Friday 1 January 2016

The Force Awakens: Thoughts On What’s Going On

(I made some slight corrections to this post after my second viewing of the film).

Alrighty, in my previous post I commented that I found the story the The Force Awakens lacking. In this post I give my ideas for what might be going on in the galaxy far far away.

The biggest problem with The Force Awakens is that it left so many questions open. Would the New Republic not be the dominant force in the galaxy now? Why do they rely on a small resistance force to fight the First Order? Why doesn't the New Republic have a large navy at least the size of the previous Rebel Alliance fleet, if not the size of the Imperial fleet? Why only X-Wings - what happened to the other star fighters? What is the First Order, why did the New Republic allow it to form? How has the galaxy been shaped by events that followed The Return of the Jedi?

Again, these ramblings are based on my first (and currently only) viewing of the film.

The New Republic and the Larger Galaxy

First things first, I doubt very much the New Republic is anywhere near the size of the old Republic.

For starters, after the Empire collapsed there would have been a power grab as interested parties tried to carve out their own little Empires. I could see the Hutts or other crime syndicates expanding their holdings. There would also be world's loyal to the Empire that would not have reverted to Republic control. And the imperial military would have fractured into smaller fleets under the control of their individual moff’s and admirals. These independent fleets would likely have carved out their own territories.

Also, it was shown in the prequel trilogy that the old Republic existed as a collection of individual states held together by a federal government based at Coruscant. The system was similar to the USA or Australia where the federal government maintained a common currency and a set of laws voted on by the member states, which included the banning of slavery and the defence of the member states, and each member state was represented in a senate.

But clearly the member states didn’t always get along, and were at times downright aggressive to one another. Not only do we see disagreements between the representatives within the senate, but the Republic federal government also maintained a set of laws outlining how military engagements between Republic member states were to be conducted. I think it’s telling that military action between member states was not only an option for resolving major conflicts within the old Republic, but was common enough that laws were needed to keep the engagements fair.

Image: Wookieepedia
The establishment of the New Republic would almost certainly have required a new constitution or similar founding document, new trade pacts, defense pacts, etcetera. It is very unlikely that every system in the old Republic was 100% satisfied with the agreements that had been made under that government, and clearly there was animosity between some cultures. Many states would have argued for better or more favourable positions within the New Republic. Reforms to previous federal laws, better trade deals, better defence, more access to power, more access to resources and so on. These sort of agreements take years to establish on Earth, and we’re all human. How long would these negotiations take on a galactic scale, between alien species and cultures? Decades? Centuries?

No doubt some former old Republic worlds would have broken away from the New Republic until these negotiations were complete. Perhaps going as far as to form their own independent states if diplomatic negotiations fell apart.

So my basic premise is that after the Empire fell the former Imperial territory (and the outer rim) fractured into several smaller independent sovereign states, which include the New Republic and the First Order. The New Republic is much smaller than the old Republic and may only comprise what were the core worlds of the old Republic. The New Republic is surrounded by these new states. Some of these states would be New Republic friendly, but many wouldn’t many wouldn’t.

The galaxy is in a certain amount of turmoil as the new states each jostle for power. The loss of the Imperial navy as an overwhelming police force has also meant an escalation of piracy, crime  and dissident groups throughout the region.

The First Order

The first order is likely an independent state that formed from worlds loyal to the Empire. Only a state with a centralised government would have the resources and infrastructure to build the starkiller. So it is unlikely that the first order is a rogue former imperial fleet. The First Order could be very powerful if it inherited a large portion of the defeated Imperial fleet.

The First Order does not appear to be expansionist or aggressive towards the New Republic. If there was a threat that the First Order was going to invade New Republic space then the border would have been strengthened with an actual Republic fleet rather than relying on a rag tag resistance for defence.

Had tensions between the two nations been heated, and an attack expected, then the attack by the starkiller would have been countered by an attack from a larger Republic fleet patrolling the border. This fleet would have had large capital ships and B-Wings to counter the First Orders star destroyers. That the only Republic friendly force in the region was a single fleet of resistance X-wings suggests that prior to the attack relations between the New Republic and the First Order were amicable, and the Republic did not expect an attack.

The New Republic wasn't even spying on the First Order. The Republic wasn't aware that the First Order was constructing the starkiller -  information about the starkiller was collected by the resistance prior to the attack. Given that even allied nations on Earth spy on each other is very telling about how much of a threat the New Republic felt the First Order was.

