The first scene of Star Wars: A New Hope, with the vast underbelly of the Star Destroyer creeping down the movie screen to Princess Leia’s Consular ship, was a defining moment for a generation, both of movie goers and movie makers alike.
In the second The Force Awakens teaser trailer, having the first shot of a massive broken hull of the Imperial Star Destroyer – like the the fallen motherships in Independence Day – is a reminder to us of Star Wars’ iconic history. Not only was the Star Destroyer the opening reference of all three movies of the classic trilogy, its presence in this trailer indicates – not just for Han and Chewbacca, but also the audience – that we have returned home to the classic elements of the original trilogy.
Within a few seconds, JJ Abrams manages to capture both what is familiar in the Star Wars universe, but also propel us into new unseen territory.
The prequel trilogy began slowly to fill the gaps of the classic trilogy: the how, what, where and why; essentially the manipulative rise of Palpatine and the tragic fall from grace of Anakin Skywalker.
With The Force Awakens we have an effective return to the classic trilogy (a hard reboot for those who loved the Expanded Universe) and discover, though it looks familiar, it’s not Tatooine.
Gone is the ambiguity and deception that we saw played out in the Senate Rotunda on Coruscant. Now the sides will be drawn with utter clarity. As JJ Abrams remarked at the Star Wars Celebration at Anaheim, The Force Awakens will have the feeling of a western.
There will be those with black hats and those with white hats. This dichotomy of good and evil, light and dark, hero and villain is echoed throughout the first six Star Wars episodes and even is discovered in the tone of the starship design.
Initially, the starships of the Old Republic were sleek, stylish and almost art noveau, like the Naboo Star Cruiser (as used by Senator Amidala), symbolic of an elegant era of apparent prosperity. However, as the saga unfolds we see the mass production of starships with one given purpose. The angular, utilitarian wedge-like Star Destroyers find their genesis in the ‘Acclamator’ assault cruisers (used at the Battle of Genosis) and ‘Venator’ cruisers commissioned by the Old Republic for their phoney (Clone) wars (as seen in the Battle over Coruscant). On the other hand, we see a mishmash of ships used by the Rebel Alliance, some gherkin like and misshapen as if they are hobbled together with spare parts.
As each of the classic trilogy began with the appearance of a Star Destroyer, this teaser immediately is suggestive of this and hints at continuity, but much more is revealed in this panning shot.
The massive Star Destroyer lying on the sands of Jakku (not the planet Tatooine as first thought) lies as a relic of battle, for a generation has passed since the celebratory events at Endor’s moon.
In the “nerdiverse” of Star Wars, the Imperial Star Destroyer was the iconic symbol of the Galactic Empire’s power. For those within the highly developed galactic sectors it represented order. Patrolling interstellar trade routes, maintaining a vigilant watch over the citizens of the Empire. For others, it was the sign of subjugation. Indeed, it was so massive, only about six Star Destroyers were needed within an entire sector of space at any one time to maintain the rule of the Emperor.
So this opening shot of this teaser trailer indicates change and decline as well as conflict on a massive scale in the past. The tiny X-Wing fighter, buried in the foreground serves as a tacit reminder of this. The beginning of the Revenge of the Sith gave us a sense of the scale as capital sized vessels battled it out like 18th century warships firing broadsides at each other. In Return of the Jedi’s confrontation at Endor, that Admiral Ackbar knew the magnitude of firepower a single Star Destroyer could muster, hence his reluctance to engage the stationary Imperial fleet.
At the tail end of this teaser, we see the Millennium Falcon being pursued by a persistent TIE fighter, right inside the fuselage of a massive cruiser, lying face down on the sandy planet of Jakku. Some, on other websites, have wrongly interpreted it as a Corellian vessel, like the Blockade Runner. Its engine configuration indicates something more massive and it seems to have had the angular characteristics of an Imperial vessel.
Perhaps it is wreckage of one of the several Super Star Destroyers commissioned and built; the same class as the flagship of Admiral Piett that plunged into the superstructure of the second Death Star. For some reason, yet unknown, the planet of Jakku was the site of a decisive stellar battle.
Yet, this derelict Star Destroyer and other vessels are not relics of a ‘forgotten’ nor neglected past. For later we see a more advanced and “bulked up” Star Destroyer as the destination of a shuttle that is reminiscent of the elegant Lambda used at Endor and its earlier model, the Theta class shuttle used to ferry the Emperor to Mustafar. All these little details indicate continuity and indeed technological development and advancement.
