- "Tell me this, clone. If you all are so efficient, how come the Empire's scouting soldiers like us? Sounds to me like it's time for a change."
- ―ES-01, to CT-9904
Elite Squad Troopers were special forces troopers who served the early Galactic Empire prior to the termination of cloning production on Kamino. In the aftermath of the Clone Wars, the first conscripted soldiers joined the Imperial Army, which, at the time, consisted mainly of the clone troopers who once served the Galactic Republic. Imperial officers such as Vice Admiral Rampart and Admiral Wilhuff Tarkin supported the Empire's initiative to supplement and eventually replace the clones with willing recruits.
A team of highly trained Elite Squad Troopers, ES-01, ES-02, ES-03 and ES-04, served under Clone Commander CT-9904. Their introduction to the ranks of the Imperial Military threatened the interests of the Kaminoans, whereas Tarkin saw them as further evidence that the Empire would be better served by a cheaper conscription force than an expensive clone army.
- "Clone troopers will be needed to maintain order throughout the galaxy."
"Indeed. A service conscription soldiers could provide at half the cost."
"The skill level and efficiency of our clones is far superior to that of any recruited body."
- ―Lama Su and Wilhuff Tarkin
Elite Squad Troopers originated from Project War-Mantle, a project that aimed to replace clone troopers with conscripted soldiers after the formation of the Galactic Empire. Although the soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic became the first generation of stormtroopers, enforcing the New Order of Galactic Emperor Sheev Palpatine across the galaxy, Admiral and Governor Wilhuff Tarkin considered cloning an exorbitant demand on the Imperial economy.
With the end of the Clone Wars and the collapse of the Separatist leadership, the Emperor ceased to support the Kaminoan scientists who bred the clone army. In addition, the Empire did not consider itself beholden to the contract between its predecessor, the Galactic Republic, and the Kaminoan government, which stipulated the continued production of clone troopers.
The first recruits
- "Conscripted recruits will never reach the same level of military proficiency. Our clones have been trained since their creation."
"Skills can be taught. The loyalty of those who willingly enlist is what I see tremendous value in."
- ―Lama Su and Rampart
Vice Admiral Rampart supervised the recruitment and training of the Empire's first non-clone troopers. Although the Imperial officer recognized the clones as efficient soldiers, he argued that the Empire did not have to depend only on cloning to produce loyal troops. Rampart was particularly interested in individuals who volunteered to enlist in the Imperial Army, seeing extreme potential in their willingness to serve the Empire whereas the clones were programmed for loyalty. Though assigned to the planet Kamino to oversee the clone troopers, Rampart used his new position as an opportunity to present four enlisted recruits to Tarkin. Chosen for their exceptional skills, their names were replaced by alphanumeric designations—ES-01, ES-02, ES-03, and ES-04—as they became the first Elite Squad Troopers.
Prime Minister Lama Su had argued that conscripts were inferior to the clones who trained throughout their accelerated childhood, but Rampart countered that his recruits were capable of gaining the same skills with an experienced clone as their instructor. With Rampart's suggestion in mind, Tarkin placed the Elite Squad under the leadership of Clone Commander CT-9904, an enhanced clone and the sole member of Clone Force 99 whose programming compelled him to remain loyal to the Empire. The members CT-9904's Elite Squad were subjected to tests and observation during their stay in the cloning facility of Tipoca City. ES-01 became agitated by the Kaminoans' medical droids, stating that he enlisted to serve a soldier rather than a test subject. When ES-04 wondered who they would fight with the Clone Wars concluded, ES-01 revealed that he was motivated by the practical benefits that the Empire offered in exchange for service in the Imperial Military, such as food, shelter, and a salary. He recalled that this opportunity never existed for him under the Republic, which had favored clone soldiers over enlisted recruits throughout the Clone Wars.
The Elite Squad and their clone commanding officer were deployed to Onderon with orders to exterminate a group of insurgents led by Saw Gerrera. During the journey to the Onderonian homeworld, ES-01 expressed his doubts about whether a clone was suited to the military rank of commander, especially given that the Empire had begun recruiting natural-born humans to supplement the remaining clone units. Like Tarkin and Rampart, ES-01 anticipated a future where the Empire no longer relied on clones, but for the time being he was willing to serve under CT-9904's command.
