By Ciaran Kovach
As an avid Star Wars fan, I was extremely excited for and intrigued by ‘Star Wars: The Force Awaken’ leading up to its release. One particularly intriguing area was the nature of the First Order, the evil military junta that acts as the main villain of the film and will be so for the rest of the new trilogy.
I initially assumed that the new trilogy would see the Rebellion or New Republic up against something resembling the ‘Imperial Remnant’ (a loose conglomerate of warlords who took over much of the Empire following the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader) from the now null ‘Star Wars Expanded Universe’. However it was established early on that while similar, the First Order was not the Empire of old.
Leading up to the film, the director J.J. Abrams described the First Order as a collection of individuals that idolized the bygone Empire as a model of order, stability, jingoism and human dominance. Abrams also described the First Order as something similar to if the Nazis who fled to South America had organized and tried to recreate Nazi Germany.
Having now seen the ‘Force Awakens’, I have gleaned a deeper insight into the political and social nature of the First Order, which I will now describe.
With regards to its leadership, the Sith Lord Supreme Leader Snoke is (as his name suggests) the unquestionable leader of the First Order. His exact role is unclear however as little is revealed about him. One would assume that he has the final say in all major decisions regarding domestic and foreign policy, but his activities as a Sith Lord (notably the training of Kylo Ren) may leave him with limited time for actual governance.
J.J. Abrams’ analogy regarding Nazis fleeing to South America implies that there may have been many former Imperial officers, agents and bureaucrats amongst the First Order’s leadership. This would certainly explain how such a formidable military force could appear over the course of 30 years.
With regards to the hierarchy on display in the Force Awakens, apart from Snoke, Kylo Ren appears to occupy a similar position to Darth Vader as military Commander in Chief. General Hux seems to act as at the very least, the military commander of that sector of First Order galactic space. While he does take orders from Kylo Ren, the actual running of the First Order’s forces (most notably Starkiller Base) largely falls to him, with Kylo choosing to give only general strategic commands. At lower levels, Captain Plasma and a number of other unnamed officers and NCOs act as the only representatives of a military command structure below the General level. I feel it would be safe to assume that it resembles a very authoritarian version of a conventional real-world commander structure.
Some clues are also given regarding the nature of the military leadership of the First Order on wider society. The stormtrooper deserter (that becomes known as Finn) states that the name he had been given was FN-2187 and that he was kidnapped at birth to be trained as a stormtrooper. This suggests that rank and file First Order personnel are conscripts that receive Spartan/Mandalorian-style military training and undergo political indoctrination. This shows in the movie with First Order stormtroopers and pilots appearing far more competent than their bygone Imperial counterparts. It is unclear whether high-ranking officers in specialist roles are conscripted/appointed as well, or whether they are volunteers.
Military discipline in the First Order comes across as very strict and hierarchical. Stormtroopers are not even allowed to remove their helmets without permission and at least in the case of Kylo Ren, higher-ranking officers are at liberty to summarily punish those of a lower rank. It is implied that this strict regime is not entirely necessary. First Order personnel come across as highly disciplined and motivated with few exceptions.
First Order strategy and tactics are hinted upon in the movie. There appears to be a heavy reliance on heavy-handed use of shock, awe and annihilation. The one successful firing of the Starkiller Base super weapon kills billions just to make a point. The second attempted firing of the weapon aimed to obliterate the home planet of the Resistance. The attacks on the Jakku settlements and the Takodana bar represented the First Order’s disregard for collateral damage and willingness to kill civilians out of convenience. With the exception of the attack on the village in the opening scene, the First Order ground troops and air support are shown to coordinate well.
First Order technology also seemed to be perfected and advanced versions of Imperial technology. Notable examples being the lightsaber-proof electric melee weapon employed by a stormtrooper on Takodana and the First Order placing their super weapon inside an existing planet rather than having to build a station around it.
The strictly civilian leadership and infrastructure of the First Order is not shown at all. Even if the First Order is a military junta as traditionally understood, the fact that it was able to construct Starkiller Base suggests a huge amount of available state resources from a wider empire. As such there must be a civilian bureaucracy and infrastructure to run the non-military affairs of the First Order. The failure to mention this infrastructure is unsurprising however, as touching on it would have bored the average audience. It is also implied that the events of the film take place on the outer edge of First Order’s area of control, where little civilian infrastructure would be present.
Finally, with regards to political ideology, while Snoke and Kylo Ren seem motivated towards destroying the Jedi and domination of the force and the galaxy in the Sith tradition, there is also a more public First Order ‘secular ideology’. The First Order regards the bygone Empire as the original legitimate authority over the galaxy and themselves as its heir. The Republic, with its apparent greater liberties, is represented as irresponsibly cultivating chaos. The Resistance, the successor organization to the Rebel Alliance, are regarded as traitors by the First Order and by their assistance of The Resistance, The Republic are traitors by extension. The fact that with the possible exception of Snoke, all the shown members of the First Order are human, it is suggested that the First Order shares the late Empire’s belief in human superiority.
To conclude, there is much to still be learned about the First Order as the other films in the trilogy come out and lore materials are released, but the Force Awakens has set the foundation for a very interesting new faction for the Star Wars mythos.