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Multiple times in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, people refer to trooper FN-2187 by that specific correct name, while he is in armor. But the armor is largely identical (some have little accessories like shoulder pads, or different weapon loadouts, but FN-2187 lacks these), which makes me wonder how do First Order (or even the old Imperials) identify who they're talking to?

How are Stormtroopers correctly identified while they're in armor?

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@DVK I think the problem is not linking a number to a trooper. The problem is linking a number to a suit of stormtrooper armor! How do you know this faceless guy is actually FN-2189, when he looks just like FN-2190? – Andres F. Jan 7 at 20:26
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Well, eventually he has a bloody hand print on his face (or shoulder?). – Jack B Nimble Jan 7 at 20:27
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@JackBNimble Ha ha, true! This is actually for the audience's benefit, because we cannot tell stormtroopers apart. So, how does Phasma do it before the bloody hand print? – Andres F. Jan 7 at 20:27
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Is there any reason to believe that stormtroopers don't have heads-up displays overlaying identifying information onto what they can see, based on unique ID transponders? It would seem like a pretty basic function to include in a stormtrooper's helmet. – Mike Scott Jan 7 at 20:31
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@MikeScott - the only evidence I have is that Richard didn't already post a helmet schematics showing this. Which is pretty damning as far as evidence goes :) But seriously, I don't recall ever seeing anything like it in canon and don't have access to VD at work to check. – DVK-in-exile Jan 7 at 20:34
up vote 81 down vote accepted

There's a canon (even Disney canon) explanation of this in Before the Awakening, in the first chapter, p5-6 (of the paperback):

FN-2187 crouched down and looked in the indicated direction. They were all virtually indistinguishable in their stormtrooper armor, but within his helmet, along with the near-constant stream of data projected across his lenses — telemetry, firing solutions, atmospheric conditions, everything up to and including the ammo count for his blaster rifle — individual ID tags would pop up whenever he looked directly at another trooper, his in-suit computer reading friendly identifications.

(my emphasis)

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Wow, so stormtroopers are constantly emitting IFF (and hence their location) at all times on the battlefield? Good way to get shot up, methinks. – Shane Jan 8 at 20:20
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@Shane - CID not only can reduce friendly fire incidents, but also contributes to overall tactical decision-making.IFF It's also a good way to not get shot, especially when you have air superiority. – Mazura Jan 9 at 0:14
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@Shane Their identification system might be as simple as an infrared or ultraviolet pattern on their armor or some other tech which does not reveal the trooper's location. – Trisped Jan 9 at 0:25
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Amazing. With so much going on in their HUD, it's no wonder they rarely hit their targets. ;) – Ayelis Jan 9 at 0:49
    
@Trisped - if I was designing this system it wouldn't be in or on the armour as that's a security hole (and allows troopers to fake someone's identity just by wearing their suit). I'd implant the code physically, possibly only transmitting shortrange to a display on the suit. – christutty Jan 9 at 6:43

While there's no explicit in-movie explanation given for this, it's not a stretch to say that Phasma and other stormies are fed identification information through a HUD inside their helmets. Books and other medium help confirm this.

I'd imagine something like a digital ID tag in the uniform that is scanned and read from inside the helmet of others.

According to Wookieepedia:

HUDs were also sometimes installed in helmets to assist warriors or bounty hunters. The visors of Mandalorian helmets and clone commando helmets contained HUDs that provided information to the user and were capable of searching databases or uploading maps. The clones became somewhat dependent on the information the HUD gave them, and often felt handicapped when their helmets were off.

This would allow for easy identification between troopers. Non-helmeted personnel and officers wouldn't gain that benefit but I don't recall any helmetless troopers showing up in combat situations. Except, perhaps, General Veers but he piloted an AT-AT and one could argue that trooper identification wasn't necessary inside the vehicle.

So we know that the Republic Commandos had advanced HUDs, at the very least. The Republic Commando video game confirmed trooper identification within the HUD:

RC HUD

We see troopers' nicknames above their heads and their trooper ID numbers docked in the lower left with their health status - exactly what we were expecting.

In addition, the Republic Commando books reference their HUD several times. Here are a couple excerpts from True Colors (Star Wars:Republic Commando Book 3):

Darman slipped on his helmet and retreated into his own world, comlinks closed except for the priority override that would let the squad break into the circuit and alert him. If he let his mind drift, the scrolling light display of his HUD blurred and became the nightscape of Coruscant, and he could immerse himself in the precious memory of those brief and illicit days in the city with Etain.

And:

Fi was back on the secure helmet comlink now. Darman’s red HUD audio icon indicated that only he could hear him.

Additionally, the Visual Dictionary has a cutout of the Stormtrooper helmet with this description:

In this model, enhanced optical equipment creates holographic images of the surrounding terrain, shielding the eye from excessive brightness and offering vision through many barriers such as smoke, darkness, and fire. Optical equipment in trooper helmets can range from simple eye lenses to these elaborate vision processors.

Not an exact confirmation but certainly a good indication. Perhaps low-ranking cannon fodder gets shafted on a decent HUD but there's precedent for at least higher ranking commandos to get them.

visual dictionary cutout

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Is Republic Commando canon? I don't think so. Tech like this would make a lot of sense, but at the same time it's a typically "videogamey" trope, which is why the game uses it (games often have "HUDs" for troops even when in real life they wouldn't use them, like in WW2 games). Is there any indication in the canon that Imperial Stormtroopers have HUDs? – Andres F. Jan 7 at 20:57
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@Axelrod The game? Agreed. Possibly one of the best Star Wars games, along with Tie Fighter and KotOR :) – Andres F. Jan 7 at 21:00
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@AndresF. Here's hoping Disney sees the lucrative nature of bringing KOTOR into the fold. – Axelrod Jan 7 at 21:02
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Vaders helmet seems to have a HUD here so I would say that it is technology that is certainly known/available/canon youtu.be/c6bEs3dxjPg?t=2m2s – razethestray Jan 7 at 22:15
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No wonder Luke can't see a thing in that helmet... – HorusKol Jan 7 at 22:25

Wookieepedia has two different references relating to the capabilities of a Stormtrooper's helmet

The helmets visual processor assisted the wearer in seeing in darkness, glare, and smoke

That first quote lists Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide, but I don't know if it is considered canon.

The second quote is more compelling.

A built-in heads-up display also provided targeting diagnostics, power levels and environmental readings at the corner of the wearer's eyesight, and one could access data on various military subjects and civilian organizations on the helmets display.

If the HUD can display information about targets and subjects, it stands to reason that it can identify friendly forces by their designation. The citation for this segment is from Battlefront: Twilight Company

The description of that book says:

Battlefront: Twilight Company is a canon novel written by Alexander Freed

enter image description here

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Since Star Wars: Rebels is canon, I'd expect its supplementary materials to be as well. – user1027 Jan 7 at 23:20
    
@Keen I did too, but it doesn't say one way or another on Wookieepedia. – Jack B Nimble Jan 7 at 23:21
    
+1 Ok, this is definitely canon, and should answer the question. I wonder what George Lucas was thinking back in the day... I seriously doubt he considered HUDs. But this is a fair answer anyway. – Andres F. Jan 8 at 3:17
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Those shoulder plates look extra wide. I'm suspicious. – Dronz Jan 8 at 7:21

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