- "How about you get into this armor and try to see out of this damn helmet?"
Stormtrooper armor was a distinctive white plastoid body armor over a sealed black body glove worn by Imperial stormtroopers, and in this respect appeared similar to their Clone Wars Phase II clone trooper armor predecessors, having acquired its color from the austere tastes of its Kaminoan creators. The complete set of eighteen pieces completely encased the body and typically had no individually distinguishing marking outside of rank. In fact, the casual first-time observer sometimes mistook stormtroopers for a form of battle droids. Aside from the obvious physical advantages in combat, stormtrooper armor also acted as a form of psychological warfare: The armor was designed to be without distinctions, to ensure that foes and citizens alike saw only a united and implacable force, lowering enemy morale during combat operations.
It also protected the troopers from very harsh environments as well as projectiles and kinetic-energy weapons. The armor significantly reduced damage to the wearer from a blaster bolt, but it could be completely penetrated by a more powerful cannon blast. The body glove allowed for operation in warm or cold climates; however, it could protect the trooper from almost any environment, from total vacuum to extremes in cold and heat for a very limited time. The Imperial Army acquired the use of the armor in the later years of the Galactic Empire.
Rank was indicated with colored pauldrons. In certain situations, stormtroopers wore camouflage armor to help them blend in with different environments.
Private ownership of stormtrooper armor was strictly forbidden by the Empire.
- "Our body armor isn't able to withstand direct blaster shots, but it is designed to survive the most extreme conditions."
The most obvious function of the armor was protection against weapons fire and battlefield hazards. The armor, and the body glove worn beneath, were designed to disperse the energy of a blaster bolt and insulate the wearer, lessening injury. The body glove provided insulation and cushioning while also regulating body temperature during periods of exertion, and could also act as a compression sleeve to stem bleeding if a stormtrooper was injured. It also provided limited protection against radiation, as the body glove maintained cellular integrity in the presence of a catastrophic reactor leak. Although standard armor lacked the durability to make the wearer immune to cannon fire, it could partially deflect or disperse energy from low-, medium-, and high-energy blaster bolts; though the wearer may be incapacitated, survival would allow the trooper to receive advanced medical treatment that could return him to service.
The breastplate was the strongest part of the armor, offering the greatest protection from shrapnel, projectiles, flames, and various corrosives, and was sturdy enough to disperse across the surface area of the armor's plasteel all hits from blaster and other handheld energy weapons barring close-range direct impacts.
The forearm portions of the arm segments were reinforced enough to intercept vibroblades during close-quarters combat. The armor deflected stun beams, and served as excellent protection against explosions and shrapnel, thereby drastically reducing the effective casualty radius of fragmentation weapons used against troops wearing such armor. It was almost impossible to kill a stormtrooper with a slugthrower unless the bullet was abnormally large or specifically armor piercing, or hit the body glove or visor lenses. Although this armor provided less protection from blaster weapons than wartime Phase I and Phase II armor, it offered superior protection from the elements. In addition, stormtrooper armor could deflect glancing bolts and reduce damage from bolts absorbed.
Stormtrooper armor was fitted with air filters and fully sealed against chemical and biological attack; the armor could even protect the wearer against vacuum for a limited time. A back-mounted tank contained 20 minutes of emergency oxygen. The body glove provided limited thermal protection.
All components for stormtrooper armor and equipment was manufactured to the highest standards in the Empire. As a result, their armor lasted indefinitely, and could even be still found half-buried at decades-old battle sites.
Most stormtrooper armor was integrated with standard personal ray-shield projectors (unlike that of clone troopers) in order to survive open blaster fire in case cover was limited or nonexistent. It also improved hand-to-hand combat, enabling standard troopers to survive contact with vibroblades (although not lightsabers). Nevertheless, shield projectors consumed significant power, and they tended to overheat and fail under sustained blaster fire or under prolonged contact with a lightsaber, and unless the trooper carried a power generator (which was very bulky) the shield projector could require several minutes until it could be reactivated once it failed. These factors made personal trooper shields rare on prolonged engagements and/or where terrain had a certain degree of surrounding cover. Also lack of experience from novice cadets towards blaster and lightsaber firepower made the shield projector an underestimated and underused piece of equipment.
Other features of the armor included:
- The gloves could be powered up during hand-to-hand combat to deliver stun shocks via an optional modification.
- The stomach armor contained a Manual Suit Seal and environmental controls.
- The thigh armor had a reinforced alloy plate ridge.
- The lower right leg segment contained the suit's axillary power cells.
