This Star Wars: The Mandalorian article contains spoilers.
The Mandalorian re-canonized a surprising piece of Legends lore in “The Siege.” We’re of course talking about those dark troopers teased at the very end of the episode. And in “The Tragedy” we finally see these heavily-armored elite combat droids in action, as they swoop in with their rocket thrusters during the shootout on Tython and steal Grogu from Mando.
While this is the first time these Imperial units appear on screen in the Disney canon, the dark troopers have a long history in the Legends Expanded Universe of old as prime examples of the Empire’s willingness to experiment with new ways of oppressing the galaxy. And they evolved over time, too, from combat droids to advanced units who were way more twisted and even corrupted by the dark side of the Force.
Players of the classic Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series of video games starring former Imperial stormtrooper turned Rebel hero and Jedi Kyle Katarn, as well as readers of the seminal Dark Empire comics from Dark Horse, will undoubtedly recognize dark troopers. Two different types of dark troopers were introduced in 1995, although the machine soldiers introduced in Dark Forces are clearly the inspiration for the ones in The Mandalorian.
While the dark troopers are the result of Moff Gideon‘s work to rebuild the Empire on the show, the Dark Trooper Project of Legends was spearheaded by Imperial General Rom Mohc, who developed the program as a way to reintegrate Clone Wars soldiers into the ranks of the Empire. A series of grisly surgeries turned these veterans into half-man half-machine infantry units, their limbs and organs replaced with cybernetic parts. They were deadly and easily controlled by the Empire during the Galactic Civil War.
But those dark troopers were only the first step in the Empire’s scheme to create a new kind of soldier. Force-sensitive dark troopers were introduced in Dark Empire a month before Dark Forces, even though the comic series takes place about a decade after the events of the video game. Deployed by the Dark Empire, which was led by a resurgent Emperor in a clone body (sound familiar?) six years after Return of the Jedi, these elite stormtroopers were trained in the dark side of the Force and used their powers to unleash terror on an unsuspecting galaxy. They participated in Operation Shadow Hand, a military campaign that Palpatine hoped would give him back control of the galaxy in the early days of the New Republic.
While certainly a major threat to the galaxy, these dark troopers only appeared in three issues of the Dark Empire storyline, but they did also inspire the shadow troopers, the lightsaber-wielding dark side stormtroopers that popped up two years later in the Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast game. This time serving the Empire Reborn, an Imperial insurgency led by a dark Jedi named Lord Hethrir, the shadow troopers were created by an acolyte named Desann, a former student of Luke Skywalker’s who fell to the dark side. With some help from the Valley of the Jedi, the site of an ancient battle between the Jedi and the Sith that became a nexus of immense Force energy, Desann turned regular stormtroopers into Dark Jedi hybrids and used them to attack Luke’s Jedi academy on Yavin 4.
It’s unclear how much the dark troopers in The Mandalorian are meant to resemble the cyborg-clone hybrids from Dark Forces, but it’s unlikely these new ones have any connection to the Force, since they don’t seem to have any organic parts. The ones on the show appear to be droids that have been built from the ground up as killing machines. That said, if they did start out as humans, dark troopers would obviously not be the first characters in Star Wars to see most of their organic bodies replaced by machine parts. Whatever the case, it’s clear that these new Imperial soldiers present a formidable challenge for Mando and friends on their quest to save Grogu from Gideon.
Keep up with all of The Mandalorian season 2 news here.