The Top Ten Best TIE Fighter Variants
There are few vehicles from the Star Wars universe that are more iconic than the TIE Fighter. Sure, the Millennium Falcon may get the most love, and Rebel ships like the X-Wing are up there in popularity too, but nothing else really is really more identifiable more than those sleek, compact little bastards that swarmed our heroes in countless space battles from the original Star Wars Trilogy.
The name “TIE Fighter” actually has dual meanings. Obviously, they’re named because of their appearance. When George Lucas dubbed them as such, he did so due to their similarity to a bow tie. But the name means more than that in the Star Wars Universe. The reason TIE is usually represented in all capitals is because it’s an acronym for Twin Ion Engine.
In the fiction, TIEs are produced by Sienar Fleet Systems for the Galactic Empire, and are the successors to the original Jedi Starfighters. You can see the evolution in the prequel trilogy from the old style starfighters in Episode II to the versions in Episode III which share some design elements with the TIE Fighters we all grew up with. The idea behind these one-person craft was that they were cheap and therefore expendible, but highly effective in great numbers. The basic design features a spherical cockpit with a large wing on either side which is covered with solar panels, making them energy efficient as well. Al Gore would approve.
But even as cool as the original TIE Fighter was, the variations of the original craft that were devised for the movies as well as in the “Expanded Universe” are sometimes even cooler. How cool? Well, here’s a look at some of the ones that just made the cut.
10. TIE ap-1 (TIE Mauler)
First appearance: Star Wars: Empire at War (Video Game)
Not every variation of the TIE Fighter was a starfighter. After all, the Empire needed some ground support too, and AT-ATs and AT-STs weren’t ideal in all environments. Plus, they were pretty easy to topple and weren’t really bulit for speed. Enter the TIE Mauler, which was lightly armored but fast on the ground. This small tank was armed with blaster cannons, but its pilots seemed to get more joy (and probably better results) out of just mowing down their enemies with the heavy treads that it rode on.
9. TIE/D (TIE Defender)
First appearance: Star Wars: TIE Fighter (Video Game)
Most of the TIE variants you’ll see have traditional bilateral symmetry, but the TIE Defender takes its design to a new level, adding a third wing and giving it a trilateral design. Aside from its striking design, the Defender stood out amongst most of its brethren due to the fact that it was capable of hyperdrive travel. It was also larger and heavier than most of the others in its class, which led to it being a more expensive craft. The Defender is one of the few non-movie TIE models that has made its way into multiple mediums, found in multiple books, comics, and games, and one of only a few that have been made into official LEGO sets.
8. TIE Hunter
First Appearance: Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (Video Game)
The TIE Hunter is relatively obscure in the Star Wars universe, as its only appearance to date is in a game that was only introduced for the Nintendo GameCube. However, despite its limited exposure, it makes the list here for the fact that the Hunter is the Star Wars equivalent of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: It combines features of the TIE Fighter and the X-Wing Starfighter, possessing S-Foils that can open in attack mode. As a result, the Hunter looked especially menacing, and would probably make a pretty excellent toy if Hasbro or LEGO or any other company ever decided to draw on it for inspiration.
7. TIE/sa Bomber (TIE Bomber)
First Appearance: Star Wars 15: Star Duel (Comic)
Most folks will recognize the TIE Bomber instantly, as it was one of the few variants on this list that made its way on the big screen in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but it was actually first seen in the original Marvel Comics series in 1978. And while some of the other variations that came later make this one seem rather tame, this was the biggest departure from the original TIE concept that had ever been conceived at one point. Unlike the fast but frail standard TIE fighters, the bomber was slower and more heavily armored. It also offset its cockpit to accomodate an ordinance pod which dropped explosives onto targets below, hence the craft’s name.
6. TIE Interdictor (Advanced TIE Bomber)
First appearance: Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (Video Game)
The TIE Bomber, which is best known for its appearances in Empire and Jedi on the big screen, was pretty damned impressive despite having only one ordinance pod. So imagine taking that idea and multiplying it by four, creating a TIE Bomber capable of dropping multiple bombs at one time. That’s exactly what was going on with the Advanced Tie Bomber, which was sometimes referred to by the much less menacing but far dirtier-sounding name “Interdictor”. While there’s not a lot of information on this craft out there, the ridiculousness of taking the TIE Bomber concept this far merits a spot this high on this list.
