One of the greatest things about Star Wars is its space battles and throughout its history we’ve been treated to a huge variety of starfighters. The Imperial Navy is of course home to the iconic TIE fighter, but as the Rebellion dragged on the Empire saw the need to create a new kind of ship: the TIE interceptor.
Why Develop a TIE Interceptor?
Imperial weapons development never ceased, and we get a fascinating glimpse into the political in-fighting and resource management in Season Four of Rebels, where Grand Admiral Thrawn abandons Lothal to head for Coruscant because he has to address his case before the Emperor for why his fighter program should get budget and resources instead of Director Krennic’s “Stardust” program. This exchange is interesting because it shows that even an organization as vast as the Galactic Empire still needs to worry about the cost of programs. Seeing the dark dimensions of political maneuvering adds some interesting pages to our account of Imperial history, and shows how access to the Emperor often trumped good strategic thought.
(It’s also cool because we’ve seen Thrawn’s new ship in action and we know it will be the doom of the Rebellion. Krennic’s “Stardust” is, of course, the Death Star, and we know what’s in store for that project…)
The TIE interceptor program had been developed several years earlier, after consistent rebel victories over standard TIE fighters prompted the Empire to create a faster craft capable of countering the swift Rebel ships.
What’s the difference between TIE Fighter and TIE Interceptor?
The interceptor is clearly from the same TIE family, recognizable for the twin ion engines and large solar panels. But the interceptor was designed specifically for engaging and destroying enemy attack ships; it was optimized for dog-fighting. Although related to its predecessor, the new ship has much higher speed. Its dimensions are similar to the TIE fighter, but with thousands of flight hours to draw on, the designers made some significant changes.
Why the different solar panels?
The solar panels are larger to help draw in more power, feeding the voracious engines and laser cannons. But they’re lower and longer than previous designs to give a smaller profile and make the ship harder to hit. The dark panels have cutaways to give the pilot a wider field of view.
Why is Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter different?
The TIE interceptor wasn’t the first attempt by the Empire to develop a faster, more nimble dogfighter. The TIE flown by Darth Vader in A New Hope was a prototype of the TIE Advanced X1 program, and it was a first-class weapon. It boasted shields, hyperdrive, incredible speed and agility and long range. But it was also very expensive and difficult to mass produce. The Empire always seemed to favor quantity over quality, so the Advanced X1 was shelved to make way for the low-cost TIE interceptor.
Top qualities of the TIE Interceptor
The interceptor had no hyperdrive, no life-support and no shields. But it made up for these deficiencies in four key ways:
The fastest TIE ever built, this ship had superior engine power to out-accelerate and out-run almost any enemy combatant.
TIE interceptors were equipped with an advanced ion-stream projector that allowed them to turn and roll with frightening agility.
Four laser cannons, mounted on the leading tips of the solar panels, gave interceptors a powerful punch.
Perhaps most important of all, TIE interceptors were crewed by elite star pilots who had already proven their worth in combat. Whereas most Imperial units were considered expendable and battles were won by overwhelming numbers, interceptors were flown by ace pilots with real skill.
The Top Fighter in Star Wars?
It’s impossible to say for sure what the best starfighter in Star Wars might be, but the TIE interceptor is clearly at the top of the Imperial set. In the many fleet engagements against the rebels, how did it fare?
TIE Interceptor versus X-Wing
X-Wings were the backbone of the rebel fleet and very capable ships. But they were general-purpose fighters and not as fast nor as maneuverable as the interceptor. With an experienced Rebel pilot in the cockpit this would be a tough fight, but against a rookie the Imperial ace would usually win.
TIE Interceptor versus Y-Wing
This is almost a mismatch, like a motorbike competing against a delivery van in a slalom. These old bombers were tough as nails and could pack a punch, but targeting the nimble Imperial would be tough. Able to set up the attack at leisure, the Imperial pilot would turn this old ship into a sitting duck.
TIE Interceptor versus B-Wing
Hard to say, because these two fighters come from such different design philosophies. The Rebel starfighter was designed to do it all, whereas the Imperial was designed to do just one thing extremely well. If the Rebel could maintain distance and line up a shot, its advanced systems would deliver a kill. But if the Imperial could get in behind for a clear attack run, victory would be swift.
TIE Interceptor versus A-Wing
A-Wings and TIE interceptors were made for each other – both designed to be faster, lighter and nimbler than their opponents. Indeed, the interceptors were literally made to counter this Rebel ship, the manufacturer ordered to build a TIE version specifically to take down these swift, pesky starfighters. History may have been written by the Rebel Alliance, but I think we know that the TIE was a solid match to its slightly faster opponent.
Was the TIE Interceptor a Successful Design?
Any search of the Star Wars databanks or fan site forums reveals a lot of enthusiasm for this ship. It features prominently in many video games and players have spent hours and hours getting up close and personal with this model. When I gear up for Battlefront II this TIE is always my weapon of choice, with its high speed, high maneuverability and solid firepower. So in the world of online content, yes, the TIE interceptor is a very successful design.
But what about in the ongoing Star Wars saga? This ship only appears on the big screen once, in Return of the Jedi, and several times in Rebels. The First Order does have a version of it, but this is only seen in Resistance. One account states that, by the Battle of Endor, these fighters made up one fifth of the Imperial fleet, suggesting that Imperial command was content with the interceptor’s performance and considered it a vital piece of the Empire’s arsenal.
Although it doesn’t get as much screen time as its iconic relation, the TIE interceptor’s ongoing appeal and clear combat superiority make it a top pick for the Empire’s best design.