Last year, I wrote this post speculating that the First Order is more of a political breakaway from the Empire rather than a continuation of it. A lot of the new canon literature seems to support that notion. We have learned a lot more about the motivations of Brendol Hux, Phasma, and Armitage Hux as well as the inner workings of the First Order in the last few months.
My personal conclusion is that the Battle of Jakku can be considered the final death of the Empire, and the remnants who fled to the Outer Reaches have gone on to pursue their own interests. The First Order is an organization inspired by, rather than a direct continuation of the Empire. The First Order has kept some symbolism and imagery of the Empire and builds upon military technology that was first developed by the Empire, but this reminds me of The Empire of the Hand in Legends. In fact, the First Order does have some similarities to the Empire of the Hand.
- Formed in the Outer Reaches and out-lived the fall of the Empire in the Core worlds
- Uses imperial technology and tactics
- Retains recognizable imperial imagery (i.e. stormtrooper armor) to instill fear in enemies and confidence in allies
- Founded by those who had leadership roles in the former Empire
But, just wait a second, now …
The glaring difference
- The First Order is exceedingly xenophobic, while the Empire of the Hand took the aspects of the Empire that Thrawn found useful while allowing all alien species into its military,and forming deals with, rather than trying to irradiate, different cultures.
Is the F.O. the new Empire of the Hand?
Honestly, yes and no. It depends which direction Lucasfilm is going with Thrawn and the First Order. In new canon, it is Thrawn’s mapping of the Outer Reaches for Palpatine that helps the First Order initially form. I feel like we can’t completely answer this question until we see what happens with Thrawn’s character in new canon. My gut feeling is that instead of forming an Empire-inspired group, Thrawn is going to rejoin the Chiss Ascendancy and use his findings to either form a begrudging alliance with the F.O. or just stay away from them. That would leave the First Order as the only imperial off-shoot group in the Outer Reaches and as Lucasfilm’s kind-of answer to the Empire of the Hand from Legends. I feel like Lucasfilms is drawing a lot of inspiration from Legends but is changing a lot of the outcomes because they don’t want future endings to be too predictable (thanks to us novel-loving nerds.) But if you see the Empire of the Hand as an Empire-inspired organization that combines imperial technology and imagery with its founders’ values and goals, then the comparison between the First Order and the Empire of the Hand holds up.
Brendol Hux and co. had no problem with the Empire’s xenophobia, so they borrowed that along with other aspects of the Empire. Thrawn was more of an idealistic leader with an actual moral compass and attempted to borrow only the “good” parts of the Empire. I think with that in mind, it is fair to say the First Order can be compared to the Empire of the Hand, and doing so highlights the strong influence which individual leaders can have within the same political framework. I find it fun and exciting to see where new canon deviates from Legends, because this gives us brand new material to devour while not taking away from our enjoyment of Legends lore.