The Politics of The Force Awakens

If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you probably left the theatre with a bunch of questions. Oddly enough, some of those questions probably involved the politics involved in the galaxy, given that it takes place 30 years after the last movie. There’s a lot of political changes and situations that the movie simply breezes over, as if we didn’t care about them. And maybe it’s for the better, considering how audiences despised the political stuff built into the prequels. But if you have a hankering for learning a bit more about the missing politics, keep reading.

If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, well how dare you? What’s wrong with you? Go see the damn movie already. It’s been out for over a month now. Don’t you realize that most other movies would be out of the theater by now?

Eh whatever. For you few unfortunate folk who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll put this requisite spoiler warning below. Even though…I mean come on.

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SPOILER WARNING – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE….WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU!

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So today I want to document the most unknown of unknowns should you only watch the movie: politics. J.J. avoided bringing up the political situation of this new era of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Perhaps this was a wise decision. In retrospect, many make fun of the prequels for their political-inspired plots and wars over trade negotiations, even though the plot of The Phantom Menace is more akin to the brewing of a real life war than any other rendition.

Regardless of your opinion of the prequel plots, talking about politics has become a meme of negative portents within the Star Wars movie making realm, and especially amongst those who never cared enough to pick up some of the excellent political plots within the Star Wars EU books. J.J. was tasked with bringing Star Wars back to the masses and making a movie that would sell well and be enjoyed universally. As much as they talk about making a movie for the fans, the true design is the make a move that will pull fandom out of those who’d locked it away.

Unfortunately, since the we don’t get any explanation regarding what happened to the Rebellion, the Empire, or the general governmental situation of the galaxy, many will be left with a good story but without any way to really understand what it means in the general Star Wars universe. And that’s sad, because there’s a lot that’s happened in the last 30 years that’s really interesting and will certainly impact future movies.

For those who want to seek it out, there’s a lot more info thrown into the likes of the novelization, illustrated guides, and on official websites. But in case you don’t want to seek that out, just read the below and find out what you’re missing.

The Formation of the New Republic

It’s interesting, yet inevitable that the Rebellion formed into the very thing that the Empire replaced. Nostalgia’s a powerful influence afterall.

In the aftermath of the Death Star II’s destruction, the Rebellion formed into the New Republic, headed up by it’s first Chancellor, Mon Mothma and headquartered on her home planet of Chandrilla. She immediately resolved to dissolve the emergency powers that were permanently granted to then Senator Palpatine, and which were transferred to new with the re-establishment of the Republic. Her second decree was made in private amongst influential members of the government, that the New Republic would see a 90% reduction in military strength.

Though Mon Mothma was the leader of the Rebellion against the Empire, she was a preeminent pacifist. It was only when Vader and Palpatine dissolved the senate that her hand was forced, and she realized that violent rebellion was necessary, that she pulled her full support behind it. That pacifism prevailed when she announced the New Republic disarmament, to the surprise and chagrin of her peers. She wished the Republic’s only function to be governmental and political, not military. Member worlds would be left to their own defense.

Naboo became one of the first planets to join with the New Republic, a united cause that was negotiated between Princess Leia and the Naboo Queen, Sasha Sourna. Sourna felt shame for the actions of Palpatine, a former senator from her world, and this brought her to the decision to support the formation of the Republic. Imperial forces immediately attacked the world, obeying the Emperor’s last decree, Operation Cinder, which was to reduce any trace of Palpatine’s former life should he be destroyed. Thankfully, Leia commanded Republic forces in a successful defense of the planet.

Perhaps because of this example, Mon Mothma’s de-militarization was delayed until the Empire was fully defeated, and as Republic fleets pressed against the separated Imperial remnant. Their goal was to keep the fleet split apart, to encourage the creation of individual factions, and also to prevent the Empire from forming into a unified whole again. This strategy worked wonders as the Republic gained world after world.

Inevitably, these skirmishes would lead to a final battle that would set the stage for The Force Awakens.

The Battle of Jakku

Going into The Force Awakens, we all tried to believe that everything was connected somehow. That Jakku might not be Jakku, but something else entirely. That somehow, the fact that an Imperial Star Destroyer was sitting on the planet’s surface meant something. But I’m starting to get an appreciation for how much Star Wars is being rebooted with this movie, and how much many things within this new movie are just new, rather than a re-tread of old stuff. This movie moves forward a lot more than it looks back, and I feel like that’s something people don’t appreciate so much.

Jakku is just another desert planet on the outer rim, but the Jakku we see, with a thriving scavenging culture and millions of tons of Rebel vs. Empire wreckage, was created about a year after the events of Return of the Jedi.

