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The Praetorian Guards in Star Wars, Explained

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, dressed in black flips Daisy Ridley as Rey on his back so she can kick the red armoured praetorian guards. All have red lightsabers except Rey, whose lightsaber is blue.

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars Episodes 7-9.

If you’ve watched the Star Wars sequel trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker), you’ll have noticed the red armored guards that surrounded Supreme Leader Snoke. These are the same guards who fought Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in one of the best action sequences of The Last Jedi. But are they just Palpatine’s Imperial Royal Guard given a First Order makeover? Or are they something new, created by Snoke for his turn at playing emperor, rocking the same color of armor because of that classic Sith Lord fixation on black and red? Known as the Elite Praetorian Guard, it turns out that they (just like every other detail in the Star Wars Universe) have a long and complicated history. One that predates not only Snoke and the sequel films, but Palpatine and his Empire too.

The Praetorian Guards, named after the soldiers who guarded the Emperors of ancient Rome, originated in the Star wars universe on the planet of Kitel Phard. Serving the long gone Atrisian Emperors who once ruled that system, they reappeared after Palpatine’s death to guard the Shadow Council, this time under the name the Imperial Praetorian Guards. Then, as Snoke rose to take control of the First Order, he instituted them as his personal body guards, renamed once again as the Elite Praetorian Guard. It’s unclear if these groups are all iterations of the same order, surviving the loss of their previous masters by seeking out another, or if subsequent empires merely borrowed their name and aesthetic for propaganda purposes. Certainly they practiced some of the same martial arts and combat techniques used by the original Atrisian Praetorian Guard. Though these could as easily have been adopted alongside the name as passed down from their Kitel Phard predecessors.

Unlike the Imperial Royal Guard, whose uniform was designed to look largely ceremonial (thereby lulling potential opponents into a false sense of security) the Praetorian Guard’s armor struck a balance between formal and combat ready. Embedded with mag-coils, their armor generated a localized magnetic field strong enough to deflect blaster fire and all but a direct thrust from a lightsaber, making them a real challenge for Rey and Kylo Ren to defeat in combat. This magnetic shield inflicted pain on the user and protected them from energy weapons. But those who qualified for entry to the Praetorian guards were able to wear it without complaint, and it had little to no impact on their fighting abilities.

Aware of the threat posed by the Jedi order (even after its decimation by Kylo Ren), the Elite Praetorian Guards were trained to specialize in melee combat and use a number of different historic weapons. These weapons were enhanced with technology that included plasma filaments capable of deflecting lightsaber blades. According to Atrisian tradition, the guards were divided into four pairs, assigned the same weapon, and trained to fight and work together as a single unit. Despite their intense training, the entire unit was wiped out by Rey and Kylo Ren. Once Kylo Ren assumed the Supreme Leader mantle, he decided to replace them with his Knights of Ren.

As of now, there are no known Praetorian Guards left in service in the Star Wars universe, but that doesn’t mean more won’t emerge again in the future.

(featured image: Lucasfilm)

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Siobhan Ball is a historian, an archivist, and loves Star Wars so much her English teacher once staged an intervention with her family to try and get her to read other books. Now writes about it for a living.