Unlikely Origins: ARC Troopers Created to Sell Toys (No, Really)

It is a most sacred tradition in the Star Wars community that, upon the release of a new trailer for any form of media whatsoever, brave warriors heed the beacons of Internet outrage. These warriors of the board of keys storm the hallowed halls of Reddit and the far reaches of Twitter to inform the masses of how the new troopers and starships and whatever else are only there to sell toys. While eternally grateful we remain for these wisest of sages with their breaking revelations about a brand that literally invented the sprawling tie-in action figure toy line almost half a century ago, there is some debate about how directly true that is. But in the case of the ARC trooper, it actually is pretty much the whole story.

Since their initial story appearance in the Star Wars: Republic comic series, the Advanced Recon Commando troopers have appeared in two animated series, countless other comics, and the Star Wars Battlefront video games. But Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of the 2003 Clone Wars micro-series from Cartoon Network, states on a DVD commentary that the original design came from Hasbro, the Star Wars toy manufacturer responsible for the ongoing line of 3.75” scale action figures. A 2003 article from Rebelscum corroborates this, in case you need further evidence of this niche topic about toys from a space cartoon. I have researched this to a thorough and thoroughly embarrassing degree, and I will cite it until you trust me.

The 2002 film Attack of the Clones showed the very first battle of the Clone Wars, a conflict hinted at since the original Star Wars film. After that, it was clear that kids would want to continue the adventures their own way, adult collectors would want to create dynamic battle scene displays, and Hasbro would want to keep cashing in while Lucas took his time making Episode III. Therefore, Hasbro developed a line of Clone Wars toys not really directly tied to Tartakovsky’s series or the ongoing Republic comic from Dark Horse.

Instead, they chose to incorporate elements created for those stories such as the alien bounty hunter Durge and the lethal assassin Asajj Ventress while also expanding the galaxy with their own designs. The movie heroes got the action-hero makeover. Guerrilla warrior Yoda with his vest, bandolier, and action hover chair is a sight to behold, to say nothing of ultra-buff Kit Fisto. Please click through to this Rebelscum lineup of the entire line. I am begging you. But one of the most popular toys in the line was the all-new ARC trooper action figure.

By adding elements directly lifted from iconic Star Wars costumes, including the rangefinder from Boba Fett and Jango Fett’s helmets and the shoulder pauldron from the Imperial sandtroopers, the toy designers firmly grounded the character in the aesthetic of a galaxy far, far away and probably saved a few precious dollars on molding and sculpting. Meanwhile, the skirt (later dubbed a “Mandalorian kama” by the Republic Commando novels) evoked the trench coats of the snowtroopers. If you’re wondering (and you’re on paragraph five of an ARC trooper deep-dive, so you probably are), the name ARC trooper came from the Republic comics. The Hasbro design was initially simply labeled a “clone scout.” We are both richer people for this information, and Hasbro execs are richer in a different sense for it.

Upon closer examination of the original ARC trooper action figure, we see that the elite commando even sports the classic stormtrooper holster and right arm gauntlet. Some of these details, most notably the shoulder pauldron and the skirt (sorry, the kama; if you made it this far in this article, you’re probably the type to prefer I call it a “kama,” so I won’t pretend I’m not that type, too) would even show up on clone troopers in the next feature film, Revenge of the Sith.

Despite these Imperial motifs, the original packaging for the action figure established that the commandos were prized for their individuality. Personally trained by Jango Fett, they bore less genetic modification and behavioral conditioning than the standard trooper. They were therefore more independent thinkers than anything we’d seen from the clone army or the Empire. Lucasarts video game producer and writer of the classic Star Wars: Republic Commando Justin Lambros once explained how they fit into the stories. “If you’ve got a problem, you can send one ARC trooper, you can send one hundred clone troopers, or you can send a squad of four clone commandos.”

These clones were especially formidable to say the least. The Muunilinst 10 absolutely wasted the droid army and caused General Grievous to flee a battle in Clone Wars. Later stories, most notably the 2008 CG animated series The Clone Wars (writing about both of these series with clarity in one article is always a headache, to be honest, but back to back sentences? Yikes), would override this idea. In the latter show, “ARC trooper” was instead portrayed as a lofty rank to which a clone could be promoted. We really hope that Hasbro promoted the toy designer who spawned all this, too. What exactly an ARC trooper is besides badass and what exactly they do besides be badass is never really established in this series. This is not a problem, though, because they were so badass.

Alpha-17, certified badass.

Series supervising director Dave Filoni’s initial idea for Captain Rex was to incorporate Alpha-17, a prominent ARC in Republic. Lucas famously rejected this on the grounds of too much confusing alliteration with Anakin, Artoo, and now Ahsoka. Alpha’s design influenced that of Rex nonetheless, and ARC troopers would finally appear in the third season opener. Clones Fives and Echo would become ARCs, going on to be two of the most memorable characters in the series. They are probably to date the best-known ARCs in Star Wars storytelling. (We could not reach Alpha-17 for comment, even with the help of one hundred clone troopers, four clone commandos, and one ARC trooper.)

We aren’t saying you should throw this article at anyone who claims that every new Star Wars story has troopers designed solely to sell toys. First and foremost, someone might take it literally and print it out and make a paper airplane, and our legal team is really paranoid about someone losing an eye and coming after us. But also, that’s a really valid criticism sometimes, and it’s important to be a conscious consumer. What we are saying is that sometimes, when that does in fact happen, the result is actually really freaking cool.

Author: Ryan Miorelli

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