Imperial Insignia: Officers


The uniforms of officers of the Imperial Forces are elegant and modular, but strikingly unpretentious compared to the regalia of most military organisations on Earth. Stark and subdued, even the costumes of the highest officers suggest a culture of severe and unelaborate functionality. Perhaps this fashion, like the Galactic Emperor's use of simple ascetic robes, is a reaction to the decadence and indolent fancies of the collapsed Old Republic?

Medals and ribbons are awared, as seen in the TIE Fighter computer game, but they are almost never worn by officers on duty. Admiral Giel was an exception, but he was probably following a stubborn and deeply-rooted personal preference. Instead, a piece of insignia known as a rank plaque (as it is named in A New Hope concept art) sits on the breast where ribbons would be kept under any other convention. This badge consists of a rectangular piece of metal fitted with a combination of red, blue or yellow rectangular plastic buttons. Perhaps there is a deliberate implication behind this: rank is symbolically equated with the acculuation of unitary markers of merit. Decoration implies promotion, and promotion implies decoration.

The other vital accessory contributing to the visual distinction of rank is an even more blandly functional device. Rank cylinders are kept in pockets at each shoulder, but they serve as electronic key/pass devices allowing an officer access to data and secure facilities appropriate to his rank and duties.

The standard attire consists of jodhpurs and a buttonless jacket with stiff, upright circular collar. Although there is a single-breasted style of jacket, the usual design is double-breasted, such that a bib-like panel closes the garment on the right-front side. This presumably is mirror-reversed for female officers, according to the general convention for human military clothing. Under the jacket, an Imperial officer wears a cream-white shirt/blouse with French-style cuffs and possibly cufflinks. [See Grand Moff Tarkin's sleeves in A New Hope.] Non-insignia accessories include knee-length shiny black boots, black leather gloves, a cap with a decorative metal button (significance unknown), a black belt that may have a number of metallic boxes clasped to it. (The boxes resemble the items of Chewbacca's bandolier, so they may actually serve some function.) A blaster and holster can be worn, and light combat armour matching the jacket colour is available to non-stormtrooper officers in combat zones.

This officer has been sloppy fastening his jacket, which is fortunate for us because it reveals an interesting detail of the costume. Note the untidy tab attached to the left wing of his collar; it is really meant to go underneath or be inserted into the right wing of the collar, in order to attach the two wings together and help keep the collar upright.

Admiral Daala as depicted in the computer game Rebellion has an officer tunic that seems as if it may fasten on the left side, as it should for a female uniform. However the shape of the panel is somewhat unusual; it is not a simple mirror-reversed version of the male costume. Perhaps this is a more casual form of attire than the usual semi-dress officer uniform.

Admiral Daala in yet another type of naval uniform not seen in the movies [from STAR WARS Galaxy Magazine #12]. Perhaps this is the standard officer's vacuum suit, minus the helmet.


One of the most important steps in determining a coherent universal system for the interpretation of the Imperial officer insignia is the establishment of a list of commissioned ranks. Since the STAR WARS films are considered to be an English translation from the history of a culture existing "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away", the basic system of military ranks must match established military protocol and terminology in the international English language. This is fundamental and invitable, an inherent consequence of the construction of the STAR WARS tale.

There can be only minor modifications to the conventional scheme. Geocentric or planet-bound references must be updated to space age equivalents. In particular, words like "air" must be dropped from "airforce" officer terms. Ranks unique to one service cannot be used in another service unless there is a powerful excuse. The order of ranks cannot be reversed at any point, because the sequence of seniority is implicit in the terminology itself. Ranks in different services which are of equal status on Earth must be of equal status in "translated" STAR WARS. The only real room for alteration is the insertion of intermediate ranks, the subdivision of ranks into sub-ranks, and the addition of new higher ranks accounting for the fact that galaxy-wide military organisations are much bigger than national terrestrial armed forces.

In the dedicated Nomenclature page I tabulated the commissioned officer titles of the English language, adapted from various references on etiquette and the advice of real-life historians, officers, NCOs and servicemen. Terms which are geocentric or superfluous to the STAR WARS milieu are adjusted. This table has been fitted with the known examples of insignia and ranks seen in the movies, in such a way that the order of seniority is preserved. Seniority increases towards the top of the table; levels on the same row of the table are of equal status. The results are tabulated in a scheme of officer ranks below.