The starkillers attack was a show of force and not part of an invasion. It is stated in the film that the First Order had built the starkiller in response to suspicions that the New Republic was funding the resistance.** And the attack by the starkiller was not followed by an invasion to grab territory. Had the First Order been expansionist then they would have almost certainly have used the starkiller to create confusion inside the New Republic while at the same time taking territory with an invasion force. All they did was destroy some planets and left it at that.

The attack by the starkiller was a response to the Republic supporting the resistance, and the perceived threat that the Republic was going to invade First Order space. They wanted to strike first as a deterrent.

A preemptive show of force of this manner is the same tactic Grand Moff Tarkin used against the Rebel Alliance when the first death star destroyed Alderaan. It was felt that showing the destructive power of the death star would stop further attacks from the Rebellion.

** EDIT 06.01.16. They don't actually say that they suspect the New Republic is financing the resistance. I remembered this wrong. What they do state is that they are attacking the New Republic as it is the government that is supporting the resistance.

It appears that the First Order is primarily concerned with finding Luke Skywalker. Attacks on the New Republic are at this stage a  secondary concern. They are only attacking the New Republic because this government is supporting the resistance, an the resistance has been launching attacks against the First Order.

The Resistance

A couple of facts about the resistance can be gleaned from the film;

It’s possible that the resistance aren’t part of the New Republic military, or part of the New Republic government. As above, it’s stated that the First Order suspects that the New Republic is funding the resistance.** The resistance may therefore not be part of the New Republic itself, but an independent group funded, at least in part, by the Republic government.*** That, or maybe the First Order simply failed to find the evidence connecting the resistance to the New Republic government, perhaps their spies only discovered the movement of funds.

*** EDIT 06.01.2016. It is stated several times through the film that the resistance it a private military that is only supported by the New Republic government (including in the opening crawl). The First Order are attacking the New Republic in retaliation to the support they give the resistance.

The First Order is at least partially correct about the New Republic’s involvement in the resistance. The resistance is staffed by several high ranking Republic commanders, is clearly very sympathetic towards the Republic, and is likely based within New Republic space.

While not part of the New Republic military, the resistance is based within New Republic space. When the starkiller destroys the New Republic planets the explosions of those planets are visible from the resistance base. This must mean that the resistance base and those planets are located within the same star system, otherwise the explosions would not have been visible. They must therefore be crossing into First Order territory to conduct their attacks.

The resistance is primarily concerned with finding Luke Skywalker. Unlike the First Order they want to enlist his help. This is because they believe that the galaxy cannot have stability and order without the Jedi order being present. If Luke Skywalker is lost then the galaxy would plummet into a period of anarchy. This has brought them into conflict with the First Order.

The resistance is very small, much smaller than the rebellion. Not only does the resistance lack the capital ships that were available to the rebellion (Nebulon B frigates, Mon Calamari cruisers, Corellian corvettes), but also all the starfighters with the exception of the X-Wing. If the rebellion was a fleet representing the combined arms of several allied rebel worlds, then the resistance is perhaps just a single cell more akin to a guerilla group or, ahem, terrorist cell.

Princess Leia is fighting with the resistance to help cope with the loss of Ben. The resistance gives her a familiar setting, something to concentrate on and is perhaps the only way she can rescue her son. This is likely one of her primary motivations for wanting to find Luke Skywalker.

My Thoughts on the background to The Force Awakens

It appears to me that at some level the New Republic is the aggressor in the story.

At the very least they are financing a group that is crossing the border to conduct guerrilla attacks against another sovereign nation (the First Order). The statement made that the First Order built the starkiller as a retaliation to the New Republic funding the resistance is very telling.** It is likely that the First Order saw the Republic as a threat, and that the use of the starkiller was a preemptive strike to that perceived threat.

The First Order are not expansionist, and prior to the The Force Awakens had not invaded New Republic space. At the moment they are only really concerned with finding Luke Skywalker, and this has brought them into conflict with the resistance, a group that has been conducting very effective guerrilla raids against them. Initially the First Order was unaware of the connection between the resistance and the New Republic and felt that the resistance was an independent terrorist or dissident group.