The broken Star Destroyer at the beginning of this second teaser lies fractured, yet its hull virtually intact. It begs the question, why is this massive Imperial vessel, a result of an enormous amount of expenditure and resources, lying forgotten and neglected to all but scavengers? Why is its material not being utilised?
It may indicate that the the planet of Jakku itself lacks technical infrastructure and resources. In other words, not unlike Tatooine, Jakku may be a tumble weed system far from anything now strategically significant (or perhaps we are meant to believe this).
If an Imperial Star Destroyer (and possibly a Super Star Destroyer too) lies derelict, slowly being covered by the sands of Jakku, it may be an indication that the galactic wild west -the Outer Rim Territories – have long fallen from the grip of Palpatine’s broken empire.
Which brings to us to the GALACTIC EMPIRE itself. In this second trailer, there is a glimpse of a militaristic rally with all the hallmarks of a totalitarian state, particularly in the use of the colour red and its circular emblem. The insignia is not dissimilar to the “Imperial Cog” emblem used on uniforms of gunners and technicians in the classic trilogy. However, one noticeable difference is that it has no central hub. Is this a implicit reference to the fall of the Emperor, who was the centre of this now faceless regime? Looking again at the insignia, it can be seen either as a graphic of an explosive force radiating outward, or alternatively as a circle surrounded by teeth, consuming all within.
In either case the scene is ominous. It tells us that the GALACTIC EMPIRE as we have known it still exists, albeit with massive losses in both military resources (the derelict starships on Jakku) and undoubtedly a loss of territory.
We now know from costume exhibits at Star Wars Celebration at Anaheim that the white clad stormtroopers are soldiers of what is known as the FIRST ORDER. As of yet we do not know who leads them; though we can glimpse a dark robed figure standing in a prominent position. Is it a Sith Lord or an aged member of the Imperial Ruling Council? Perhaps like Alexander the Great’s empire, who died without a definitive heir and that subsequently splintered into several successor kingdoms, the Empire of Palpatine has fractured with his untimely demise?
We could assume this period of the fractured Empire is one of infighting, as various Imperial governor-generals have scrambled to secure resources and establish their own autonomous satrapies. This indeed may have resulted in the Outer Rim Territories falling out the galactic picture all together.
However, after a long period of attrition and economic inertia several things may happen.
Regimes that survive are those that are expansionist, dedicating more and more resources to military control than to civilian needs. Smaller territories, inevitably become absorbed into a new and more aggressive regime, with teeth.
Secondly, in such an all encompassing state of groupthink, people turn inward, looking to protect their own interests and assets and seek to target those they can scapegoat and destroy. A remembrance of the events of the early 20th century Europe comes to mind.
From looking at the glimpse of the FIRST ORDER, its very militaristic tone and heavy armament, individuality seems to be in short supply. Everyone, the various types of stormtroopers and fighter pilots as well as the ‘Chrome Trooper’ – Captain Phasma – and the Sith acolyte Kylo Ren are all masked and hidden. Are they armoured for battle or rather is this new regime uncompromising in its faceless brutality? Indeed, the tone of the images involving the FIRST ORDER are all aggressive and active. Shooting; chasing; burning; blasting. It seems to suggest the FIRST ORDER is focused and driven to one order, one mission.
With the release of the Star Wars: Rebels series and the appearance of the Sith Inquisitor we see that there are indeed others who are adept in the ways of the Dark Side. The Inquisitor is a servant of the Dark Side, though not a Sith Lord.
As far as we know the Sith have followed the doctrine of Darth Bane’s “Rule of Two” – a master and an apprentice. Yet we have to take this knowledge with caution. We heard Master Yoda make mention of it to Master Windu. Undoubtedly the Jedi Temple and Yoda himself had secured access to Sith lore, but that knowledge was limited.
At the Council it was Qui-Gon Jinn who rightly detected the presence of a Sith Lord upon Tatooine, despite the misgivings of some of the Council. Indeed Masters Windu and Yoda didn’t even detect a Sith Lord holding the office of Supreme Chancellor, never mind standing in the same room. So we need to dispense with the Jedi Order’s limited knowledge of the Sith.
Remember the Sith Order has successfully hidden its presence from the galaxy and the tens of thousands of Jedi for a millennia. To do so they have nefarious means unknown to us; however James Luceno’s excellent book “Darth Plagueis” lifts the veil on some of the mystery.
One thing that is apparent in Luceno’s book is the Sith hatred of the Jedi, indeed that hatred seems to be the only thing that gives them unity. For apart from this hatred, the two Sith Lords, Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious really have no loyalty to each other. Both surreptitiously break Darth Bane’s Rule of Two.
