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The TIE Fighter: to some, a powerful symbol of the Galactic Empire’s military might. To others, a name that harkens back to the golden age of PC space sims. To me, the source of 2023’s best cymbal crash sample. Nearly half a century of Star Wars’ dominance has made this screaming, bow-tie macaroni shaped death trap into an icon of space fascism, a jet powered symbol of an Empire that views war in a sickeningly cold calculus of who can expend the most munitions, more resources, more lives.

To that end, the TIE Fighter is perfect, but within the realm of PC Gaming, there’s still a hierarchy to be honored:

The Criteria

Number of entries: 20

What’s included: TIEs of distinction. These are TIE Fighters that stand out, for better or for worse.

What’s not included: There are more redundant variants of the TIE Fighter across the behemoth catalog of Star Wars releases than there are stars in the sky. This list will not exhaustively count the studs on the different renders of TIE Interceptors in the LEGO Star Wars games (Though I’m partial to LEGO Star War 2’s).

19. TIE Mauler – Empire At War

(Image credit: LucasArts)

The worst of the TIE series isn’t even a spaceship. If you’re ever doing research on Star Wars stuff for an article, here’s a tip: Go to Wookiepedia and go from “Canon” to “Legends” because that is where all the bullshit is. Yeah, this thing isn’t a TIE Fighter technically, but holy shit just look at it. The fixed, unmoving quad laser battery at the front should give it an edge in the next Twisted Metal competition but I remain skeptical of its military application—ditto for the fully exposed forward cockpit that literally paints a target over the driver.

If I was ordered to drive this thing down the street, much less into combat, my commanding officer would get punted out the airlock. In Empire at War this thing is alright at harassing light infantry, but the pain of having to order something so lame around keeps me from using it with any enthusiasm.

18. TIE Oppressor – Star Wars Galaxies

(Image credit: LucasArts)

Oh Jesus Christ. The TIE Oppressor really brings into focus what the problem with a lot of these TIE variants ultimately is—you can’t really get away with bolting on extra stuff to the fuselage without fundamentally altering that perfect capital letter H silhouette. Deviating from that design philosophy in any significant way signals a misunderstanding of both the appeal and function of the TIE platform—they’re barebones for reasons of cost and ease of mass production. Blind adherence to the TIE style without thought to function ultimately just makes the end result look ridiculous. As for the ship itself, it looks that way because it has a bunch of rocket pods and some extra armor. Whatever.  

17. TIE Hunter – Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike

(Image credit: LucasArts)

An attempt to bring the TIE Series in line with the Rebel Alliance’s X-Wing models by introducing S-Foils. Again, needlessly overcomplicated, and only marginally better than the TIE Oppressor by virtue of not having a gaudy extra wing thrown on.  

16. TIE Avenger – TIE Fighter

(Image credit: LucasArts)

It looks like a bad brutalist art piece, literally just Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter but with stretched proportions. Not good at all.  

15. TIE Bomber – Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2005)

(Image credit: LucasArts)

This is the original you never pay any mind. Slow, weak, and in stark contrast to the Squadrons version, armed with some of the worst weapons I’ve ever had the displeasure of firing, the OG Battlefront 2 TIE Bomber all around sucks. Piddly lasers, clunky proton torpedoes that take ages to lock, and a general sluggishness to the movement that makes flight persistently unpleasant would already be enough to consign the TIE Bomber to the drydock, but a Ford Pinto level of fragility make it a worst-ever spaceship in my books. 

14. TIE Silencer – Battlefront 2 (2005)

(Image credit: LucasArts)

Last week I matched with a guy on Hinge who claimed to “love to geek out on sci-fi spaceships” before trotting out this Kylo Ren bullshit as an example of his stellar taste. The TIE Silencer is basically a gaudy, red-and-black stretch limo variant of Darth Vader’s TIE from A New Hope. In modern Battlefront 2, it performs Darth Vader’s TIE role but with proton torpedoes. It’s hardly awful, but it’s got the sequel trilogy problem of bolting on a bunch of crap to a design that was more or less perfect. Sorry buddy! 

13. TIE Defender – TIE Fighter, Empire at War, Battlefront 2

(Image credit: LucasArts)

The TIE Defender’s status as the apex predator within the TIE family is unfortunately overshadowed by just how goddamn ridiculous it looks. A perfect example of just how boxed in Star Wars can feel at times, it’s a TIE Fighter but more, the sleek dignity of the TIE compromised by this mutant appendage of a wings. Its role varies from game to game—TIE Fighter and Empire at War portray it as a multirole fleet defender, but at least in the case of the latter that role is made redundant by either massing more swarms of TIEs or bringing some dedicated anti-fighter power. And honestly, I don’t care how good it is, I hate it. 

