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At the end of Return of the Jedi, the Death Star and the Sith boss(es) are killed and everyone is happy.

But thirty years later in The Force Awakens it seems like the new bad guys are bigger and stronger than ever. What did the Jedi and the light side of the Force really accomplish?

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some 30 years of not living under a evil dictator and no planets being destroyed by giant battlestations seems like a good start. – phantom42 Jan 25 at 19:02
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Stronger? They used to control an entire galaxy. Now they're street thugs. – Wad Cheber Jan 25 at 19:07
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@WadCheber : But they have bigger holograms now. That's what matters. – Praxis Jan 25 at 19:46
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@phantom42: Now I'm just picturing some guy in an office somewhere with a sign on the wall behind him saying "No planets destroyed for [30] years", and he gets the news and just sighs and takes down the [30] and replaces it with a [0]. – Darrel Hoffman Jan 25 at 21:26
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Perhaps a poor analogy, but "In World War I, what did the good guys really accomplish since the bad guys are back stronger in World War II?" – Digital Trauma Jan 26 at 2:18
up vote 88 down vote accepted

The Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star II and the Sith were defeated, leading to the eventual defeat of the Empire. The Empire was forced to sign the Galactic Concordance, which limited the territory of the Empire and brought peace to the galaxy. The Empire was replaced with the New Republic which was more free like the Old Republic. Ultimately, this gave the galaxy about 30 years of peace and freedom from an evil tyrant with the power to destroy whole planets with the Death Star II.

Unfortunately, history repeats itself. The pacifists in the New Republic rested on their laurels and disarmed themselves, similar to how the pacifists in the Old Republic opposed the Military Creation Act right up until the minute the Republic discovered that the Separatists were massing a huge droid army which they could use to attack the Republic. In some cases, the same pacifists were responsible for disarming the "good guys" before both wars (e.g. Mon Mothma). Disarming the New Republic allowed the remnants of the Empire (calling itself the First Order) to re-arm and strengthen themselves again. Only a small group from the New Republic remained armed and prepared to fight the First Order: the Resistance.

Had the New Republic not disarmed itself, the galaxy might have enjoyed peace and freedom for more than just 30 years.

As for the light vs. dark side of the Force, even Yoda admits in Episode V that the future is constantly changing:

Always in motion is the future.

The light and dark sides of the Force are constantly fighting for control. The light side was in control during the Old Republic, then the dark side gained control during the Empire. The light side regained control at the end of Episode VI, and now the light and the dark are fighting for control again.

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Comments moved to chat – AncientSwordRage Jan 28 at 19:53

This is based purely on the movies; I have never read or watched any supplemental material.

The First Order doesn’t have nearly the power of the Empire

As fantastic as Null’s answer is, I feel there is a fundamental flaw in the very question asked: the premise that the First Order is stronger than the Empire. Starkiller may have been (dramatically) more powerful than the Death Star, but the First Order seemed to be banking everything on it while the Death Star was just another toy for the Empire. The victory in Return of the Jedi would have been no greater than the victory in A New Hope (destruction of a Death Star) had not both the Emperor himself and Darth Vader been on board the Death Star at the time of its destruction. That was the real victory.

But aside from that, the Resistance operates openly, no longer hiding in shadows. They have major operations, territory of their own. The New Republic, too, controlled a lot of territory, and while its control over the galaxy was tenuous, it did seem to be seen, outside the First Order itself, as legitimate.

On the other hand, the First Order does not control the system, as the Empire did. It controls limited territory, and it has limited resources and manpower. Under the Empire, personnel were uncountable, endlessly replaceable. Darth Vader could and did kill subordinates left and right just to send a message—and that message was heard loud and clear. Anyone and everyone could and would be replaced. There was no indication that this policy was ever to the Empire’s detriment, at least in terms of reliably manning various positions.1 Stormtroopers and TIE pilots were absolutely loyal without any particular effort on the Empire’s part.

Compare this to what we see in The Force Awakens. Failures and insubordination have to be handled carefully. Stormtroopers have to be carefully monitored, and their ranks have to be filled through a kidnapping program. Hux is portrayed as fairly capable, but unduly arrogant and self-assured, and his ego would be suicidal in the Empire, as would his failure to back up his claims. Neither he nor Captain Phasma would have survived Finn’s defection if Kylo Ren was Darth Vader—and if the First Order was the Empire, and could afford to do that. But the First Order is not the Empire, and Snoke and Kylo Ren know it—and Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader, and Snoke and Kylo Ren know that too. They know that they need Hux, they cannot easily replace him. Indeed, Snoke seems to be willing to put up with quite a lot of incompetence on the part of his apprentice Ren, which is telling in itself.

