Star Wars makes it really easy to figure out who the bad guys are. Anyone walking by the screen while watching just about any of the films will easily pick out the guy in white, or mostly white, armor and the iconic stormtrooper helmet and quickly say, “Oh yeah, that’s a bad guy.”
You’ll be right most of the time, but sometimes that’s just dead wrong. Star Wars troopers are as multifarious and varied as the rest of us. We’ve got your classic stormtroopers, fine, but we also have clone troopers in the prequel trilogy, First Order stormtroopers in the sequel trilogy, and variants of each including scout troopers, snowtroopers, shadow troopers, Sith troopers– the list goes on!
The casual newcomer may mean well identifying the baddies under the blanket term of “stormtrooper”, but they’re unknowingly committing one of the biggest Star Wars faux pas possible.
With both clone troopers and stormtroopers featuring in the new Andor series on Disney Plus, I thought it would be a good idea to break down the different types of troopers, and everything in between to determine what makes each unique.
Clone Trooper vs. Stormtrooper: What’s the Difference?
The two main types of troopers you’ll encounter in Star Wars are clone troopers and stormtroopers.
The main difference between stormtroopers and clone troopers is that stormtroopers are a massive army of soldiers employed by the Galactic Empire. While clone troopers are literal clones of Jango Fett, created by the Kaminoans to create the Grand Army of the Republic during the Clone Wars.
Chronologically, the clone troopers preceded the stormtroopers, and while stormtroopers underwent training as imperial cadets and more or less chose to become soldiers, clone troopers were specifically engineered to be soldiers. Clone troopers, therefore, are some of the most adept combat specialists in the galaxy, all thanks to Kaminoan engineering and Jango Fett’s DNA.
Are Stormtroopers clones?
In Revenge of the Sith, we see Palpatine flip the script on the Jedi turning the once docile and collaborative clone troopers into assassins and traitors per Order 66. As Palpatine initiates his endgame to seize political power at last, he now has the ranks of the capable clone troopers at his side to do his bidding.
Does this mean that the stormtroopers used by the Galactic Empire in Rogue One or A New Hope are clones?
Initially, yes. At first, clones were the most prevalent demographic of the stormtrooper ranks because, after all, that’s what they were made to do. They were created specifically for battle and thrived best when tasked to engage in war games against any adversary. So while they once served as allies to the Jedi in the fight against the Separatist droid armies, they now served Palpatine as he built his Imperial forces to conquer all free governing entities of the galaxy.
Over time, however, it became economically unreasonable to continue production of new clones, while Jango Fett’s DNA was also becoming increasingly unreliable after so much use. Thus, the Empire phased out production of new clones and began recruiting new soldiers the old fashioned way through propaganda, incentives, empty promises, and lies.
Initially, the clones transitioned from their color-coded clone armor to the all white ensemble and continued obeying directives from Palpatine and Vader, but eventually nameless goons replaced them and were most if not all of the stormtroopers seen in Episode IV.
Clone Troopers: The Original Stormtrooper?
Because clone troopers preceded stormtroopers and both served Palpatine, even if the clones didn’t really know they did upfront, it’s fair to say that clone troopers are the original stormtroopers despite the many physical differences and unique origin stories.
Let’s explore how each came about to identify additional differences in who these troopers are and what makes them different.
How and why were clone troopers created?
We first see the clone trooper army in Attack of the Clones when Obi-Wan follows a series of leads that bring him to Kamino, a planet that was removed from the Jedi Archives. There he meets a race of pale humanoids with tall, slender necks, the Kaminoans.
The Kaminoans reveal to Obi-Wan that the clone army was commissioned by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas ten years previously, but Obi-Wan is bewildered. Not only were the Jedi unaware of this development, but Sifo-Dyas had been killed more than ten years previously.
It is never explicitly revealed in the films exactly how or why the clones came about, but it is heavily implied that it was one of many machinations by Darth Sidious. Let’s go back a bit farther to truly understand how the clones came about.
You see, the part about Sifo-Dyas is actually true. Sifo-Dyas was gifted with the power of foresight and had a premonition that war was on the horizon, and felt the Jedi needed allies if they were to battle against the impending evil. He commissioned the Kaminoans in secret and the rest is history as they say, or is it?
Syfo Dias image: starwars.com
Despite Sifo-Dyas’ gifts, he could not foresee that he would be betrayed by his former Master, Count Dooku. Dooku hired the Pyke Syndicate to destroy Sifo-Dyas’ T-6 shuttle when Sifo-Dyas was sent by Chancellor Valorum to negotiate peace between the Senate and the Spice dealers. Dooku then posed as Sifo-Dyas to the Kaminoans and used his family’s immense wealth to fund the project.
Since Dooku and Palpatine were in cahoots to enact the plot that would eventually ravage the galaxy and result in the Jedi Council’s demise, they included a chip in the heads of each clone that would activate upon hearing the phrase “Execute Order 66”.