12. TIE/fo – Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017)

(Image credit: LucasFilm, EA)

An upgraded TIE Fighter for EA’s Battlefront 2. Functionally identical to its predecessor model save for some light shielding, afterburners, and a complement of proton torpedoes. In The Force Awakens, these also boast a rear gun, used by Finn and Poe to escape the First Order, but that functionality is absent in-game. A little embarrassing for such a modern release to be shown up by 2004’s Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed higher on this list. 

11. TIE Fighter – Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017)

(Image credit: LucasFilm, EA)

Up to this point, we’ve been slumming it with EU bullshit and phenomenally ugly TIE variants. This is the threshold on which the barest competency lies. Modern Battlefront 2’s TIE Fighter is fine, but only the best ship for the job if it’s the only one in front of you. 

10. TIE Fighter – Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2005) 

(Image credit: LucasArts)

Ditto for the TIE in the original Battlefront 2. It’s a competent portrayal of the TIE Fighter, but the shortcomings it faces (outclassed by the TIE interceptor, oversensitive flight model, and extremely awkward to land inside the carrier hangar bays) are more or less excused by the then-mammoth scope of Star Wars Battlefront 2’s combat sandbox. 

9. TIE Scout – Empire at War

(Image credit: LucasArts)

Durable, fast, and a rarity among the TIE series for being equipped with shield generators, the TIE Scout is great in Empire At War’s early game, where space battles are considered drag-out uphill fights for the Empire. They have a place in an Imperial doctrine that doesn’t prioritize absolute material domination of the battlefield, and thus feel characteristically un-Imperial. That’s really the trouble with a lot of these entries—why build a special class of TIE for the job when you can just throw a few squadrons at the problem and not care if they don’t come back?

Also, it looks like a ’70s van with TIE fighter wings, which definitely hurts the cool factor. 

8. TIE Interceptor – Empire At War

(Image credit: LucasArts, Steam user BrooklynChick)

Empire At War is a game about building one trillion TIE Fighters, until you unlock the TIE Interceptor, at which point it becomes a game about building one trillion TIE Interceptors. While definitely more effective, the uniqueness of the Interceptor is lost when fielding them in droves. It also feels bad mindlessly junking these state-of-the-art ships in endless wave attacks. 

7. TIE Fighter – Empire At War

(Image credit: LucasArts, Steam user VictoryForever)

There’s an old edit to the Force Awakens trailer that remakes it in the style of the garish CG-addled Star Wars Special Editions. It’s all hysterical, but the best part is the ending, with so many more added TIE fighters that the audio starts peaking and triggers my tinnitus. Empire At War is a game about building this amount of TIE Fighters and more, and then right clicking on something you want gone. Less effective than the Interceptor, but there’s something so characteristically Imperial about sending this many pilots to their doom while my Star Destroyers do all the real work. 

6. TIE Aggressor – Star Wars Galaxies

(Image credit: LucasArts)

Basically just a TIE Fighter with a rear gunner, which makes it slightly more survivable by virtue of making it marginally more difficult for a chasing ship to close behind you. Since Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed has long been shuttered (outside diehard fan servers), so the TIE Aggressor’s legacy is mostly limited to archived forum posts complaining that a rear gun on a fighter is annoying. It’s a sensible design addition to a ship that really only ever gets iced from behind, and is the only TIE on this list with a ball turret that actually works.

The Top 5

5. TIE Reaper – Star Wars Squadrons

(Image credit: LucasArts)

The TIE Reaper is a uniquely Imperial solution to the problem of “the TIE Fighters keep getting killed en masse;” just babysit the important ones with a command and control craft that coordinates repair & resupply droids. I dig the silhouette, too—it’s sharp, sleek, and feels like it’s meant to cruise in and around the area of operation, slicing in to deliver critical support before dipping out to lay mines / jam communications. Really, I just dig the TIE Reaper for being a force multiplication craft that augments the TIE series so dramatically, turning them from cherry blossom-esque suicide buckets into lethally dangerous strike craft.

4. TIE Advanced X1 – Battlefront 2 (2017)

(Image credit: LucasArts, EA)

Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter is simply one of the best. It’s in too many games to list, but I especially love the modern Battlefront 2 implementation.

