Military Structure



Below I tabulate the military titles of the English language, adapted from various references on etiquette (eg. Titles and Forms of Address - A guide to their correct use; Collins Australian Pocket English Dictionary : military ranks), removing or adjusting terms which are geocentric or superfluous to the STAR WARS milieu. Seniority increases towards the top of the table; levels on the same row of the table are of equal status. The upper section consists of commissioned ranks; the lower section is non-commissioned.

American departures from standard international English terminology are reconciled with the usual system and noted as grey amendments, intermediates and equivalent alternatives. It should be noted that the air forces of the USA actually originated within that country's army, which accounts for the confusing, anomalous and continuing use of army ranks. However the use of the ordinary air force ranks of Wing Commander and Squadron Leader in the canon as early as A New Hope confirms the application of standard English in STAR WARS.

High Admiral† Surface Marshal† High Marshal‡
Fleet Admiral High General† Force Marshal
Admiral General Chief Marshal
Vice-Admiral Lieutenant General Marshal
Read-Admiral Major-General Vice-Marshal
Commodore Brigadier-General* Commodore
Line Captain† High Colonel†
Captain Colonel Group Captain
Commander Lieutenant Colonel Wing Commander
Lieutenant Commander Major Squadron Leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight Lieutenant
Sub-Lieutenant First* Lieutenant Flying Officer
Acting Sub-Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Pilot Officer
Fleet Chief Petty Off.
= Warrant Officer
Warrant Officer I Warrant Officer
= Chief Master Sgt.
Master Chief Petty Off. Army Sgt.Major
= Command Sgt.Major
= Sergeant Major
Chief Master Sgt.
Senior Chief Petty Off. 1st Sergeant
= Master Sergeant
Senior Master Sgt.
Chief Petty Officer Warrant Officer II
= Sergeant I
Master Sergeant
Staff Corporal Flight Sergeant
Petty Officer I Staff Sergeant Chief Technician
= Technical Sergeant
Petty Officer II Sergeant Staff Sergeant
Leading Crewman
= Petty Officer III
Corporal Corporal
Junior Technician
Senior Spacecraftsman
= Senior Spaceman
Able Crewman
= Crewman
Lance Corporal
= Private I
Leading Spacecraftsman
= Spaceman I
Ordinary Crewman
= Crewman Apprentice
Private Spacecraftsman
= Spaceman
Crewman Recruit
= Junior Crewman
Private Spaceman Basic
* = American synonym
† = from STAR WARS spin-off literature
‡ = extrapolated semantically




Fighter Forces

Verbal Address

Naval officers ranking as Rear-Admiral or higher are addressed as "Admiral". An Acting Sub-Lieutenant is addressed as "Sub-Lieutenant", and use of the "Acting" prefix is impolite except in formal naval communications. Midshipmen, ensigns and naval Warrant Officers are addressed as "Mr", "Ms" or an equivalent. Other naval officers and personnel are addressed simply by their literal rank.

Army officers ranking as Major-General or above are verbally addressed as "General" A Lieutenant-Colonel is addressed as "Colonel". An army Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant is addressed as "Mr", "Ms" or an equivalent. Warrant Officers of first and second class are addressed as "Warrant Officer". Other army officers and personnel are addressed according to their literal rank. Occasionally the commander-in-chief of an army facility or military unit is colloquially addressed as "Commander".

Commodores and brigadiers arguably could be addressed as "Admiral" and "General", but this would be considered highly informal. [This would accommodate the American identification of commodores and brigadiers with one-star admirals and one-star generals.]

Starfighter officers ranking as Vice-Marshal or higher are addressed as "Marshal". Flying Officers and Pilot Officers are addressed as "Mr", "Ms" or an equivalent. All other starfighter officers and personnel are addressed according to literal rank.

When fighter operations are temporarily dependent on the Army's surface bases, pilots sometimes use equivalent army ranks in verbal forms of address. The army Captain title applied to a Flight Lieutenant should never be confused with the superior starfighter rank of Group Captain, which equates to a naval Captain or an army Colonel. This seems to be the only charitable explanation for the occasional use of "captain" for a pilot officer inferior to a Commander in certain comics, novels and computer games. Ditto for any application of "major", "colonel" or "general" to pilots.

Flawed Interpretations

Computer Games

The documents and books associated with the TIE Fighter computer game state a very simple rank scale. From a pedantic or technical point of view, this rudimentary system is riddled with problems.

The first defect is the inclusion of "General", "Colonel" and "Major". These are army ranks. Starfighter pilots, if they are not a separate service with "Marshals" for their upper ranks, are affiliated with the Imperial Navy. In fact the connection between starfighter forces and naval warships is assumed throughout STAR WARS fiction.

The second flaw is that "Admiral" and "General" are given different levels of seniority. In naval and army rankings there are several different kinds of admirals and generals, but the plain and literal "Admiral" has exactly the same seniority as a "General".

