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This is something that bothers me about the Star Wars EU, especially in Legends. TIE Fighters (and their pilots) have a reputation for being cheap, disposable fighters that are only threatening when deployed in huge swarms.

If you examine the movies only, TIE Fighters perform vary favourably against Rebel ships - right up to Episode VII and Rogue One. In fact, I can't recall any character making a disparaging remark about TIE Fighters in any movie except Obi-Wan's comment regarding its short-range capability.

So my question is - what was the first/main out-of-movie source that birthed the concept that TIE Fighters and their pilots were weak and disposable?

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    If anything, various pilots are impressed with TIE-Fighters. "Wow, this thing can move" and such. That said, in major battles TIE get destroyed like flies. Plus, the idea and information they don't have shields or hyperdrives (as opposed to rebel fighters which have both) IS in the movies, so probably that's just a conclusion everybody came to. Commenting instead of answering because no literal sources (just "it was in the movies). Oh, and the out-of-movies idea probably came from X-Wing and TIE-Fighter games, but I'm not betting on it. – Petersaber Jan 5 '17 at 11:05
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    @Petersaber if there are no answers in a day or two post one yourself. The points you make are valid and you can link to the movies. And while the games aren't canon they do offer supporting evidence. – Xantec Jan 5 '17 at 13:10
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    @Petersaber the maneuverability thing is a key point here. They're shown repeatedly being destroyed with one or two hits. But if this is a ship designed for swarm tactics, being faster and more maneuverable than heavier fighters is actually a key advantage. Or to put it another way, the design isn't necessarily "disposable" - it gains defence from speed and agility rather than physical protection. – Matt Thrower Jan 5 '17 at 17:31
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    @Petersaber Being disposable fits with "this thing can move". Less stuff to accelerate. For a real-world example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_A6M_Zero: "No armor was provided for the pilot, engine or other critical points of the aircraft, and self-sealing fuel tanks, which were becoming common at the time, were not used. This made the Zero lighter, more maneuverable, and the longest range single engine fighter of World War II..." – ceejayoz Jan 5 '17 at 23:06
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    @ceejayoz I think this is it: the whole capital ship/fighter combat structure is based on WW2 carrier combat. TIE fighters play the role of Zeroes, while the trench run is borrowed from 633 Squadron with Mosquito light bombers. – pjc50 Jan 6 '17 at 13:38
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It's probably the other way around - TIE-Fighters being expendable is a general conclusion that leaked into EU works.

The earliest mentions I can think of are the Official Nintendo Star Wars Rogue Leader Rogue Squadron II Player's Guide (1999), in which TIE-Fighter pilots are literally called "suicidal" for flying these machines, and Thrawn's Trilogy books from 1991-1993 in which Thrawn occasionally criticises the Empire's usual "wasteful" tactics and unnecessarily high casualties.

Video games from the X-Wing series as well as its spin-offs, like TIE Fighter, surely are to blame as well (years 1993-1999), in which you either get to blow up a multitude of TIE Fighters, or experience just how fragile they are yourself.

It could be noted that aside from Darth Vader's personal fighter, which obviously wasn't designed to be expendable, the first "non-trash" Imperial fighter was TIE-Defender, introduced in 1994, in the game Star Wars: TIE Fighter.

Where did this conclusion come from?

A question that should be asked here. You have to take a look at their combat effectiveness, the technology, and how these fighters are used.

  1. Combat effectiveness: In the Old Trilogy, we've only seen two real battles between Rebel fighters and the Empire; the Battle of Yavin 4, and the Battle of Endor. In both, Rebel fighters outclass the TIEs. It may seem otherwise, as we get shown a Rebel death one after another, but you have to keep in mind that Rebels are always heavily outnumbered. Another factor is that at Yavin 4 the (many) Rebel pilots were inexperienced and distracted with doing unnecessarily long trench runs, and thus very vulnerable to attacks from the rear. In the other battle, a few vastly outnumbered Rebel pilots not only survived waves of dozens of TIE Fighters and Interceptors, but also managed to protect a portion of their fleet.

  2. The technology: TIE-Fighters don't have shields, hyperdrives, or life support (as opposed to all Rebel fighters), and are generally considered as short-range, as noted by Obi-Wan in A New Hope. The lack of hyperdrives is most noteworthy here - the Empire would rather have the pilot die unable to retreat than allow the chance to defect, even among their best pilots who are given more expensive TIE-Interceptors, which didn't have hyperdrives either.

