SPOILERS AHEAD for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been out for nearly a month now and I still find myself reeling the experience. I left the theater with my friends feeling borderline overwhelmed by everything that I’d just watch transpire. Suffice to say, there was a LOT to unpack and our conversation at dinner after the movie that night could have easily continued into the early hours of the morning.
Since that evening I’ve continued to discuss the movie with my friends, fellow Star Wars fans at AIPT, and my co-hosts on AIPT’s official Star Wars podcast, Talkin’ Tauntauns. The conclusion of the Skywalker saga delivered more ramifications to the past and future timelines of the franchise than I think anyone has yet to fully realize and I’m still working through a number of them.
To be clear, like every Star Wars movie that’s come before it, I had a lot of fun watching The Rise of Skywalker. There’s a special magic that Star Wars brings to the theater that I don’t think any other franchise will ever be able to replicate. But that doesn’t mean the film isn’t without its problems and one of those problems has been lodged in my brain since I first saw The Force Awakens — What happened to the New Republic Defense Fleet?
Leading up to The Rise of Skywalker I was more or less certain that we would witness a major naval battle in the conclusion to the Skywalker saga. My confidence in this theory only increased after watching the film’s final trailer in which a Y-Wing is seen attacking TIE-Fighters and a Star Destroyer. In the same trailer we also saw a brief clip of the Millennium Falcon at the head of a massive fleet.
So you can imagine my disappointment when after patiently waiting for two years, not only did we not see any ships from the New Republic Defense Fleet, but we didn’t even get a good look at the haphazard battle raging above Exegol. After the events of two movies, an animated series, a stack of novels, and a slew of comic book series, the one and only time we saw the New Republic navy present throughout the entirety of the sequel trilogy was when its largest fleet was vaporized.
As a huge fan of Legends novels and the New Republic military, this was a massive disappointment. Some of my favorite Star Wars stories from over the years — the X-Wing series, original Thrawn trilogy, Black Fleet Crisis, and New Jedi Order — heavily involved the New Republic Navy. So to see Disney and the Lucasfilm Story Group more or less exclude this storied faction of the Star Wars universe from the sequel trilogy was a big letdown.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, though. Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to The Rise of Skywalker.
One year after The Battle of Endor, the Empire suffered quite possibly its greatest defeat of the Galactic Civil War in the skies above the desert planet Jakku. The fallout of this battle resulted in the Galactic Empire’s unconditional surrender to the New Republic and saw both sides sign a historic peace treaty, the Galactic Concordance. This marked the official end to hostilities between the two governments, saw the Empire turn over Coruscant to the Republic, halt stormtrooper recruitment, and essentially broke up the remainder of the Empire into various remnants led by warlords and Imperial Moffs.
Following the signing of the Galactic Concordance, the New Republic government under the guidance of Chancellor Mon Mothma, focused their efforts on demilitarization and forming a stable galactic government. This was achieved through the Military Disarmament Act, a law which severely limited the Republic’s Defense Fleet and army, reducing the overall size of the centralized military by ninety percent. While many senators, such as Leia Organa-Solo, were opposed to the law, it still passed. But the disarmament didn’t happen overnight for the largest military force the galaxy had seen since the Clone Wars — it slowly began to roll out across the Republic’s military forces that were stationed throughout the galaxy.
It’s also important to note that before signing of the peace treaty, the Republic kicked off a major ship-building initiative prior to the Battle of Jakku. This led to the creation of the Starhawk-class battleship, the MC85 Star Cruiser, Nebulon-C escort frigate, and the updated T-85 X-wing starfighter. These ships were all created for the Alliance to Restore the Republic and production of them continued after the signing of the Galactic Concordance, a substantial factor in the massive undertaking of demilitarization.
So, it can certainly be argued that the New Republic was focused on having a smaller military than it did when it was fighting to restore peace to the galaxy and defeat the Empire. But were all of its ships in the Hosnian system when it was destroyed? Absolutely not. After all, why would a government keep all of its military forces concentrated in a single location? Especially a galactic-wide government. They wouldn’t.
The Force Awakens novelization tells us that when Starkiller base destroyed the Hosnian sytem, hundreds of New Republic navy vessels were destroyed, which was the majority of the Republic’s fleet. But this definitely wasn’t the navy’s only ships. We know this for certain because in the novelization of The Last Jedi it’s revealed by General Hux that after the Hosnian attack, ancillary fragments of the Republic’s fleet remain scattered throughout various Republic systems and surviving members of the senate dissolved the remaining task forces to protect their home-worlds. We also know this because no sane military would keep all of their forces in one location.
Furthermore, in the one-shot comic book Star Wars: Age of Resistance – Poe Dameron, Poe is commanding Rapier Squadron, a fighter group of X-Wing pilots in T-85s that are located outside of the Hosnian system on the Brooksdion New Republic Space Station. Later in the same Poe Dameron comic book series, Poe is once again leading Rapier Squadron, this time on a Republic military base on the planet Mirrin Prime in the Mirrin sector, which is where he remained until he left to join the Resistance in 33 ABY.
With the Hosnian Cataclysm happening a mere year later in 34 ABY, it’s extremely unlikely that the New Republic Defense Fleet would remove its fighter squadrons and fleet personnel from Mirrin and shift them to the already heavily defended Hosnian system. So while The Last Jedi visual dictionary tells us that the Republic’s entire fleet of T-85 X-Wings were atomized by the destruction of the Hosnian system, the Poe Dameron comic appears to invalidate that information, especially considering that it was released a year and a half after the visual dictionary.
