Imperial stormtroopers are elite troops operating in support of both the Army and Navy. They are highly skilled at combat both in space and on planetary surfaces. Stormtroopers appear to be analogous to terrestrial "marines". They seem to use navy or army rank titles depending on their field of duty.
A major distinctive feature of the stormtroopers is the indomitable mindset that their elite training provides. Although they are not irrational fanatics, properly-trained stormtroopers have an unshakable and incorruptible faith in the riteousness of the Galactic Empire and the Emperor in person. Stormtroopers are virtually invulnerable to persuasion or intimidation. For a stormtrooper, self-preservation is secondary to obedience to the will of the Empire, and therefore they will only retreat in battle if there is a clear military advantage in doing so.
Stormtroopers have their own independent training and support facilities, and their command structures are seperate from the regular Army and Navy. Although their organisation can be assumed to parallel that of the Army, few specific details are known at this time.
Stormtroopers stood on both the right (army) and left (navy) sides of the assembly to welcome the Emperor to Endor, thus indicating their dual role.
Stormtroopers in armour are usually indistinguishable to a casual viewer, although the visual displays of the helmet viewplates probably provide identification information to the stormtroopers themselves. The intimidating anonymity of stormtroopers contributes to their psychological advantage over their typical opponents. However in some circumstances an overt indication of rank may be desirable or necessary. Long-duration missions on populated planets seem to be one of these cases. In A New Hope we saw that desert terrain stormtrooper ranks are designated according to the colour of a shoulder pauldron. Only three of these standard colours are confirmed to date.
The interpretation of the lower two of these ranks is supported by STAR WARS The Visual Dictionary. Photographs of these two pauldrons are shown near the title page. The black pauldron is for the ordinary the enlisted men, and white is for a sergeant.
The Kenner/Hasbro toy dewback comes with a stormtrooper figure which has a grey pauldron; if this is real and accurate, it may represent an enlisted rank between black and white. Higher stormtrooper officers probably wear further colours which are presently unknown.
Alternatively, the above scheme may apply only to troops and NCOs, in which case the orange would correspond to warrant officers. The officers may then have a different system, or they may wear further colours which are presently unknown.
The officers of at least two specialist stormtrooper types exhibit conventional officer rank badges on the armour breatplate. A cold-assault stormtrooper officer seen during the Battle of Hoth bore a badge equivalent to an army captain. Officers of the physically-elite Special Forces stormtroopers seen in X-Wing: Battleground Tatooine also bear prominent rank badges. The reasoning behind the use of rank badges akin to those standard to the Army, Navy and Intelligence officers, rather than coloured pauldrons used on desert stormtrooper uniforms, remains unknown. It may be standard practice, with the sandtrooper example being an exception; or else the pauldrons may be exclusive to troops and subofficers [as suggested above].
It is reasonable to assume that high-ranking stormtrooper officers who are not immediately exposed to danger in the field would wear a different, more casual uniform. The fact that the officers in charge of security aboard the Death Star and those who conducted the stormtrooper capture of the Tantive IV rebel blockade runner wore distinctive black officer uniforms hints that these may be representative of the non-combat stormtrooper officer attire. STAR WARS The Visual Dictionary affirms this identification explicitly.
[For further details, refer to the Stormtrooper subsection of Summary of Uniforms.]