There is considerable confusion in the fandom of how the First Order arose from the ashes of the Empire. There is much we don’t know, but enough has been provided to create a broad picture of how it arose however. This article will analyze and chronicle the First Order’s conception and slow rise into a major galactic power and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Warning: Contains Spoilers
From all appearances, the Battle of Jakku and concurrent Galactic Concord brought a definitive end to nearly three decades of galactic war. The Empire had been stripped of the military might it relied upon to maintain control and the only loose end was a relatively small number of the Empire’s most dedicated supporters fleeing into the unknown regions. In the following years, the Empire rapidly lost what little it did have left and it seemed grinding repression of Emperor Palpatine’s Empire and the terrifying Imperial war machine was now solely the purview of historians. Thus, it came as a complete surprise when the emergent First Order completely destroyed the entire Hosnian system and almost the entire Republic political and military leadership. This show of power belied military and economic strength that exceeded even Leia Organa and her Resistance’s worst fears. The First Order did not arise out of nowhere however, but was the result of decades of planning – work which grew out of a plan devised by Emperor Palpatine himself.
Fall of the Empire
Emperor Palpatine intended to rule the Galaxy forever and left no public plans for succession. However, he did understand there was a chance he could be killed and made plans in the event of that contingency. It was his intent that his Empire not outlast him and arranged for the boy he found as a stowaway from Jakku to dispose of his Empire in the event of his demise. Sensing that he may not survive his and Vader’s attempt to turn Luke Skywalker to the dark side, the Emperor dispatched Gallius Rax to the Vulpinas Nebula with the Star Dreadnought Ravager. After Rax received word of the unthinkable, he went to work executing Palpatine’s final wish with the direction of the sentinel droids Palpatine had left for him.
Gallius’s job was greatly aided by the fact the Empire was only held together through Palpatine’s sheer force of will and loyalty to him. With his death, the force holding the Empire together disappeared with nothing to fill it and it began fragmenting almost immediately, Gallius just had to help it along. In the wake of the news of the Emperor’s demise, Palpatine’s Grand Vizier, Mas Amedda, attempted to maintain control, but lacked the respect or ability to fill the vacuum. Systems across the galaxy went into uprising against their Imperial masters, including the Imperial throne world – Coruscant. Seeing this, some Imperial leaders, such as the governors of the Anoat Sector (i) and Kashyyk (iii), forbade any mention of the Emperor’s death and closed their holdings from the outside galaxy. Many leaders sensed which way the winds were blowing and surrendered their entire commands to the Rebellion turned New Republic (three Super Star Destroyers were surrendered completely intact (iii)) and others simply disappeared – with whatever wealth they could get hold of. The most ambitious, and there were many, saw an opportunity to seize the throne for themselves and squandered Imperial resources in their bids. Of those that remained loyal to Palpatine’s order, confusion and indecision ruled and a meeting of surviving top leaders on Akiva failed to reveal any common ground even before the Republic attacked it (ii). At Endor, the Empire’s fate was sealed; it was only a question of time.
Gallius’s first step was to eliminate any leaders who might be able to oppose him. Both the meeting on Akiva and its abrupt conclusion brought by Republic warships was by his design. The surviving leadership he saw as useful or felt might be willing to join him, he co-opted. He manipulated Admiral Rae Sloane into being the public face of the Empire even while secreting away large portions of the Imperial fleet and bringing the rest to ruin. Under the moniker of ‘the Operator’ he fed the Republic information which allowed it to quickly smash many cornerstones of Imperial power. Other worlds he left to their fates, Kuat was allowed to fall and the Imperial Security Bureau was left on its own on Coruscant. Rax was careful to appear only as an adviser, crediting Sloane with plans she had no prior knowledge of (2). The Empire had to be destroyed, but he could not be seen as its executioner or the leader that brought it to ruin lest it imperil his own plans to build his own Empire (ii, iii).
Strangely, the Emperor’s plans did not stop at vengeance and he had made arrangements for a new Empire. Before he had even declared himself Emperor, Palpatine had secretly begun establishing automated research stations, called Observatories, throughout the galaxy. They all had a purpose in a his grand plans, but the one on Jakku was special. Palpatine believed there was some dark entity or substance which was the source of his powers deep in the Unknown Regions, which were incredibly dangerous to navigate. On Jakku, he set up an automated system to find and map a safe path to this entity. This system calculated candidate routes and sent probe droids along them. The probe droids which communicated back would have their paths added to the map. Over several decades, a map was created. Shortly before the Battle of Endor, the device completed its work, but Palpatine was unable to take advantage of it. After his death, the Emperor’s personal Super Star Destroyer, the Eclipse, was dispatched to the other side of the maelstrom. Other seeds for the future were gathered. Either at Rax’s personal discretion or the advice of the droids sent by Palpatine to see his plans finished, the commandant of the academy on Arkanis, Brendol Hux, and his son were rescued before the planet fell to the Republic (3). It was on Jakku that the first of a new breed of Stormtrooper were trained by Brendol using kidnapped children.
It was also at Jakku, that Gallius Rax prepared the Emperor’s final vengeance. First, he rescued Yupe Tashu, Palpatine’s adviser and expert on the Sith, from Republic imprisonment on Chandrilla. At the same sought to weaken the Republic and ensure it attacked the Imperial forces gathering at Jakku by sending Rae Sloane as a peace envoy and then using a large number of ‘rescued’ prisoners he had planted with control chips to massacre the Republic political leadership (ii). Once the pieces were assembled, Rax waited for the Republic’s attack.
