With The Last Jedi about to devastate the box office, what threads that have been brought up in the various canon might be further explored in the film? A SPOILER FREE journey into the Unknown Regions.
The previous Expanded Universe of Star Wars, prior to the 2012 Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, was at that point in time a rich and detailed expansion that had been running for two decades. With the slate wiped clean and a whole new era of canon material being ushered in, it was a chance to unify the various media and redefine the galaxy far, far away. Since then the mythology has been slightly rewritten and new mysteries have been revealed or in some cases only hinted at. One such area of interest is the Unknown Regions.
Although this region of the galaxy was extensively featured in the old Legends continuity anything goes now. And various tidbits have been touched upon so far. With some hidden in plain sight. Do they tie in with The Force Awakens? Will they be an enriching the backstory to The Last Jedi?
Plans Within Plans
In one of the earliest novels in this new canon, James Luceno’s Tarkin, Palpatine and Darth Vader have a brief dialogue on their relationship with the Empire and with an apparent ulterior motive for conquering the known galaxy.
“Ah, so you’re arguing on Tarkin’s behalf, are you?” “For the Empire, Master.” “The Empire?” Sidious repeated, miming surprise. “Since when do you put the needs of the Empire before our needs?” Vader crossed his gauntleted hands in front of him. “Our needs supersede all, Master”
So was the formation of the Empire, the result of over a thousand years of Sith planning from the shadows, just a stepping stone to something bigger? Something greater.
And this was only the beginning.
The trilogy of books written by author Chuck Wendig delved deeper into this concept. In the second of the three novels, Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, flashbacks to the desert world of Jakku deepen the mystery of Palpatine’s other endeavors. Soon after the formation of the Empire, Palpatine and his dark advisers venture to the planet to establish one of many Observatories. An Observatory is a facility used for many unique purposes. Some were used to house various artifacts, most of Jedi or Sith origin. Others were used however as a type of listening post, with its attention directed towards the Unknown Regions.
Palpatine felt a disturbance in the Force, a pull on the Dark Side emanating from the Unknown Regions. A dark presence looming, one that posed a serious threat. Therefore he established several outposts to watch the stars, to learn more about this presence. Computer systems were tasked with mapping this treacherous and not often traveled expanse. Calculating a hyperspace route was an arduous process but was ultimately successful. A route was discovered and a safe path into the region was revealed just prior to the Emperor’s death at the Battle of Endor.
Operation: Cinder And The Contingency
Following the Empire’s defeat at Endor several major events occurred.
First, the Emperors posthumous final order; The Contingency.
Deeming the Empire unfit to survive in the event of his death, Palpatine’s messenger droids were deployed to key personnel among the fleet with a final command. Burn it down.
Thus began Operation: Cinder. Using orbital satellites, several planets would face annihilation from the sky in an attempt to erase certain parts of the Emperor’s own history and also to send a message to both the the Rebel Alliance and to the remainder of the Empire. Worlds such as Naboo, Palpatine’s homeworld, were targeted along with Vardos, Abednedo and Commenor. This razing of their own people and planets did not sit well with some in the Empire and it began splitting apart from the inside. The appointed Councillor to the Empire Gallius Rax used his position as overseer of the Contingency to accomplish a slightly different goal than the Emperor had originally planned.
Wanting to forge a more powerful Empire, Rax selected those he saw worthy to escape into the Unknown Regions and rebuild. This culminated in the Battle of Jakku in 5 ABY ( After the Battle of Yavin). Grand Admiral Rae Sloane turned on Rax during the fight, and Rax did not survive. She and others followed his final command and the remains of the fleet retreated and made it into the Unknown Regions to begin again.
Among the forces that made this escape was the Emperor’s personal flagship, the Eclipse. Here the Empire that had been defeated would transform into the more hard line and zealous First Order. What, if anything, did the remnants of the Empire encounter during their time out here? It’s possible that the dark forces that Palpatine had spent so much effort to keep tabs on was there waiting for them all along.
Thrawn, Snoke And The Amaxine
Perhaps one of the most popular and well known parts of the Legends continuity, the blue skinned Chiss Grand Admiral Thrawn, has made his way back into the spotlight in Star Wars Rebels and is canon once again.
And his origin is similar to the original iteration along with his connection to the Unknown Regions. Like his counterpart in Legends, Thrawn and his species reside in this uncharted space and were discovered by the Empire sometime after the Clone Wars. Looking for the Empire’s help to stop an unmentioned danger to his people from something in the Unknown, Thrawn willingly joins the Empire to not only gain rank within the forces but to asses the Empires ability to aid his people. Meeting personally with Palpatine, he asks on behalf of the Chiss Ascendancy for his help, hoping to offer this warning of impending danger to with Palpatines favor.
But Palpatine is fully aware of the situation. However he does accept Thrawn as his advisor to the Region. At the end of the novel, Thrawn, Thrawn’s personal second-in-command is sent to meet up with the Ascendancy to assist them, but in what capacity? This remains to be seen.
In the 2016 novel Bloodline by Claudia Gray, taking place approximately six years prior to The Force Awakens, the galactic environment is fleshed out as well as the knowledge that remnants of the Empire have been in hiding all this time. Now the First Order, using a group of warriors known as the Amaxine as a front, are making an effort to face the New Republic on multiple fronts. Infiltrating the Galactic Senate, sympathizers are attempting to sow discord in the government and the Amaxine Warriors are the tools to achieve this.
According to Leia Organa, the Amaxine were a legendary warlike culture that existed long before the Old Republic. Unwilling to make peace with the expanding Republic, but knowing that they stood no chance at defeating them, they retreated in search of a new home. Thought to be extinct, they have now resurfaced aiding the First Order.
So these questions now remain. Did the First Order rediscover this ancient culture or are they simply using the legends to hide their own coming resurgence? And was this along with the threat that Thrawn spoke of Snoke himself? Hopefully in The Last Jedi answers are provided.
Battlefront II And The Last Jedi
The latest and last addition to this thickening plot is last months release of Star Wars Battlefront II. It does a fantastic job of tying in many of these plot points in the lead up to The Last Jedi.
It focuses heavily on the aforementioned Operation: Cinder and on another Observatory like the one on Jakku. This Observatory is located on the planet Pillio and was used as storage by the Emperor for various artifacts. One in particular brought Luke to the planet in an effort to retrieve it. The item in question was an ancient compass, an object whose purpose is still left a mystery. It could be how Luke found the first Jedi Temple on Ahch-To or it could have something to do with maps into the Unknown Regions. Or both.
Not all of these mysteries will be explained in The Last Jedi, hopefully some though, and that is part of the excitement. Not knowing. There are many more films in production aside from the trilogies finale, Episode IX, along with the inevitable plethora of books, comics and other media to further explore mysteries that are just getting off of the ground here. Who is Snoke? Where did he come from and how long has he been in the shadows? These questions beg answers. But look at Return of the Jedi. When the Emperor was first revealed in this film, only in The Empire Strikes Back as a hologram, fans had no idea where he had come from. Or how he came to power. These weren’t explored till much later.
That’s a good analogy to keep in mind here when you walk out of the theater in the coming weeks after your first or fifteenth viewing. The answers you seek are not behind you ,but ahead.
Mike Harris hails from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a fan for most of his life. Working as an industrial radiographer and raising a family with his wife take up most of his time, but there’s always room for Star Wars books and podcasts! Just looking to give back to Star Wars and the fan community, it’s been a source of fun and learning for him for so long.