- "Bounty hunters. We don't need that scum."
- — Firmus Piett
Bounty hunters are mercenaries in the Galaxy. Tracking, capturing or killing anyone with a price on their head, they may accept contracts exclusively from recognized governments, crime lords or even both. A good bounty hunter was very well armed and very dangerous. There were, however, plenty of incompetent specimens throughout the Galaxy, lacking any real skill but wishing to get rich quick or have an adventure.
While some bounty hunters worked exclusively for legitimate governments, pursuing wanted fugitives and returning them to the authorities to face justice, many also took on unlawful contracts which were little more than paid abductions and assassinations. This lent the profession an unsavory reputation as being no better than criminals they purported to catch.
What distinguishes a bounty hunter from any other mercenary is a license granted by one or more governments to practice their chosen profession within its territory. Such a license made it easier to obtain permits for weapons and other equipment bounty hunters would need to conduct their hunts.
Most bounties are presented to a guild, which would in turn circulate the contract to its affiliated hunters. The largest and most well-known being the Bounty Hunters Guild. On rare occasions, typically where a bounty posting was illegal and or demanded secrecy, a bounty hunter might be contracted directly by those who knew how to contact them.
Most guilds attempted to dictate codes of conduct for their members that established a fair playing field for competition, limit sabotage and keep its members in line, but it rarely worked and few guilds enforce it.
Obtaining a bounty hunting license in the Empire is an arduous and expensive process - the Empire is not keen on heavily armed civilians with advanced combat training but has long recognized the value such individuals offer and so regulates the profession to a degree. Membership in a recognized guild is a precondition. A license identifies the bearer, associated vessel, defines the sectors in which it is valid and may have attached permits for restricted items.
Most bounty hunters in good standing have permits to carry a side-arm at all times, excepting high security and government districts and the use of battle-grade armor and weapons while actively pursuing a target. Explosive ordinance, area denial weapons and other imprecise instruments able to cause significant collateral damage are almost never permitted. Starships are routinely permitted to undergo modifications to enhance their capabilities and fit additional weapons on the understanding that criminals rarely obey Imperial spacing regulations.
A license is only valid if the bounty hunter informs local authorities of their presence, and the bounty they intend to pursue. In most cases, this is a simple formality and avoids complications down the line, while also allowing the bounty hunter to be advised of specific local regulations and restrictions.
As with all such privileges, the license and its associated permits may be curtailed, altered, suspended or revoked by Imperial authorities at any time. Bounty hunters exceeding their license, pursuing black-market contracts or otherwise acting in a manner which might lead authorities to question whether the risk they pose outweighs their value are advised to avoid entanglements with Imperial authorities. Once revoked, a license may prove even more difficult and expensive to re-obtain, if it is possible at all.
Bounty hunters are almost always mistrusted and feared by locals around the Galaxy. This is because their line of work is so often dangerous and frightening. Many famous hunters have earned reputations as fearsome as the most horrific Sith Lords and criminals the Galaxy has ever seen. Hunters such as Calo Nord and Jango Fett became household names, though neither reached the unparalleled infamy of Boba Fett.
Generally, bounty hunters remained neutral during times of galactic conflict. They have been known to favor one side or another, although do not officially join any one group. For example, the aforementioned Calo Nord and Jango Fett worked with the Sith during the Jedi Civil War and prior to the Clone Wars, respectively. Boba Fett often worked for the Empire and even had a professional relationship of mutual respect with Darth Vader. The Rebel Alliance rarely dealt with bounty hunters, lacking the credits and finding the hunters' methods contradictory to their ideals.
Most often, however, bounty hunters were hired by individuals - particularly criminals. The Exchange, Black Sun, and Jabba the Hutt were particularly fond of using bounty hunters, both for their effectiveness and their availability.