Whatever happens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, things look to be tough for the Resistance against the First Order. By the end of Episode VIII, we’ll likely find ourselves at something of a cliffhanger for our heroes because, well… that’s how suspense and trilogies tend to work. But what does the arc of the rebellion look like? How does the Resistance differ from its earlier counterpart, and what will their trials be going forward? Taking a closer look at other Star Wars media (including books and television) can clue us in….
In The Force Awakens, the Resistance had a unique challenge; they were working on the periphery to bring down an enemy that the central government refused to take seriously. While the film itself was vague on the details, the novel Star Wars: Bloodline was there to fill in the gaps. It turns out that the New Republic was split well before the First Order used Starkiller Base to destroy their seat of government. Senators were divided into two factions in the years leading up to Order’s emergence: the Populists, who wanted to give systems and planets greater autonomy, and the Centrists, who wanted a strong central seat of power and a large military force at their disposal.
As the fractured government tried to find a way to work together, Centrist leaders came up with a new plan—they made the choice to forgo the election of a First Senator to lead the New Republic, and instead decided to join the emerging First Order covertly. At the same time, Leia Organa, her true parentage recently revealed to the whole galaxy, left her political life behind in order to form the Resistance and combat the Order. The First Order continued to encroach on the galaxy, while the New Republic seemed to be of the opinion that they could defeat the First Order by ignoring them; in Before the Awakening, Poe Dameron’s Republic commanding officer refused to let him track down a freighter attacked by the Order, determined to prevent open hostilities from breaking out. Poe soon defected and joined the Resistance, unable to turn a blind eye to the dangers in allowing the First Order to flourish unchecked.
The Resistance that we see in The Force Awakens is not particularly large, but it is centralized and efficient. They have leaders and missions and their own base where they can meet and plan for the future. This seems similar to what we saw in the original Star Wars trilogy—Luke Skywalker and Han Solo bring Leia to the Rebel Base on Yavin 4, and from there, the rebels plan their attack on the Death Star. We later see them set up shop on Hoth, and then gather their fleet to attack the second Death Star. Occasionally people break off to do their own thing—Luke heads to Dagobah; Han and Leia wind up stuck on Cloud City—but the Rebellion is one big engine. They have a clear sense of central leadership with a common goal, and they are well led and organized.
It wasn’t always that way.
While the first thoughts of a formal dissent were dreamed up by Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Padme Amidala in the waning days of the Republic, the Rebel Alliance (or Alliance to Restore the Republic, as it was formally known) didn’t coalesce into a single fighting force for quite some time. As the Empire ruled over the galaxy with a steel grip, many were plotting in secret, but not always in the same place. Disparate cells of discontent cropped up all over the galaxy, many of them based locally on individuals planets or systems. Star Wars: Rebels sketches out the arc for the formation of the larger Rebellion by following the crew of the Ghost, led by Hera Syndulla. Her crew of “Spectres” commit minor acts of treason against the Empire, taking commands from a secret figure known as “Fulcrum” (a title held by several operatives, in this case later revealed as Ahsoka Tano). As the fight expands, Hera and her crew are eventually absorbed by a much larger rebel cell known as Phoenix Squadron.
The biggest investors in the Rebellion were predictably people with access to wealth and resources; Alderaan’s Queen Breha and her husband Bail were capable of doing a great deal for the Alliance by covertly supplying them with ships and funds and using their political pull to help those hurt most by the Empire’s reach. Leia, Princess of Alderaan gives us a better idea of what the Organas were up to during this period, while smaller rebellious groups also worked against the Empire. Alderaan supported several crews of rebels at a base on the planet Crait (the salt-covered planet shown in The Last Jedi), an outpost that served them well until the decision was made to combine the various militias into a single unit.
Those smaller militias were being built up on Alderaan’s periphery in the years leading up to the Battle of Scarif, typically cobbled together using ships that were liberated through covert ops by the smaller cells. Hera’s Spectres were were responsible for obtaining many starfighters and ships that the Alliance eventually used to defeat the Empire, including the Y-Wings of Gold Squadron. But there were setbacks with each attempt at uniting the front, to the point that the Empire did not believe any of these separate cells could possibly gain the momentum needed to join forces and pose a serious threat. While this misconception often worked to the rebellion’s advantage, it did make it harder to recruit others to the cause. Thankfully, a message sent across the Outer Rim by Ezra Bridger (Spectre 6) from one of the Imperial communication towers on Lothal let other know their unrest was being heard by others. Later on, Sabine Wren (Spectre 5) would infiltrate Skystrike Academy and break out Wedge Antilles and Derek “Hobbie” Klivian, adding to the Phoenix Squadron’s stable of pilots.
Despite their triumphs, the Phoenix Squadron suffered a major blow after it strengthened in numbers; they attracted the attention of Grand Admiral Thrawn, who eventually found their base on Atollan and nearly wiped them out, along with the larger rebel contingent known as the Massassi Group, led by Jan Dodonna. Only a sacrifice by their commander, Jun Sato, and some extra help from Clan Wren of Mandalore, prevented their destruction. This battle and the abandonment of the Atollan base, along with Senator Mon Mothma’s defection from the Imperial Senate, drove many of the distinct rebel groups to Yavin 4, resulting in the unified front that Jyn Erso encounters during the events of Rogue One.
It took a long time for the Rebel Alliance to evolve into a fighting force that could effectively take on the Empire. Which raises the question… could they be due for a breakdown? The trailers for The Last Jedi indicate that things are looking pretty rough for the Resistance; many fans speculate that their current base could be attacked and destroyed. It would hardly be a surprising move—The Empire Strikes Back featured the Battle of Hoth, which was a critical loss for the Rebellion. But most of the fleet still made it away and was allowed to regroup later on. What happens if the Resistance loses too much?
The idea that the rise of the Resistance could be mirrored in the fall of the Rebellion, that we could see it shatter to pieces and leave our heroes without a solid infrastructure… well, it would remove a certain amount of safety from Star Wars. Once you cannot see the good guys grouping together and getting advice from their generals, laying out their plans, knowing where to sleep and eat, it makes the whole prospect of mounting an offensive that much more frightening. And perhaps that is precisely what Star Wars needs right now—to scare us a little. Hold tight, friends.
Please be kind and white out any spoilers for The Last Jedi in the comments.