At some point prior to The Force Awakens the First Order discovers that the New Republic is at least supporting the resistance. They interpret this as a direct threat from the New Republic. That the resistance is striking First Order targets and gathering intelligence prior to a larger New Republic invasion, or that the Republic is actively trying to disrupt the First Order and create a state of panic. As a result they begin construction of the starkiller as a means for conducting a massive first strike against the New Republic - the thought being that such a show of force would cause the Republic to rethink it's plans to invade. Attack them before they attack us.

Now, this is not to say that the First Order aren’t the bad guys. Ideologically the First Order may still be evil, they do employ dark Jedi and impress children into service after all. And it doesn't mean that the First Order will not become the major aggressor going forward. It just means that it was the Republic that, at least in part, provoked an attack in The Force Awakens.

Ok, so that's my broad thoughts on whats happening within the galaxy. What about the finer details?

The New Republic is the Aggressor

Theory 1: The New Republic is economically and diplomatically very strong. While peaceful, New Republic is expansionist and wishes to bring surrounding territories under their control. They are not using their military to do this. Instead they are doing this using a combination of diplomatic and more subversive methods.

Diplomatic methods include spreading propaganda, economic sanctions, diplomatic pressures, tariffs, preferential treatment of states that share New Republic ideologies, etcetera. More subversive methods may include spying, assassinations, and financing dissident groups that promote instability within neighbouring states. Worlds in a state of anarchy will be more susceptible to Republic propaganda, while financing dissident groups will weaken neighbouring militaries so that the New Republic remains the dominant military force in the region.

In this scenario there has been no direct conflict between the New Republic and the First Order. The resistance already existed and was conducting guerrilla attacks against the First Order as part of their goal of safeguarding Luke Skywalker. The New Republic secretly began supporting the resistance as a means to further their own goals of disrupting and conquering the First Order.

A good analogy would be the current situation of Russia supporting rebel forces inside of the Ukraine.

The connection between the resistance and the New Republic was not meant to be discovered, and so the New Republic did not expect an attack from the First Order. Because of this the New Republic fleet was not ready to retaliate to the starkiller's attack.

But we can take this further. Perhaps the Republic is so worried about another Empire rising that they became incredibly authoritarian - passing draconian laws against free speech and cracking down hard on anything that could be considered as being detrimental to the state. Maybe there is mass surveillance of the population, curfews and restrictions on travel. Maybe these restrictions are imposed with force.

Perhaps in trying to stop the Empire they themselves became just as tyrannical.

The First Order may not actually be evil, but desperate. In order to retain their freedom they are having to resort to dark Jedi and impressment of children just so they have enough of a military presence to resist the Republic. The starkiller being a last resort. Kylo Ren is still evil and on his way to becoming a sith, but he is a means to an end. Perhaps the First Order fear that the Jedi would force their incorporation into the New Republic, and Kylo Ren is viewed as a necessary evil.

There are hints in the film that the Republic has become a second Empire. For example the uniforms worn by the high ranking resistance / Republic officers are very similar to the Imperial officer uniforms including solid colour earth-tone jacket that skirts towards the bottom, broad belt over the waist, Chinese collars, and rectangular badges on the left breast (on the Imperial uniforms these were rank insignia, on the Republic they appear to be some sort of icon). Telling…. or overthinking it?

LEFT: Admiral Statura - The Force Awakens, seen working with Leia in the resistance. Image: RIGHT: Moff Jerjerrod - Return of the Jedi. Image:

This could be part of the reason why Luke has gone into hiding. He can’t side with Kylo Ren and aid the dark Jedi take over, however he doesn’t want to help a distorted New Republic control the galaxy. Instead taking a completely neutral position.

A Crippled New Republic

Theory 2: Either it took so long to establish a new federal government, cleaning up the remaining Imperial forces took a vast amount of resources, or the high cost of protecting its borders from attacks from neighbouring sovereign states has meant that the New Republic is financially crippled. The main Republic fleet is small and is also spread very thin protecting the territorial borders from the surrounding independent states.

As a result the Republic has seeded militia groups along its borders to act as first line defenders as these are all it can afford. These militia groups are not traditional standing armies, instead many people serve voluntarily because they believe in the Republic, similar to the Rebel Alliance.

The paper trail connecting these militia groups to the New Republic government is kept to a minimum. This has a couple of advantages;

  1. The Republic can order military operations in foreign territories or against foreign ships while at the same time appearing neutral. These attacks might appear as being pirate raids, rogue fleets or dissident groups for example - this would be particularly true if the galaxy is still in a state of turmoil after the fall of the Empire as it is likely that pirate raids would now be fairly common. This would allow the Republic to protect their borders from minor incursions or raids without necessarily escalating diplomatic tensions. 

