[Update: Reposted from April 17th for #StarWarsDay. May the 4th be with you!]
Following the release of the teaser for Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the attention of Star Wars fans continues to focus on Luke Skywalker and Rey - with rampant speculation about the meaning behind Luke's words "It's time for the Jedi to end." The teaser emphasized Skywalker's attempts to instruct his new apprentice in the ways of the Force. More subtle, however, were the stark visual cues of the teaser, invoking a gathering darkness in The Last Jedi. It's perhaps telling as well that the teaser did little to highlight the First Order - the villainous successor to the Galactic Empire. In the midst of hot discussion about Rey's parentage and Luke's plans there's a more provocative question: "Is the First Order going to win in The Last Jedi?"
We believe the answer is yes.
The feeling among many fans is that The Last Jedi may follow the same narrative beats as The Empire Strikes Back, the darkest and best chapter of the Original Trilogy. Traditionally, in the second act of a Star Wars triptych, our heroes suffer the most at the hands of the villains and are placed in their most dire circumstances, before triumphing against seemingly impossible odds in the final film. While The Force Awakens was derided by some as an unabashed remake of A New Hope, its third act actually borrowed quite a bit from The Empire Strikes Back as well. Although the Resistance destroyed the First Order's planet-destroying super weapon Starkiller Base, our heroes suffered devastating personal losses: Han Solo died at the hands of his son Ben/Kylo Ren and Finn was gravely injured. There was no smiling medal ceremony for the Resistance to conclude The Force Awakens. Even in victory, the future looked bleak for General Leia Organa and her ragtag group of freedom fighters.
In spite of Starkiller Base's destruction, the main purpose of the First Order's greatest weapon had already been fulfilled. The First Order's primary enemy was never the Resistance, it was always the New Republic. Using Starkiller Base, the First Order struck a decisive and fatal blow against the Republic by annihilating the planets in the Hosnian System, including Hosnian Prime, the capital world of the Republic. In one fell swoop, the First Order crippled the Republic permanently. The Resistance's destruction of Starkiller Base merely saved their own skins as the Ileenium System, where the Resistance made their headquarters, was the First Order's next target. Had the Resistance failed, the war would have been over in just two moves by the First Order.
Even without Starkiller Base, the First Order's power dwarfs the Resistance's and the shattered remains of the New Republic. Much of the First Order's star fleet remains intact, and there's no telling how many Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters, and other weaponry the First Order actually possess in their arsenal. More importantly, the First Order's leadership is unbroken. When the Rebellion destroyed the first Death Star, the Empire lost Grand Moff Tarkin. When the second Death Star fell, Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader themselves were casualties, and the Empire collapsed a year later. The loss of Starkiller Base didn't cost the First Order any of its principal leaders. General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Kylo Ren all escaped and Supreme Leader Snoke was nowhere near the vicinity. No one of any great import to the First Order and their cause died on Starkiller Base.
Kylo Ren suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Rey, a mere scavenger and a neophyte in the ways of the Force. However, though he lost one lightsaber duel, he had earlier achieved perhaps the most important victory of his career as a Knight of Ren. Since betraying his uncle and teacher Luke Skywalker and embracing the Dark Side of the Force, Kylo Ren's personal torment was the light he felt still inside him. At Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren faced his greatest test as determined by Snoke: he confronted his father Han Solo, who was there to bring him back to the light. By killing his father in cold blood, Kylo Ren passed his test with flying colors (the blazing red of his broadsaber). He truly became the evil he always dreamed his grandfather Darth Vader was.
When he fought Rey, Kylo Ren was suffering from an injury and weakened; plus she was clearly an aberration neither he nor Snoke saw coming. Losing a lightsaber fight to Rey didn't diminish Kylo Ren's victory in succumbing to the Dark Side in the slightest. As Starkiller Base was about to explode, Supreme Leader Snoke ordered General Hux to bring Kylo Ren back to him so he could complete Ren's training. Which means while Rey is being trained by Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To in The Last Jedi, Snoke is currently training Kylo Ren and making his apprentice even more powerful. If Kylo Ren battles Rey again in The Last Jedi, the outcome could be very different.
From what we know on the onset of The Last Jedi, the Resistance remains desperate, under-manned, and underpowered compared to the First Order. The Resistance's leader remains General Organa, but we're also dreading her eventual fate with the knowledge that the late Carrie Fisher will not be a presence in Episode 9. We also know that Rey stays on Ahch-To for an unspecified amount of time to train with Luke, meaning the Resistance doesn't get the immediate benefit of Luke Skywalker's return to aid his sister in her time of need. What's more, the First Order knows the location of the Resistance base on D'Qar, therefore the Resistance must quickly evacuate and head for greener pastures - likely Crait, the salt-flat mining world revealed in the teaser.
Rian Johnson said the First Order is "making big moves" in The Last Jedi. With the momentum on their side, the First Order's next logical move is simply to attack the Resistance on D'Qar. Not just to destroy them, but to capture the map to Luke Skywalker they've been after since The Force Awakens. The beauty of this tactic is it almost doesn't matter if the First Order acquires the map and finds Skywalker and Rey on Ahch-To - simply directly attacking Leia and placing his now-widowed sister in danger will likely cause Luke to end his self-imposed exile and come running to her rescue - as he has a history of doing his entire life. Luke may even feel more confident and empowered to mount a rescue by virtue of having a powerful new apprentice in Rey by his side. Bringing Skywalker out into the open is exactly what the First Order wants. Why chase him across the Galaxy when they could easily arrange matters so that Skywalker will come to them?
Whatever grand scheme about the light, darkness and balancing of the Force Luke is planning with Rey, in an open conflict, they can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and power of the First Order. For whatever mysteries Skywalker holds, we know even less about Snoke and what powers he possesses. From what we've seen so far, Snoke is not stricken with overconfidence - the Emperor's great weakness. In addition, Kylo Ren has already proven his hate can overcome his love of family - Vader's Achilles heel. This evil master-apprentice combo lacks the familiar means to be exploited to their own demise; therefore, Skywalker's old tricks won't work on them. What else could Luke possibly have up his sleeve to keep him from joining his old mentors Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi as Force Ghosts?
With the Republic in pieces and only the fleeting numbers of the Resistance standing in the First Order's way, the Galaxy is already teetering on the edge of ultimate defeat. With just a few well-executed, strategic masterstrokes - crushing the Resistance on D'Qar and Crait and killing or turning Skywalker and/or Rey - the First Order could do what the Empire never could: end the Resistance once and for all and rule the Galaxy unopposed. The First Order holds all the high cards. They could easily win it all in The Last Jedi. If Supreme Leader Snoke plays it smart, there won't even be a need for a ninth Star Wars movie, except to celebrate The First Order's ultimate triumph. In The Last Jedi, the Galaxy is all but in the First Order's hands.
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