But I think the bigger point to focus on here is that the forces stationed at Brooksdion Space Station and Mirrin Prime are just two small pieces of a galaxy-spanning peacekeeping military organization. Again, thanks to General Hux we know that there are still a number of Republic task forces scattered across various sectors of Republic controlled space. And why wouldn’t there be? The Republic is responsible for patrolling and protecting thousands of planets and hundreds of populated sectors of space that include trillions of lives across countless different species. You need a diverse and expansive military to effectively accomplish that goal.
For instance, the Republic heavily relied upon four planets for the production of its navy’s ships — the Kuat Drive Yards for production of the Nebulon-C escort frigate, the Nadiri Dockyards for production of the Starhawk battleship, the Corellian Engineering Corporation for a slew of different craft, and the Mon Calamari Shipyards for the production of the legendary MC80 Starcruiser. These planets are spread across Republic space and would require substantial time to reinforce if they came under attack, which would logically dictate that they require a significant military presence for protection. Similar logic could be applied to planets of strategic and morale importance such as Hosnian Prime, Chandrila, and Nakadia, the rotating capital planets of the Republic.
Yet while the Republic Navy had numerous planets and sectors to protect, it wasn’t the only show in town. The Military Disarmament Act was designed to reduce the overall size of the centralized military by ninety percent, but that law didn’t apply to planetary defense forces — military forces operating independently and not controlled by the central galactic government — and as such, individual planets were free to defend themselves in any manner they deemed necessary. In fact, part of the Military Disarmament Act was intended to bolster the training and funding for planetary defense forces, thus it’s highly likely that a number of systems simply absorbed the Republic Navy’s decommissioned ships and equipment. Especially when you consider the threat of piracy, slavery, crime, and the memory of the reign of terror the Empire subjected the galaxy to. Which in turn led to many of the planetary defense forces in the Republic being much larger and better equipped than they had ever been in the past.
Oh, and did I mention that during the Galactic Civil War the Rebel Alliance/New Republic managed to capture three Super Star Destroyers in additional to a slew of Imperial-class Star Destroyers? So while yes, 30 years passed between the end of the Galactic Civil War, which is around when the ships would have been captured, and the start of open warfare between the First Order and the Resistance, the fact remains that those ships are nothing to sneeze at. The reality is they’re incredible war machines that both the Republic Navy and planetary defense forces could easily absorb into their ranks or cannibalize for armaments, shields, and other equipment.
During the events of The Last Jedi, we didn’t see the Resistance take advantage of any of these resources. They had zero help and as a result were nearly completely annihilated. But when you think about the timeline of the movie, you quickly realize that the Hosnian Cataclysm happened just days before the Battle of Crait, which would give the remaining Republic military forces little chance of finding and communicating with the Resistance. To coordinate a rescue mission or counter attack, the remaining ships scattered throughout the galaxy would need leadership and an effective chain-of-command, which as we know, was destroyed by Starkiller base.
Which brings us back to The Rise of Skywalker. A year has passed since the events of The Last Jedi and both the First Order and the Resistance have been busy. But what exactly has the Resistance done to bring itself back from the verge of annihilation? Rebecca Roanhorse provided us with a look at the Resistance’s rebuilding efforts during a short period between Episodes VIII and IX in her novel, Resistance Reborn. Through Roanhorse we learn that General Organa worked to put the Resistance back together by recruiting a number of retired Galactic Civil War veterans such as Wedge Antilles, rescued Resistance sympathizers from First Order prisons, and recovered less than a dozen New Republic starfighters before they were scrapped for parts by the First Order.
Resistance Reborn laid a great foundation for what I thought was a serious rebuilding effort that would eventually involve the remaining elements of the New Republic navy. But when The Rise of Skywalker arrived, it appeared that the Resistance had barely progressed beyond the small amount of progress they made during the events of the novel. The Resistance arrives at Exegol for the ultimate showdown with a handful of X-Wings and a single troop carrier after a year of rebuilding. A year! Which is just insane when you think about it for more than a minute. We repeatedly hear Poe and Leia lament their lack of allies during both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, but apparently General Organa, the former Chancellor of the New Republic, who also happens to be the princess of Alderaan, leader of the Resistance, former member of Rebel Alliance high command, war hero, brother to the legendary Luke Skywalker, and legend in her own right, can’t recruit any planetary defense forces, surviving senators, or Republic navy task forces to fight a fascist organization that is the second coming of the Galactic Empire. Okay Disney, SURE.
Essentially, we’re to believe that none of the aforementioned military forces and leaders of the New Republic Defense Fleet spread throughout the galaxy are unwilling to join the fight against the First Order when Leia Organa freaking Solo comes asking, but Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca can organize what is arguably the largest fleet the galaxy has ever seen over the span of an afternoon? My god, why did they wait a year to ask Lando for help? They should have him do this once a week. The entire galaxy was perfectly cool with letting the genocidal mass-murderers hanging with the First Order off the hook and decided to live happily under their rule, until barely a year later when Lando zips by in the Falcon asking if they’re super duper sure that’s the right call. This is just crazy on so many levels.
What’s so bothersome about the Battle of Exegol and the result of Lando’s mission is that not only do we have a haphazard space battle that lacks dog fights and instead focuses on the deaths of supporting characters and Palpatine’s spirit fingers, but also a complete lack of explanation as to who exactly makes up the allied fleet. Are there remnants of the New Republic Defense Fleet? Are there planetary defense forces? Who knows. We see Lando leave on his mission and then we see him return. There’s nothing between point A and point C, we don’t have any idea who’s present or how he convinced them to be there. Disney put together a battle that dwarfed the Battle of Endor in size and somehow managed to deliver far less satisfaction across the board.
So in the end after the events of three films and all of the surrounding content in novels, TV, and comic books, I still find myself asking: what happened to the New Republic Defense Fleet?