I don’t use the word perfect a lot, but I do for the space battle over Endor in Return of the Jedi. That film, released 37 years ago (nearly one month after the birth of a future online admiral with a penchant for fish people), undoubtedly laid out the structure for how good space battles are designed, shot, and utilized narratively. It is the fleet battle against which all fleet battles in sci-fi are measured against. Our gold standard.
Before I dive in, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a quick shout out to the brilliant minds at Industrial Light & Magic, both past and present. Those wizards created fantastic physical and digital models for these space battles and the techniques to film or compose a shot. Regardless of these battles’ narrative elements, ILM’s work is perfect and without peer.
This article will focus primarily on the narrative structure of a good space battle and how, when used properly, they can be an integral and memorable part of a film. To do so, I will first showcase the decisions and story beats that comprise the space battle over Endor. Second, I will compare these traits to what we see in the two major fleet battles of the modern Star Wars era, the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One and the Battle of Exegol in The Rise of Skywalker. Along the way, we’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and what are the elements of the “secret sauce” that makes a damned good space battle!
This piece contains minor spoilers for the novel Alphabet Squadron.
For folks who follow me on Twitter or know me from the Jedi Council Forums over at TheForce.Net, one of my obsessions…err…hobbies in the new canon has been trying to make sense of the final year of the war between the Rebel Alliance-turned-New Republic and the faltering remnants of the Galactic Empire. Four years ago this September, I started a discussion on this critical year, the “Endor to Jakku” period. Thanks to the ever-expanding new canon, we are slowly but surely filling in the gaps. We’ve come a long way since Lost Stars and Shattered Empire gave us our first hints at this period. Our first real deep dive was in the Aftermath trilogy, but even that created as many questions as it answered. This week’s release of Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed answers many of those questions, by hearkening back to the earlier reference in Shattered Empire of an Imperial counterattack after Endor: Operation Cinder. This galactic atrocity would have far-reaching repercussions, including one that was presumably unintended: the almost overnight growth in power, appeal, and reach of the fledgling government known as the New Republic.
Before jumping into the topic at hand, let’s remember the status quo immediately prior to the Battle of Endor. The Alliance to Restore the Republic was in dire straights. Despite victories at Scarif and Yavin, major losses in the Mid Rim Campaign, at Mako-Ta, and at Hoth had whittled the Alliance down and forced them to flee to the edges of the galaxy. They held no territory—major allied worlds like Chandrila and Mon Cala were under blockade and they were fighting a losing war of attrition against the Empire. The threat of the second Death Star was enough that the Alliance risked everything to take it down. The scattered warships and fighter squadrons were assembled at Sullust, concentrating the entirety (or nearly that) of the Alliance’s fighting strength. We all know the story of the Battle of Endor, so let’s now jump to the day after. The Alliance’s assets are still the same: a roving fleet and a quasi-government-in-exile. Admirals and generals are faced with determining their next military move, while Mon Mothma and her council of former senators are faced with the nearly impossible task of laying the framework for restoring democratic rule to a galaxy oppressed for two decades.
Let that sink in. The Alliance, without solid supply lines, a main base, or actual territory, needed to seemingly overnight start a campaign to liberate the galaxy and start a new Republic. If C-3PO was asked, I’m sure he’d say that the odds of success were almost incalculable. The next subsequent twelve months would be a whirlwind of events. The New Republic, for all it’s heroic ideals and victories, would benefit more from events outside of its control than those it dictated.
The Clone Wars. The rise of the Empire. The Galactic Civil War. The formation of the New Republic. The resistance against the First Order. In a galaxy plagued by warfare and strife, few worlds have played such a pivotal role as Mon Cala. Its leaders, its peoples, and its starships have affected the course of conflicts and have fought tirelessly in defense of freedom and self-determination. Famous admirals like Ackbar, mighty starships like Home One and Raddus, and selfless leaders like Lee-Char have been key to the formation and success of the Alliance to Restore the Republic, the establishment of the New Republic, and the resistance against the depredations of the First Order. From the depths of Mon Cala to Endor and beyond, this is their story.
Calm Seas to Rough Waters
The world of Mon Cala, located on the edge of the Outer Rim, is far different from the mighty industrial planets located in the Core Worlds. Home to both the Mon Calamari and Quarren, this ocean world has extensive underwater settlements and surface cities designed for contact with off-worlders. Despite a past history of conflict, the Mon Calamari and Quarren established a joint society, under the guidance of a constitutional monarchy that provided a voice to all the settlements and peoples of Mon Cala. Renowned shipbuilders though they were, the Mon Calamari didn’t build large military starships. Instead, classes of exploration cruisers, merchant vessels, and passenger liners were the primary focus of planet’s famed shipyards. Read More
Fandom is a strange, funny thing. We all identify with certain characters for varied reasons, but what matters most is simply that we love them. For some, that favorite is Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. For others it is Constable Zuvio, whom sharp-eyed fans can spot for a scant instant in The Force Awakens. Whether they dominate the screen or are only covered in supplemental materials, at the end of the day our favorite characters are who they are. Period.
For me, it has always been Admiral Ackbar. My admiral. The victor of Endor, Kuat, Kashyyyk, Jakku, and so many other countless engagements. Hero of the Rebellion, New Republic, and most recently the Resistance. Tough, loyal, at times gruff, but always a leader and a bulwark his friends could count on. In pop culture, Ackbar is remembered for “It’s a trap!” and the countless memes that line has generated. For many of us Star Wars fans, he was the quintessential admiral.
He dies in The Last Jedi.
Ackbar meets his end on the bridge of the Star Cruiser Raddus, doing his duty until the last moment. For those of you not as familiar with the current canon, Ackbar leaves a quiet retirement to come to Leia’s side when she forms the Resistance. He leaves the safety of his home on Mon Cala, determined to fight one more time for the freedom and liberty of the galaxy. He’s over ninety years old, but that doesn’t matter. Ackbar is back – and he does his duty. Read More
It’s a year since the Battle of Endor. As the dust settles on and above Jakku, the Aftermath (pun intended) of the climactic battle of the Galactic Civil War leaves the New Republic the sole major galactic power. Rebuilding, reparations, and de-militarization are the orders of the day. Yet, even after the signing of the Concordance under an ancient tintolive tree on Chandrila, the galaxy’s political alignments are still taking form. Chancellors, emperors, presidents, and warlords across the galaxy now have to decide where their allegiances lie. The New Republic – egalitarian, democratic, and freedom-loving – is eager to expand its ranks, but equally content to let worlds choose their own paths. The wounds left by the Clone Wars, the Empire’s harsh rule, and the Galactic Civil War can now heal – but scars will remain.
Thanks to books like Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, Bloodline, and various other canon sources, we now have a good idea of how the New Republic grew and expanded between Jakku and the destruction of Hosnian Prime. Yet, other powers emerged too. Large regions remained neutral, some to harbor the worlds that would be the harbingers of the First Order. The New Republic, victorious but still fledgling, comes of age in this galaxy. So, join me as we chart the political alignments and leanings of the galaxy in the years following the signing of the Galactic Concordance. Read More