Jakku was not meant to be the site of the Empire’s resurgence, but it and the Republic’s grave. Unbeknownst to everyone except Rax, a hole had been drilled to the planet’s core where the once living world’s life essence was. As the battle began, he brought Yupe Tashu to the borehole with the promise of resurrecting Palpatine. Instead, Rax gave Tashu several Sith artifacts which allowed the cultist to sense the dark side for the first time in his life. Tashu’s revelry was short lived as Rax pushed him into the open borehole. The Sith artifacts corrupted the essence at the planetary core and initiated a chain reaction that would have destroyed Jakku and the two sides warring on and above it. However, Sloane, who had pursued Rax for months after his treachery at Chandrilla finally caught up to him. With the aid of Norra and Brentin Wexley, Sloane managed overpower and kill the would be Emperor. With his dying breath, Rax told Sloane that part of the Emperor’s plan was for his most loyal followers to establish a new Empire in the Unknown Regions and that it was now up to Sloane. Before she joined Brentin and Armitage Hux aboard the replica of the Emperor’s destroyed yacht, she closed the borehole, preventing the planet’s destruction.
The planet was spared, but this was of little consolation for the Imperial fleet. The Ravager, the last known Imperial Super Star Destroyer was lost when it plowed into the planet’s surface after the sacrifice of Republic Commodore Kyrsta Agate and her Starhawk, taking any hope of an Imperial victory with it. Though doomed, the Empire fought on and many other Star Destroyers would come to join the fallen dreadnought, with some bringing Republic ships with them. Many at Jakku fought on even when word came of the signing of the Galactic Concordance in the middle of the battle by Imperial representatives led by Mas Amedda. The Republic did observe some Imperial ships jumping into the Unknown Regions and believed them to be suicides. In actual fact, those Captains considered most loyal by Palpatine himself had secretly been sent navigation data, but as far as the New Republic was concerned, the war was over (iv).
A New Empire is Cultivated
The old Empire still controlled many systems after Jakku, but with the Imperial military shattered and political leadership disbanded, maintaining it was impossible. World by world, the Imperial remnants faded from the galaxy and the New Republic turned toward rebuilding. The Republic demobilized all but a tiny fraction of its standing forces and left defense largely up to its member worlds. Keen on putting the past behind it, it allowed former Imperial worlds to join. By all appearances, the near constant tumult of devastation and tyranny of the past thirty years would soon be a memory.
The agents of what would become the First Order were hard at work however and they pursued their vision along multiple fronts. Brendol Hux applied the principles he pioneered back on Arkanis to the creation of a new Stormtrooper corps. Taking advantage of the galaxy’s ample supply of orphans and the desperate, he found an ample supply of willing recruits that wouldn’t be missed. These recruits were put through rigorous training and ‘morale building’ exercises to create an army of elite and fanatical warriors. It was on one desperate world that he found the woman would become the FO’s finest warrior, Phasma [viii].
While much of the Order’s activity is currently unknown, it is clear that 24-25 years after the war the New Republic’s political leadership was thoroughly penetrated by First Order loyalists who were coordinated by unknown entities (4). The Republic Senate was split into two factions, the centrists and populists, with many centrists secret supporters of the First Order. On the military front, the First Order was actively kidnapping and indoctrinating children for its burgeoning military six years after the Battle of Jakku. New starships with advanced weapon designs were already being secretly designed and constructed less than a month after Jakku (5). In an effort to destabilize the Republic, it quietly funded and supported criminal gangs and militias across the galaxy, including the Amaxines and Rinnrivin Di’s cartel (v). By 25 ABY, most of the pieces were on the board.
The First Order is Declared
Sometime after 25 ABY, a significant number of Republic worlds seceded and declared themselves the First Order. While alarming, the worlds were still a fraction of the overall Republic and lacked much in the way of military power (vi). A few leaders, such as Leia Organa, tried to sound the alarm that the newly christened First Order was just the vanguard for a much larger plot against the Republic, they were ignored. General Leia, and the Resistance she had formed, tried desperately to find ironclad evidence of the true extent of the First Order (vii) and finally, to locate her brother, the last Jedi, and enlist him against the First Order. Unfortunately, even the Resistance didn’t expect the First Order had a weapon like Starkiller.
Notes and Analysis
1. Allowing Sloane to pose as the Operator to arrange the meeting on Chandrilla was clever. Even if she tried to expose Rax, the Republic would never believe her.
2. On Arkanis, Brendol Hux pioneered taking the most promising children and thoroughly indoctrinating them in Imperial ideology. His methods would prove useful for training a generation of fanatical soldiers and officers.
3. We haven’t seen it yet, but the large number of senators with First Order loyalties indicates a the Order operated a massive underground network on worlds with Imperial sympathies. It’s safe to assume entire planetary governments had been subverted by Bloodline.
4. From the Lost Stars epilogue. Interestingly, the Imperial command was considered unified and the fleet rebuilding while Sloane was still traversing the Unknown Regions and out of contact.
i) Star Wars: Uprising
iii) Aftermath: Life Debt
iv) Lost Stars
vi) Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy
vii) Poe Dameron