We are just over a week away from the eighth installment in the Skywalker Saga, and if social media is any indication, millions of people all over the world are chomping at the bit to discover what happens when Rey comes face to face with Luke. If the trailers tell us anything, it’s gonna be a complicated situation. But how did it get so thorny? The Force Awakens didn’t provide much detail, delving into each characters’ motivations rather than getting viewers caught up on everything that happened between episodes VI and VII. Ancillary media such as comic books, novels and video games have been doing the heavy lifting in that department. Unfortunately, not every Star Wars fan has had the time to consume said media. Fortunately, we here at Zyte Heist are here to condense all the key plot points revealed to us to get readers up to speed.
A big question on everyone’s mind since The Force Awakens is “How the hell did The First Order come to be?” The Empire was seemingly defeated at the end of Return of the Jedi with the destruction of the second Death Star, the death of the Emperor and his apprentice Darth Vader. If you really think about it however, the Empire had conquered almost all the known galaxy, and even some parts of the unknown. Despite being dealt such a heavy blow, it would take time for the ramifications to be felt, and if the remnants of the Empire acted quickly enough, they could cauterize the wound and rebuild.
Well, that’s exactly what happened. The Emperor, being the clever wrinkled old man that he was, had a contingency plan if he should ever perish; Operation: Cinder. Operation: Cinder was a plan for the Empire to attack its own worlds with a series of satellites that effectively controlled the weather. And let’s be clear: they didn’t use them to make a nice sunny day with a high of 85 degrees. The rebellion eventually put a stop to it, but not before the Empire had made their point: despite the death of Palpatine, a fact known to only a few, they still had the means to dominate the galaxy.
Soon after, the Rebel Alliance dissolves and forms a New Republic. Now an actual governmental force, the spark is provided to create open civil wars across numerous worlds controlled by the Empire. Wishing to spare the senseless deaths of billions, if not trillions of life forms, the New Republic begins peace talks with the Galactic Empire. One last battle is fought over the planet Jakku, with the New Republic downing the Empire’s biggest Star Destroyer; the Ravager. What is left of the Empire at this point sues for peace, and both sides sign a treaty known as the Galactic Concordance. Like any non-fictitious treaty, there are a lot of details, but it essentially saw the dissolving of the Galactic Empire and its armed forces. There are Imperial factions, however, that holdout and retreat further and further into the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. They eventually band together, partnering with mercenaries and criminal organizations threatened by the New Republic. Thus, the First Order is born.
The rise of the First Order is aided by division within the New Republic. Two sides form; the Populists and the Centrists. The former wishes for each world under the New Republic to retain its sovereignty, whilst the latter wishes for a government to oversee all the planets, enforced by a strong military. Meanwhile, the First Order through the use of their mercenary groups beginning executing terrorist attacks across the galaxy to destabilize the New Republic rule whilst the iron’s hot. The Resistance is formed, led by General Leia Organa, to combat these hostilities. The Centrists within the New Republic, whose goals were to essentially create a government akin to the Galactic Empire, join with the First Order. You can see now, how despite the loss of the Emperor and the Death Star, the First Order was able to become so powerful, even rivaling the strength of the original Empire.
These three characters, who are essentially the crux of the Last Jedi, are ironically the biggest unknowns in current Star Wars lore. Soon after the Battle of Endor at the end of the Return of the Jedi, Luke leaves to rebuild the Jedi Academy. Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, is born on the planet of Chandrilla. It is soon clear to Leia, however, that her son is being lured by the Dark Side of the Force. She sends Ben to train under Luke, only to have him succumb to the Dark Side, destroy the new Jedi Academy with the help of the Knights of Ren (we still have no idea who these guys are.) Luke escapes with his life and flees to Ahch-To, the island planet seen at the end of The Force Awakens and the supposed location of the first Jedi temple. Ben Solo takes up the name Kylo Ren and joins with the First Order. As for Rey? Nothing of her backstory has been explored in other media. What we see in The Force Awakens is the extent of what we know about her.
Someone we do know quite a bit about is former princess now General Leia Organa. She and Han Solo are married soon after Return of the Jedi and move to Chandrilla. Leia becomes a political figure among the New Republic, entering the race to become its First Senator. Meanwhile, Han Solo and Chewbacca team up with some friendly bounty hunters and free Kashyyyk, the home planet of the Wookies, from Imperial control. It is at this point Chewie and Han actually temporarily separate, Chewbacca now able to live a life of peace with his family. Han returns and attempts to begin his life with Leia.
Things seemingly go smoothly for a while, but quickly fall apart. Ben is sent away to study with Luke, causing a giant rift in their relationship. On top of that, it becomes public knowledge that Leia is the daughter of Darth Vader, creating massive distrust of her among the citizens of the New Republic. She steps out of the running for the First Senator, and with the rise of the First Order, decides to form the Resistance instead, taking firm action to face this latest threat when the New Republic would not. This would eventually lead to her separation with Han, who returns to his smuggling ways.
Finn is another unknown figure, having been stolen at a young age from his family to be raised as a First Order Stormtrooper. Phasma was a member of the Scyre warrior tribe from the planet Parnassos. She assists General Hux, whose ship crashed on her world, and leaves with him in order to join the leadership of the First Order. Poe Dameron is the son of Kes Dameron and Shara Bey, soldiers in the Rebel Alliance who served alongside Luke Skywalker himself. Poe follows in his parents footsteps, serving as the Commander for the New Republic’s forces. After clashing with the First Order, and realizing the New Republic has no plans for combatting the remnants of the Empire, Poe defects to the Resistance, reporting directly to General Organa.
These are the key strokes we know so far that bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. I expect a tremendous amount of the gaps to be filled in with new information from The Last Jedi.