Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is less than half a year away, and is the swan song of the divisive sequel trilogy. JJ Abrams returns to the director’s chair yet again to try and win some good faith for the franchise which saw it’s fanbase get seriously divided over the events of The Last Jedi. This means we’ll likely be getting a safer movie this time around than the character study and expectation shattering eighth episode. But when it’s over and the credits are rolling, what will be our reaction to the sequel trilogy as a whole? With the prequels, we saw Anakin’s ascension to the dark side, with the original trilogy, we saw how a small, inferior force took out an evil government with unlimited resources while giving us great characters. The sequel trilogy, which takes place over the course of around one year, seems to be about the end of the Jedi Order and that way of thinking, but considering that The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi take place within minutes of each other and The Rise of Skywalker takes place only one year after that, there really hasn’t been a lot of time for these events to make much of an impact. Specifically, I’m talking about the First Order and their conquest of the galaxy.
The First Order is the villainous faction that has risen from the ashes of the Empire. After the Battle of Jakku, the Empire signed a treaty that basically stripped them of all their powers. From there, some of the more extreme and loyal members of the Empire fled and went into hiding, slowing rebuilding their armaments illegally and becoming the First Order, a much more brutal version of the Empire but one without the benefit of having once been an actual government, like the Republic before the Empire. Due to that, they are much smaller and less resourceful and technically don’t rule anything by the start of the sequel trilogy, but in the matter of a few days, they begin seizing power and taking over various systems in the galaxy. They adopted the visual aesthetic of the Empire before them, using Stormtroopers and Tie Fighters as the imagery of their fighting force. As the First Order was rebuilding, Supreme Leader Snoke joins and takes control as the leader and Kylo Ren eventually becomes head of the army, answering only to Snoke. As we know now, Kylo Ren is the Supreme Leader after killing Snoke. At that more or less sums up the “Age of Resistance”, as per Lucasfilm’s labelling of the timeline.
Before The Force Awakens, the First Order operated largely in secret and on a smaller scale. In the animated television show Resistance, most people don’t even know about the First Order, let alone Kylo Ren or Starkiller Base and that show started around six months before TFA. Those who are aware of them see them as either bizarre beings holding onto dead ideas or in some cases, a beacon of order in a chaotic and corrupt society. It doesn’t take long for things to go south once the First Order take over the refuelling station where the show takes place as they begin detaining citizens and establishing Marshal Law, and the show definitely makes it seem like those events are mirroring those of the Empire’s early days by those more senior characters like Yeager. The trailer for the second and final season of Resistance points towards planets surrendering to the First Order across the galaxy, implying that their impact is vast, swift and not to be taken for granted.
To have all of that fail to go anywhere substantial would weaken the effect of stories like that. If the sequel trilogy serves as a contained story while also setting the stage for later conflicts to come, I think it’ll be utilizing its villains more successfully. The prequels complement the original saga in that they build-up to the Dark Times, the period between Episodes III and A New Hope. The Dark Times alone can result in countless tales surrounding the Empire. Heck, even post Return of the Jedi still has the Imperial Remnant, as evident by the trailer in The Mandalorian.
After Hosnian Prime was destroyed, the First Order came out of hiding and began taking control of many systems, who surrendered out of fear of the sudden horrific attacks. But this means that the First Order really has only been operating out in the open for the better part of a week at most. They’re just getting started. And if The Rise of Skywalker ends and the First Order is all but destroyed, then I have to ask myself, what was the point of the sequel trilogy if this ultimate threat that was built up over cross-media only lasted the better part of one year in-universe and was not an all-powerful, controlling force that the good guys had to overthrow? For now, it’s more like preventing the First Order from getting out of hand and thus, at this point in time, it feels like they are on something of a narrative leash. The First Order in the months leading up to The Force Awakens [Credit: Lucasfilm]
I know the obvious answer to why the sequel trilogy exists is “to make money”, but from a storytelling perspective and as a fan, this is the question that has me worried about the upcoming entry in the saga. The Empire had been around for the better part of around twenty years when the first Star Wars movie was released and even though we didn’t see any of that at the time, we certainly felt that the reign of the Empire had been around for quite a while and it’s impact felt around the galaxy. We entered that story at the height of Imperial Power and as such, they were seasoned, experienced and credible. The First Order is in their first year of existing as a recognized power. They could offer so much more in the future should the system of power continue to operate, no matter what happens to leadership in this movie. My one hope for the preservation of the First Order for future entries, books and comics is the recently opened Galaxy’s Edge theme park at Disney Parks. The attraction has narrative beats woven into its immersive experience. Why is the Falcon on the planet Batuu? Well, there’s an in-universe explanation for that and so on. The Millennium Falcon isn’t the only recognizable part of this park though: the First Order also has a heavy presence there and the events of Galaxy’s Edge take place somewhere between TLJ and TROS. I just get the feeling Disney wouldn’t pour millions upon millions of dollars into a theme park surrounded by characters and iconography that shape the Sequel Trilogy if it ultimately comes down to a minor scrap that feels way less consequential than what happened in the original trilogy. First Order at Galaxy’s Edge [Credit: Inverse] I think it would be bold, unpredictable and ultimately, beneficial, if the First Order as an idea, as a threat, survives the events of The Rise of Skywalker while also giving the heroes the win they deserve with the death or redemption of Kylo Ren and the establishment of a new Jedi Force Order (likely to be called Skywalkers, if I had to guess). From there, books, comics, games and eventually, more movies, can tell new stories about the era of the First Order. In short, I hope the Sequel Trilogy acts as more of a prelude for things to come on the larger galactic story. Can the FO evolve into something else? Of course, and personally, I hope they do; the introduction of Sith Troopers and the return Palpatine gives me hope for the Sith Empire. But I don’t want to see the entire First Order wiped out when they’re only just getting started and have yet to make much of an impression on-screen or impact in the galaxy. In-universe historians would likely look back on the whole First Order thing and scoff at how short-lived and unimpressive it was when compared to the might of the Empire that came before it. Guess we’ll have to wait for December 2019 to see what will happen to the First Order and find out who-or what-the mysterious Skywalker is in the title of Episode IX.
What do you think though? Should the First Order survive in some way shape or form going forward or do you want the First Order and everything they represent to die by the end of The Rise of Skywalker, regardless of their impact on the narrative at large? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our latest on The Matrix 4 and what it needs to do and a harrowing look at Disney and the Death of Imagination.