It may seem counter-intuitive that the Empire would field such a fragile fighter in comparison to the more durable X-Wings fielded by the Rebellion.

However, fielding a fragile but extremely maneuverable fighter was a real-world, viable strategy that was used to great effect by the Japanese in World War II.

Early in the war, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter used by the Japanese dominated the slower, more durable fighters used by the allies in dogfights. Wikipedia cites a kill ratio of 12-1.

Perhaps Lucas got the idea for the Empire fielding such ships from the Zero.

It's known that Lucas took inspiration from WWII footage and films for his space battles. Is there any evidence that he based either the role or the appearance of the ships in Star Wars on real world analogues?

  • 1
    A lot of planes in WWII were "maneuverable, fragile, and cheap to build"... beyond that, I don't see how the Zero itself influenced the TIE fighter at all. OTH the cockpit window of the TIE fighter is strongly reminiscent of the Luftwaffer bombers like the He-111. – HorusKol Feb 18 '16 at 22:34
  • @HorusKol I completely rewrote my question. Does that make more sense to you? – DCShannon Feb 18 '16 at 23:24
  • I doubt the Empire is based on the Japanese. Many aspects of the Empire draw parallels with Germany instead. Palpatine's democratic rise to power and subversion of democracy with popular support, the employment of Jedi purges, pro-human policies and Holocaust-like treatment of aliens, stormtroopers, the prevalent culture and mentality among officers...a random starship being based off the Japs seems anomalous. – thegreatjedi Feb 21 '16 at 9:11
  • @thegreatjedi It doesn't seem anomalous if you think of the Empire as being based on the Axis powers as a whole, rather than Germany specifically. – DCShannon Feb 22 '16 at 20:19

Ships, yes. TIE fighters, maybe not.

Quoting from the old Starwars.com article "FROM WORLD WAR TO STAR WARS: DOGFIGHTS!" (which itself quotes from Star Wars: Storyboards), the inspiration for the X-wing was the Japanese zero warplane.

Model builder and visual effects veteran Paul Huston recalls his early career at ILM, which was still a very young company. In the behind-the-scenes book Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy he is quoted to say, “…we had a great time up in the art department, with its cinder block walls, plywood floor, hollow-core doors on sawhorses for drawing tables, and the Movieola with George’s black-and-white cut of the attack on the Death Star made from old WWII war movie footage. Joe would show me a shot of a Japanese Zero flying left to right in front of a conning tower of an aircraft carrier and say, ‘The aircraft carrier is the Death Star, the Zero is an X-wing. Do a board like that.”

  • 6
    That's a good find, but I don't think that quote implies that the X-Wing was design was inspired by the Zero. It seems to me that they're just storyboarding, and they want the X-Wing in the specific scene to act in a way similar to the Zero in that specific scene. – DCShannon Feb 18 '16 at 21:01

I would venture to answer with a no.

The design philosophy behind the TIE Fighter prioritises speed, agility, cost-effectiveness and mass production capability. Ironically, it originated from the stellar performance of Jedi Interceptors during the Clone Wars, when many subsystems were stripped away because Jedi don't need them - targeting systems, navigation controls, hull armour and shielding, you name it - thus lightening up the craft and making it even faster and more agile, suiting the Jedi's style. Imperial engineers adopted the Jedi Interceptor, transforming it into the TIE Fighter. Without the Force to guide Imperial pilots, however, they can't achieve the same performance and thus become bad shots and easy kills for Rebels.

Japanese fighters don't follow the same design philosophy. The reason their fighters are faster and lighter isn't really because they chose some particular trade-off, it's just the simple fact that technology had advanced from World War I to World War II. During the intermittent years, the Western world was recovering from WWI and the Great Depression. Japan was directing all economic efforts to war industry in preparation to conquer the world.

By the time Japan went to war, they were equipped with a modern army characteristic of World War II. Their main enemy, the Chinese, however, were still armed with Russian and German equipment dating back to World War I. Of course the Japanese fighters would be lighter and faster but in no way more vulnerable - the stats are superior in every aspect. When Japan advanced into Southeast Asia, they faced little resistance - Europe was at war, they neglected the colonies and even chose to yield them to focus at home. My own country, Singapore, is a classic example. We are supposed to be the most fortified colony in the entire subcontinent, but all we had were 2 ships, a bunch of obsolete fighters, and no anti-armour weaponry (the British didn't think tanks can pass through jungle, and whatever arms they do have, they abandoned them in Malaya and fled when they saw the tanks coming). By the time the Japanese arrived at the opposite shores, the only thing Singapore, that famed impregnable fortress, had were infantry and a few artillery guns. We fell in two weeks, in time for Lunar New Year.

As you've mentioned, you're referring to early in WWII. That's when Japan held a clear technological and psychological superiority. By the end of the war, when America entered, the tides turned. America brought an even more modern army in, and it is now the Japanese who are technologically outclassed.

In reality, the comparison between Imperial TIE Fighters and Rebel X-Wings aren't equivalent to the comparison between Axis and Allied fighters. More accurately, early Allied fighters are Naboo Starfighters, Axis fighters are TIE Fighters, and late Allied fighters are Resistance X-Wings. See the difference?

  • I don't claim to be an expert on WWII aircraft by any means, but this answer doesn't seem entirely consistent with the information available in that Wikipedia article on the Zero. Obviously, the wiki may be in error. Nevertheless, it says there that the Zero had "unsurpassed maneuverability — even when compared to other Axis Powers fighter designs of its time", which would have been on a similar technological level. In regards to the durability, there's a story from the perspective of a Zero pilot in the Operational History section which seems pretty relevant. – DCShannon Feb 23 '16 at 5:33
  • @DCShannon "of its time" most likely refer to the 30s and the early 40s. When America entered the war, they brought new technology in, good enough to bring the Zero down quite easily. – thegreatjedi Feb 23 '16 at 6:10
  • @DCShannon: "When it was introduced early in World War II, the Zero was considered the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, combining excellent maneuverability and very long range." "By 1943, inherent design weaknesses and the failure to develop more powerful aircraft engines meant ... became less effective against newer enemy fighters, which possessed greater firepower, armor, and speed, and approached the Zero's maneuverability." "Although ... outdated by 1944, design delays ... difficulties ... meant that it continued to serve in a front line role until the end of the war." – MichaelS Feb 23 '16 at 10:32
  • That's all in the first section of the Wikipedia article, before the table of contents. If you read the context of the section of Operational History you quoted, it's in 1941-ish, then the bottom of that section says "the only positive thing that could be said of the Zero at this stage of the war was that in the hands of a skillful pilot it could maneuver as well as most of its opponents" ("this stage" looks like around 1943 from the F6F and F4U pages linked just before that quote, in its context). – MichaelS Feb 23 '16 at 10:37

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.