With the appearance of the First Order in The Force Awakens, many questions arise about it, including “How did it start?”, “Who is involved?”, and “How has it been operating?” While very few questions are answered about it in the movie, prompting many further questions about it, we have seen some answers trickle out, primarily in novels.
Last year’s novel “Bloodline” clued us in to some of the funding going towards the First Order and its supporters six years prior to The Force Awakens. With the recent novel, “Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End”, we get to see some of what is going on at the demise of the Galactic Empire that lays the seeds for what will become the First Order.
It appears that, as opposed to an assumption that the Galactic Empire would rule and would continue to rule the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine did some contingency planning, in the event that the Galactic Empire was to be no more. In order to set this up, Emperor Palpatine had looked for places in the unexplored beyond (378-379*):
Above the computers is the projection of a three-dimensional star chart that matches no known map here in the galaxy. Which makes sense given that it does not chart the known galaxy, does it?
For decades, these computers have been plotting a journey. Outside the known galaxy is an unexplored infinity, Palpatine explained, one closed off by a labyrinth of solar storms, rogue magnetospheres, black holes, gravity wells, and things far stranger. Any who tried to conquer that maze did not survive. The ships were obliterated, or returned to the galaxy devoid of travelers. Communications from those explorers were incomprehensible, either shot through with such static as to make the content useless, or tilled with enough inane babble to serve as a perfectly clear sign that the explorer had gone utterly mad out there in isolation. But Palpatine had one in the navy who knew something of the Unknown Regions: Admiral Thrawn, an alien with ice-blue skin who came from beyond the borders of the known galaxy. Palpatine only kept that one around because of what he knew of traversing those deadly interstices. Much of what Thrawn knew went into the computations of this machine.
Palpatine said that this galaxy was to be his, but that it was only one among many. Again that phrase arose: the unexplored infinity. This, he noted, was his demesne. The galaxy was his game board.
If he lost this game, the game board was to be broken in half and discarded. A new demesne must then be found.
The computers here have long been searching for a way through the storms and the black spaces. Slowly, surely, they have been putting together a map: a journey into chaos. The Empire has sent probe droids to test the computations as the computers have made them. Many never returned.
But some kept reporting in, pinging the transponder here. Every droid that made it further contributed to the map. And with distance achieved, the computers, through the scanning droids, continued to chart the course and compute the next branches of navigation.
Before Palpatine’s demise at the hands of the rebels, the computers finished their calculations, finally finding a way through the unknown. The Emperor was convinced that something waited for him out there – some origin of the Force, some dark presence formed of malevolent substance. He said he could feel the waves of it radiating out now that the way was clear. The Emperor called it a signal conveniently one that only he could hear.
Having found an area to where this Imperial remnant can flee and set up something new, Gallius Rax, the Imperial to whom Emperor Palpatine had entrusted this re-establishing of the Empire, then tells Brendol Hux, an Imperial officer who trains soldiers, to go [and doesn’t know what is going on] (376-7):
“I still don’t understand what’s happening,” Hux says.
“This Empire is ended. A new one must begin.” The demesne is clear, the board swept clean, he thinks. A new demesne must be made “Take your son and the other children. Go to the Imperialis. Prep the ship for takeoff.”
“How can there be a new Empire?” Brendol blusters.
“The one We had is gone. We do not number enough to begin anew-”
“I still don’t understand what’s happening,” Hux says.
“This Empire is ended. A new one must begin.” The demesne is clear, the board swept clean, he thinks. A new demesne must be made. “Take your son and the other children. Go to the Imperialis. Prep the ship for takeoff.”
“How can there be a new Empire?” Brendol blusters. “The one we had is gone. We do not number enough to begin anew-”
“There are others,” Tashu says, singsongy.
“Once we had the calculations, we sent another ship ahead.”
“Calculations. What calculations? What do you-”
“Brendol, please. Time is fleeting fast, too fast. Go to the ship. I will join you there.” And, just in case, Rax puts a gently threatening hand on the man’s arm. “Understand that you will help be an architect of the future to come. You are a visionary and that is why you are here, alone. This is not a time to test me. This is a time to trust me. Do you trust me?”
On this ship, the Imperialis, awaits some young children, including Brendol Hux’ son, Armitage, who is not a particularly physically threatening boy, but in whom Rax vests authority (335):
“The gift. You want to know about the gift. Here it is, Armitage: You will lead these children. They will serve you. And one day soon, your father will pass down his teachings to you, and you will learn to do what he did. It will be your life’s work to take children like these savages and hammer their malleable minds into whatever shape you so require. They will be tools built for the work at hand. That is my gift to you, boy. One day, your father will die. One day soon, I fear. And you will take his place.”
He stands then and speaks to the other children. “Listen to me closely. This boy, Armitage Hux, commands you. You will do as he decides. You will give your lives for him if you must. Nod if you understand.”
They all nod in a simultaneity that both disturbs and thrills Armitage.
“Thank you,” Armitage says to Counselor Rax.
“It is my pleasure. The future of the Empire needs you. Now sit tight. We’re almost at the Observatory. Our destiny isn’t long now.”
How malleable are they and how obedient are they, even though they have never met him? But, he tests out this new set of circumstances (335-336):
The children all turn once more toward Armitage to stare. He fears that this has all been some trickster’s ruse, some game played upon him – they won’t listen to him. He doesn’t command anything or anyone. They’ll laugh at him and, as the man said, they’ll beat him, claw him, bite him.
He draws in a quick intake of breath and points to one of the children with a wavering finger – the child is a boy like him, but with tar-dark hair and sun-marked skin. “You,” Armitage says to him.
The boy says nothing.
“Do you agree to do as I say?” Armitage asks.
The dark-haired boy nods. Armitage balls his fingers into fists as he steadies himself. “I want you to hit the boy to the right of you. Hard.”
The dark-haired boy turns to a sandy-haired, sallow-cheeked lad. Then he raises a list and clubs that other boy in the side of the head. The boy cries out. A line of blood crawls from a small gash in the victim’s cheek. Armitage feels a strange and sinister buzz of excitement.
Here, we see Armitage Hux not only commanding for the first time, but also commanding violence, as well as even sort of enjoying it. Of course, in The Force Awakens, we have seen what dozens of years have done….
Then there comes a question of the children: those bright-eyed monsters. They train every day here on board the ship at the urging of both Brendol and his son, Armitage. Armitage has grown more vicious during these months, even for such a small boy.
Sloane likes him. But she worries about him, too.
They could colonize it all.
Their new galaxy will never have known a time without an Empire. That thrills her.
And, indeed, it worries her, too. “It’s time to start over,” she says to Hux. “That is our first order. To begin again. And to get it right, this time.”
“Yes, of course, Grand Admiral. Anything you need. Glory be to Grand Admiral Sloane.”
“No,” she says. “Glory goes only to the Empire.”
My Empire, she thinks.
So, from the end of Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End, we see that the First Order is called as such, since it’s the remnants of the Galactic Empire to set-up anew the Galactic Empire, far from the reaches of the known galaxy, and to get it right. We also see that Armitage Hux is given control of other young boys to order them around, under the tutelage of his father. While they are not the only ones,** they are certainly an important core of the establishing of the First Order.
* Pagination follows that of the Del Rey 2017 hardback edition
** On page 422, we read, from the perspective of Rae Sloane, “She does not fully know who was sent ahead. Hux did not know, himself. Is it the original crew of the Eclipse? Were the others hand-selected by Palpatine, or by Rax? She cannot say, and she is eager to solve that riddle – and worried about the answer.”