In 0 BBY, Imperial officers of the Galactic Empire wore insignia consisting of a confusing collection of multi-colored rank squares on the left breast of the officer’s uniform with a combination of several metal cylinders to either side of the rank badge. By the next few years, the rank squares had become a much simpler collection of red and blue squares with the code cylinders still in use.
In the Galactic Civil War, most Imperial officers were verbally addressed as ”Commander” with the exception of Admirals, such as Admiral Kendal Ozzel and Piett who were addressed as ”Admiral”. It should be noted that ”commander” is an acceptable form of address for captains, majors, colonels, or anyone of any rank who commands a military unit. Grand Moff Tarkin was referred to as ”Governor”. With such generic terms, the Star Wars films give little hint to a system of ranks and insignia. Over the years, however, the Expanded Universe has established a system of ranks and insignia which matches closely to the characters and the ranks and authority which they most likely held.
Imperial enlisted personnel have never been shown to have any type of insignia, but do have various types of uniforms which could indicate seniority among the enlisted rank structure. The uniforms appear to range from Soldiers and Technicians, to Sergeants and Naval NCOs, as well as Warrant Officers and Command Sergeants. Each of these groups is shown in the feature films to have various types of uniforms but never have been shown wearing any type of identifying insignia.
Stormtroopers apparently use the same rank system as the Imperial Army, but rarely wear any type of outward insignia. It is mentioned that Stormtroopers most likely have an identification scanner, built into their helmets, which can determine the rank and seniority of other stormtroopers. This does not explain, however, the colored shoulder pads used by Stormtroopers on Tatooine. Also, in the Battle of Hoth, a stormtrooper is seen wearing the insignia of an Army Captain on his armor. It is assumed that such insignia display is for the benefit of non-stormtrooper personnel.
In the higher ranks of the Stormtroopers, it can be reasonably assumed that the senior Stormtrooper officers do not wear the Battle Armor on a regular basis, thus a different uniform, for the more casual ”office” setting, would most likely be worn. This explains a number of Imperial officers, seen in the feature films directing groups of Stormtroopers, who appear to be wearing solid black uniforms with rank badges. Such personnel are most likely Stormtrooper commanders whose daily duties do not necessitate the regular wearing of battle armor.
The Imperial pilots of the Starfighter Corps are a subject of great debate. One school of thought is that such personnel are members of the Imperial Navy while another possibility exists that the starfighters comprise an entire separate branch of service. Several different literature sources have provided a feasible rank structure for the Starfighter Corps, with indications that Starfighter pilots are Imperial officers with ranks similar to the Army and Navy combined. No starfighter pilot has ever been seen wearing rank insignia but this may have been since the pilots were only seen in flight suits. It is plausible that a separate duty uniform exists, upon which rank insignia may be displayed.
A conjectural rank system for the Imperial Starfighter Corps is as follows
- High Marshal (High Admiral)
- Force Marshal (Fleet Admiral)
- Chief Marshal (Admiral)
- Marshall (Vice Admiral)
- Vice Marshal (Rear Admiral)
- Flight Commodore (Commodore)
- Group Captain (Captain)
- Wing Commander (Commander)
- Squadron Leader (Lieutenant Commander)
- Flight Lieutenant (Lieutenant)
- Flying Officer (Sub-Lieutenant)
- Pilot Officer (Ensign)
- Flight Cadet (Midshipman)
Corresponding Imperial Navy rank listed as comparison
Imperial Security Bureau
Members of the Imperial Security Bureau, or the ”ISB”, have only been seen for a brief period of time, aboard the Death Star. A white uniformed ISB Colonel, Wullf Yularen, was in the Death Star conference room along with two ISB NCOs walking past the Death Star main elevator area. In both cases, the ISB personnel were shown to be wearing white uniforms with rank insignia corresponding to Imperial Army and Navy personnel. It is possible that the ISB uses the same insignia, with different rank titles, or that the ISB ranks are identical to those of the Imperial Army.
Behind the scenes
The insignia scheme devised in A New Hope created an interesting ambiguity in that a review of the film shows some Imperial characters who have apparently the same rank and position, yet display different versions of insignia. This problem recurs in the Star Wars Expanded Universe in that Imperial officers of the same rank wear different badges of office.
The possibility exists that such officers serve in different branches of the service or that the difference in insignia is a means to display seniority or some other badge of distinction. This has never been determined exactly, however, leaving the viewing audience to speculate.
The chart displayed to the right indicates alternate versions of Imperial insignia, when applying to the Version One method seen in A New Hope.
In the film Return of the Jedi, a wardrobe problem undiscovered until midway through production resulted in all Imperial characters wearing the same insignia, being that of an Imperial Navy Commander. Thus, the Imperial insignia in Return of the Jedi are often ignored.
The rank of Grand Admiral was first mentioned in the Timothy Zahn novels and is considered the senior most rank of the entire Imperial Service. Grand Admirals, and their Imperial Army counterparts Grand Generals are authorized to wear white uniforms with gold shoulder boards, in addition to the standard badge of rank.
The Empire Strikes Back demonstrated that the Imperial Navy and Army, while using the same rank badges, differentiate between the two services by the spacing of the colored squares on the badge itself. Imperial Army officers use rank badges with thin rank squares on a grey metal frame, while Navy officers display flush rank squares with no spacing in-between. This method of separating the two services apparently did not apply to the rank insignia of A New Hope, since all Imperial personnel, both Army and Navy, appeared to wear the same style of rank badge.
- Grand Admiral
- Vice Admiral
- Flight Officer
- Flight Cadet
Given that the flight simulator ranks appear overly simplified and combine Navy and Army titles indiscriminately, most Star Wars sources consider the TIE Fighter ranks to be contradictory and this rank system is generally ignored.