Friday, January 1, 2016

Are the First Order actually the good guys?

This essay will contain spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: Before the Awakening, Star Wars: The Lost Stars, and the Star Wars: Visual Dictionary.

    Before I get to the actual essay, the answer to the titular question is obviously no. The First Order is a group which uses Nazi iconography, speeches, and visual cues. They massacre a village of peaceful religious dissidents. They blow up the planet housing the capital of the New Republic. They slaughter a bar full of aliens just enjoying some drinks. Then there's the fact they commit the gravest offense of all by being involved in the death of the galaxy's greatest smuggler. They're the bad guys.

    But are they that bad?

    Perhaps not.

Our fighting men and women hard at work.
    Might they, perhaps, understandable in a way the Galactic Empire was not? Do they have an element of tragedy which goes beyond merely being the stock villains in a space opera? I think there's a lot going on underneath the depiction of them in the film and hope to share with you my thoughts. Even if I agree they totally had to have their planet-killer base blown up.

    First of all, who are the First Order? We don't have much information to go on and the New Expanded Universe will undoubtedly fill in every bit of minutia from the organization's founding to its end but we have as much information as the viewers of A New Hope did about the Galactic Empire.

    The First Order is the successor state to the Galactic Empire. At some point following the Battle of Endor, the organization founded by Emperor Palpatine dissolved and was reformed in a territory compromising both Outer Rim planets as well as the Unknown Regions. This successor state is led by Supreme Leader Snoke, has no Emperor, and employs Stormtroopers raised from birth rather than clones.

Promotion opportunities abound for young go-getters.
    Supplemental material clarifies the First Order emerged in the aftermath of a treaty between the Galactic Empire and the New Republic. Called the Galactic Concordance, it demilitarized the Empire and called for the dissolution of the Stormtrooper Corps. It also enacted crippling reparations on the Imperial-loyal worlds, similar to the ones placed upon Germany after World War One.

    The exact details of this treaty are left vague but we know the First Order doesn't think much of them. They constructed new star destroyers in the Unknown Regions,  trained stormtroopers on starships rather than on planets, and otherwise rebuilt their military strength in secret. Perhaps the most egregious of their violations of this accord is the creation of Starkiller Base, a planet-based hyperspace weapon which can and does inflict several times more devastation than the Death Star.

    The Dark Side is in the details, though, and there's some surprising differences between the First Order and the Galactic Empire. Likewise, the political situation in the new trilogy is a far more complex one than in the original trilogy (albeit not as convoluted as the Prequels). These differences make, for me, the First Order a far lighter shade of black than the original Galactic Empire as well as the conflict a bit more gray.

    First of all, the First Order and New Republic maintain peace for thirty years. The First Order may not have arisen immediately after the Galactic Concordance but assuming a continuity of government between the Galactic Empire and First Order, even if its reformed, is not an extreme leap of logic. Even so, it is not the Empire.

Join the First Order Navy and see the galaxy!
    The Galactic Empire can't exist without an Emperor and the Emperor was selected by both the Imperial Senate as well as the religious rites of the Sith. With the Senate dissolved by the Emperor for the duration of the emergency (in actuality, forever) as well as both Sith Lords killed at Endor, there is no mechanism for selecting a new Emperor and a new government must be created from the ashes.

    Note: A hereditary claim as well as Sith-based "keep what you kill" could be forwarded by Luke Skywalker given the possibility the midiclorians were manipulated by Emperor Palpatine or his master Darth Plaguis to create Anakin Skywalker  (making Luke Palpatine's grandson as well as oldest surviving heir) but there is no indication Master Skywalker desires this post. His sister is likewise ill-disposed and guilty of multiple acts of treason against the Empire as well as terrorism against the First Order. Ironically, this would mean that Kylo Ren a.k.a. Ben Solo is the best candidate for Emperor of a revived Galactic Empire.

    Whatever the case, an official peace treaty exists between the First Order and the New Republic. This is a treaty which, sadly, doesn't spell the beginnings of a lasting peace between the treacherous New Republic and the noble First Order. The Battle of Jakku spelled the end of the Imperial ability to continue fighting against the New Republic two years after the Battle of Endor but it did not in any shape or form convince its leadership of the latter's legitimacy.   

    Lost Stars has Commander Windrider speak of the Empire's coming revenge as well as plans in place to retake the galaxy. Before the Awakening also makes it clear the First Order is making incursions into Republic as well as neutral space. But it is the Republic who escalates things. Indeed, to use a colloquialism of fandom, Han shot first, or, more precisely, Princess Leia did.