This inherent disloyalty is also found in the relationship of Sidious and Vader. Not only did Sidious dispatch Tyranus (Count Dooku of Sereno) for a younger and more powerful apprentice in Anakin Skywalker, he also tried to do the same with Luke Skywalker on the Death Star, as did Vader seek to seduce his own son at Bespin with lure of combining to destroy the Emperor.
Again a niggling concern of mine has been Sidious’ dismissal of Vader to the command ship. Why would he want to keep his Sith apprentice Vader at arm’s length and yet remain in conference with his pale faced advisors? Indeed at this crucial juncture what were they discussing? Again, why was the Emperor not aware of Skywalker among the Rebel insertion team so close to Endor’s sanctuary moon, never mind Vader’s feelings for him?
Regardless, we cannot base our knowledge of the Sith on the flawed insights of the Jedi.
We could assume there are more than two Sith Lords but we can assured – as the trailer confirms – a Sith Order – perhaps parallel in scope to that of the Jedi – exists, with many acolytes and servants, both zealous and ignorant.
As a servant of the Sith, the Inquisitor is tasked by Darth Vader to hunt down Jedi who may have survived ‘Order 66’. Though, another mission, one more worrisome, is to detect Force sensitive children.
In Rebels the young Force sensitive Ezra Bridger overhears Cumberlayne Aresko – Commandant of the Imperial Academy on Lothal – discussing himself and another cadet, in a holonet transmission to the Inquisitor. It appears the Inquisitor is interested in those who exhibit particular agilities and qualities – sensitivity to the Force. Later he arrives on Lothal with the sole purpose of collecting them.
It’s clear from the Inquisitor and indeed Darth Vader, that these ‘Force sensitives’ can serve the Dark Side or die.
Where are these ‘Force sensitives’? In the ‘nerdiverse’ of Star Wars, the Deep Core of the galaxy, apart from being extremely difficult to navigate in hyperspace, due to its extreme gravitational fields, is designated as a restricted zone by the Empire. Only a few are privy to safe routes through it. Indeed, one of these routes was used by the Separatist General Grievous used to make a surprise attack on Coruscant, as we saw at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.
The galactic Deep Core more significantly is the location of Moraband, the home planet of the ancient Sith. It was there that Master Yoda made a spiritual journey in the closing episodes of Star Wars: The Clones Wars to face the seductive power of the Dark Side.
One can assume that the Palpatine’s GALACTIC EMPIRE and now the FIRST ORDER have established their own macabre alternative to the Jedi Temple, seeking out the Force sensitive to invite, seduce, ensnare… or terminate.
Possibly the masked figure of Kylo Ren wielding his ‘broadsword’ Sith lightsaber is one such Sith acolyte who has embraced the Dark Side. Perhaps the stormtrooper Finn is the antithesis of Kylo Ren? Though it’s hard to imagine as an adult his Force sensitivity could remain unnoticed so long. It seems more likely Finn has become aware of the single-minded pursuit of the First Order’s regime and seeks to flee.
JJ Abrams has pointed out that this movie will have the feel of a Western. One of the characteristics of westerns – much beloved of my dad – is the simple (though not simplistic) manner in that all the players in the drama must “choose” a path, pick a side and be reconciled to it and accept the consequences and sacrifices of that choice. This ‘either/or’ dynamic has played out with great success and drama in his TV productions of “Fringe”, “Person of Interest” and most notably the series “Lost”.
As I said earlier, gone is the subtlety and ambiguity of the prequel trilogy. Indeed gone, I believe, is the staged propaganda and facade of the perfect state in Palpatine’s Empire that has insulated virtually all the galactic populace in ignorance for a generation or two.
No, the FIRST ORDER will be openly determined to bring its order to a galaxy broken and tired of infighting and chaos. But it will do so with all the precision of a surgeon preparing for an amputation of a cancerous limb. In this sense, the comparatively small rebellion – the so called Rebel Alliance – is no longer a pesky irritant as it was for the Emperor Palpatine, but an expression of defiant galactic resistance that will be met without compromise.
Indeed, as we know from costume exhibits at Star Wars Celebration at Anaheim, the Rebel Alliance to Restore the Republic is now simply called The Resistance.
So in this imagined drama that we will see unfold at Christmas, one where the ambiguity of the past six movies has escalated to an all out galactic conflict, where children are still born sensitive to the Force, many perhaps brainwashed and coerced into the service of the Dark Side. A age in the midst of inertia and decline, where whole communities and planets are called to submit or burn. It is into this galactic drama that those on the very fringes of existence will awaken a fresh hope, seeking out those that enkindle the flame of resistance to this new darkness.