When working through all the particular examples of insignia, the levels of seniority seem to naturally fit into seven broad bands of rank, each of which has four potential sub-levels (except for the highest strata of joint-service officers). This hierarchic structure is most clear in Lord Vader's forces, in the last two movies, where all officers of the same supra-rank band have the same plaque, and adjacent ranks are directly indicated by a cylinder class. It should be noted that there is nothing inherently special about this style of insignia; it is simply easier to interpret because it lacks certain complications found in other aesthetic schemes.

To forumlate the table below, note that the movies explicitly fix naval captain, commander and lieutenant at levels [3,1], [3,2] and [2,1] respectively. General Veers [4,1] must be one of the lowest kinds of general, given the closeness of his badge to that of a naval captain, and at least two intermediate ranks must be fitted (commodore/brigadier and line captain/high colonel) therefore it is almost certain that [4,1] is a major general. By a similar argument, Admiral Ozzel [6,3] must be one of the highest kinds of admiral, in order to make appropriate use of the intervening rank levels for the intermediate levels of admirals, generals and marshals.

The rank of grand moff must exceed all of the regular plaques as well as allowing room for the levels of moff, high admiral, surface marshal and the equivalent starfighter rank. The rank of grand admiral must exceed all of these. Captain Khurgee's insignia must be equivalent to either a naval captain [3,1] or line captain. Colonel Yularen equals an army colonel or naval captain [3,1]. Commander Praji's insignia equals a naval commander [3,2]. The insignia of Lieutenants Jir, Tanbirs etc must equate to something in the range from lieutenant down to acting sublieutenant and second lieutenant. Chief Bast must rank lower than General Tagge but higher than Captain Khurgee; and Tagge is some kind of general lower than a grand moff. Admiral Motti must be some kind of admiral (ie. not much lower than General Veers [4,1]) but lower than a grand moff and probably lower than Tagge, considering his age and tacit rank. The unitary rules of equivalence describing the universal meaning of the rank squares and cylinders in all local aesthetic schemes must meet all of the above constraints. The set of viable solutions to this problem is small and allows little room for negotiation. The most simple, minimal solution yet discovered is described below and given some specific justifications.

Rank Class Navy Army Starfighter ISB
7 1 [Emperor or nominated executor or proxy]4
2 Grand Admiral Grand General

4 Supreme Moff3
5 Grand Moff
6 Moff
6 1 High Admiral7 Surface Marshal5 High Marshal8 ?
2 " " "
3 Fleet Admiral6 High General7 Force Marshal
4 " " "
5 1 Admiral General Chief Marshal General
2 " " "
3 Vice Admiral Lieutenant General Marshal
4 " " "
4 1 Rear Admiral Major General Vice-Marshal ?
2 Commodore Brigadier Commodore
3 " " "
4 Line Captain1 High Colonel1 -
3 1 Captain Colonel Group Captain Colonel
2 Commander Lt Colonel Wing Commander
3 Lt Commander Major Squadron Leader
4 " " "
2 1 Lieutenant Captain Flight Lieutenant Lieutenant
2 Sub-Lieutenant [First] Lieutenant Flying Officer
3 " " "
4 " " "
1 1 Acting Sub-Lt Second Lt Pilot Officer ?
2 Midshipman/Ensign9 - -
3 - - -
4 - - -


  1. High Colonel and Line Captain were inserted by West End Games (in The Imperial Sourcebook) and do not have real-world counterparts. However Line Captain is convenient for explaining the otherwise-difficult insignia of Decipher's Captain Khurgee.
  2. Ranks interpolated from those already known in the literature.
  3. The rank of Supreme Moff is mentioned in Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope, p47 by Grant Boucher, 1989. As of the Battle of Yavin, this rank level existed only as a potential; no person had yet received a promotion to such a position. It is unknown whether any Supreme Moffs were ever appointed. A Supreme Moff is a higher analogue of a Grand Moff.
  4. Emperor's theoretical insignia probably remain unused in practice. This position would nominally be held by a proxy such as Lord Vader, or by Sedris after Vader's defection and martyrdom.
  5. Surface Marshal is the same as Field Marshal, in terrestrial terms. It was expressed this way in The Imperial Sourcebook.
  6. Fleet Admiral: identical to "Admiral of the Fleet" on Earth. The form used here eliminates superfluous words.
  7. High General & High Admiral: Ranks explicitly introduced in The Imperial Sourcebook; inserted into the general convention because STAR WARS naval and military forces are larger in scope than Earthly equivalents, thus requiring more levels of higher officers.
  8. High Marshal: conjectural higher starfighter force ranks, based on extrapolation from naval practice; equivalent to naval High Admiral.
  9. Midshipman / Ensign: These two terms are exactly synonymous and both are in use. They both refer to the most junior commissioned naval officers, who have finished their academy training and are earning experience aboard an active warship. A midshipman may also refer to a naval officer cadet who has no space experience and is still studying at his academy; however the term "ensign" is never applied to such a trainee.