    "So afraid," he murmured. "Yet I should be the one who is scared. You shot first. You speak of the Order as if it were barbaric. And yet, it was I who was forced to defend himself against you."
    -Kylo Ren, speaking to Rey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization.

The Captain of the Stormtrooper Corps is a mother to her men.
     The existence of the Resistance is one of the most fascinating elements of the New Trilogy. Led by Princess Leia, veterans of the Rebel Alliance, and new recruits, it is financed by elements in the New Republic to continue the fight against the First Order.

    It performs vigilante missions against First Order-friendly New Republic officials, works to formulate unrest (like it did in Before the Awakening), and is implied to perform actual military strikes against the First Order.

    Certainly, the First Order recognizes Poe Dameron enough to identify him as the Resistance's best pilot. In short, the Resistance acts exactly like the Rebel Alliance did in the Original Trilogy. In the novelization, it's clear that Supreme Leader Snoke is less concerned with a full-out assault on the New Republic than he is in dealing with the Resistance and its continued activities. Destroying the New Republic is a bonus to eliminating the constant thorn in their side that is Princess Leia (as well as potentially heading off Luke Skywalker from joining her organization).

    Proxy wars are nothing new but they're a surprising element to find in a galaxy as clear-cut as the Star Wars universe. It means the New Republic is engaged in covert operations which are very much an act of war. The fact not all members of the New Republic Senate support their activities doesn't make its culpability any less true. There is also the matter of Princess Leia attempting to involve Jedi Master Luke Skywalker in the war, an escalation which has the potential to change the balance of power for the resistance tremendously. The former Rebel Alliance commander has already demonstrated the ability to affect galactic affairs wholesale. He is, in short, a Person of Mass Destruction and a superweapon in the Resistance's hands.

    No wonder the First Order had to react.

Good speech. Needed a little less spittle, though.
     "Today is the end of the Republic. The end of a regime that acquiesces to disorder. At this very moment in a system far from here, the New Republic lies to the galaxy while secretly supporting the treachery of the rogues of the Resistance. This fierce machine which you have built, upon which we stand will bring an end to the Senate, to their cherished fleet. All remaining systems will bow to the First Order and will remember this as the last day of the Republic!"
    -General Hux speaks of the reprisal on the New Republic for their history of financing terrorism and insurgency.

     Indeed, much of the First Order's so-called atrocities throughout The Force Awakens can be justified as attempting to prevent the return of such a dangerous radical. The village on Jakku was actively aiding the Resistance and shot at Imperial troops, the bar was a known den of piracy, and Hosnian Prime was a decapitation strike meant to hit a much-much harder foe. Hosnian Prime, after all, is the galactic capital and the location for the New Republic. As Grand Moff Tarkin, Force rest his soul, said, "You would prefer another target? A military target? Then name the system." Rather than blow up a planet with no weapons, they go against the only target which has the potential of actually crippling the superior-sized New Republic and allowing them to win the war.

     Indeed, the superior size of the New Republic is something which helps justify the existence of Starkiller Base. While illegal according to the Galactic Concordance, superweapons are something which have a military application needed for smaller and less powerful states like the First Order. When faced with the cripplingly overpowered New Republic and its dramatically superior economy as well as war material, it falls upon the First Order's engineers to come up with devices to deter them from military action or defend their society against overwhelming force. With the Resistance able to fight off the First Order as badly as it did, clearly they needed such a device if they had a hope of defeating the New Republic.

Clearly, the tragic loss of a friend and his first taste of battle drove FN-2187 to his killing spree.
     We also have to question just what the culpability of the First Order's troopers really are in this struggle. General Hux is in his early thirties and clearly has no first-hand experience with the original Galactic Empire. Likewise, the Stormtroopers we encounter are raised from birth on a steady diet of Imperial propaganda. Sadly, the legacy of the Galactic Empire seems to be one of having grossly warped the childhoods of its descendants. The heavy reparations and financing of attacks against them can only have hardened the resolve of its youth. In a very real sense, the First Order considers itself the good guys in this conflict thanks to the information they've been fed and this is all a tragic misunderstanding.

    Unlike the Empire of old, which was composed of sleazy power-brokers and ambition-minded career men, the First Order is composed of individuals who genuinely believe in the Imperial system. The sheer outrage and personal betrayal individual troopers display at Finn's betrayal as well as their defensiveness at one of their people being accused speaks volumes of its different attitude toward troops.

