TIE Pilots (often referred as "Bucket heads" by the Rebels) are a group of Imperial starfighter pilots, who pilot the Empire's most recognizable symbols of power, the TIE Fighters. Distinguished by their black jumpsuits and reinforced helmets, the TIE pilots formed the elite of the Imperial Navy.
The priority of all Imperial forces was victory at all costs, even if the costs were suicide. TIE Pilots regarded themselves expendable and were trained to regard their ships as the most expressive instrument of the Galactic Empire. As a result, TIE Pilots were loyal and willing to die for the Emperor. Their primary missions were to attack enemy forces and protect space around Imperial installations and warships. TIE Pilots rarely performed physical ground duties and spent much of their time in a TIE cockpit on patrol.
TIE pilots were equipped with black uniforms composed of energy-shielded fabrics, a black flight helmet, positive gravity pressure boots, and a life support chest piece with breather tubes connected to the helmet to provide necessary gases. Functioning as vacuum G-suits, these uniforms were necessary because TIE based fighter lacked life-support. The helmets also featured ship-linked communication systems on the sides, and were highly reinforced.
The helmet design was reminiscent of stormtrooper armor, with a few notable distinctions. The shell was bulkier, possibly due to reinforced padding or internal pilot-to-ship communications equipment. Additional modifications enabled the pilot to survive in the cockpit's vacuum. Breather tubes extended from the helmet to the front of the chest plate, where controls for the suit's portable life support system were located. Because the odds of surviving a crash were slim, TIE pilots were rarely equipped with emergency rations or supplies.
A New Hope
TIE Pilots were stationed aboard the Empire's moon-sized battle station, the Death Star where they were involved in patrolling and scouting the station's surroundings. When the crew of the Millennium Falcon attempted to escape, four pilots were sent out to stop them from getting away. Piloting their fast fighters, they engaged the Falcon in a dogfight as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker manning two turrets, returning fire. One by one the four pilots were killed and the Falcon and her crew escaped to Yavin 4.
When the Rebels committed an attack on the Death Star, the Pilots were called in to engage the Rebel fighters and stop them from succeeding their mission with Darth Vader joining the fight in a more Advanced TIE Fighter. Despite their efforts, the battle was lost to the Rebels and the Death Star destroyed.
The TIE Pilots currently appear in the Disney XD series, Star Wars Rebels. Set five years before the events of A New Hope, they fight against the Rebels of Lothal, led by Jedi-Cowboy Kanan Jarrus. In the series they portray more physical roles outside their starfighters and given individual identities, such as Baron Valen Rudor, who is one of the best Imperial Pilots stationed on Lothal to test out TIE Fighter products built by the Sienar Fleet Systems.
In "Empire Day", three TIE Pilots were on search partols searching for a Rodian named Tseebo who accidentally downloaded half of the Empire's secrets. They showed up at Old Jho's Pit Stop and inspected the Rodian Custmors. The leader of the group turned to the bartender Jho and demanded him to put on the HoloNet broadcast, to honor Empire Day. Jho reluctantly did what he was told, as it was against the law to not broadcast the Imperial HoloNet. Just as the pilots were about to make the customers raise their cups to Emperor Palpatine, the Imperial HoloNet suddenly switched to a hacked broadcasting by Gall Trayvis, urging all citizens to boycott all Empire Day celebrations to protest the ongoing injustices of the Imperial regime. The leading pilot tried to make Jho swtich off the broadcasting only to be reminded that it was against the law. In the end, the pilots chose not to take this any further as their main priority was finding Tseebo. So they returned to their ships and went on with their search.
As the Rebellion against the Empire went on, there were some cadets within the force who wanted to defect to the Rebellion. Among these pilots was Wedge Antilles, Derek Klivian and Rake, who were stationed at the Skystrike Academy. Sabine Wren went undercover to get them out. The escape was successful Rake was not so lucky in the first attempt.