  3. How they're used: Well, the long story short is that they are easily wasted. They are designed for swarm tactics, quick and overwhelming strikes, not drawn-out dogfights. Another thing the Empire does is feigned incompetence, which often results in some controlled losses - in Return of the Jedi, and especially in A New Hope, where Grand Moff Tarkin sends 4 TIE-Fighters to pretend to assault the Millennium Falcon and be destroyed, just like that. That's not a sign of the Empire caring for their pilots, of which they have many, drafted from all over the galaxy.

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    Great answer, especially the third point. – Null Jan 5 '17 at 16:01
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    Not sure that I agree that TIEs get destroyed any easier or in any greater numbers than Rebel ships in the movies, barring Poe's exceptional performance. You could point at the deliberately weak assault on the Falcon by four TIEs as an example of their expendable nature, though, that is true. – Rapscallion Jan 5 '17 at 16:25
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    @Rapscallion - the rebels were flying a complement of just 30 fighters against the entire amassed defenses of the empire's most advanced battlestation. Yes, of course they took the worst casualties... the amazing thing is that they weren't annihilated within seconds of being spotted by the imperial scanners. – Periata Breatta Jan 5 '17 at 17:54
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    I think your point #3 is the best answer to the question. Since they were relying on the tracking device on the Millenium Falcon, then clearly Tarkin and other officers must've known the four TIE fighters together were too weak to take on even a seemingly "hunk of junk", and sent them anyway as a disposable ploy. – Kevin Rubin Jan 5 '17 at 18:41
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    X-Wing Mission 4, Beat The Odds - "Rebel starfighter pilots almost always fight outnumbered by the Empire by at least three to one. This mission will teach you to beat these odds." If your assault force can beat those odds (which reality generally requires that ratio in reverse) then their ships are dumb. – Mazura Jan 6 '17 at 2:32
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In A New Hope, Ben Kinobi refers to them as short range. TIE fighters then notably fail to either do much damage to or stop a ship described as a "piece of junk" from escaping the Death Star (though as is pointed out, the escape was "too easy" because they are being tracked). Later, the entire class of fighter that includes TIEs is disparaged when contemplating an assault on the Death Star. "What good are stub fighters going to be against THAT?" The general impression is that the small fighter class is something of an afterthought compared to capital ships.

In Empire, I believe, more than any other movie, the reputation of the TIE fighter as a cheap, expendable, and "weak" opponent is established. Specifically in the asteroid chase scene where TIE fighters are destroyed seemingly by the dozen as they chase the Falcon through the asteroids. A constant theme of the movie is the willingness of Vader to sacrifice every aspect of the Imperial war machine to catch the rebels; from killing multiple generals who displease him to ordering his star destroyers into the asteroid field despite the inevitable damage. The numerous TIE fighter destructions make sense in this context as not being a result of the design's deficiency but rather Vader's misuse of his fleet. Still, we viewers became jaded to seeing lots of TIE fighters being blown up, and the seeds were certainly planted.

In Jedi, there was a clear attempt to top all the other space battle scenes from the previous movies. The scale was larger (more ships on the screen at once), the pace of movement faster, and more things were being blown up at once. Inevitably, with a rebel fleet trying to hold out against a much larger Imperial force, the thing that could safely be portrayed as exploding a lot during this sequence while still keeping the fleet in "limbo" until the shield generator was destroyed was inevitably TIE fighters. We therefore see LOTS of TIE explosions and our sense of the fragility of TIE fighters becomes more deeply rooted.

Now give it 20 years and have each successive video game release try to exaggerate just a little bit over what was stated or shown in the original trilogy. Things that were just a general impression (or even were an intentional part of a more complex narrative as in Empire) become hard-rooted "canon".

I believe the complimentary statements about the TIE in The Force Awakens was probably J.J. Abrams' way of trying to subvert the narrative more than anything else.

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    Great response! Good analysis of the movies and I can certainly now see where the seeds of the TIE fragility were planted. – Rapscallion Jan 6 '17 at 9:24
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Maintenance

TIE fighters were the F-35 of the galaxy. they required very complex bases to be deployed efficiently.

