While Din Djarin and the Child have been running around trying to find Mandalorians and Jedi, and eating questionable amounts of pretty much anything, the latest chapter of Disney+’s The Mandalorian checked in on what Moff Gideon’s up to. The answer? Nothing good. In fact, something evil, from the days of the old Empire and Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe.
The end of The Mandalorian’s “The Siege,” saw us catch up with Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito) base of operations aboard an Arquitens-class cruiser. Gideon’s been busy since he freed himself of his crashed TIE Fighter with the legendary Darksaber — and not just because he’s tasked Doctor Pershing (Omid Abtahi) to experiment with the blood of the Child to attempt to transfuse Force sensitivity into test subjects, although we’ll get to that. No, the most fascinating thing of all as we see Gideon snarl in delight learning that one of his agents has successfully put a tracking beacon on the Razor Crest is the other big thing he’s working on:
Row after row of massive, black shells of armour. Not Death Troopers, as we’ve seen him use before, but something new. Well, new to some: for fans of the old Star Wars expanded universe something became very clear very quickly: these are Dark Troopers.
First introduced in the classic Star Wars first-person shooter, Dark Forces — the 1995 game that introduced us to legendary mercenary turned Jedi Kyle Katarn — the Dark Trooper Project was a multi-phase plan by Imperial General Rom Mohc. Kyle’s mission in Dark Forces was essentially to put a stop to the project before it began, after Rebel bases were decimated by Mohc’s initial testing of the early Dark Trooper phases.
Chapter 12 of The Mandalorian saw our hero return to a familiar planet, meet some old friends, and go on an old-fashioned Star Wars adventure. Along the way, he learned some crucial information about the Child, the Empire, and reignited an old rivalry that’s sure to shape the second half of...Read more
So what are the Dark Troopers? Mohc’s plans for the ultimate Stormtrooper rose out of early tests during the Rise of the Empire to combat the accelerated ageing of Clone Troopers which depleted their tactical abilities. Grafting cybernetic parts onto clone candidates to counteract their physical degradation, the “Phase Zero” Dark Trooper plan was mothballed as the Empire began recruiting human troopers to offset declining Clone numbers. But when Mohc turned to the idea again, he ditched the cybernetics entirely: his Dark Troopers were battle droids.
The Dark Trooper Project ultimately produced three phases of trooper design. There might have been more had Kyle not blown up Mohc’s command ship, the Arc Hammer, permanently ending any Imperial research into battle droids as an infantry replacement. Phase 1 was the most droid-like: a skeletal humanoid made out of phrik (the lightsaber-resistant metallic compound). Wielding an arm-mounted vibroblade and a blast shield, the initial Dark Trooper reflected Mohc’s own thoughts on war, eschewing ranged weaponry for close-quarters combat.
Phase II was when Mohc began rolling out the Dark Trooper across his ground infantry deployments — still a droid, it was now bulked up with large, Stormtrooper-esque armour, also made of phrik. That armour also housed a jump pack, and Phase II troopers swapped out the melee weapons for an Assault cannon capable of firing plasma bolts and missiles, as well as an “arc caster” that projected short-range bursts of electricity. But it’s the Phase III trooper that’s of most interest to The Mandalorian.
They were essentially the design we saw at the end of the latest episode: black armour, compared to the white of Phase II, and slightly larger because the Phase III Dark Trooper could operate as an autonomous droid or be operated as an exosuit by a combatant. In Dark Forces, only a handful of Phase III suits existed, including the one worn by Mohc in his final confrontation with Kyle. Although they were all presumed destroyed with the loss of the Arc Hammer, some units lingered even though, for the most part, battle droid research in the Empire was put aside after Mohc’s death.
We don’t know just what the new canon’s take on the Dark Trooper will ultimately be — entirely droid, cybernetic, or an exosuit — but’s not the first time that the Dark Trooper design has inspired the Disney era of Star Wars. Although not named as such, Thrawn’s training droids in Star Wars Rebels, the DT-Series Sentry Droid, had its design inspired by the Dark Troopers of old. Additionally, the now-defunct mobile game Star Wars Commander actually included Dark Troopers in several missions, awkwardly ushering them into canon. It will be The Mandalorian that more formally fleshes the Dark Trooper out, but the other big reveal of “The Siege” might also borrow an old idea from the Expanded Universe that would make Moff Gideon and Doctor Pershing’s two research paths come together.
In another Star Wars PC game, the strategy sim Star Wars: Rebellion, released by Lucasarts three years after Dark Forces, the Dark Troopers were described as much more than just the next generation of Stormtrooper, but actually Force-wielders wearing the Dark Trooper armour. Even in the old EU, this was always a sceptical source — the Del Rey resource book Essential Guide to Droids explicitly discussed the Dark Trooper projects’ output as droids.
But we know Doctor Pershing is experimenting on transfusing Force sensitivity into test subjects (and that the results are currently…not going well, judging by the tubes our heroes find in “The Siege”). Although it seems far more likely that these experiments are laying the groundwork for what we saw with Supreme Leader Snoke and Emperor Palpatine’s return in the sequel trilogy, what if we were taking that hard swerve right into Rebellion? What if Gideon’s plan is to create these Force-sensitives and then strap them into the Dark Trooper armour?
Out of the ashes of both sides of the Clone Wars — the Jedi heroes of the Republic and the endless legions of Separatist Battle Droids — the Imperial remnant could rise with a new weapon of terror under Gideon’s command. It’s just that this time, Kyle Katarn isn’t around to help Din stop him…at least, not as far as we know.