Finally, we have the speech on Starkiller itself. No one in the Empire was giving the troops inspirational speeches. The troops were going to fight, and die if necessary, because the Empire could and would force them to do so. That rally would have been completely out of place in the Empire.

The First Order puts on a strong face, because strength is their draw, but at least part of it is a bluff. They have considerable resources, obviously, but they do not have limitless resources—and the Empire very nearly did.

  1. The Empire’s behavior with respect to its personnel was definitely inefficient, in that motivated and loyal people just do better work, and its callous attitude towards life was no doubt a major recruiting tool for the Rebellion. I am not defending the Empire’s behavior as ideal. What I am saying is that Vader never needed to worry about there not being a replacement for anyone and everyone around him. He could kill them without a second thought if he wanted, and not only would he not get called on it, it also would not interfere with the Empire’s operations. So yes, the Empire’s behavior was inefficient—but to all appearances, they could afford it.
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Don't forget the destruction of the Super Star Destroyer and the massive damage to the Imperial fleet in RotJ. – Trisped Jan 26 at 19:34
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@Trisped Ultimately, it does appear that the destruction of materiel was secondary to the decapitation of the hierarchy. With the triumphant announcement of the Emperor's death along with the only person who might have been seen as an heir, the worlds previously under the Empire’s control seem to have gone independent or joined the New Republic. The imperial military structure remained, which appears to have become the First Order, but it was cut off from the civil and material resources of the various worlds that it did not directly occupy. That hurts a lot more than a super star destroyer. – KRyan Jan 26 at 19:38
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@Trisped As I said, the military hierarchy may have had a clear line of succession, but the civil government of the Empire did not, and it does not appear that the military was in a position to take over the civil government on the death of the Emperor: a condition, no doubt, set up on purpose to prevent a coup d'etat. I did not get the impression that the entirety, or even a particularly large fraction, of the Imperial Fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Endor. – KRyan Jan 26 at 19:50
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@KRyan -- Given that it is at least a "Galactic Empire" (seemingly trans-galactic in my reading of the novelization of Ep. VII) I would not be surprised to see a convincing order of battle showing that <1% of the non-Death Star fleet was present at Endor. – user23715 Jan 26 at 20:04
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Well, the Emperor was not at Endor to fight the destruction of his empire, but to recruit a new apprentice. It didn't work out for him. – Nelson Jan 27 at 8:51

Based on the explanations and reasoning from Expanded Universe (which probably doesn't apply, but might help a bit).

Service on the SSD Executor (Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer) was seen as a fast-track to promotion, so many of the best & brightest of the Imperial Starfleet died when it did making the service quite a bit less competent.

The Emperor was exerting some level of control over everyone his military & government (which probably explains the reason behind the Death Stars; less people to control for the same amount of pew). When he died the morale & energy was lost.

Everything that the First Order did would have been to rebuild the Empire without having access to the Emperor himself, the clone's he caused to be to get himself into power or the infrastructure & authority he had. Carrying out a propaganda & mind-control program on the scale demonstrated in Ep. VII would have been about their limit after 30 years on the outside of government.

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Nice answer. It would worth it to add which works of the EU are your sources. – Alfredo Hernández Jan 27 at 12:14

Like @KRyan pointed out, the First Order is smaller and more remote from the rest of the Galaxy than the Empire.

BUT what they lack in size they seem to make up for in technological advancements, troop training, and the secrecy of their military build-up.

BTW I love the idea (from the star wars database site) that this is a smaller conflict, largely ignored by the Republic, now unleashed to grow by the destruction of the Hosnian system.

Anyway, my 2 cents - to build on @KRyan's other point - is that the Empire ruled by fear and intimidation, especially within their own ranks, and that (I think canonically) many of the leaders of the Rebellion in the Original Trilogy were defectors from the Empire. Further, there's a deleted scene in RotJ where a Death Star officer is clearly disturbed and conflicted about targeting Endor's moon as there are several battalions still planet-side.

There's also a story arc in Rebels where an administrator of Lothal tries to defect when Vader shows up to punish her for failing to crush the resistance cell there.

These two examples speak to my point directly - the good they did was removing the sinister head and his brutal enforcer from the Empire, and I'm confident that many, many officers and troopers alike were relieved to have this burden lifted from them and admit the atrocities the Empire carried out just to maintain their power.

The loss of Vader and Palpatine must have opened the floodgates for new defection en masse, quickly draining the Empire of its' manpower and morale.

The treaties and such they were forced to accept finalized their defeat but there must have been a massive departure of personnel as well, and their personal stories and operational intelligence would have played a critical role in making sure the Republic could keep the remains of the Empire in check and, maybe more importantly, correct the history books (so to say).

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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review – Rand al'Thor Jan 28 at 13:50

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