On the other hand, t-95 and T-66 (X-wing) fighters needed just a welding torch and some engineering general knowledge.

Fragility

Tie fighters didn't had energy shields like other fighters did. To provide the always enjoyable manoeuvrability and speed, they reduced the shielding to some particle blast shielding ( small arms shots ).

quoting from wookipedia:

Another issue that was widely questioned is the lack of shielding on TIE fighters, as it is felt that all TIE series starfighters must at least have some form of shielding against space debris. The most common explanation (and probably most logical) is that while all fighters had particle shields, most were not equipped with energy shields.

Deployability

Tie fighters didn't come with hyperdrives. Some models did have them, like vader's T1X1, but most of them needed a star base or ship to deploy from and to travel between planets.

Weapons

Tie fighters came with a very limited armament, episode IV's TIE fighters came with a laser dual cannon, while the T-65 (Xwing) had 4x high speed Incom laser cannons, and some were equipped with a limited amount of torpedoes. So the TIE fighters could be classified as "Intervention Role Fighter" , Aka, Anti Fighter, while other fighters like the T-65 are multi-role.

"Human" Equipment

Rogue one TIE's need a guy in the back , like the original saga's TIE bombers , which limits deployability to available personal, you can have twice the EPIV Tie's with the same pilot amount than in rogue's.

Communications and radar

Due to it's low energy and engine range, it probably isn't equipped with a long range sensor, or a galaxy-wide comm device.

The TIE fighter was a very good fighter, but only on big swarms and on their terrain (Near a Big Ass Ship).

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    No part of this answer addresses the question of the earliest mention that TIE-fighters are cheap/weak/disposable – Valorum Jan 5 '17 at 14:19
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    They're harder to mantain, weaker in protections,they need a mothership to deploy, have less armament... all of these small bits make them disposable and weak. there just happens to be more of them, and them being more maneouvrable. Like BT-2 tanks vs panzer IV. – CptEric Jan 5 '17 at 14:22
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    I appreciate the response, but it's just reiterating what I already know. The only information that we know about TIE Fighters from the movies are: 1) They are short-range fighters 2) The pilots require fully sealed flight suits. I'm almost certain that TIE Fighters kill more Rebels than the Rebels kill TIEs in the movies (until Ep VII at least), so the question stands. – Rapscallion Jan 5 '17 at 15:08
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    The comment about TIE fighters being like an F-35 contradicts the rest of your statements. The F-35 is designed to be multi-role, have a long range and be as stealthy as possible, all while hosting a serious sensor suite. And while TIE fighters were designed to do nothing other than dogfight with other fighters, the F-35 most definitely is not designed to dogfight against other fighters. – Gandalf'sFISTS Jan 5 '17 at 15:16
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    I'd argue comparing ww2 era zeros to something like the grumman hellcat would be more accurate. And considering how... cheap the ties were, I suspect they'd just pull a dead one off the line and chuck the pilot in another one. – Journeyman Geek Jan 6 '17 at 1:29
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Any answer is post-hoc rationalization. The real answer is because it is gratifying to audiences to see the good guys kill many bad guys, so belief is suspended.

The combined scientific and economic might of a galactic empire somehow can't put together a competent fighter when a ramshackle group of rebels somehow can? It would be like if Isis was taking out American Abrams tanks in a fair fight with their retrofitted trucks.

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    And while true, this doesn't answer the question that was asked. – Valorum Jan 6 '17 at 9:22
  • "The combined scientific and economic might of a galactic empire" did put together a competent fighter: the X-Wing. The X-Wing was developed, on the Empire's dime, to be the replacement for the obsolete TIEs, but the design team defected and gave them to the rebels instead, so the Empire was left still using the obsolete TIEs because they were deprived of the replacement model. At least, in the old continuity; I don't know to what extent that's still applicable to the Disney continuity, because I don't like Disney's version well enough to care enough to find out. – Matthew Najmon Jan 7 '17 at 2:16
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I think it is a misconclusion.

The fact that TIE fighters are weak was established in various books. The X-Wing (though I can not realyl get a reference now - eludes me where I read it) was rejected by (though originally prototyped for the empire) as too expensive. Particularly the fact that it was a full spaceship with hyperdrive.

