Star Wars: Everything You Need To Know About Dark Troopers

Spoilers for chapter 12 of The Mandalorian below.

The filmmakers behind Star Wars have always understood how much information can be imparted by a simple color choice. A red lightsaber means something different from a blue one. Green fire from a spacecraft means something different from orange. The shocking red armor of the Emperor's Royal Guard immediately sets them apart from the rest of the Imperial forces.

So it makes sense that Star Wars creative teams have asked the question, "What if stormtroopers, but in black?" If the white armor of a stormtrooper signifies expendability and poor results on the Imperial marksmanship test, then how much more serious and threatening would a squad of black-clad soldiers appear? The shiny sable stylings of Darth Vader can't be everywhere at once. Sometimes you have to provide your own, as The Mandalorian's Moff Gideon well knows.

Gideon has already deployed black-clad Death Troopers, first seen in Rogue One, against Mando and his allies on Nevarro during the first season. But the last scene of chapter 12 of the series finds him aboard his ship inspecting a new series of black armor. The place of honor afforded these suits (and the presence of a scientist in the background) seems to indicate this is a new class of soldier — an experimental one, that could hearken back to the franchise's history.

Where did Dark Troopers first appear?

Dark Troopers were introduced to the Star Wars universe in 1995's first-person shooter video game Star Wars: Dark Forces, developed by LucasArts. Much of the game's plot is concerned with the efforts of the former Imperial stormtrooper turned Rebel spy and mercenary Kyle Katarn to uncover and destroy the experimental Dark Trooper program being run by the Imperial general Rom Mohc.

Many of the details of Mohc's Dark Troopers were designed to serve the needs of the game. Katarn faced off against a variety of different phases, one that was little more than a cybernetic skeleton with a sword, one with a jetpack and a variety of long-range armaments, and one ultra-powerful exoskeleton used by Mohc himself to face Katarn aboard his ship, the Arc Hammer. The Dark Troopers program allowed the designers to organically incorporate a more threatening class of enemies than the typical Star Wars cannon fodder, and to ramp up their difficulty as players progressed through the game.

The vast majority of the Dark Troopers' appearances throughout the Legends canon put them in a similar role. They continued to be used as player-controlled or enemy units in a variety of video games, from the original 2004 Star Wars Battlefront to the MMORPG Star Wars: Galaxies. Details varied. In Dark Forces it's implied that Dark Troopers are droids. In the strategy game Star Wars: Rebellion, they're Force-sensitive troops in exoskeletons. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed challenged the player to fight with massive purge troopers, an early model of Dark Trooper. No matter their provenance, their purpose was much the same: to provide a level up from a typical Imperial stormtrooper.

What do Gideon's experiments have to do with Dark Troopers?

This history was wiped clean when much of the Star Wars canon was confined to Legends status after the franchise was purchased by Disney. Dark Troopers noticeably didn't appear in either the 2015 Battlefront game or its sequel, though some of its design elements were incorporated into other units. A version of the Dark Trooper did appear in the mobile strategy game Star Wars: Commander, and the DT-series sentry droid introduced in Star Wars Rebels drew many design elements from the Dark Trooper. 

Given what we know about Moff Gideon and what we learn about his experiments in The Mandalorian chapter 12, it seems many of the elements from the old canon could be folded into the story of his Dark Troopers. Gideon appears to be yet another Imperial warlord pursuing a powerful but untested weapon. The nature of the experiment as outlined by the recording of Dr. Pershing (Omid Abtahi) on the Nevarro base, taking blood with a high "M-count" from the Child and injecting it into subjects, seems designed to create new Force-wielders. To what end remains to be seen. The subjects seen in the base's lab bore some resemblance to an even more malformed Snoke, so the experiments could be a version of the Sith cloning processes on Exegol as seen in The Rise of Skywalker.

How dangerous will Gideon's Dark Troopers be?

Gideon could be attempting to create his own vanguard of Force-sensitive elite troopers to fill the ranks of the Dark Trooper armor he's inspecting. If that's the case, then Pershing's confession that the experiment has been a failure would seem to suggest that if Mando does face off with them in the near future, they won't have their full set of abilities. But Pershing refers to "promising results for an entire fortnight" before the bodies rejected the blood, so there's a chance that these partial successes get thrown into the fray even if there's a timer on their effectiveness.

No matter the details, and no matter whether they're called "Dark Troopers" or given another name on the show, it seems all but certain that Gideon's experimental army will serve a similar purpose as these old video game terrors. Mando and his blaster-proof beskar have made short work of any stormtrooper he's encountered. It's time for the series to test his skills by throwing a new, more dangerous threat at him.