Star Wars may continue to divide fans on a number of fronts, but if everybody agrees on one thing, it’s that the ships and vehicles remain awesome, even the new ones. For example, The Mandalorian introduced the instant classic “Razor Crest,” which was the equivalent of an Airstream RV for Mando and ‘lil Grogu to tour the galaxy’s hot spots. When the Crest met an accident that severely compromised its resale value, Mando came into possession of a midlife crisis upgrade: A tricked-out chrome Naboo N1 starfighter so snazzy it achieved the almost impossible feat of making something from The Phantom Menace cool.
If one ship epitomizes Star Wars above all others, continuing to appear both in updated and classic forms in virtually every new addition (they can be seen currently in both Obi-Wan Kenobi and the trailer for Andor), it’s the TIE fighter, the Twin Ion Engine starfighter used by the Empire and later the First Order. Designed for a single pilot (wearing the coolest flight suit ever designed) TIE fighters are used for combat and patrol, their speed and maneuverability making them the perfect foil for Rebel ships like the X-Wing (though never, alas, the Millennium Falcon). Here, we rank the top 10 styles of TIE fighters (yes, there are even more!), according to sheer coolness.
There are no uncool entries on our list, but something has to go in the No.10 spot, so we’ll slot the iconic classic TIE fighter here. The ship is introduced in A New Hope when the Millennium Falcon drops out of hyperspace into the freshly minted Alderaan asteroid field. Luke thinks it’s followed them through hyperspace, but Obi-Wan correctly recognizes it as a “short-range fighter,” which means that a…”small moon” must be lurking somewhere nearby for it to land on.
TIEs later chase the Falcon in the famous gun port sequence (“Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!”), then engage Rebel ships during the climactic space battle. Despite its subpar performance at the Death Star, the classic TIE has appeared in virtually every Star Wars movie and television show set during or after the time depicted in the first movie. The Force Awakens introduced a slightly modified version of the ship with an extra antenna and a splash of red — clearly part of the upgraded TIE sport package available at a First Order dealer near you for an additional 17 thousand credits, which, yes I know, you could almost buy your own ship for that.
One thing that Star Wars has always been good at is introducing new ships and environments in successive installments (“the better to sell more toys, my pretty!”). This happens even before the first movie ends, when Darth Vader jumps in a TIE to join the fracas outside the Death Star (and conveniently be elsewhere when it goes boom) only to reveal that he has his own private model! Of course, Darth wouldn’t be caught dead in anything his cannon fodder would fly, so he had a special version designed to advertise his alpha status.
It’s never been clear what exactly Vader is doing inside his TIE Advanced. Closeups appear to show him taking the cap on and off a flask of whiskey– which, let’s face it, if anybody could tipple back a touch and still knock off a few Y-Wings, it’s a guy who remained highly functional after losing most of his limbs in a workplace accident. On the other hand, the Empire does lose the battle. Just saying…
Few are likely familiar with this TIE, because few watched the Star Wars Resistance animated series, which Wikipedia assures me somehow ran for 40 episodes without anyone much noticing, and evidently chronicled the buildup of the First Order and Resistance in the years before the sequel trilogy was set.
The First Order officer, “Major Vonreg,” sounds like a World War I German Flying Ace, and boy would he have racked up the kills buzzing this thing over the Somme! TIE Interceptors are the Lamborghinis of the TIE fleet: Sleek, fast, and doing incredible things for your ego. This one comes in red (the Major sports a matching flight suit!) and, come on, who doesn’t want their Lamborghini in red? The ship earns bonus points for becoming a killer Lego set.
Is the Mining Guild TIE from Star Wars Rebels really cooler than Major Vonreg’s TIE Interceptor? In Transformers speak, it’s like comparing the Volkswagen version of Bumblebee to the fifth-gen fighter jet Starscream. You’re going to take that fighter out for a test all day long. But, like a Volkswagen, this TIE has got hippie appeal and undoubtedly will get you in better with the cool kids.
The Mining Guild TIE has the distinction of being the only known “private” TIE fighter in the galaxy — one that’s not in service to The Empire or the First Order. The Guild uses them to protect its operations and has painted them Herbie yellow to distinguish them from Imperial TIEs, which tend to run into a lot of enemy flak (literally). According to Star Wars Rebels Wiki, “They also had a notch cut in their stabilizers, allowing for improved visibility at the cost of their maneuverability.” So, yup, that’s a thing too.