So back to our best bud, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and his stunning discovery of an elite combat force ready and waiting for the Jedi to use against the Separatist droid armies. It seemed suspicious. It seemed too good to be true. It was too good to be true, because only parts of that were true.
Nonetheless, the Jedi played right into Palpatine’s hand and set him up to deliver that devastating blow in Revenge of the Sith.
While the clone troopers eventually betrayed the Jedi Council because of Palpatine’s added computer chip in their brains, they did serve the Republic faithfully to all but guarantee victory over the droid armies and General Grievous.
How and why were the stormtroopers created?
After Palpatine delivered a swift end to the Jedi, he simultaneously secured political power through fear-mongering and his trademark silver tongue. Palpatine effectively assumed the role of Supreme Chancellor and almost immediately secured additional control as Emperor and marked the beginning of the Imperial Era of the Galactic Empire.
The cunning and finesse Palpatine used to seize power was rapidly replaced with an iron fist and unparalleled military might. With the Grand Army of the Republic, or the clone troopers, under his command, there were no forces left that were substantial enough to defy his rule.
However, the clones were no longer in production because Jango Fett’s DNA could not continue to be used and because the cost was astronomical. Meanwhile, Palpatine was funding a massive space station, the original Death Star, which required a staggering amount of resources and manpower to pull off.
With the cloning at a halt and his role already secure, Palpatine had no further need for clone production and recruited newcomers through traditional means including propaganda, offering incentives, and disillusionment.
Imperial cadets that showed promise, proficiency, and a proclivity to prey on less physically powerful peers were recruited to become stormtroopers. The process stripped these individuals of their individuality, replacing their names and identities with simply a number. The Empire favored stormtroopers that showed ruthlessness, coldness, and unquestioned obedience.
Ironically, the clone troopers were literal clones of one another yet displayed more individuality than stormtroopers, who were actually different prior to entering the ranks of the Imperial army.
Stormtroopers carried out all of Palpatine’s directives through his word directly, Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, or many other military leaders. Their responsibilities varied from patrolling various sectors of the galaxy, monitoring blockades, manning TIE Fighters, or otherwise assisting the leaders in the execution of their nefarious plots.
Rise of the First Order
Following the fall of the second Death Star and the apparent defeat of the Galactic Empire, stormtroopers diminished in numbers before a reemergence in the form of the First Order. While the First Order under Snoke and Kylo Ren applied similar methods to recruit and mold their stormtrooper infantry, the propaganda and ideology was less powerful and didn’t take as often.
Our first example of this comes in The Force Awakens when Finn deserts the First Order on his very first mission as a stormtrooper. Faced with the harsh realities of battle, Finn begins questioning and challenging the ideology– something that was entirely unheard of previously. In the original trilogy, it seemed that no stormtrooper ever felt amoral, unethical, or downright cruel in their pursuit of carrying out Palpatine’s wishes.
By contrast, Finn questions and rejects the mission, marking him as a traitor in their eyes. We as viewers see Finn’s struggle firsthand and watch him abandon his “duties” to rally alongside the Resistance, Poe Dameron, and Rey.
It’s fair to call the foot soldiers of the First Order “stormtroopers”, but they are clearly of a different breed than those seen in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. In addition, new stormtrooper types are added, each with new duties and cool new armor to sport as well!
How to Identify Stormtroopers from Clone Troopers
Now that we know how each of these unique battalions came to be, it’s important to identify the distinguishing characteristics that will allow us to immediately recognize who’s who in the Star Wars galaxy.
Here’s how to identify a clone trooper from a stormtrooper.
What movie are you watching?
Of course, the easiest way to determine who’s who is simply to look at what movie you’re watching. Clone troopers are introduced in Attack of the Clones and appear in Revenge of the Sith as well.
Since Revenge of the Sith features the famous “Execute Order 66” scene and the clone army thereafter falls under Palpatine’s control, it’s safe to assume that at that point the clone production was discontinued. Leading into construction of the Death Star, which we get glimpses of at the very end of Episode III, we gather that Palpatine and Vader are rallying their forces and building militaristic might to keep an iron rule over the galaxy.
This is the point where clone troopers are phased out and standard stormtroopers start becoming the main demographic of the Imperial army. By A New Hope, we are certain we’re seeing 100% stormtroopers, or something close to that.
What about Rogue One? This movie is smack dab in between and concludes right where A New Hope begins. Are there clones or are they all vanilla stormtroopers?
It’s safe to say that all the infantry in Rogue One are stormtroopers. Solo, however, takes place some years prior, so there may be a few clones sprinkled in the mix, albeit unlikely.
All things considered, clone troopers feature in Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars animated series, and The Bad Batch. Just about everything else and every other trooper you see is likely a stormtrooper.
What kind of armor are they wearing?
The armor gives us a clue as to whether we’re looking at a stormtrooper or a clone. Most folks, even those with only a cursory understanding of Star Wars, know exactly what a stormtrooper’s armor looks like.