One year and four days after the Battle of Endor, The New Republic targeted Jakku as a critical staging world for the continued conflict and also because it had found out that the world had a facility manufacturing weapons for the Empire. The Empire found out that the New Republic was seeking to take the world, and decided to make a final stand, believing in their immense hubris that the might of the Empire was still strong enough to take on these “Rebels” who believed themselves to be worthy of the name of Republic.

While the Empire’s fleet had been severely depleted throughout the last year, they still had the tactical advantage, at least in the beginning. But the Empire’s hubris gave way to bad tactics and bad leadership. The New Republic reacted quickly to the Empire’s trap, and managed to surround the Empire’s forces, both in space and on the ground. The New Republic quickly turned the battle to a rout, boarded the command ship of what is probably the only competent captain in the fleet, and forced her to set a self-destruct sequence and crash the ship onto the planet’s surface. As other Imperial warships similarly fell to the planet, they pulled Republic warships down with them with their tractor beams, creating what would become known as The Graveyard of Giants.

Inevitably, the remains of the Imperial fleet retreated from the planet. Captain Ciena Ree, who’s Star Destroyer was captured and thrown to the planet, theorized at the end of the battle that the Empire’s plan to make a stand might have been betrayed by a Grand Admiral or a Moff in a power play to take down Grand Moff Randd. Not only was the Empire taken down by bad leadership and tactics, but also by a lack of central leadership and internal power politics.

A month later, with no more attacks from the fleet, a treaty was signed between Imperial leadership and the New Republic, confining the fleet to a few systems still controlled by the Empire.

The war was over at last.

The Resistance

In the aftermath of this peace agreement, Mon Mothma finally decreed the de-militarization of the New Republic. While the Republic would still hold a small defense fleet to protect the governmental bodies, it would see a 90% reduction in its forces from where they were at the Battle of Jakku.

Mon Mothma’s decree was lauded by a war weary galaxy, but she also had many detractors, suspicious that the Imperial remnant would keep their end of the treaty. One of those detractors was perhaps Mon Mothma’s once greatest ally, Princess Leia Organa. She believed that the Imperial fleet was still a threat and would return to regain power. She believed a strong military force was necessary to keep them at bay.

Mon Mothma and the rest of the Republic senate responded by pushing her away from the political process, distancing her from any power within the new government, and slandering her by labeling her as a paranoid warmonger. Leia decided to take matters into her own hands, as she was known to do, and created The Resistance, a private paramilitary group who would keep an eye on the Imperial remnant.

Although the Republic publically denounced Leia’s reforming of the Rebel Alliance, individual members of the senate quietly supported her with funding. For the next couple decades, the Resistance would engage in small skirmishes against the remnant, even rooting out senators who were loyal to the Empire’s growing political movement, the First Order.

Rise of The First Order

If you thought the First Order seemed eerily similar to Nazi’s, well you would be correct to an extent. The First Order rises in much the same way as Hitler’s Nazi Germany. You have a massive military defeat, followed by a peace treaty that severely cripples the reach of the Empire, limits their military production, the rise of a power leader, and finally the military blitz that shocks and awes.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. The First Order rose from the Imperial remnant, who ran from Jakku to lick their wounds, but inevitably combined into a unified force again. This time, they would be unified against The Republic. Despite the fact that the peace treaty limited their military production, much like the Treaty of Versailles limited German manufacturing, the First Order proceeded to research new military technologies, develop new ships and weapons, and abduct young children to be inducted into their Hitler-youth-like Stormtrooper training programs. They defied the limitations of the Republic, and the Republic lived in ignorance, despite the protestations of Leia.

The Republic likely did this for the same reason that the Allied powers ignored Germany. They figured they’d been too weakened to ever be a threat again. The First Order also gave itself an air of legitimacy by positioning itself as a political movement. While The Republic seems to have distanced itself from the Imperial stink that surrounded The Order, individual senators did collude with Snoke and The Order, providing favors for promises of wealth and power.

The First Order was not a secret by any means. The New Republic knew about it, they knew who Supreme Leader Snoke was, but they simply didn’t care. They might not have known the extent of what The Order was doing or planning, and they certainly didn’t know that Snoke was a dark force user. But what the movie doesn’t really explain very well is that Snoke is a relatively public and political figure. Perhaps we don’t see his public side in TFA, but he was involved in politics and in shaping how the Republic considered The Order. I would think a certain amount of their ignorance came from his machinations and by the senators under his payroll.