In real life on Earth, admirals and generals are often denoted by a number of stars. Most countries have only ever had officers as high as the 5-star or 6-star level (in theory), however the size of the Imperial Forces means that the ranks continue upwards beyond terrestrial precedents, perhaps reaching the equivalent of an 11-star admiral with an officer such as Grand Admiral Thrawn. In these terms the comparable and ordinary admirals and generals of the Imperial Forces appear to follow a correspondence like this:

	6-star:		rank 6, class II & I
	5-star:		rank 6, class IV & III
	4-star:		rank 5, class II & I
	3-star:		rank 5, class IV & III
	2-star:		rank 4, class I
	1-star:		rank 4, class III & II

Higher Organisation

There are two basic modes of deployment in the Imperial Forces. Much of the naval and military power of the Galactic Empire is distributed throughout the galaxy and stationed within particular regions for local defence. However substantial assets are kept under central control, either in Core reserve or patrolling the galaxy at large.

Sectors are political regions defined so that they encompass several hunderd to several thousand inhabited worlds, plus several million systems lacking permanent settlement. The gathered total of the Empire's naval and military forces assigned to a particular sector of space is known as a sector group. Most of the rank titles tabulated above are those used in a sector group.

The supreme commander of a sector group is a Moff, the military official who governs the sector politically (after the dissolution of the Imperial Senate) as well as martially. Grand Moffs command the equivalent of several sector groups for the purpose of pacifying temporary territories called priority sectors. These regions are composed of adjacent parts of one or more sectors where rebellion or crime are rife. The rank of Supreme Moff is similar, but presumably involves wider territory and even greater naval and military resources. It is not yet known whether any Supreme Moffs were ever legitimately appointed. Officers of sufficient seniority from any service who are judged to be suitable for joint command and governmental responsibilities become Moffs, Grand Moffs or Supreme Moffs. However each service should have rank titles for those officers who are at the same level of seniority but who only have command in their own service, working in non-territorial units. (The exact titles for these higher admirals, generals and marshals aren't yet known.)

In addition to the armed forces attached to particular regional governments, there exist naval and military assets which are deployable in the Empire as a whole. More than a tenth of the Empire's armed forces are kept in reserve in the Galactic Core. The central forces are at the disposal of the Emperor, the twelve Grand Admirals or for deployment in elite roving commands such as those of Lord Darth Vader and Admiral Giel.

Since the scope of the central forces is greater than for regional assets, they may contain officers of seniority equalling or exceeding moffs and grand moffs. However unlike the regional military governorships, these positions would not be joint-service ranks, and would not involve governmental duties. The grand admirals are the Navy's pinnacle, and the Army probably has comparable officers. (In the computer game Force Commander there is mention of a character named Grand General Malcor Brashin; his rank is probably the equivalent of a Grand Admiral.) There may exist other strata of elite officers who are slightly lower, but still above the moffs. Admiral Giel, who led the largest armada known in Imperial history, may have been one of these kinds of ultra admirals.


The insignia of Imperial officers can be fitted together into a coherent scheme with a minimum of four rules, plus one statement of notation. These rules are statements of equivalence between particular permutations of the units of insignia. According to these rules, the entire insignia configuration of an officer can be converted or compared to an equivalent configuration in an alternative aesthetic scheme.

Although the intrinsic meaning of the individual elements remains the same throughout the whole galaxy and the entire history of Palpatine's Galactic Empire, there may be local regulations governing the forms of insignia acceptable within particular military units. For instance, in Lord Vader's taskforce gold squares are never used; whereas in Grand Moff Tarkin's priority sector forces the number of rank cylinders is fixed over wide ranges of rank.

There are some ranks which can be more readily expressed in one scheme than in certain others. Officers with these kinds of ranks may have insignia diverging from the local standard, or else may use insignia suitable for the next rank either above or below.

Some officers may accumulate rank squares and change cylinders in an individual way, without conforming to an aesthetic sub-scheme. The pattern of squares would roughly record his history of promotion. Different square colours have different values and properties when strictly determining rank; and they may reflect military functions as well. Red obviously denotes executive status in the purest form. Blue may indicate merit proven in battle, and enough of them may combine to equate with a conventional executive promotion. Gold alone may represent staff rank, or status in political correctness; but when matched with blue or red, gold amounts to a more potent indicator of executive command.