The first TIE variant in the history of Star Wars and the progenitor of the TIE Bomber and TIE Interceptor, it’s a simple, tanky, and surprisingly agile hero ship, with supercharged twin lasers that mulch whatever is in front of you. Being one of the oldest TIE variants, it’s also got an incredibly storied (read: incredibly stupid) service life. Did you know that it’s called the X1 because it’s named after a force sensitive clone trooper (???) who became a Sith Lord? Did you also know that three of them were rebuilt and piloted by Darth Vader’s grandchildren? The Advanced X1 is really just a better TIE, but its age and the context of its single appearance position it in the hilarious center of the Star Wars Expanded Universe derangement nexus.  

3. TIE Bomber – Star Wars: Squadrons

(Image credit: LucasArts)

I liken the TIE Bomber to the A-trak remix of “Heads Will Roll,” in that the remix goes so hard that you never pay the original any mind at all. My favorite new addition is easily the forward-mounted rotary laser cannon. It takes a second to spin up, but the ruthless intensity of the barrage, coupled with this chugging cannonfire sound that sounds like an Earthquaker devices effects pedal render it easily my favorite craft in Star Wars: Squadrons. The heavy armor and shield systems make it a real tugboat when it comes to dogfighting rebel fighters, but half the fun is in the challenge of lining up that A-10 warthog gatling cannon from a distance and shredding lighter craft that cross into your killzone.

The immense physicality of Star Wars Squadrons peaks when descending on Rebel frigates and capital ships—it’s like carving up a beached whale with a lightsaber.

2. TIE Interceptor – Star Wars: Squadrons

(Image credit: EA, LucasArts)

Look at this thing. When you see it scream by the bridge of the Rebel flagship in Return of the Jedi, you know shit is getting real. The forward angled wing profile and fang-like quad lasers make the TIE Interceptor look like a rocket powered vampire bat. It shines especially bright in Star Wars: Squadrons, where throwing all your craft’s power into thrusters, punching the throttle to hit sub-light speeds, then cutting out and drifting into an X-Wing’s blindspot is a thrill ride, and key to using the Interceptor effectively.

The TIE Interceptor’s reliance on the boost/drift/fire loop means you’re constantly flying in this winding, serpentine pattern before biting down on your prey with high-powered lasers. Its auxiliary rocket systems make it surprisingly effective at hit and run assaults on capital ships, perfect for skimming low against the hull before boosting up and raining down hot death.

1. The TIE Fighter – Star Wars: TIE Fighter (tied)

(Image credit: LucasArts)

The TIE Fighter as realized in the 1994 LucasArts space sim is an achievement in space sim design leagues beyond others on this list. The TIE here is an experience, an aluminum foil coffin bolted between two rocket boosters with only the barest complement of auxiliary systems. Yes, the lack of frivolous additions like “shields” or “life support” are primarily the result of an Imperial tactical philosophy that places minimal value on individual human life, but once you start dogfighting Rebel pilots, it clicks that you’re playing different games entirely. Those extra systems the rebels rely on have added so much tonnage to their craft weight that you’ll easily match speed and close on the traitor’s blindspot.

Moreover, TIE Fighter (the game)’s commitment to authentically portraying the bumbling, incompetent, perpetually-on-the-verge-of-political-crisis Galactic Empire and the role of an ascending ace pilot within its corroded bureaucracy. Stellar mid-’90s vibes with chiptune renditions of John Williams and that sweet sweet contrast between the pixelated HUD and low-poly renditions of famous Star Wars craft keep TIE Fighter (the game, again) easy on the eyes and ears, too. If there’s only one iteration of the iconic twin-ion-engined craft you can make time to get behind the stick of, it’s this one, except for…

1. The TIE Fighter Remastered – TIE Fighter Total Conversion (X-Wing Alliance Mod) (tied)

(Image credit: LucasArts)

A total conversion mod for the stellar X-Wing Alliance, the TIE Fighter Total Conversion achieves near total space superiority with a full attack wing of the Emperor’s finest fighters. As charming as the pixelated DOS heads-up display is, TIE Fighter Total Conversion’s dynamic lighting is stunning, especially for a mod. The way the glossy black plastic of the cockpit is illuminated by the emerald bursts of your forward laser, the distinct chirps and blips of the targeting system as you slice up Rebel cruisers, it’s the most “realistic” spin on a fighter that doesn’t exist. 

Every major variant of TIE is here, along with all the interactive menus, both rendered with appropriate early aughts space-sim levels of fidelity. Including this feels a bit like cheating, but the team behind TIE Fighter Total Conversion have shown that they love these suicide buckets more than anybody, and the resulting work is TIE’d for first place with its lauded inspiration. 

Star Wars: What to read next

The making of TIE Fighter: How being the bad guys changed Star Wars foreverThe complete history of Star Wars on PCThe best Star Wars games on PCStar Wars Galaxies was an MMO that almost changed the worldThe best Star Wars novels and comics to read today

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