The basic stormtrooper is white from head to toe save for deep black visor eyes and black at the joints of the suit. It’s sleek and simple with a trademark sheen and almost appears like plastic, begging the question, “What is stormtrooper armor made of?”
Plastic is not far from the truth. The white sections are a plastoid composite set over an anti-blaster mesh, magnetic shielding, and an inner insulator. That’s why blaster fire will noticeably char a stormtrooper’s exterior, but these high heat lasers don’t penetrate clean through and immediately kill them.
Stormtroopers have one of the most simple Star Wars uniforms, but there were some adornments added depending on a stormtrooper’s rank and responsibilities. The distinction is usually made by adding one shoulder pad that is color-coded depending on rank. A white shoulder pad signified a Sergeant, whereas red outranked a sergeant and signified a Chief. Once a stormtrooper achieved the rank of Captain, the armor was traded in for a black military uniform and the helmet was removed.
This was, at least, the standard for the original trilogy, but the distinctions and corresponding costume changed by The Force Awakens, as Captain Phasma was a Captain yet donned a super shiny silver costume complete with a long flowing cape.
Nonetheless, the original stormtroopers generally stayed fairly simple in terms of armor and color-coding. Even stormtrooper variants like the iconic bike scouts in Return of the Jedi or the snowtroopers in The Empire Strikes Back sported all white. The distinguishing characteristics of these variants came with a unique helmet and some minor tweaks to the rest of the attire.
Stormtroopers did receive some palette-swapping based on their function or job. Shadow troopers and TIE Bomber pilots were dressed in black, while the Emperor’s Royal Guards wore flowing vestments in crimson hues and only resembled a stormtrooper vaguely in the helmet region.
Rank by Color
Clone troopers were similar to stormtroopers in terms of using color to identify rank but, in Attack of the Clones, the colors were more prevalent and trimmed the entirety of the armor instead of one simple shoulder pad. For clones, green indicated a Sergeant, blue was for Lieutenants, red was reserved for Captains, and yellow was used for Commanders.
By the time we see clone battalions in Revenge of the Sith, color has taken on more of a role in the uniform than simply just identifying rank. Now notable clones are given markings to indicate their accolades and achievements. For instance, markings on Commander Cody’s uniform indicate that he is a clone that has an impressive track record, as with Commander Gree as well. These markings and colorings differ completely from, say, the trademark blue of the 501st Legion or Coruscant’s shock troopers.
To sum it all up, when identifying clone troopers and stormtroopers, it’s important to look at how color is used, as stormtroopers tend to be more basic white on black on all white whereas clone troopers feature a wider array of pigments.
Who are they fighting and who are they fighting for?
One more way to determine if you’re looking at a certified clone trooper or a typical stormtrooper involves who they are fighting and who they are fighting alongside.
In Attack of the Clones during the Battle of Geonosis, the clones made their debut in the wars, and dubbed it the Clone Wars henceforth, by battling against Separatist droid armies alongside the Jedi Council and the human soldiers of the Republic.
This trend continued into Revenge of the Sith which depicts clone troopers battling droids alongside Jedi, Republic soldiers, and Wookiees, including good old Chewbacca himself. During this period of time, the clone troopers were “good”, and many of them had forged a close bond with their allies.
Since they had such a strong bond, one might wonder why did the clones betray the Jedi. In short, they didn’t have a choice. Because Palpatine equipped each with a computer chip in their brain that would activate upon hearing his orders, they were preprogrammed to betray the Jedi from Day 1. Some clone troopers actually succeeded in removing the chip, and so the Jedi were not completely without allies during this tumultuous time. However, these clones could not intervene to save the many Jedi that were murdered upon execution of Order 66.
Thereafter, the clones fought alongside Palpatine and segued into the ranks of the Imperial army with human stormtroopers. While clone troopers began allied on one side of the conflict only to defect to the other, this is not the case for stormtroopers. Stormtroopers were bad from the jump and maintained their status as the resident Star Wars galaxy baddies in each movie they’re featured in.
The only exception, of course, is Finn, who deserts the First Order immediately upon introduction and allies with the Resistance thereafter. It’s safe to assume that if we saw one person lose faith in Snoke and the First Order, more followed suit or even preceded our Episode VII hero too.
Otherwise, it’s pretty cut and dry. Clone troopers were “good” then “bad”, while stormtroopers were always just plain “bad”.
For us Star Wars fanatics, identifying a clone trooper from a stormtrooper is intuitive and easy. We don’t even skip a beat before pointing out with Han Solo’s confidence, “Oh, yeah. That’s a stormtrooper.”
It ultimately comes down to what’s beneath the helmet. Ironically, clone troopers are physically identical with different personalities while stormtroopers look different physically but act uniformly.
While stormtroopers and clone troopers look alike, they couldn’t be more different.