For some fans, the sequel trilogy highlights the failure of the heroes from the original trilogy. In their minds, the fact that the sequel trilogy so quickly disposes with the New Republic is a sure sign that the original heroes failed.
Ok, sure. That is a part of it, because the sequel trilogy is about a new generation of heroes. And the hard reality is that many heroes don’t actually get the “happily ever after” that is dreamed about. But when confronted with that reality, you still have the choice of whether to be a hero or not.
There’s no better example of that than Leia Organa. She gave up everything to fight the Empire, and won. She then devoted herself to helping grow and run the New Republic, only to see her political career ruined by the scandal of her lineage. She was about to retire to explore the galaxy with Han when she realized the growing threat of the First Order and thus formed the Resistance. She lost her son and her husband and her brother, but she kept fighting. Because that’s what heroes do – even when the happily ever after never comes, they still keep up the fight for good.
All of that is true. But something else recently occurred to me: if we actually take the time to understand the timeline of the sequel trilogy, we might get a better view of the New Republic our heroes formed.
Namely, because the New Republic stood for longer than the Empire did.
That’s right! We don’t really think about it because the New Republic was destroyed in the first film we ever saw it in… and even then, we didn’t really see it (plus we got some New Republic in Resistance… but only a little). On the other hand, the Empire is the government in the original three films, we see it formed at the end of the third prequel film, they’re a major factor in Rogue One and have a presence in Solo, and they’re the opposition in Rebels. We have seen so much of the Empire and so little of the New Republic, but understand that the government our heroes fought for ruled for longer than Palpatine’s Empire ever did!
Here’s the timeline, in case you’re skeptical. The Empire was formed 19BBY, which takes place at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Palpatine declares it to be the first Galactic Empire, and he reigns with an iron grip for 19 years until the Battle of Yavin, when the Death Star is destroyed. Palpatine’s Empire is weakened but far from destroyed, and they strike back against the fledgling but inspired Rebellion. But after four years of open civil war, the Alliance strikes the crippling blow to the Empire at the Battle of Endor in 4ABY, destroying the second Death Star and overthrowing Palpatine and Darth Vader. In wake of their victory at Endor, the Alliance officially reorganizes into the New Republic.
The New Republic, officially recognized in 4ABY, continues to fight in this civil war against the remnants of the Empire until 5ABY, a year later, when they score a victory at the Battle of Jakku. Following that battle, the Galactic Concordance is signed, officially ending hostilities. The Empire has been defeated. The New Republic reigns. Mon Mothma and others get to work building a government, which is far more difficult than imagined. While the First Order grows in the shadows of the Unknown Regions, the New Republic presides over a period of peace (though not without its problems). By 28ABY, the political infighting has just gotten worse, and Leia is the one proposed for First Senator… until her parentage is revealed. This essentially ruins her political career, but she instead forms the Resistance to counter the rising threat that the New Republic just won’t take seriously. The Resistance is born. But the New Republic continues to govern the galaxy until 34ABY, when the First Order – emboldened by the absence of Luke Skywalker from the game board – emerges from the Unknown Regions and strikes, destroying the Hosnian System and with it the government of the New Republic. All that remains is Leia’s Resistance to fight the threat.
So, putting it very simply, here’s the breakdown:
The Galactic Empire reigned for 23 years, from 19BBY to 4ABY.
The New Republic reigned for 30 years, from 4ABY to 34ABY.
The New Republic lasted seven years longer than the Empire did! That’s actually pretty remarkable. Sure, the Republic before that had lasted for thousands of years, but we don’t know many details about what that actually looked like. In fact, even if we look at Palpatine’s entire reign as the ruler of the galaxy, the New Republic still comes pretty close.
Palpatine became the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic in 32BBY, when the Invasion of Naboo happened, as shown in The Phantom Menace. He stays in office far longer than his term allows, and he winds up serving as Chancellor for 13 years. He was in office for ten years before the Clone Wars broke out in 22BBY, and the Clone Wars lasted for three years until the Republic was destroyed and the Empire born in 19BBY. So Palpatine’s rule of the galaxy lasted from 32BBY to 4ABY.
Palpatine reigned for 36 years, from 32BBY to 4ABY.
The New Republic reigned for 30 years, from 4ABY to 34ABY.
So we see that if we look at Palpatine’s overall reign – including 13 years over the Republic and 23 years over the Empire – he did rule the galaxy for longer than the New Republic, but it’s probably still not as much of a difference as many would expect.
My point in saying all of this is, (1) to give a fun tidbit of information that I think is interesting within this context, and (2) to show that a lot of storytelling relies on the audience understanding and presuming things. This has always been the case in Star Wars. The films have never been interested in explaining and showing every little thing, but they instead set out to tell a story that is very clearly set at a specific point in time with context that is presumed but not explicit. One of the great things about this whole universe is that we’ll often get answers to some of those questions eventually (whether in books, comics, games, shows, or even films), but that doesn’t mean a film must answer it (looking at you, Snoke’s backstory). They don’t need to answer it. So what I’m getting at is this: just because we don’t see the New Republic reigning on screen doesn’t mean it didn’t. In fact, we are led to assume that the New Republic ruled for many years after the Battle of Endor, which is what makes its sudden destruction so powerful – now the galaxy is suddenly thrust into chaos and the First Order’s threat is realized.
So when we talk about Star Wars, keep all of this in mind. We will surely get tons more stories about this New Republic period in the years to come, but the films didn’t need to show us that. Simply by understanding the timeline, we can get a pretty good idea of the New Republic – and come to see that our heroes may not have failed like many think, but instead simply didn’t eradicate evil forever. And that’s pretty understandable.