[Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) has pulled the saga into a brave new story, introducing plenty of new characters and villains for them to fight. This means that there's a new mythology to build, and the possibilities really are endless. Star Wars 7 ended with lots of questions left unanswered, and aside from Rey's origins, the biggest mystery of The Force Awakens is definitely how the First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire.
Several books have already shed some light on this, and a new Star Wars Rebels spin-off novel has just given us a crucial insight into how the First Order started brainwashing their stormtroopers...
Breeding An Army
If you ever wanted to know how the First Order came to be, the Star Wars Rebels novel The Secret Academy, and where you should look.
(Sidenote: it's also well worth checking out Star Wars Rebels, if you haven't already. It's a pretty fun show with lots of insights into the wider Star Wars story.)
The book focuses on a minor character from Rebels, Zare Leonis, a young stormtrooper trainee who enlisted to find his sister, Dhara. The first episode Zare appeared in (Breaking Ranks, season 1) gave us a glimpse at how the Empire trained their troopers. This is while the clone armies were being phased out: before A New Hope, the Empire encouraged people to join the military, and even drafted some citizens into the trooper ranks.
Zare Leonis' story is explored more in the book The Secret Academy, as he discovers the covert cadets which Commandent Hux (General Hux's father) picked especially and trained from birth.
These cadets were Force Sensitive, which means Hux was brainwashing potential Jedi and making them fight for the Empire instead. Chilling. Author Jason Fry explained the situation in this article for starwars.com (Lucasfilm's official Star Wars website).
"During the Clone Wars, the elder Hux served alongside Jedi Knights and clones, two groups that trained warriors from birth. Hux saw the deficiencies of the Empire’s conscript and volunteer stormtroopers and imagined a radical reimaging of what the Jedi and clones had done. That program began in secret and was fulfilled by his son for the hermetic, fanatical First Order."
This is a really cool idea, and begs the question: did Hux senior also submit his son to the rigorous conditioning program that the young stormtroopers were subject to?
So now we have the answer to how and why the First Order began brainwashing their soldiers from birth. Hux's method must have proven effective. But what's interesting is that while Fry points out that the Order adopted Hux's techniques, isn't exactly how the First Order itself began. But we actually have some information on that, from the Star Wars book Aftermath, set right after Return Of The Jedi...
Beaten But Not Defeated
One of the opening scenes of the book is set on Coruscant, which we saw celebrating the Empire's defeat in the remastered edition of Return Of The Jedi. But celebration soon turns to riot, as this planet was still under Imperial rule. And it's kinda terrifying, as partiers topple a statue of Palpatine only to be cut down by stormtrooper fire.
So the real war begins, as Wendig explained to EW.
"Now they’re a New Republic going toe-to-toe with the Empire in a somewhat more proper war. That’s where we begin, that hot conflict between these two massive galactic forces."
The Empire is crippled, but not totally destroyed, ordering counterstrike after counterstrike, even attempting to obliterate the planet of Naboo. But the Rebel Alliance is quickly forming a new Senate, and soon becomes the New Republic. The Empire is beaten back, and they recede beyond the reaches of the Republic's power, into the Unknown Regions. There they are free to expand and rebuild their ranks, waiting to strike the New Republic...
The New Republic Ignores The Threat
In Poe Dameron's origin story, Before The Awakening explains how the First Order got to be so powerful and mostly, this is due to the New Republic's passivity.
Here's what we learned...
- Sometime in this 30 year gap, the First Order started attacking the New Republic.
- This conflict was brutal but a peace treaty stopped it from escalating into all out war.
- The First Order was confined to the Unknown Regions, with a chunk of neutral space separating their territory from the New Republic's.
But this peace was just an illusion, giving the First Order time to build up their ranks and prepare for their assault against the New Republic. During Poe Dameron's final mission in Before The Awakening, he discovers that at least one of the New Republic's senators was feeding information to the First Order.
It seems highly likely that this corruption was one of the reasons the First Order was able to become so powerful: every time it was suggested that the Republic take action, First Order plants would shoot the suggestion down.
So far, this is all we know about the First Order which we gleaned from the Star Wars books. It's difficult to tell whether we'll see any of this alluded to in the movies, but knowing the backstory of Star Wars' newest big bad definitely helps us get an idea of the context of The Force Awakens... and beyond!