- The left upper side of the shin armor had a knee-protector plate for comfort from a kneeling firing position.
- IFF circuitry was in the back of the suit for identification and command purposes for identifying each other.
- A resonator to open secure doors
- A personal energy shield for use during combat. This was specifically issued to stormtrooper commanders of particularly high value.
By 130 ABY, stormtrooper armor had reportedly been further strengthened to absorb and diffuse direct blaster hits. However, during the Battle of Borosk between the 407th and 908th stormtrooper divisions, it was observed that direct blaster hits seemed to render troopers incapacitated, although it is possible that the effect of the blast was dissipated and the trooper survived.
By this date, slight modifications had been made to stormtrooper armor in the breathing system and back plate, and the leg pieces were modified with separated knee pieces, which brought a visage likeness to the clone trooper armor. Despite this, stormtrooper armor hardly looked different from how it did during the Galactic Civil War over a century prior.
In a return to the convention followed in the early years of the Clone Wars, the armor of NCOs by the 130s ABY was distinguished by different colors. For example, sergeants were identified by yellow-green stripes that ran the length of their arm, similar to the Katarn VI armor.
In the early years of the Galactic Empire, stormtroopers used Phase II clone trooper armor.
Although not actual stormtrooper gear, some pinup posters depicted female stormtrooper gear with a bare midriff and what was compared to two gravity well projectors on the breastplate. Isila Drutch, an actual female member of the Stormtrooper Corps, noted that the depicted armor was impractical for combat, citing that no female, even if she were built like an Askajian, would require a breastplate with particular emphasis on the chest since she would be wearing a body glove made to survive in a vacuum underneath, and the bare midriff being unsuitable, citing her personal experience on her home planet of Parshoone.
- "I can't see a thing in this helmet!"
- ―Luke Skywalker
Stormtrooper helmets had a four-layer construction. The outer layer was made of plastoid composite armor, the next layer was an anti-blaster mesh, followed by magnetic shielding, and finally an inner insulator. Cellular padding helped prevent head injury.
During the height of the Galactic Empire, the standard-issue helmet included a rubber guard strip that acted as the border between the face and the cranium of the helmet. The cranium "shell" portion of the helmet was made of plasteel, and contained osmotic filter plates on the sides and back of the helmet. The rear osmotic filters contained heat-dispersion vents. The front of the helmet contained a pair of Soldex automatic polarizing filters. The characteristic frown on the helmets acted as natural air vents. In addition, heat-dispersion vents were located near the Soldex filters. Dymak Exhaust Filters were likewise located near the rim of the helmet. The vocoder direct speaker interface was on the "chin" of the helmet, between two Bliar induction filters. Near the back of the helmet was a 3814-7 auto-seal conduit. On the sides of the helmet were auditory sensors, which were connected to a lateral conduit housing. Inside the helmet was a ComTech Series IV speaker system within the auditory sensor, which was equipped with a three-phase Sonic motivator and was connected via power conduits to atmospheric processing units, which included a Motivator sending unit and ventral power units. In the ventral area of the helmet's interior, the edges were lined with Reifflex cellular padding. The interior of the helmet's faceplate contained a voice-activator housing, and the user would speak via a ComTech sensa-mic. The same equipment also came with a dermal cross link. The equipment was between two Atmospheric transduction nozzles, which connected the Bliar filters to the atmospheric processing units. The ComTech vocoder altered the stormtrooper's natural voice into a more processed tone. Overall, the helmet featured the same plastoid composite as the rest of the armor, although it also incorporated an inner layer of magnetic shielding.
Various sensors, specifically those relating to threat targeting, were also incorporated into the helmet, although these were only active when its designated owner wore the helmet, as a security measure to ensure they could not be used by their enemies, as well as reducing the uniform's value on the black market. These features included filters that screened out chemical and biological contaminants, heat-dispersal vents that maintained a consistent temperature, polarized lenses that collected non-visual data for display on the helmet's holographic head-up display as well as adjusting for various environmental conditions (i.e., automatically darkening to prevent retinal damage from explosions), and auditory sensors which could record and play back sounds. However, Rebel Alliance member Wedge Antilles implied that the visual sensors for stormtrooper helmets had blind spots. The helmet also contained an IFF transponder readout that allowed a stormtrooper to identify his squadmates.
Over time, the helmets evolved and implemented new technology. For example, earlier models included only simple eye lenses with very few visual modes available, such as infrared and standard targeting systems, but as technology increased, the helmets began to feature more advanced visual targeting systems including:
- Automatic polarizing and anti-flash blinding lenses protected the trooper against intense glare and provided them with enhanced combat vision or "Holographic Vision Processors" (which allowed vision through many barriers such as smoke, darkness and fire).
