In the trailers for Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we see TIE-type vessels flying near the ground, in the atmosphere of a planet (the planet itself looks a lot like Tatooine).

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Have we ever seen this before?

I am specifically looking for:

  • Footage from the two existing film trilogies

  • Spacecraft from the TIE family, either fighters or bombers

  • Operating in full-atmospheric conditions, not the near-vacuum of space


6 Answers 6


In The Empire Strikes Back, we see TIE Fighters in the atmosphere of Bespin, not the vacuum of space, when the Millennium Falcon is being chased after rescuing Luke.

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(See around 2.44)

As Bespin is a Gas Giant they obviously do not fly over land, but they are below a floating city known to have a breathable atmosphere.

  • 2
    Excellent. If nothing better appears, I will accept this in a couple of days. Thanks, and +1!
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:48
  • I was going to mention the Tie Bombers in the Hoth asteroid belt but this is still within a vacuum. This does however raise an interesting question... scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/107648/… Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 1:27
  • 4
    "they are below a Space Station known to have a breathable atmosphere" -- I think you want another word but "space station". :)
    – Raphael
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 7:58
  • If the Decipher CCG card lore is considered canon, the TIE fighters used around the city where modified to have better performance in atmosphere compared to standard variants. However those cards wasn't released in the standard Cloud City expansion.
    – BPugh
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 16:09
  • I should also mention that in the Cloud City expansion, all star fighters where allowed in the cloud sectors unless the card rules overrule it.
    – BPugh
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 16:12

In The Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon hides in a "cave" on an asteroid. The TIE bombers fly low over the asteroid dropping bombs.

I argue that the asteroid had a non-trivial atmosphere:

  1. Han and Leia explore outside the ship. Although they carry supplemental breathable air, there is clearly enough atmospheric pressure that they do not immediately die. Since the "cave" (actually a space slug) is open to the surface of the asteroid, it would be near-vacuum if the asteroid didn't have an atmosphere.

  2. They seem to experience a normal gravity as they walk outside the Falcon, suggesting that the asteroid has enough gravity to hold an atmosphere.

  3. The mynocks appear to fly using bat-like wings, which implies a certain minimal amount of atmosphere.

  4. The space slug appears to have nostrils, which implies it breaths an atmosphere. (I'll concede this point, though, since what appears to be a nostril may just be a shadow.)

  • 8
    VERY CLEVER! Point 3 is especially insightful. The TIEs never enter the "cave", but good catch!
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 21:26
  • You deserve a bounty. I will be able to open it in a few hours, I think, and it takes a day before I can award it.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 21:45
  • 1
    +1 Should have gone ahead and added this to my answer as I was originally going to... see comments, but I didn't have any strong arguments to back it up. Regarding 4, I even opened a separate question about this where it was pointed out that the slug has no lungs. Why it would have lungs and no nostrils is anyones guess. I'm starting to think maybe the creators didn't put much thought into the science of this space fantasy movie ;) scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/107648/… Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 22:03

This is questionably canonical, but there's an easter egg in Episode 2 that includes three distant TIE fighters and X-wing during the chase seen through Coruscant at the start of the film. Coruscant has a breathable atmosphere (evidenced by the chase scene is in an open air vehicle).

Wookieepedia says that:

During the chase through Coruscant, after Padmé Amidala survives Zam Wesell's assassination attempt, three TIE fighters are seen chasing an X-wing starfighter.

They can be clearly seen inside the red rectangle in the following images, from this site.

enter image description here

  • 2
    Is this not in the movie? If this is evidence then this is definitely an answer not a comment!
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 20:56
  • @Pureferret: I updated my answer accordingly. Thanks, I'm new here. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 21:48


It seems that I was wrong :(

It's always difficult to prove a negative, but all references to TIE fighters I can find from the two movie trilogies indicate that we do not see a TIE fighter flying in an atmosphere (which has now been proven wrong)


In Canon we do see this!

Wookieepedia tells us that:

They were able to operate both in space as well as in planetary atmospheres, acting as fighters or scouts.

according to the canon work Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion

We see this at 0:45 in the below clip:

But this isn't from either of the movie trilogies as requested in the question! Nevertheless, we do know from canon that it is possible.

  • I'm not asking if it is possible, I'm asking "Did we see it happen in Episodes I-VI?".
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:18
  • 2
    @WadCheber wouldn't have seen it in episodes I or II as TIE fighters didn't exist then ;) Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:19
  • You can fly them in atmosphere in Star Wars Battlefront ;) Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:19
  • 4
    holy smokes -- the signature SW soundscape is so compelling. Watching this trailer I am getting super psyched -- and it can't be the visuals.
    – zipquincy
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:44
  • 3
    @zipquincy Nor the dialog or plot, I'm sure.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 3:47

This is slightly outside the scope of the question (not Original Trilogy), but in New Disney Canon - even pre-Episode-7, we do see this.

In the novel Aftermath, we see TIE Fighter being commandeered by Nora, flown in the planet's atmosphere, engeged in dogfight with other TIE Fighters, and eventually crashed into Satrap's palace.


Tie fighter engines are ion thrusters, which wouldn't work outside the vacuum of space (i.e. in the presence of other ion atoms).

  • 1
    How does this address the question though? Question: have we seen this in the fictional movie? Answer: it wouldn't work in real life. So? Fictional movie.
    – Brythan
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 0:40

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