Leia seemed to know quite a lot about Snoke, knew about the Order’s desires, but what allowed the Republic to dismiss her protestations is that they came from the disgraced war veteran, Leia Organa. Once again, hubris and ignorance paved the way for devastation.

It’s also important to note that the prevailing opinion of The First Order at the time would be that it was the last desparate attempt at legitimacy for a fallen fascist regime. After years of war, finally the galaxy was healing again. With Mon Mothma’s pacifism in the senate air, it would be difficult to convince anyone that fighting The Order was anything more than paranoid and dillusional. It would be like a paramilitary group rising to destroy a local KKK chapter. Sure, they’re distasteful, but wouldn’t it be better to ignore them and hope they eventually give up?

So, it’s interesting that in TFA, The Order is painted with the broad brush of radicalism while The Resistance is painted with the broad brush of patriots. Funny enough, these words describe the exact same thing. The rest of the galaxy would actually consider the roles reversed. The First Order didn’t really attack anybody, at least that the galaxy knew of, but The Resistance was inherently violent. Once again, The First Order is seen by the galaxy as a legitimate although distasteful political movement, while The Resistance is essentially a radicalist terrorist faction.

The New Republic At Its Destruction

At the beginning of The Force Awakens, Mon Mothma is no longer the chancellor of the New Republic. We don’t really know why or for how long she served, but I’m imagining her rule was favorable and that she stepped down voluntarily. It is interesting though, that the New Republic instituted a sort of orbiting seat of galactic power. The seat of government would actually rotate from system to system, moving from Chandrilla at some point, and eventually moving to the Hosnian system by the time of The Force Awakens.

RIP

The chancellor now in charge of The New Republic senate is a male Tarsunt by the name of Lanever Villecham. He appears to have continued Mon Mothma’s pacifistic tendencies, as he continued to doubt the severity of Leia’s claims against The First Order. During the events of TFA, he was actually involved in establishing new trade routes with neutral systems along the Outer Rim of the galaxy. His efforts brought these routes dangerously close to Order territory, but he dismissed any possible danger as he continued to believe they were not a threat.

Also, RIP

At the time The Order was gearing up their superweapon, Starkiller base, Leia’s political envoy, Commander Korr Sella was also at Hosnian Prime. At the time, she was continuing to seek aid from the Chancellor and the Senate, asked to go because Leia feared she was too contentious a figure to escape the system without being assassinated. During the scene of Hosnian Prime’s destruction, she can be seen at the foreground, staring at the red fire, with the Chancellor himself appearing directly to her right.

It’s also notable that what little was left of the New Republic fleet was also destroyed over Hosnian Prime. A quick shot of the planet as it is destroyed shows a large fleet orbiting the planet.

Post Starkiller Predictions

The galaxy is in an interesting turning point now. We don’t really know what, if anything, still exists of the New Republic. The senate, the chancellor, and presumably the entire galactic government was on Hosnian Prime at the time, and it is now been vaporized. Furthermore, the Republic fleet that could have challenged The First Order is also destroyed.

Yet The First Order isn’t actually in a good situation either. They just lost a large section of their manpower, all of their political advantage, and any respect they might have gained from Republic supporters. They have been ousted as violent radicals. Yet who is there to oppose them? The Resistance? They have half a squadron of X-Wings and no capital ships.

It’s possible The New Republic will reform, although even that can be doubtful. The Republic has now fallen twice, and some may prefer to live under the peace they enjoyed under the Empire, rather than the war they would certainly see under the Resistance and New Republic. It’s going to be difficult for any Newer New Republic to gain allies without being able to promise protection from the awesome power of the First Order. While The Order has lost respect, they have gained fear, which can be much more powerful.

I have a feeling we’re going to see an Episode 8 in which The First Order actually rises to fill in the power vacuum, while being embraced by a galaxy suddenly in need of protection and strong leadership. Meanwhile, the Resistance will continue to fight small skirmishes and losing battles while being unable to find willing allies.

The lines have been drawn. The Light side and the Dark are both represented well with The Resistance/Republic and the Empire. One side offers a righteous but harder and unforgiving path, while other offers an easy path to unified power. Neither side offers the answers on their own. But I wonder just as we might see an attempt at a balanced side of the Force, maybe we’ll also see a third option emerge politically as well. Then again, maybe not.

I’d also wonder if there’s some room for some forces that were militarized but maybe not as powerful as the Republic to rise to power as well. Maybe some sort of Black Sun type of criminal enterprise, maybe the Kanji Club or those red-garbed Irish dudes. Who knows, power vacuums are strange and terrifying, but great for storytelling.