- Multi-Frequency Targeting and Acquisition System (MFTAS) helped with the stormtroopers' perception in darkness as well as smoke and other visibility-obscuring conditions.
Additionally, stormtrooper helmets contained features such as:
- Built-in comlink (see below)
- Advanced Breathing Filters (which acted as protection against chemical and biological attacks, as well as toxins)
- Cooling and atmosphere control systems
By 130 ABY, stormtrooper helmets included updated sensors. The helmet's appearance was slightly modified to appear as a cross between the Phase II clone trooper armor and the original stormtrooper helmets. A number of variations were also introduced to accommodate alien species that were newly allowed to enroll in the Stormtrooper Corps. Still, stormtrooper helmets shared a very common difficulty. A helmet needed to be powered by using a general code provided by a central system. This was meant to prevent piracy or stealing of helmets. By doing this, if for any reason the helmet was stolen, the thief could not be able to access any of the visual modes of the helmet, making it very difficult to see through it.
A comlink with frequency-changing options was built into the trooper's helmet. The comlink used linked encoding sequences to rotate frequencies every few seconds while keeping all troopers in the unit synchronized. If a trooper's helmet was removed without the trooper first hitting the comlink's control stud (most likely found on the under-rim of the helmet), the frequency coding routine was automatically deleted from that helmet.
The Comtech Series IV helmet speaker used three-phase sonic filtering for clear sound (for troopers, it was connected to the audio pickup). It also had a vocoder for talking to non-stormtroopers. Video recorders were included in some helmets.
Utility belt and backpack
Stormtroopers were equipped with a utility belt. This would include:
- A high-tension wire
- Two grappling hooks
- Four spare E-11 blaster rifle power packs
- Three ion flares
- Energy rations
- A spare C1 military comlink hardwired against jamming
- Three water packs
- Two medpacs
- Two blast energy sinks
- A thermal detonator
- Combat de-ionizer
- wrist binders for capturing prisoners
- Electronic lock scrambler/descrambler
The backplate of the standard armor contained a power pack as well as a small supply of air (see above). In certain deployments, stormtroopers were equipped with backpacks. These backpacks would contain:
- An extended air supply that permitted a stormtrooper to survive up to twenty minutes in vacuum
- Additional communications gear
- Cooling systems
- Mortar launchers
- A heater (contained in the snowtrooper backpack)
- Additional rations
- An encrypted telemetry transmitter, a small embedded disc that allowed troopers to identify friend from foe amidst identically armored stormtroopers
- Rechargeable cells that fed energy to the armor's electronic components, with a standard charge lasting 240 hours
Behind the scenes
Stormtrooper armor as portrayed in the films is highly ineffective as combat protection and is generally hindering to the wearer. It largely contributes to the now-infamous stormtrooper effect and has given rise to much fan speculation and outright mockery. However, numerous role-playing and other such sources state that stormtrooper armor is, on average, the best available armor, for protection versus weight/mobility restriction, only being limited by its illegality to purchase, thus commanding exorbitant prices on the black market.
In Episode IV, the mouth grill size on stormtrooper helmets is inconsistent. When a few stormtroopers go with an imprisoned Leia Organa, the one on the right has a long grill, while the one on the left has a short one. This is because two different designs were used for the helmets in the film. The first and most numerous was the stunt helmet, which had a larger frown, while the Hero helmet had a smaller frown among other differences. Luke's line of "I can't see a thing in this helmet!" while disguised as a stormtrooper was an ad-lib by his actor, Mark Hamill, due to the helmet prop not including proper eyeholes.
The armor was noted to be somewhat uncomfortable to wear, and actors in it tended to prefer to sit on sawhorses rather than in normal chairs. The film crews have shared several anecdotes about the armor. The molded plastic back plate has two bars and a circular impression, comically called the "Twinkies and doughnut" as if the backpack were an emergency food-storage unit. The canister on the rear belt was originally going to be a lightsaber/laser sword due to early drafts of the artwork and film script having swordplay be fairly common, and laser swords carried by nearly every character.
Replica stormtrooper armor is popular among fan groups, such as the 501st Legion, but ironically, is often produced illegally, in breach of intellectual property laws. In 2008, George Lucas sued Shepperton Design Studios over its production of unlicensed stormtrooper armor, although the decision was not binding in the UK.