It has to be said, of all the effects I could perhaps consider The Force Awakens having on the Star Wars fanbase, this wasn’t on the list. Yet it’s become something of a thing fairly quickly.
The basis of it is simple: The Empire clearly did not honour its post-Battle of Jakku treaty obligations. Instead it went and constructed new weaponry of mass destruction in the form of the Starkiller and killed billions of New Republic citizens. Therefore, the New Republic should never have signed the treaty and spared the Empire (the New Republic will be referred to as just the Republic from this point on). Thus: No Empire = No First Order = No Starkiller = No billions dead.
The problem is what the ‘no Empire’ part would have committed the Republic to. It would amount to killing millions, maybe billions on the basis of a fantastical superweapon way off in the future. Now, that could be done, but if it were? The Republic would no longer be the Republic, indeed, in quite literally killing the Empire they would have become it!
There’s a great line in the Legends New Jedi Order book Dark Tide II: Ruin for Wedge Antilles: “hindsight criticism is always based on fantasy foresight.”
Some things are always going to be beyond the pale. No matter what may happen, you can never opt for any of those things and remain untainted afterwards. It’s the ‘you can never use torture’ view, too many people like to say: “But I can if a terrorist knows where a bomb is!” Really? And the individual you have just so happens to have this knowledge? My, that’s very neat, real life tends to be far messier. Chances are, after you’ve gone Jack Bauer on this suspect, you’ll have a very messy room, possibly a corpse and little in the way of actionable intelligence. A basic concept of military operations is you cannot divulge, even under torture, that which you do not know. The ‘good guys’ should know this, the bad guys certainly do.
Similarly, attempting to kill an idea by killing everyone that subscribes to it? Not even Jacen Solo in his maddest undertakings as Darth Caedus would buy this. Yet the belief is there that this was merely all the Republic had to do. Let’s say, somehow, by the most insane abuse of reasoning, this did happen. After the Battle of Jakku, the Republic systematically kills every Imperial citizen regardless of age, gender or race. It takes a long time and there’s always stragglers but the Republic is applying Mafia rules – any surviving Imperial can return to seek vengeance, therefore all must die. Say a decade later, it is done, the Empire is indeed a corpse. Victory!
…Or not? After all, the Imperials are in the history books. Everyone knows what they are and some are susceptible to them. Clearly the only response is to purge this hidden column of Imperial wannabes and outlaw any positive depiction of the Empire. Yet not even that will be entirely effective for, as the Nazis have demonstrated decades after their defeat, evil retains an allure of fascination. Even if they are depicted as total baby-killing bastards, still some will be drawn to their banner. Stronger measures are needed – the Empire must be erased from history lest anyone seek to revive it. Chances are good, however, that this measure will fail too. So the Republic, in the name of preventing the return of the Empire, will become every bit as restrictive and controlling as it.
Overlooked of course, in the flow of all this fire and brimstone rhetoric, is the true nature of a civil war. Every member of the Rebellion, in one form or another, started off as an Imperial citizen. Ah, but they rebelled didn’t they? So, is that sufficient to protect them from death for knowing of the Empire? Sure, some fought it covertly right from the start, but that is not the accusation. The crime is knowledge of the Empire, the sentence is death!
One of the biggest effects of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 has been the corruption of political ideals, which were cast aside in the name of expediency. The attacks were not due to a lack of power but of imagination, no one really considered it possible until it had happened. The very idea that a group would murder hundreds to kill thousands did not arise, even in the most vicious war-game scenario. Similarly, that a load of ex-Imperial hardliners would somehow construct in an unknown region of space, over decades, weaponry that dwarfs the destructive ability and range of the Death Stars. Should the response to either be that those ideals are cast away? In which case, what did the victims die for?
Politicians seem to love the language of war. Why not? It’s simple and it reduces things down to binary opposites in response to the complexity of life. It also takes reality and distorts it into a world of spectres of annihilation, of evil hordes – that in order to combat such, emergency powers are needed – does this sound familiar perhaps? Whatever else the prequels did, they did also neatly puncture the War on Terror ideology via the proxy of the Clone Wars.
The one aspect of this that I think could work is not the idea of a retrospective, hindsight-generated genocide from all-knowing viewers, but of the Republic being enraged beyond reason by the Starkiller’s planetary obliteration. It is suspected that the First Order will invade in Episode VIII, which has a plausibility to it, as the Republic will be chaotic and vulnerable. Yet what if the Republic has a hitherto unknown level of resilience? What if, alongside the idealism that saw the military be reduced post-Battle of Jakku, there was an equally cynical plan for survival in the face of immense destruction? A plan constructed in the shadows of the Death Stars? In which case there may be a very nasty surprise waiting for the First Order.
If there is – and the Republic gains the edge on the First Order – what then? It is one thing to fight your enemy, to exhaust their material resources and break their will to continue. It is one thing to accept the surrender of such an adversary. It would be quite another to do both of those and then execute every member of it! It would be the Empire’s final victory over the Republic.