a couple of my own.

Rogue Squadron
Though mentioned only briefly in the movies (the name only appeared during the Battle of Hoth in the Empire Strikes Back), Rogue Squadron is probably the most well known elite unit in the Star Wars universe. It is a fighter squadron in the Rebel Alliance (and later New Republic). Though growing from rather modest beginnings, Rogue Squadron became the (according to the novels at least) one of the best units in the Galaxy- respected by friends, feared by enemies. The name is just awesome, as is the fact that the whole thing is lead by my favorite supporting character of all time: Wedge Antilles. And no, I don’t want to discuss ‘Corran Horn’. Ugh.

181st Imperial Fighter Wing
Okay, so maybe the name isn’t as catchy as ‘Rogue Squadron’, but every good unit needs a rival, and this is about the closest thing to a match that the Empire has for the Rogues. Led by Baron Fel (the Star Wars equivalent of the Red Baron), this squadron began as a kind of ‘dumping ground’ for the empire- and was unofficially known as the “One-Eighty-Worst”. All of that changed when Fel was put in command. Though I am all in favor of the Empire being truly ‘evil’, it does help to put a ‘human’ and even ‘cool’ face on it. The 181st does that— showing that, while evil, the Empire does have ‘good people’ in it who are just misguided. It makes the situation all the more tragic. Of course Fel eventually defects to the New Republic, but the concept of the 181st is still very cool.

Thundering Herd
The name isn’t terribly impressive (the term ‘herd’ doesn’t sound particularly aggressive), but the idea of an elite AT-AT walker unit under command of General Maximillian Veers is just badass. Veers was another ‘hero’ of mine in the movies- the only competent Imperial Officer we really see on screen.

501st Legion “Vader’s Fist”
All jokes about the ‘fist’ part aside, the 501st has grown literally to cult status in the real world. It has an entire organization of people who dress up and make appearances at local events. This makes it a lot of fun in my book. In the Star Wars universe itself, it is cool to think that there are a few units among the ‘faceless’ legions of the Empire that stand above the rest. This one, apparently populated by clone veterans of the Clone Wars (redundant, I know), is one such unit. The battle-history of the unit was explored in the Star Wars battlefront games and includes the attack on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Talk about a ‘history’. Whuf. Kind of dark, but cool.

Legion of Alderaan
This is an elite and highly motivated combat unit in the Rebel Alliance Army. It is comprised of soldiers drawn exclusively from natives of Alderaan who were off-world at the time of that planet’s destruction. Though little is said of this unit ‘officially’, I loved the idea of it. The last sons (and daughters) of a dead world, fighting to prevent other planets from sharing the same fate. Great drama and an awesomely idealistic and fatalistic story hook.

105th Company “Emperor’s Irregulars”
This was unit introduced in the West End Games (wEG) book “Wretched Hives of Scum and Villainy”. Essentially, it is a unit of Stormtroopers stationed in a complete backwater. It isn’t clear if they became ‘odd’ by being stationed here or if they were stationed here because they were ‘odd’. But in any case, the deal with these guys is that they’re a bit crazy. A whole Company of Stormtroopers with mental problems. They’re loyal to the Emperor, they’re more skilled than the average trooper, but they’re… just a bit ‘off’. This is reflected in their personalized armor and somewhat crazed commander.

Laramus Base Irregulars
This was a Mercenary outfit first described in WEG’s Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments from the Rim. Here you have a group of beings who tend to accept ‘impossible’ missions- and expect to take a high number of casualties doing so. What kind of people would do this? Why… crazy people, of course. Or those with nothing to lose. You’ll find both kinds in this unit. Though they sell their services to most anyone, the Irregulars tend to have Rebel sympathies (which makes them all the more endearing in my eyes).

Hell’s Hammers
An elite repulsorlift Armored unit in the Imperial Army- first introduced in the Imperial Sourcebook by West End Games (wEG). This is an example of adding color and a ‘face’ to an otherwise faceless Imperial war machine. This is a unit of soldiers who AREN’T stormtroopers and don’t exactly fit the mold of the Imperial military- using unorthodox tactics and pure fighting spirit. As such, they present a quandary to the Empire. On the one hand, they appreciate the fighting prowess of the unit, on the other hand, the ‘individual’ nature of the Hammers goes against the homogenized nature of the Empire and its emphasis on the strength of the collective rather than the individual. This paradox is explored in the slim information we’re given on the unit. Evidently the Empire uses them a lot, but also shows them little respect or support- likely because they just don’t know what to do with them.

