Star Wars: The Force Awakens has officially been in theaters for over a week, crushing box office records from its earliest moments of release. Fans of the franchise can be forgiven, however, if they walked out of a screening with a less than total grasp of the current state of galactic politics, as the universe stands at an interesting crossroads some 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. References to both “the Resistance” and “the Republic” are repeatedly made in the film, and with the First Order thrown in the mix, the scene is set for a much more complex situation than the original trilogy’s war between the Rebellion and the Galactic Empire.
While the state of affairs isn’t explicitly detailed in The Force Awakens, it is more thoroughly addressed in the tie-in books and video games that have been released recently, as Vox points out. In short, the political situation shown in the newest Star Wars film closely resembles the current real-world civil war in Syria, with a state-sponsored insurgency fighting a guerrilla war and pursuing a secondary goal of avoiding open hostilities.
— Forbes (@Forbes) December 18, 2015
In the wake of the Battle of Endor, the Galactic Empire collapsed into a number of disarrayed successor regimes, captained by a variety of Imperial Moffs. The Rebellion, meanwhile, gave birth to the New Republic. The Battle of Jakku brought an ostensible end to the conflict of the original trilogy a year after Endor, resulting in a peace treaty between the remaining Imperial forces and the New Republic.
Over time, the Imperial remnants grew into the First Order, constructing Starkiller Base and the newest Star Destroyer in their fleet, the Finalizer. As Yahoo Movies points out, the Finalizer was the first Resurgent-class Star Destroyer to be constructed, representing a direct violation of the Galactic Concordance. With the First Order on the march, the Republic was faced with the need to combat them, but without a desire to openly declare hostilities.
— Movie News (@MoviewebMovies) August 29, 2015
Leia Organa, now a Republic stateswoman and general, was tapped to establish the Resistance, setting up their base within the borders of the First Order’s territory. While not an official branch of the Republic military, the Resistance nevertheless counts on them for support, while acting as a nominally independent insurgent group. In this way, they allow the Republic to maintain deniability in their conflict with the First Order, preserving the political state of affairs while working to topple the Imperial state from within.
— Nerdist (@nerdist) December 21, 2015
The Resistance’s operations don’t fool the First Order, of course, as General Hux suggests during The Force Awakens that the Republic is supplying them with both money and weapons. Nor do they seem to succeed in preserving the peace, as by the end of the film the Star Wars universe has been catapulted back into open war by the attack launched from Starkiller base.
That assault resulted in the destruction of the Hosnian System, home to the relocated seat of power in the New Republic (which is no longer based on Coruscant), and it remains to be seen how much of the the Republic’s infrastructure survived it. While the Resistance is victorious by the end of the film, it is unclear how weakened their support structure is. With the Republic embroiled in the fallout from these events, however, it seems likely that the political status quo facing the galaxy after the opening credits of Star Wars: Episode VIII may be vastly different than what fans recently saw in The Force Awakens.