The Galactic Republic and then Empire is huge, containing (I think) hundreds of thousands of star systems which would each have millions to billions of sentient inhabitants.

Despite this mind boggling size, the Rebel Alliance, particularly in ANH and ESB appears to consist of at most a few thousand members only a few hundred of which are frontline fighters. Consider the handful of fighters sent against the death star (in ANH) and the paper thin line of ground troops defending a small base on Hoth which housed the entire alliance.

Does this mean the Alliance is unrepresentative of the general population of the Empire? Scaled down to current Earth sized countries, this is like a group of 2-3 people trying to overthrow the Government through guerilla attacks, bombs and assassinations. We'd call these people terrorists (and probably nut-jobs as well).

Why is the Alliance so small, and are they really the good guys or just the disgruntled elite of the Old Republic, out for some revenge?

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    The rebels might have been fighting all over the galaxy, the film concentrating on the hard core of them, being the group on hoth and the attack team on the death star. I think maybe they were also all around everywhere else fighting in small groups being a pain the arse to the empire.
    – Eregrith
    Sep 5, 2012 at 7:41
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    They're not tiny. They're just... far away.
    – moopet
    Sep 5, 2012 at 19:30
  • 3
    Judge the Alliance by its size, do you? Dec 19, 2016 at 19:12

6 Answers 6


I think this is simply a case of limited viewpoint.

The EU makes it more apparent that there are lots of cells around the galaxy - but numbers would be limited in each local system.

The rebel fleet in RotJ is quite significant - and while smaller than the Imperial fleet at Endor, they are still able to go toe-to-toe against the Empire.

Also, there are off-screen references in all three movies - some group must have stolen the Death Star plans in ANH and give them to Leia, and there was another group that got hold of the information for the Death Star II and Endor.

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    Many Bothans died to bring you this meaningless comment of mine.
    – BBlake
    Sep 5, 2012 at 11:59
  • 4
    @BBlake: Many Bothans died for me to give you that +1.
    – Jeff
    Sep 5, 2012 at 17:33

In EU (E.g. Rebel Dawn, showing a meeting of Rebels prior to establishment of the formal Rebel alliance attended by Leia Organa Solo and Bria Tharen) it is shown that while there were multiple opposition groups from many worlds, they were highly hesitant to openly join the Rebellion due to fear of reprisals by Imperials, especially against non-human worlds. Plenty of others (like many Alderaanians) were opposed to Empire but were pacifistic and didn't want to fight.

TL;DR: No, the Rebels were not a super tiny minority that was opposing the Empire which everyone else supported. But the were not very numerous since not everyone opposing was willing to openly fight Imperials.

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    * No, the Rebels were not a super tiny minority that was opposing the Empire which everyone else supported. But the were not very numerous since not everyone opposing was willing to openly fight Imperials.* - Those 2 sentences are contradictory
    – Chad
    Sep 5, 2012 at 14:16
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    @Chad - Not at all - saying they were not a super tiny minority is saying that they are small, though not super-small. Saying they were not very numerous is saying they were not a huge group, i.e. the Empire was numerous. Both statements can coexist and they both give meaningful information
    – The Fallen
    Sep 5, 2012 at 14:54
  • @Chad - There is no contradiction. Plenty of beings opposed empire mentally. But most of those didn't translate that opposition into active military action (or any action). E.g. they rooted for the Rebels, but didn't necessarily join the Rebelilion Sep 5, 2012 at 15:41
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    @DVK - That is the difference between being in the rebellion and not though.
    – Chad
    Sep 5, 2012 at 17:02

The rebels were freedom fighters stylized after the idealized members of the revolutionary army in the 1700's. The empire was styled(not so subtly) after Nazi Germany. The idea was that the Empire ruled by force and military might but that if you eliminate the evil in charge then the populace would rejoice at their new found freedom and be happy. And despite this overwhelming military advantage the rebels were able to overcome and win out the day for freedom and liberty.

Why was it small? Because most people will simply bow before authority or at most resist passively. Those willing to sacrifice their lives so that others can be free are the super minority. On top of that the Empire took action against anyone who might stand up against them. This meant that all the rebels could field was a small rag tag fleet of ship against the massive armada of the empire. And to be successful the attacks would require that pin point strike against the leadership. That it was so unlikely is what makes the story so compelling.

After all no one makes the movie about the magical 1 yard run across the goal line or the sacrifice bunt that moves the runner to second. We make movies about the Hail Mary pass, the unlikely hero, and game winning home run.

  • I dunno. The Stormtrooper Effect seems a pretty reliable damper on the military might of the Empire. ;-) Nov 29, 2016 at 20:53

To update this with information from the new canon, the show Rebels mentions quite a few times that the rebellion operates in cells. Thus they don't have all of their forces in one single location (even important ones like Hoth), as that would be suicide against a much larger enemy (like the Empire).

Instead their forces are split up among many different locations, which is why their bases seemed seriously underdefended against Empire attacks.

But even so, the Empire had way more resources available than the rebellion. In Return of the Jedi we see what happens when the rebellion puts it all on one card and gathers everything they have, fleetwise... it is still way less than what a single major Imperial fleet can muster.

So with this established, what does that say about how representative the rebellion is of the population? As we see especially clearly in Rebels, the problem is mostly that the population has been so dominated and intimidated by the Empire that, even though they hate it, most people are not able and/or willing to take up arms themselves to actively fight it (they are just too full of fear). Although only small flames need to be ignited for whole worlds to rise up, those uprising are immediately smashed by the Empire as we see

even in the new film.

And the Empire naturally blames accidents or the rebellion for the destruction and the loss of life.

Thus with how many major and minor members of different species are part of the rebellion, one can assume that it is representing many of the different species. But only that — representing them — as most members of those species are too fearful to take up arms (or are unable due to being enslaved like the Wookiees).


There might as well be an IRL answer to this: What we're shown in the movies must have been limited by financial and technical factors. There's just so many starship models you can build (especially non-digitally), and even if you have the funding for it, there's again just so many you can show on screen (unless you want to show a myriad twinkling dots - the ships - in front of a myriad twinkling dots - the stars. :))

It's been an ages old technique of film-making (afaik) to focus on what's really, really important and simply imply the rest, even visually. The famous Roman general fights in a battle featuring thousands of soldiers, but you see only a bunch of well-coreographed close-ups focusing on him, etc etc.

On the other hand, we're talking about a movie in which a bunch of intelligent, stone age bear-cubs beat the hell out of a whole galaxy's top commandos... so... :)

  • 3
    In space no one can see you twinkle (that is, it's an atmospheric effect).
    – Junuxx
    May 27, 2013 at 20:28
  • oh noes! I bet TIE fighters don't scream either? :D
    – OpaCitiZen
    May 27, 2013 at 21:36

I think that the rebels don’t have super big ships not because they don’t have enough money just so they can get more ships that can manuever better. Because as you can see in either episode 5 or 6 bigger ships are more likely to be destroyed in battle because the are easier to hit and have many more vital points while meanwhile smaller ships like X-Wings, A-Wings, TIE fighters, Y-Wings, ext. are smaller making them more valuble.And as you can see after the Battle of SCarif was over when the Star Destroyer came out of hyperspace only the BIG ships got destroyed while the X-Wingsand A-Wings avoided it very quickly. Therefore,they could get more ships for a better price and they can last longer.

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