Scimitar Wing
This is another West End Games invention- an Imperial Fighter squadron specializing in precision bombing. As such, they make use of TIE Bombers. What I found really cool about them was the fact that they were likely the basis for the name of the Empire’s new and improved bomber, the Scimitar. It is a nice little homage that helps give backstory (and color) to the Empire as a whole.

Aggressor Wing
Though not on the ‘same level’ as the Rogues, this unit of Y-Wing fighter/bombers was a premier outfit in the years following the Battle of Endor. I like the fact that this squadron isn’t glamorous at all. They’re led by a big, bull-headed guy (Colonel Horton Salm) and have a very ‘workmanlike’ vibe. While the Rogues get all the glory, Aggressor wing does all the ‘dirty work’. I can appreciate this kind of an attitude and its nice to have such a ‘hook’ for the unit, it helps set it apart from all the other “Rogue” copycats that followed (i.e. Knave Squadron… seriously? Were you just going through a thesaurus for other words for Rogue? How original).

The Knights
The original idea for this unit came from another WEG product- fragments from the Rim. There, they detail a Swoop (biker) gang led by a Force Sensitive young man who believes in the ideals of the Jedi Knights (hence the name of the gang: the Knights). Unlike other swoop gangs, the Knights try to help people out. In my own game, this eventually resulted in them being recruited by the Rebellion. There, they became an elite Repulsorlift cavalry unit. There is a lot of symbolism to go with that. Honorable warriors riding into battle atop trusty steeds. All they need are some power-lances.. yeah. Power lances.

The Yelsainian Cavalry
I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t go into it here. It’s an invention of mine. Basically imagine a unit of speeder-bike/swoop cavalry with a ‘western’ motif, complete with spurs, sabers, bugles and wide-brimmed hats.

Wild Card Squadron (aka Wild Card Aces)
This was an invention of mine. In my current campaign, I stole several story elements from the whole ‘Vong Invasion’ story. One of these was the Starfighter racing circuit going on- I believe it was in the Dubrillion system…or something. Whatever the case may be, the premise is this. Lando, in another of his entrepreneurial developments, is developing a racing circuit based upon ‘souped up’ Starfighters. This makes sense to me. Afterall, in the post-war era, there would likely be a lot of these ‘surplus’ fighters to be found (aka salvaged) and used in something like this. Well, when the Aliens attacked, Lando found himself near ground zero again. Though he had retired his commission (again), he managed to talk a fair number of his racers into re-arming their race craft and joining him in helping the New Republic hold off the invasion. This mis-matched and rag-tag group made quite a name for themselves in the early days of the war. Those who survived formed the core of a semi-mercenary squadron (known as the wild-cards). They fill their ranks from a lot of ex-military or underworld pilots and fly all manner of craft, from tiny Delta-7’s to Skipray Blastboats. Their unorthodox composition and pilot roster have earned them the ‘Wild Card’ name. The enemy never knows quite what to expect.

Katarn Commandos
This is a group of commandos ‘descended’ from the Endor Strike team and headed up by a veteran of that mission- Lieutenant Page. The unit (and Page) were first introduced in the Heir to the Empire series. I like the fact that they have roots in the trilogy, despite the fact that they were first ‘really’ organized during the New Republic era. Page himself is an interesting character- completely low key- a seeming ‘background’ character, only exceedingly competent and dangerous. I wonder now if that isn’t some kind of an ‘in joke’ the writer intended based upon the fact that he was just a ‘background’ character in Return of the Jedi. But no… I’m probably the only one who puts that much thought into these things.

The list goes on, but I’ll cut it here. And in case you’re wondering, this post was inspired by the fact that I’ve started working on another section of my sourcebook- Organizations of the Galaxy! These are just a few of the units I intend to include in this. I feel that things like this add a lot of flavor to any gaming campaign and can serve as a model or inspiration for player-developed units during the game. They also make great NPCs to run into or occasionally team up with (or maybe even be rivals with?). And honestly, when you look at these, you should realize that in the greater scheme of things, they’re just a drop in the bucket, a few thousand soldiers in a galaxy with billions. Plenty of room to make your own.


  1. Nice, I think I only heard of half of these. The Alderaan group is particularly interesting!

  2. I think they came from a brief mention in the Rebel Alliance Sourcebook, something about their battle hymn. I can't remember exactly, but I ran with the idea and love it. Just wish I'd used them in my campaign. ;)