5. Century Tank (TIE Crawler/TIE Tank)
First appearance: Dark Empire (Comic)
If you thought the TIE Mauler was pretty badass, then you probably will think its successor was even more so. Introduced following the fall of the Empire (that time when a bunch of Teddy Bears helped to bring down the most powerful armed force in the galaxy), the Crawler was more maneuverable and more powerful than the Mauler that preceded it. It was also cheap to construct, as it was made from primarily recycled parts. Making its debut in the brilliant Dark Empire comic series, the Crawler was featured in several follow-up series as well. Much like the Tie Defender, this variant was also the inspiration for an official LEGO kit as well, making it one of the more prolific expanded universe vehicles.
4. TIE Phantom
First Appearance: Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (Video Game)
The TIE Defender, mentioned earlier on this list, possesses trilateral symmetry in its wing structure, but it wasn’t the only one to feature this layout. The Prototype TIE Phantom, on top of having a pretty kickass name, was one of the most powerful TIE variations as well. Not only did it possess deflector shields and a hyperdrive, but was also equipped with a cloaking device. In fact, its technology was so advanced that the Empire had it fitted with a remote self-destruct feature to be employed in the event that the craft fell into enemy hands. Drawing design cues from other TIEs as well as the Lambda-class shuttles the Empire used, this craft is probably the most unique-looking of all the flying TIEs here.
3. Predator-class fighter (TIE Predator)
First Appearance: Star Wars Legacy 1: Broken, Part 1 (Comic)
As some of these designs get better and better looking, so do the names begin to sound more and more menacing. I’m pretty sure that before Chris Hansen came along and ruined the word forever, a Predator just sounded like the most bad ass thing in the world something could be. And the TIE Predator really looks the part as well, with its unique blade-shaped wing design. The creepy flying oculus appearance these things put off caused the Galactic Alliance to dub them “Eyeballs”. The Predator also maintains some advanced features that many of the other TIES do not have, such as a deflector sheild and hyperdrive capabilities.
2. TIE/In starfighter (TIE Interceptor)
First Appearance: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Film)
One of the few TIE variations to originate in the films themselves, the TIE Interceptor blew me away the first time I saw it. I was eight years old when I first saw Jedi, and didn’t think the regular old TIE fighter that I knew and loved could really get any better. That was, of course, until the Interceptor darted across the screen and caught my attention. My beloved TIE Fighter had gotten more sleek and had even more weapons than before, and I was never more in awe. In canon, the Interceptor was designed to give the craft a smaller profile, more maneuverability, and more visibility for the pilot, and Emperor Palpatine himself had ordered them as a permanent replacement for the standard TIE until that whole blowing-up-the-death-star thing happened again. The Interceptor lent many of its design cues to later TIE variations such as the Tie Predator and TIE Avenger as well.
1. Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced x1
First Appearance: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Film)
The TIE Advanced x1 tops the list if for no other reason than the fact that it was the personal craft of the Baddest Man in the Galaxy. However, there’s more to it than the fact that this was Vader’s ship. The introduction of the TIE Advanced occurs during the battle of Yavin in the original Star Wars film. At this point, nobody watching had ever seen the dozens of TIE fighters variants that we have come to know since. All we know is that the bad guys in this movie have these little bow-tie looking ships that get blown up easily but are pesky and swarm around your head like a mob of killer bees. We’ve seen them in a few scenes already, and they’re a pain in the ass, but our heroes always manage to get by them. But as the big climax draws near, Darth Vader decides he’s going to take matters into his own hands and boards his own TIE fighter. This one’s unique, though. It’s bulkier than the other ones we’ve seen, it has a much more sophisticated wing design, and it just looks tougher overall. This was the first variation of the TIE fighter, and it’s more or less the protoype for every other variant that’s come since.
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