The empure just has a different philosophy, projecting power in force. Short range fighters fit that - and are cheaper to produce (which offsets the costs of the base ships). The empire simply did not want long range fighters and saw no need in paying for equipment that they simply consider bad, and that on top would harm the original concept - a small, very maneuverable fighter. Remember, they have to field a lot more units than the rebellion.

The disposable fact is not really in there. Swarm tactics are valid. The empire may care less about the indivisual soldier (having a large pool), but however cheap they are, moving thoudsnads of tie fighters around to replenish losses is also a logistical problem. And the wonderfull freighters make terrific targets.

So, I doubt they are seen as "disposable" generally. The impression likely comes from the horrific losses in the movies, many of them are either special situations (the 4 TIE fighters tracking the millenium falcon) or a real misuse of them (Tie fighters in the asteroid belt). Which, btw., established Darth Vader at that point not really as a very talented commander (which is contrary to the later esablished earlier canon from the earlier movies and tv series). Seems the dark side took a very heafty toll on his common sense.

  • Agreed with your post, although I seem to recall that the Empire was interested in building X-Wings but Incom handed the designs over to the Rebels? – Rapscallion Jan 6 '17 at 10:04
  • Possibly. I do not recall that part - that was like 20 years ago when I read it. SImple logic - they may reject the X-Wing as "main fighter" but obviously there are special forces units where the cost is irrelevant (because we do not talk about that many units). So, logic dictates there was interest ;) – TomTom Jan 6 '17 at 10:31
  • I wonder if the short range of the TIE fighters was an advantage in that they would make desertion more difficult, much like the coats worn by British soldiers during the American Revolution. – supercat Jan 6 '17 at 20:56
  • Depends what shot range actually IS. It is never specified - it looks definitely enough to land on a planet etc. And without hyperdrive, fleeing is not possible anyway. It may well actually be a pure tactical decision. Every kg saved is more maneuverability. But yeah, it definitely would match what we know of the empire. But then again - what IS short range? – TomTom Jan 6 '17 at 21:47
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Actually, you will find no such mentions because the TIE fighter is not a shitty fighter.

The Empire bought a package of the Imperial Star Destroyer with Tie Fighters.

When they started to be mass produced, both the Imperial Star Destroyer and the Tie Fighter out classed almost anything flying in their respective category.

The imperial fleet kept the Tie Design simple, because they needed a cheap, fast, mass produced space superiority fighter.

The imperial doctrine was to use overly powerful massive weapons such as the Imperial Destroyer. Tie fighter were mostly here to protect them against lighter opponents.

Then with the Empire lack of concern for human live, and cheap, easily replaceable fighter, they used mass tactics.

Remember that the X-Wing was stolen from imperial labs. And it is the first fighter able to fight Tie fighters without horrendous casualties.

The Tie fighters appear to be some shit. Because the Alliance relies on really powerful small starships. They can't afford to loose a ship or a pilot as the Empire does. Think of them like the British Army for many centuries. No one wished to join the army, so they had to be sure a maximum of soldiers survived and was cost effective.

I don't think it is a wild guess, but besides the Alliance and some well powered scum like Han Solo, no one was really able to fight Tie Fighters.

UPDATE :

In order for you to see the relevance of my points. Let's just think about why the Tie fighter may be considered a weak fighters.

You need 2 things, an ennemy with fighters which outclass Tie Fighters, and he must have more battle experienced pilots.

So in the out of movies sources, it has to be with Rogue squadron. It was created by Luke Skywalker after the Battle of Yavin. I don't think rebel pilots think of imperial fighters as trash. But it is the turning point where the Alliance got better squadrons and more battle experienced pilots (because they survive the different battles).

You have many games featuring Rogue Squadron. This feeling is reinforced in every battle occuring after the battle of Yavin. And as it was said in others answers we may see, the imperial fighters totally outclassed at the battle of Endor.

  • This doesn't have much relevance to the actual question being asked. Indeed, you seem to have missed the point completely. I'm not saying that TIEs are bad fighters, I'm saying quite the opposite. The movies clearly show TIEs and their pilots being highly capable, however the EU seems to have gotten carried away with the idea that TIEs are cheap, terrible suicide craft. – Rapscallion Sep 14 '17 at 14:05
  • My answer lack the emphasis on the key points, but I actually gave you all the elements needed for your search. I am going to edit my answer in order to pinpoint this. – xrorox Sep 14 '17 at 14:48

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