Stormtroopers have been denoted by TK numbers since 1977 – what does this mean and how does it reflect how the Empire views its soldiers?
The “TK numbers” existed in Star Wars universe from the first film in 1977, but they received new attention after they were mentioned in The Mandalorian season 2, episode 7, “Chapter 15: The Believer”. Numbers have always been important but have gained notoriety over the years like i Star Wars the expanded universe continued to grow in one way or another, even after Disney decanonized large amounts of it. Here’s everything you need to know about TK numbers in The Mandalorian and beyond.
The TK numbers are first mentioned when Luke Skywalker infiltrates the Death Star disguised as a stormtrooper known as “TK-421”. In The Mandalorian, a tense scene shows Din Djarin, disguised as an Imperial Juggernaut pilot and sneaking around an enemy base when an Imperial officer named Valin Hess asks him for his TK number. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Finn used a variation on a TK number since it was originally known as “FN-2187”. So these numbers have always been there, but what do they mean for the Empire and how does the idea behind them change for the First Order?
In short, TK numbers are simply a specific imperial code used to identify military personnel. In Star Wars: a new hope, Han Solo is asked for his operating number, and while it may seem simple, there is a rich history behind these codes. The clone troopers who came before the stormtroopers did not receive birth names, but they did receive identification codes that resemble TK numbers. Fan-favorite Clone Captain Rex originated as CT-7567; however, early in the Clone Wars, CT-7567 somehow earned the nickname Rex, which became his main nickname for the rest of his life. In contrast, Imperial Stormtroopers are enlisted soldiers who rarely need their birth names after they join the Stormtrooper Corps as they lose their individuality in service, working as a mirror image to the clone predecessors who fought to find the their independence when it was denied them. In all non-film material of both the canon and the original Star Wars timeline, the Expanded Universe (now known as Legends), imperial operating numbers are made up of a set of letters followed by three or four digits. In most cases, particularly attackers, the two letters are “TK” (probably referring to Star Wars), but there are many cases of personnel, including stormtroopers, with designations other than TK numbers. In Star Wars rebels, Imperial Officer Cumberlayne Aresko has operational number LRC-01. Imperial ISB agent Alexsandr Kallus is known as ISB-021. In Jedi night, a stormtrooper calls himself LS-261.
What it does indicate is that the TK designation does not necessarily refer to particular stormtroopers, but to a specific one unit of the imperial army. In the canonical anthological book From a certain point of view, stormtroopers serving on the Death Star and embarking on the Tantive IV are indicated by TK numbers. The TK in their operational numbers probably designates one of the units under the command of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. Likewise, every stormtrooper that appears in the Legends novel Rebel Force: Hostage uses an operational number starting with “TB”, indicating their shared division.
The successor state of the Galactic Empire, the First Order, only confirms this purpose of making numbers work. First Order stormtroopers are neither clones nor enlisted. The First Order kidnaps children to train and indoctrinate them for life to serve as stormtroopers. Their only names are their operating numbers and FN-2187, later known as Finn, is revealed to be part of the FN Corps in the canonical anthology book Before Awakening. This is further supported by the First Order CS-Squad in Star Wars resistance. The name of each Stormtrooper on this team begins with “CS”.
Valin Hess asking for a TK number instead of an operational number makes sense as Djarin and Mayfeld were disguised as Juggernaut pilots under his command. It can be assumed that all soldiers in the Morak Imperial Remnant are part of a larger legion indicated by the TK operational numbers. As imperial forces with TK numbers were seen in the Battle of Scarif, capturing Princess Leia, patrolling the first Death Star, and as revealed in The Mandalorian season 2, which participates in Operation Cinder, the largest unit it refers to has a legendary history in Star Wars franchising.
Next: The Mandalorian: Every Star Wars Easter Egg in Season 2, Episode 7
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