Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Aftermath: Empire’s End follow
The Star Wars original trilogy told audiences the story of the Rebel Alliance taking on the Galactic Empire, but the war shown in those movies started before A New Hope and ended after Return of the Jedi. The Star Wars prequels helped fill in the details about how the Empire came to be, and now the newest and final installment in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End, details the final days of the Empire’s destruction.
In a way, the Empire’s fate was sealed at its formation when the Skywalker twins, Luke and Leia, survived the death of Padme Amidala and were hidden away on Tatooine and Alderaan. Not only did they both grow up to be a major thorn in the Empire’s side, but they also served as a bridge to connect Vader to his humanity once again, causing him to turn on Palpatine.
While the Emperor was seemingly a clairvoyant and expert chess master, always maneuvering his pieces 3 plays ahead of his opponents, his ego blinded him to his weaknesses, causing him to overlook potential threats like the Skywalker twins and underestimating the persistence of the Rebels.
The Reign of the Empire
Despite these fatal flaws, the Empire seemingly enjoyed almost two decades of galactic dominance with Darth Vader serving as the Emperor’s enforcer. Several Rebel cells caused minor annoyances from time to time, but the Empire was so vast that none of the Rebel successes caused much concern among Imperial leadership until the back to back wins at Scarif and Yavin made the Empire realize the Rebel threat needed to be taken seriously.
The destruction of the First Death Star was obviously a major moment for the Rebel Alliance, but it was far from the turning point in the war. The fledgling Rebels were still outmatched on nearly every front, and the events of The Empire Strikes Back are a testament to this fact.
Even the Battle of Endor, as we all know, was a trap. The Rebel Alliance truly had no business winning that battle. The Empire kept its fleet of Star Destroyers away from the battle so that once the Death Star unexpectedly became operational it began firing on the Rebel fleet. The reason the good guys even have the opportunity to pull that battle out of a hat at all is purely because of Sheev Palpatine’s hubris.
Before the battle, Palpatine called his secretive agent, Gallius Rax - whom he'd been groomingg for this specific task for decades - to the Death Star to prepare for his “Contingency.” He senses that Luke is on his way, and beliees he could threaten to challenge “the course of fate as I have seen it.” While Darth Sidious is aware if this potential upset of destiny, he doesn’t appear to have even considered a scenario resulting in his death, saying:
“Whether he will be a demonstration of my power or a slave to replace the one who has failed me, I cannot say. That remains unclear. But we are led to a moment in time, a moment of grave uncertainty. All things flow toward this moment.”
This self-assuredness is clearly his downfall, and Luke even says as much: “your overconfidence is your weakness.” In the end, Palpatine is defeated when Luke gets his father to feel compassion again and the Rebels win the battle on the ground because the Empire didn’t prepare for the Ewoks, who they didn’t see as a threat.
Nevertheless, Palpatine’s Contingency is set into motion by his death, beginning immediately in the days after the defeat at Endor with Operation Cinder. Operation Cinder ordered the scouring of several specific planets, including Palpatine’s homeworld, Naboo. These attacks would persist while Gallius Rax secretly implemented the remainder of the Contingency.
Rax was a key piece in an initiative by Palpatine in which he created research stations, sometimes referred to as “Observatories” around the galaxy. Most of them housed Sith artifacts and served to provide a variety of other purposes from superweapon development to secret prisons. The Observatory Rax oversaw at Jakku played a couple different roles in the Contingency, both of which were intended to usher in the end of the Rebellion (which had become the New Republic)… and the Empire.
The End of All Things
While Rax prepares for this final confrontation, he counsels Grand Admiral Rae Sloane from the shadows as she tries to lead a fractured Empire, with many Imperial remnants refusing to fall in line, some even refusing to acknowledge Palpatine had even been killed, maintaining control over their respective systems.
Sloane believes the Empire stands for order in a chaotic galaxy and that she can usher in a new era where the government doesn’t depend on the less desirable tactics of subjugation and slavery that many people associated with Palpatine’s rule. Little does she know, Rax has been siphoning off Imperial resources, such as ships from the Imperial fleet, notably including the Emperor’s Super Star Destroyer, the Eclipse, one of only two SSDs still in the Empire’s possession.
Toward the end of his rule, Palpatine became obsessed with the Unknown Regions beyond the edge of the charted galaxy. Many people had tried to navigate the Unknown Regions in the past, but none were known to have been successful, except for Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was actually from a place outside the galaxy. Using knowledge gained from Thrawn and some ancient navigational computers, Palpatine sent probes into the void, seeking a navigable route, and finally finding a path through shortly before the Battle of Endor.
Once the way seemed clear, Palpatine began sensing a dark presence emanating from the Unknown Regions, a presence he believed may even come from the source of the Force, or even the dark side itself. The Observatory at Jakku was instrumental in charting the navigation routes out of the galaxy. That was one of its main functions. The other was to serve as the grave of the Empire and the New Republic.
Rax had sent the Eclipse through into the Unknown Regions, planning to follow it with Brendol Hux, the architect of the Empire’s future army, and his son, Armitage Hux, along with a few of children that would make up the next generation of stormtroopers.
Taking nearly the entirety of the remaining Imperial fleet to Jakku, Rax waited for the New Republic to attack before triggering the second half of Palpatine’s Contingency. Below the Jakku Observatory was a giant shaft drilled all the way to the planet's core. Dropping several powerful Sith artifacts into the shaft, Rax instigates a chain reaction that will eventually destroy the planet, taking out all the Forces on and over the planet, Rebel and Imperial alike.
Imperial Surrender and The Galactic Concordance
While Rax is ultimately stopped and the planet is saved, Rae Sloane takes Rax’s place to escape with Brendol and Armitage Hux to rendezvous with the Eclipse and its mysterious crew to serve as the seeds of what would become the First Order.
While the Empire had long abandoned its defense of Coruscant, a semblance of the Imperial bureaucracy still remained, held together by Mas Amedda, a long time advisor to Palpatine and Grand Vizier of the Empire. As soon as it was evident that the New Republic would win the battle at Jakku, Amedda made arrangements for a complete Imperial surrender, signing the Galactic Concordance, stipulating that the Empire would permanently cease all military activity and all former Imperial Officers would be found guilty of war crimes. Amedda himself was allowed to maintain “control” of Coruscant, but under the New Republic’s thumb, his title was basically toothless.
Despite the Empire’s surrender the Imperial forces at Jakku continue fighting relentlessly for months before they’re finally subdued, with similar situations playing out on a smaller scale with various Imperial remnants until the New Republic eventually silenced them one by one as the Imperial death rattle comes to a whimpering end.