Let me start by saying that I am a fan of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy we are currently living through that will culminate this December with The Rise of Skywalker. Yes, The Force Awakens can be derivative, but it’s still an incredibly rewatchable movie. And, most importantly, it’s a pretty great Han Solo movie, starring Harrison Ford, which most of us thought we’d never see again. The Last Jedi is polarizing, but I’m on the side of history that thinks it’s a Star Wars masterpiece. Not to mention that both of these films have introduced us to a brand new cast that is just wonderful. I think we take for granted just how good Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac all are – because we’ve certainly seen what happens in these movies when actors don’t quite mesh correctly.
But there’s one huge problem with these movies that, for the life of me, I can’t get over. And though no one is really admitting it, I suspect the filmmakers had a lot of problems with it, too. So here it is: We are about to wrap up this trilogy and I still have no idea what the Resistance and the First Order are! And I bet you don’t either. Yeah, I know, there are kind of vague explanations buried in the books, but I can ask other hardcore Star Wars fans to “explain the Resistance to me” and they start stumbling over their words. (Also, we shouldn’t have to read books to know what these two factions are.)
And, yes, I’m guilty of this! When asked, I confidently say, “Oh, yes, of course,” then find myself stuttering over words and going on side tangent explanations. At best it’s very confusing and at worst it doesn’t make any sense at all.
So, here’s why this is kind of a problem.
The Original Trilogy didn’t have to spell it out, but it became apparent very quickly that the governing body that controlled the galaxy, the Galactic Empire, was “bad.” The small group of freedom fighters, the Rebel Alliance, was “good.” There were basically two factions we had to pay any attention to at any given point and it was pretty easy. The Empire had all the big ships and huge weapons because they were in charge. They had all the money. The Rebel Alliance just had to make due with what they had and find help where they could from deadbeat smugglers who were not even a members of the Rebel Alliance until the third movie.
The Prequels, which have a lot of problems, at least attempt to explain how something like the Empire could exist in the first place. So we had three Prequel movies just to show us how this evil thing started, then the next three movies show this evil entity at its full power, then eventual downfall. From Episode I through Episode VI we see the idea of the Empire start, all the way to the Empire’s final crushing defeat. The Empire was “the thing.” Without an Empire, we don’t really have these movies.
So, what happens after the Empire, the most evil governing body that ever existed? Well, we get the Resistance and the First Order – which, frankly, just seem like lesser versions of the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. Which, over the course of nine movies, it now feels weird to watch this upcoming final chapter and the stakes are, “Well, I hope the good guys can beat these much lesser versions of the bad guys they already beat three movies ago.”
So, in a nutshell, the First Order is described as the remnants of the Empire and, at the beginning of The Force Awakens, don’t seem to have much of a foothold on galaxy. Even though they seem to somehow have even much larger versions of the starships that the Empire had and, instead of a Death Star, they have a whole planet that can destroy multiple other planets. So, when it was the Empire, it made sense they could afford all of this because they controlled everything. With the First Order, it’s just weird because we are told they are not as powerful, but they seem to have an even bigger military presence. And it’s all run by something called Snoke, who is now dead – and who we still don’t know anything about and, frankly, no one cares all that much to find out anything about him.
The Resistance is even more confusing. So the Republic doesn’t look at the First order as a threat (how that’s possible is beyond me), so Leia starts an offshoot group that’s not technically an army of the Republic – because the Republic still has an army – but they are there to protect the Republic. Okay? This is pretty convoluted. (And this is why I think The Last Jedi is smart to focus on the relationship between the characters as opposed to the Resistance and the First Order, because with the latter, there’s no there there.)
One of the charms of the Original Trilogy is its lack of exposition. Events like the Clone Wars and the Kessel Run are tossed off with no explanation – and this is great! It’s what gives the Original Trilogy it’s lived-in feel. And these didn’t need an explanation. So, I want to be clear the last thing I’m looking for is for a character to sit down and explain the history of the Resistance. But what the Original Trilogy also did well was showing us the scale of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. No one had to explain it to us because we saw with our own eyes, in literally the opening shot of the first movie, what was going on. Two movies in and I still have no idea how big the First Order is. I mean, they lost their planet base! They lost their biggest ship! They lost their leader! Yet at the end of The Last Jedi they still seem to be in charge? Or are they just in charge of a small area? I have no clue.
This is why I think it’s smart to make Palpatine a part of The Rise of Skywalker. At least with Palpatine back there’s a chance to put some perspective to all of this, in that if Palpatine is behind the First Order somehow, it adds weight to this organization and ties it back to the other two trilogies – it ties it back to “the thing” that the first two trilogies were all about in the first place. At least that’s my hope.
Back before The Force Awakens came out and rumors were flying everywhere, I heard one I really liked. (To be clear, I have no idea if this was ever a legitimate story beat or not.) The First Order still had Starkiller Base, but Leia, now in command of Republic weapons (which were former Empire weapons), had to make the decision of whether to use a Death Star – to use the same technology that destroyed her home planet – in an effort to defeat Starkiller Base. I found that fascinating. But I really do wonder what ideas were workshopped on how to present two warring factions – one good and one bad – after the Big Bad Thing was defeated in Return of the Jedi.
I do wonder if the idea of a corrupt Republic was considered – where our heroes from Return of the Jedi were now embroiled in a system that was eating itself, eventually having to leave and fight against it – showing us that history will always repeat. Maybe something like this was deemed too similar to the story of the Empire, but I think a narrative like that would have been pretty fascinating – and, more importantly, comprehensible. Instead, we have the First Order and the Resistance, whatever those are.
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