    Ironically, while Darth Vader never bothered to learn the number (or names) for any of his Stormtroopers, the First Order's leadership know Finn's number as well as react to it as if it were a name. Subjects are sent for re-conditioning versus execution. Before his treason, the Imperial leadership even have defenses for Finn from both Captain Phasma as well as Hux.  This is a far closer empire than the Empire of the Original Trilogy, one might even say a family. A creepy, dysfunctional, family of Space Nazi wannabes and cosplayers but a family nonetheless.

They should have named Starkiller Base the Peace Moon.
     Imagine the First Order in a new light. They are an outgunned, outnumbered, and outmatched group of Imperial children exiled to the dark reaches of space. They've been informed of nothing but Imperial propaganda their entire lives, subjected to constant guerrilla attacks by an implacable foe (she is the Princess of Alderaan after all), as well as economic warfare by a power which wishes to wipe them out as a threat. Is it wrong to believe they're heroes? Is it wrong to say they exist on both sides? I say thee nay.

     So, General Hux, can I have my fifty credits for writing this tripe?


  1. Fascinating article Charles, I felt as well the first order for all the atrocities they commit in force awakens, actually feels a lot more humanized than the empire did. That their reasons for their actions make sense from their perspective and are rooted in human behaviour throughout history.

    This is one of the things about the sequels I am really looking forward to seeing more of the First Order and how the events all play out.

    1. Yeah, I don't see anything happening other than their crushing defeat but I hope they avoid some of the more cartoonishly evil depictions of the Empire from the previous EU. I really recommend the book Lost Stars for humanizing (while not EXCUSING) the Empire's behavior.

  2. To quote some booker whose name is lost to time: "A good bad guy should always believe that they are in the right."

  3. I see you're a fan of Darths and Droids, then.

    1. I liked the Prequel versions more than the latter when plot overtook the jokes. But I still check in, yeah.

  4. im reluctant to accept this new movie as canon (to me, anyway). My reason is simple: That is NOT how Han Solo Dies! Not in a failed attempt to resolve his family issues with a hug. That is not how Solo goes out, darn it. That would be how Luke Skywalker goes out. Heck, its almost how Luke went out in Return of the Jedi. Han Solo, when approaching his much estranged son for a hug, would then flip out his blaster, shoot both his sons knees out and his lightsaber arm, then drag him back to the falcon, probably while saying "you are going back for your mother to deal with". If he must die, Han Solo dies with the falcon and chewy, preferably whilst blowing up a giant death laser. Let Luke die in a failed attempt at solving his problems with a hug. harumph

    1. Ehhh, for me, I think Han's death was far more powerful this way because he died knowing it wasn't going to work. His loyalty to his friends was more important than any scoundrel-like qualities. But I understand the sentiment.

  5. gotta agree with the whole germany parallel though. Even the Stormtroopers got their names from Germany's "Sturmtruppen", which were a type of shock troops specific to world war 1. Looked at like that, you can see the empire of the original 3 star wars movies as a kind of world war one germany, but on a galactic scale. Then, following their (germany/the empire's) defeat, the allies (new republic) place such severe sanctions and reparations on them that the second war was pretty much inevitable. They created their own worst enemy. Going on with the metaphor though, while it's easy to see from a historical standpoint how germany/the first order felt backed into a corner and had no choice but to begin a second war, it still doesnt really make them the "good guys". I mean, Nazis. It's hard to come up with a single group of people that are universally hated and seen as bad guys by everyone on the planet, but nazis probably come closer than just about any other. So, while you can sort of understand where the first order (and germany) were coming from and even empathize to a point... Nazis, and sith. also, if you really wanna see things from germanys perspective, i highly recommend playing the board game "Diplomacy" some time. Play as germany, and it will really drive home just how impressive it was that they were able to become a threat so big that it warranted the entire world getting involved. Seriously had the deck stacked against them, from a strategic stand point. We played in AP Euro history back in high school. Very educational. and fun. Just make sure to play as a joint team with ur wife. being different countries in that game isnt conducive to happy healthy marriage. All about the backstabbing.

    1. Some definite good points. You're also right the First Order is definitely rocking the "obvious bad guy" role but I think some genuine thought went into their story.

  6. There like ISIS in a way. Small but advanced, using whatever means necessary to combat a much larger government even it means using blunt terror tactics to crudely paint their evil behavior in the right. Still doesn't justify why they merrily brainwash their own troops though.

  7. To address the question the headline is asking, it relies on a view of evil that's either too black-and-white or too grey. Being the underdog doesn't necessarily mean you aren't a bad guy, nor does being humanized. A well written and believable villain is still a villain.

    1. Interestingly, according to STAR WARS: BLOODLINES, the First Order isn't JUST an Imperial Remnant but also a Separatist group from the New Republic.