News for [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) has been few and far between, with fans scrambling for any spoilers about the upcoming winter blockbuster. But each piece of info released contains tantalising hints and a mine of information, as long as you know where to look. The latest developments are about the film's new villains: The First Order formed from the shattered remnants of the Empire. So far what we can glean is that the stormtrooper army, with its Sith masters defeated, has taken it upon themselves to continue the fight against the New Republic. But we don't have to guess any more! Fresh information has been released which could change the face of the battle against the Dark Side.
It seems our heroes will be facing what could be an even worse foe than the Empire: an army fighting for a cause already beaten, with nothing left to lose. Desperate to continue the legacy of the Stormtrooper, these soldiers are set to usher in "a new era of ruthless brutality", taking what control they can and seeking vengeance against the new government. A compelling enemy indeed. Could The First Order make for better villains than the Clones, Empire, and Sith?
Fixing the problems of the prequels
One of the main faults with the prequels, specifically Attack Of The Clones, was how disposable the armies were. Admittedly, once the tide of war turned and our beloved Jedi Knights were slaughtered, it was pretty upsetting. But up until that point... who cares? We've got an army of duplicates upon duplicates, utterly replaceable clones against an army of utterly replaceable droids. As those in command kept telling us how important the war was, as an audience it was very difficult to emotionally invest. Add that to the hours of senate hearings and, well, you get the picture. The prequels were not exactly riveting.
So problem number one is definitely fixed with The First Order: these stormtroopers are real people, the survivors of a war they lost. Their fury is easy to understand, if not to agree with, and their cause is compelling though villainous. Instead of Clones who obey, we have soldiers who question, who have their own lives and families and their own moral dilemmas. And with one of our new heroic trio confirmed to be an ex-trooper, we're definitely going to start seeing the Stormtroopers as real people instead of empty suits to be beaten up.
Stormtroopers: Clones or real people?
So the next problem to be solved is pretty obvious: inconsistencies within the films. There's been a lot of fan confusion about how the Stormtroopers of the original trilogy relate to the Clones of the prequels. Just how many of the original Clones still exist? Are all the troopers still genetically identical? When did the Empire have to start recruiting and why did they choose to have real people in their armies instead of manufacturing infinite soldiers?
Fans are pretty divided on the issue. According to Wookiepedia, the Clones were merely renamed Stormtroopers. Other sources say that cloning was abandoned in favour of enlisting soldiers (which makes sense: how better to maintain an oppressive regime than to involve the people you need to control in the military).
At this stage, information is mostly gathered from the Expanded Universe, a collection of novels and games that have drifted in and out of canon. When Star Wars Episode 7 was first announced, Disney decreed that the EU was no longer involved in the movie canon (angering many fans in the process). Which might actually help clear up this particular issue: hopefully The Force Awakens will finally give us a concrete answer on the history of the Stormtroopers. But with Gwendoline Christie cast as the imposing Captain Phasma, and John Boyega as Finn, we know that this army is not just Clones any more.
Better villains in The Force Awakens
All in all, news about The First Order just builds excitement about The Force Awakens. Faceless villains are all well and good, but the idea that ordinary people could commit atrocities is horrifying. Star Wars has always been about dark vs light, and there's no doubt that The First Order falls on the duskier side of that divide. But instead of a guy in a black robe cackling evilly, we've got soldiers just like our gang of rebels. The roles now reversed, we'll have to confront the fact that the lines of good and bad are not always clear. Which sets The First Order up to be the most interesting, and maybe the most terrifying villain we've seen yet.