  2. Without a paper trail it would be easier for these small militias to remain hidden. This gives them the element of surprise, making their small numbers more effective. A strategy used by the Rebel Alliance. 

  3. These militias are supplied mostly with X-Wings as these are the most versatile craft available, being a very competent joint strike fighter bomber. Capital ships and specialised starfighters such as Y-Wings, B-Wings and A-Wings are reserved for the main Republic fleet.

The resistance would be one of these militias. After it was discovered that the First Order was trying to locate Luke Skywalker they were given orders to stop them. This escalated attacks from the resistance into First Order space. The First Order initially thought that the resistance was an independent terrorist group, acting by itself, and therefore only attacked resistance targets rather than engaging the New Republic directly. However, at some point it was discovered that the resistance was at the very least being funded by the New Republic. This increased tensions between the New Republic and the First Order resulting in the preemptive strike using the starkiller.

Because the New Republic was unprepared for the attack the main republic fleet was not available to retaliate against the First Order, meaning the defense relied only on the local militia (i.e. the resistance). 

A Fractured Republic

Theory 3: The Republic never reestablished a federal government on Coruscant. Instead the New Republic exists as a collection of loosely allied independent states. Each state maintains it own military. This would mean that capital ships would be largely localised to the systems that produce them. For example, Mon Cala would be well protected fleets of Mon Calamari cruisers. Other systems would have to use whatever ships they could produce or purchase.

The resistance is the military of one of these independent New Republic States. This is a smaller state that only has a fleet of X-Wings protecting its borders. This is why other starfighters and capital ships were not available to engage the starkiller.

The resistance is used in the same way as in theory 2, as a semi-hidden militia with a loose paper trail to the government that operates it.

The Resistance is an Independent Terrorist Cell

Theory 4: The resistance is an independant terrorist cell that is on it’s own mission to find Luke Skywalker, and stop the First Order. The resistance is not operating under the orders of the Republic, and is instead a collection of Republic military commanders and pilots that broke away from the Republic military and came together because they believe in Luke Skywalkers ability to bring stability to the galaxy. They are launching terrorist attacks against the First Order from Republic space simply because the First Order have the goal of killing Skywalker.

But they are getting some funding from the New Republic. Not enough to build a force of ships beyond a single fleet of X-Wings, but enough to maintain their force. This may be because the New Republic doesn’t believe Luke Skywalker can actually be found, or that they feel that the resistance’s belief in Luke Skywalker as a saviour of the galaxy is unfounded and the resources would be better spent elsewhere. But they do want to fund the resistance to a certain extent for a couple of reasons;

  1. The resistance has been very effective in harassing the First Order, and this is in line goals of the New Republic.

  2. The Republic is willing to spend some funds on the small chance that the resistance can find Luke Skywalker.

The New Republic felt that the First Order would not be able to detect its involvement with the resistance, and felt that the resistance would have been treated as an independent terrorist or dissident group.  The sudden preemptive attack by the starkiller was not foreseen, and therefore a larger fleet was not on standby to retaliate to the attack.

JJ Abrams is a Hack

Theory 5: The most likely scenario. Disney actually wanted to reboot the franchise, but worried about the backlash from fans. And JJ Abrams is a director that doesn't like to push boundaries, likes to work within established boxes, and really just likes 'splosions...

So they hit the reset button and remade A New Hope without any concern for how The Force Awakens fits into the cannon. Everyone was reset to their original starting positions, and this required a rebellion for Han Solo and Princess Leia to participate in. It's never going to be explained why the New Republic doesn't have a military, why the resistance only uses X-Wings, and the First Order is just going to be a second Empire hell bent on galactic domination. Cos why not do something new when remaking the old is so easy?

Episode VIII

I think each of my scenarios (except theory 5) would result in an escalated response form the New Republic. Hopefully we will see more ships coming into play. Fleet on fleet battles with capital ships, A-Wings, Y-Wings and B-wings making an appearance.

And hopefully Episode VIII actually gives some better background as to what is happening in the Galaxy!

Oh - and the Knights of Ren are clones of Kylo. And Rey is Luke Skywalkers daughter.

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