One of the great things about Star Wars Rebels — and there are a lot of great things about it — is that the show absolutely fetishizes TIE Fighters, featuring them in all kinds of inventive ways. One of the Rebel heroes, Sabine Wren, an artist and former Imperial cadet, even steals a classic TIE and makes it into an art project, painting it with flowery yellow and orange graffiti that neutralizes the toxic Imperial masculinity right out of the thing.
The TIE Advanced prototype features a sleek design with curved wings that can fold over the cockpit when it lands. It will also be forever linked with the introduction of the Inquisitors, the slick Jedi hunting villains that are so awesome they merited their own prototype.
Rogue One was famously cobbled together in post-production, which explains why the absolutely amazing shot of Rebel hero Jyn Erso confronting a TIE fighter on a catwalk at the top of a tower was in the trailer but not the finished film. Let me just offer a bit of advice to filmmakers on future Star Wars projects: NEVER PROMISE THAT YOUR HERO WILL CONFRONT A TIE FIGHTER AT THE TOP OF A TOWER AND THEN NOT INCLUDE IT IN THE FINAL FILM. Sheesh, seems like that just goes without saying.
Rogue One does make up for it by including a grip of great new ships, including not one but two new TIEs: The TIE Reaper, which shuttles around Death Troopers, who obviously aren’t just going to take any old transportation; and the sleek and slender TIE Striker, pictured above. Used against attacking Rebels at the Battle of Scarif, the Reaper has wings that fold up and down over its body like Mynocks settling in for a meal of Millennium Falcon.
Speaking of Mynocks, The Empire Strikes Back upped the Star Wars cool quotient by about a trillion over the already great first film, including many of the characters, ships, and environments Star Wars has become famous for: AT-AT Walkers, Yoda, Lando Calrissian, Cloud City, Boba Fett, et. al. One of the fun things about the movie is the way that it offers just glimpses of some of its swellest material: A brief shot of the back of Vader’s scarred dome, bounty hunters on the bridge of a Star Destroyer, a Scout Walker (AT-ST) scuttling along during the Battle of Hoth. This approach made us kids lean forward in our seats, salivating for more, which of course we would get…at the toy store.
One of the coolest barely glimpsed attractions in Empire are the TIE Bombers that try to ferret out the Millennium Falcon by dropping bombs onto asteroids where it might be hiding. The double body and curved Vader TIE fighter wings were a great touch, but even more so was how the ship contributed to the idea that the world of Star Wars contained untapped multitudes. (How TIE Bombers drop bombs in the absence of gravity remains a subject for another article.)
Otherwise known as the ship he used to almost obliterate his own mother (General Leia), Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer is surely the best named of all the TIEs. Of course, hero-worshipper Ren had to follow in Granddaddy Vader’s bootsteps and have his own TIE design. One could argue he one-upped gramps with this beauty, an Interceptor with a predominant nose and long, lean, sharp-edged wings sort of like, well, hunky ol’ Kylo himself.
The aforementioned scene in The Last Jedi, when Ren joins his First Order comrades in their mission to annihilate the remaining Resistance fleet, features some of the baddest TIE piloting yet. The pouty prince takes his ship into a high-speed rotating spin through a canyon of Rebel frigates like a man who eats G-forces for breakfast and then complains they weren’t filling enough.
The TIE Defender made its first appearance in the immortal TIE Fighter home computer game from the mid-1990s, a dark time for Star Wars when no new movies loomed on the twin-sunned horizon and TV was still the domain of shows like Murder, She Wrote and Walker, Texas Ranger. Thankfully, the video games, comic books, and novels satiated fans’ Star Wars thirst until the Special Editions and prequels made everyone yearn for the days of video games, comic books, and novels all over again.
The three-pronged, six-winged TIE Defender is also featured in Star Wars Rebels (0f course!), which showcases both its immense tactical advantages and the sheer geometric beauty of the thing. The ship even got its own episode, titled, “Flight of the Defender.”
The TIE Fighter video game not only also includes the TIE Interceptor, but features it predominantly on the cover for obvious reasons: it’s the coolest TIE fighter! The TIE Interceptor could not have asked for a better entrance, getting introduced in what remains the greatest shot in all of Star Wars-dom. In Return of the Jedi, after Admiral Ackbar utters his immortal warning, “It’s a trap!” the Rebel ships retreat straight into a phalanx of Interceptors that swarm them like piranhas let loose at a blood drive. It’s a stunning moment, and no digital FX shot has yet bettered its sheer intricate bedazzlement.
Lucas knew that Return of the Jedi would be the last Star Wars movie for a while, and so he introduced approximately 37,400 new characters, ships, and environments to become toys ahead of The Great Star Wars Christmas of 1983 (yes, I made that up). After almost 40 years, the TIE Interceptor is still the coolest of them all.
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