Some of the rank insignia used after the fall of Palpatine at Endor do not fit the general Imperial system. New ranks were invented by ambitious and vain regional leaders, and the galaxy-wide protocols were debauched as the Imperial forces collapsed into parochial chaos and barbaric warlordism. A minimum of four rules of equivalence are necessary to describe all Imperial officer insignia, plus one notational definition equating two half-cylinders with a whole cylinder:

B=R* B B

R=Y^ B B


Y=Y ** Y BB



A comprehensive justification of these interpretive rules is deeply mathematical and depends upon almost every known example of Imperial officer insignia. Worked examples and demonstrations are collected in another page acting as an appendix to this document. For the present, the most decisive arguments can be summarised as follows:

  1. English-language rank equivalence convention apply, because STAR WARS is constructed within this language. Therefore: a naval Captain equals an army Colonel; a naval Lieutenant equals an army Captain; and etc as described in the Nomenclature page.
  2. The elements of the insignia (coloured squares and cylinders) have inherent values. The meaning of the overall insignia of an officer is a composite of the various atomic pieces.
  3. Officers with the same insignia hold the same rank. For instance:
  4. Cylinders are meaningful. They are the only distinction between a naval captain and commander.
  5. In cases where badges are equal, the officer with fewest cylinders is the most senior. This is established by the fact that naval captains have fewer cylinders than naval commanders.
  6. Compare General Veers (1 cylinder) with any officer in Tarkin's forces (no less than 2 cylinders). This confirms that cylinders are not independent of the badge style. Comparing Tarkin's forces with Vader's forces demonstrates that the cylinders are non-trivial.
  7. Gaps between the squares on a rank plaque are non-substantive. General Veers' shipboard plaque has gaps, whereas his field armour has no gaps.
  8. It is impossible to construct a system in which every rank has only one badge/cylinder combination. Commander Praji's insignia is not the same as that of a commander in TESB/ROTJ. There is more than one possible badge for a rank, but only one rank for an insignia configuration. Exact configuration probably reflects an officer's personal history of promotion, or else aesthetic regulations of his local unit.
  9. General Tagge vs Admiral Ozzel or Captain vs Commander: Red squares are the chief determinant of executive rank; blue squares are supplementary, unless they exceed the red and yellow squares (Tanbris, Jir, Praji, ...).
  10. Yellow squares which are unmatched by blue or red squares are less valuable than red squares. These are probably indicative of staff officers or marks of ideological (or other quasi-military forms of) correctness. Compare Captain Khurgee with General Tagge.


Some commentators assume that the different aesthetics reflect a radical change of insignia system at particular time in the history of the Empire. However any move that retained the physical parts comprising the insigia -- the squares and cylinders -- whilst changing their significance would cause widespread confusion amongst personnel. It seems more plausible that the meanings of the basic parts remained the same galaxywide, but the aesthetics of the combination of the parts depended on the regulations of the various regional or central units. Thus Tarkin's leftover forces would have continued with the same insignia as those shown in A New Hope, and the forces brought together in Lord Vader's taskforce probably had the same aesthetic scheme throughout Palpatine's rule. This contention is supported in Vader's Quest, which depicts Coruscant-based officers with insignia in the style that was most common in The Empire Strikes Back even though the comic seems to occur before STAR WARS Holiday Special.

At least three distinct aesthetic schemes can be identified in the STAR WARS films and literature. They are tabulated below, with interpolated insignia to fill the gaps that are so far unseen.

Aesthetic 1:
Includes insignia used within Lord Vader's taskforce. There are no gold squares, and every red square is automatically matched by a blue. Instead of using blue-red-yellow substitutions to spearate adjacent ranks, the number of cylinders is varied.
Aesthetic 2:
The format of the Grand Admirals explicitly couples gold and red squares. Only one example is known to date, but it may be representative of a more general scheme for the officers associated with central Imperial forces. The second remarkable feature of Thrawn's style of insignia is the absence of cylinders on display.
Aesthetic 3:
The aesthetic scheme used in regional forces, like Grand Moff Tarkin's. Except for the high joint-service officers, rank plaques have no more than six squares, arranged in only one row. The number of cylinders is fixed depending on broad bands of rank: Junior and middle-ranking officers have two cylinders. Those who in terrestrial terms would be called "star" officers have three cylinders. The cross-service regional military governors have four cylinders; in particular they are the Moffs, Grand Moffs and Supreme Moffs.

Rank Class Aesthetic 1 Aesthetic 2 Aesthetic 3
7 1






6 1




5 1




4 1




3 1




2 1




1 1




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Original content is © copyright Dr Curtis Saxton 2000.
Online since 7 November 1998.
Last updated 31 March 2000.

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