The next error is the relative positioning of "Commander" and "Captain". In naval or starfighter force terminology, a commander (wing commander) is inferior to a captain (group captain). An army "Captain" equals a naval "Lieutenant", but for the reasons stated above, the use of army terminology is inappropriate for starfighter forces, except perhaps as verbal address for pilot officers assigned to defend Army garrisons.

"Flight Officer" sounds unusual, but this presumably is just an abbreviation of "Pilot Officer" or "Flying Officer." Perhaps it means both.

Many important intermediate and superior ranks are missing, including "Squadron Leader", which is used abundantly in the STAR WARS films. Even if the starfighter forces are completely navalised, there should still be a "Commodore" in the rank structure below the admirals or marshals.

It is important to view the rankings stated in the computer games in their proper context. The game centres on the experience of combat piloting, not military ceremony and etiquette. The ranks are used in the games merely as an approximate indication of player accomplishment, not as a realistic statement about circumstances in the STAR WARS civilisation.

Roleplaying Game

The basic references for naval and military matters in STAR WARS: The Roleplaying Game are The Imperial Sourcebook and Death Star Technical Companion. They contradict each other. In fact, the Imperial Sourcebook contains two mutually inconsistent "systems".

There is modest detail in a chapter about sector group organisation, which names the supposed command structure of a typical sector, though it ignores the elite forces of the Core and galaxy-wide commands like those of Lord Vader, Admiral Giel and the Grand Admirals.

Then there is a diagram showing a handful of officer plaque insignia: some are Army, some Navy, and in terms of the relative seniority of a naval captain and army colonels and majors, the diagram contradicts itself. One of the ranks in the chart, colonel, does not appear in the chapter about sector group organisation.

The Death Star Technical Companion is less explicit regarding command structure, but there are indicators of rank in drawings of uniforms and descriptions of various departments and facilities. These parts of the book suffer from the same flaw as the insignia diagrams in the earlier sourcebook: there are serious inconsistencies between relative rank and rank implied by the insignia. In particular, it looks as if an army major would be senior to a naval commander.

However for the purpose of this discussion, none of the books' defects are as important as one simple omission. None of the roleplaying game books discuss the specifics of the rank structure of the starfighter service. Without being stated, it is always assumed to be totally subsumed within the Imperial Navy.


Upper Echelons

Galactic Empire

The rank titles tabulated above are those used in a Sector Group. This is the gathered total of the Empire's naval and military forces assigned to a particular sector of space. Sectors are political regions defined so that they encompass several hunderd to several thousand inhabited worlds, and several million systems without permanent settlement.

The supreme commander of a Sector Group is a Moff, the military official who governs the sector politically as well as martially. Higher commands are given to Grand Moffs, who possess 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, piracy or organised crime are rife. More than a tenth of the Empire's armed forces are kept in reserve in the Galactic Core without attachment to any particular regional government. These 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.

The number of realistic ranks is much less than the number of ways in which Imperial insignia units (cylinders and coloured squares) can potentially be combined. In some instances, officers of the same rank in different regions and forces show different insignia. This probably signifies different aesthetic regulations that are specific to local units, or else may trace an individual officer's history of promotion. Alternatively, the diverse combinations of colours and cylinders may display fine distinctions of seniority between officers that otherwise hold the same titular rank.

Rebel Alliance

No single rebel faction would exceed the might of a Sector Group of the Empire's military (at least until the defection and capture of whole Imperial sectors in the early years of the New Republic). Therefore the Alliance would use fewer of the rank distinctions known in the Imperial forces. Some of the intermediate ranks may be unused, and many of the highest ranks would be redundant due to the limited size of rebel forces.

Before the fall of Palpatine, there would probably be no Alliance equivalent of a Moff, Grand Moff or Grand Admiral. By the time the well-consolidated New Republic was struck by the Starbuster Plot in the Corellian sector, one title given to a sector-level authority was "Governor-General". However it is not clear whether this usage was just special deference to local custom, since some Core sectors were already administered by beings titled as governors-general under Palpatine's regime.

Army Units

type of unitcompositonled by
section / squad* 8 to 12 troops sergeant‡
platoon 3 to 4 sections lieutenant
company 3 to 4 platoons captain or major
battalion 3 to 4 companies major
regiment 2 or more battalions lt colonel or colonel
brigade equivalent to 2 or more regiments brigadier
division several brigades general†
corps several divisions general†
* = American variation.
† = Potentially any rank of general.
‡ = Not a commissioned officer.

On Earth there is no consistent terminology for military units larger than a corps. However the STAR WARS galaxy is a civilisation of much grander scope and its defence requires the existence of many higher levels of military organisation that do not have names in English (in our pre-interstellar era). Whereas Earth's nations of mere millions of people make war on tiny portions of one planet's surface, the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War affect millions of planets entirely. It seems likely that 3 to 4 corps are grouped into the next higher kind of unit, and that three or four of these units are in turn grouped into higher units still, and so on up to the scale of military forces that are able to invade and occupy many hostile planets simultaneously.


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Original content is © copyright Dr Curtis Saxton 2001.
Last updated 29 January 2001.

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