The special forces unit ambushed Gerrera's followers in the forest, killing most of them and preventing the rest from escaping aboard an LAAT/le patrol gunship. Gerrera was not with the group during the attack, however, leading CT-9904 to interrogate the prisoners, most of whom were non-combatant civilians. CT-9904 was willing to execute them, having determined that they did not know the whereabouts of Gerrera, but ES-01 opposed the commander's actions. While the trooper considered Gerrera's fighters legitimate targets, he did not view unarmed civilians as such, and refused to comply with orders that he deemed immoral. CT-9904 responded by executing ES-01 after the latter tried to relieve him of command in order to save the civilians. CT-9904's actions compelled the rest of the Elite Squad to comply with his orders, and as such they used their weapons to kill the remaining captives.
The future of cloning
- "If Rampart has his way, conscripted recruits will make clones obsolete. I fear for the future of our operation. We must ensure our clones remain essential."
- ―Lama Su, to Nala Se
Tarkin and Rampart welcomed the Elite Squad's return to Kamino as well as CT-9904's report on the destruction of Gerrera's camp. Despite Gerrera's survival, Tarkin noted that the kill order he issued had been obeyed by the clone's squad, whereas CT-9904's former team—"Hunter," "Tech," "Wrecker," and CT-1409 "Echo"—disobeyed the admiral. The death of ES-01 was dismissed by Rampart as an "unfortunate" but acceptable loss given the risks associated with military service. The completion of the mission convinced both Imperial officers that the Empire could dispense with replace cloning with conscription as the primary method for maintaining the military. However, Tarkin concluded that the Empire was not ready to abandon clones entirely; he therefore decided that the clone trooper program would remain intact for the time being. Tarkin then departed from Kamino, leaving Rampart to oversee the clone troopers as well as the new stormtrooper program that threatened the status of the "old guard."
While Tarkin approved of Rampart's initiative to improve the Elite Squad Troopers by having them train under an enhanced clone such as CT-9904, their success in the field concerned Lama Su and Doctor Nala Se. As the genetic material of Jango Fett was becoming less reliable for the production of new clone troopers, the Kaminoans were determined to create a superior clone in the hope of securing their future with the Empire.
- "What is the status of Project War Mantle?"
"On schedule, sir. Our top recruits are here to begin their training under their new commander."
- ―Wilhuff Tarkin and Rampart
Elite Squad Troopers were highly skilled enlisted recruits. They were tasked with neutralizing anti-Imperial insurgents throughout the galaxy in order to prove the effectiveness of non-clone troops.
Vice Admiral Rampart introduced the first Elite Squad Troopers as some of the best trained soldiers in the galaxy to Admiral Tarkin. Given sufficient time and resources, Rampart believed that his soldiers had the potential to become an unprecedented military force. It was the Vice Admiral who suggested that the Elite Squad Troopers complete their training with a skilled clone, such as CT-9904, as their instructor and commanding officer. Lama Su had argued that recruited conscripts would never achieve the caliber of the clone troopers who were trained since their creation, however Rampart countered that clones' skills could be learned by enlisted volunteers.
The members of the first Elite Squad wore modified clone trooper armor, specially designed to fit the individual bodies of non-clone conscripts who differed from the genetically identical clone troopers. This version of the armor was similar to the Phase II clone trooper armor, consisting of armor plates worn over a black body glove, although its primary color was black and the helmet lens was green. The Elite Squad used the same weapons as standard clone troopers, such as the DC-15A blaster carbine and the DC-15A blaster rifle. Additionally, ES-04 carried a flamethrower during her time in CT-9904's squad.
A version of the Elite Squad Trooper's armor was worn by CT-9904, and was therefore similar to the design of his old Katarn-class Commando Armor. Aside from the new armor, CT-9904 continued to use the 773 Firepuncher rifle and a DC-17 hand blaster, weapons which had served him during his time as a sniper in Clone Force 99.
- Star Wars: The Bad Batch – "Replacements" (First appearance)
- Star Wars: The Bad Batch – "Reunion"
- Star Wars: The Bad Batch – "Bounty Lost"
- Star Wars: The Bad Batch – "Devil's Deal"
- Star Wars: The Bad Batch – "Rescue on Ryloth"
- Star Wars: The Bad Batch – "War-Mantle"