They got beat by tiny teddy bears. They can't hit targets to save their lives. They occasionally whack their heads into doorways like goofballs. The Empire's "finest" soldiers have rarely had a great reputation — but for one small group, Marvel's Star Wars comic is trying to change that.
Last week's Star Wars #21 by Jason Aaron, Jorge Molina, and Matt Milla finally introduced the previously teased, goofy but awesome-looking elite Stormtroopers of the SCAR (Special Commando Advanced Recon) division. They're still a bit goofy looking — there's the cliché sniper in the cool poncho, and the robot-armed guy with his many knives still has a shitton of knives (although slightly less than the original concept art). But as characters and as the latest focus of the comic, they're being used in some very interesting ways.
Firstly, like I mentioned above, these guys aren't your average useless Stormtrooper — they're actually worthy of being described by Obi-Wan as "so precise" in A New Hope. Sent on a mission to recover information that could lead the Empire to Luke Skywalker, the SCAR squad heads to a Ghost Moon that was formerly a Rebel base, and execute their mission with ruthless efficiency. They gun down rebels left and right, easily overcoming the resistance they're faced with. It's almost like what this year's Vader Down did for celebrating Vader as an unstoppable, terrifying force to be reckoned with, but these troopers aren't unstoppable or infallible. They still take hits, still face things that should be too much for them to handle. They're just very, very good at what they do.
In fact, refreshingly for once, it's the Rebel Alliance that's portrayed as incompetent. They're inexperienced, they give away their own positions, they're predictable even when they have the upper hand. Sure, they're our heroes, the scrappy good guys sticking it to the evil Empire, but this feels right. Stormtroopers should be better than the average Rebel soldier. They have better gear, better training. It's that unbalanced nature of the conflict that makes the Alliance's heroic plight all the more interesting, and the times they actually overcome those odds all the more important — because their opponents aren't the galaxy's most terrible shots.
But the other interesting thing about this squad of Stormtroopers is that we're entirely experiencing the story from their side — and we learn how people can actually view the Empire as a force for good, rather than the sometimes comically evil organisation they are (I mean, come on, they still built a giant freaking laser that could blow up dissenting planets. That's a bit more than shades of grey can allow!).
Star Wars #21 is told basically entirely from the perspective of the squad's new leader, Sargeant Kreel — who cropped up in an earlier arc of the comic as an undercover Imperial operative investigating Grakkus the Hutt's treasure trove of Jedi artefacts. But the new comic opens with Kreel recalling why he joined the Imperial military, and actually does a really good job of explaining why people could support something that, to a moviegoer's perspective in our world, is so blatantly team "bad guys".
To Kreel, who's life as a child was dominated by strife and horror on a backwater world, the Empire was a shining light in the darkness. After growing up in a society with a huge disparity between the haves and the haves not, forced to fight to survive in combat arenas for the pleasure of the ruling class, to Kreel the Empire was a liberator. It came to his home planet and shut down the pits, ousted the elites, and gave the populace security, jobs, and a sense of order. To Kreel, the image of a Stormtrooper isn't one of a faceless cog in an evil machine, but one that represents hope — hope that he sees as something the Rebel Alliance are willing to do anything to see brought down.
This sort of line of thinking wasn't all that uncommon in the stories told in the old expanded universe, but it's fresh for the Disney canon, a universe that at the moment is still quite alright with teaching Star Wars' classic good-vs-evil story, and leaving the potential shades of grey to be pondered after the fact. It makes these Stormtroopers a lot more human, and a lot more interesting, than just goofy, faceless mooks who exist to miss our heroes and then die.
There is one more thing that separates Kreel from your average Stormtrooper though, as revealed at the end of the issue — something that even sets him apart from his fellow SCAR squadmembers.
He's got a lightsaber. And he knows how to use it. That time infilitrating Grakkus' archives clearly paid off — but a Stormtrooper with some lightsaber knowhow seems like it could be a bit of a problem for our Rebel heroes down the line...