Spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2 follow.
The Ewoks were singing, there was dancing on the streets of Mos Eisley, and the residents of Coruscant toppled a statue of the Emperor. The Rebel Alliance would have been rather naïve, however, if they thought the events of Return of the Jedi had ended the Galactic Empire for good.
Although Palpatine was (seemingly) dead and the second Death Star had been destroyed, the remnants of the Empire had no intention of making life easy for the New Republic. While some went off to the Unknown Regions to form the First Order, other officers stuck around to make a nuisance of themselves as warlords on the Outer Rim – like Moff Gideon on Nevarro in The Mandalorian. And since The Rise of Skywalker, we’ve also known that Palpatine managed to cheat death to turn his axes of evil into a lethal Final Order, with legions of lethal Sith Troopers.
Here we explain how the Empire survived the ‘demise of its Emperor, why Imperial officers have Baby Yoda in their sights, and how The Mandalorian ties into the events of The Force Awakens and beyond.
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Why didn’t the Empire end with destruction of Death Star 2 and the death of Emperor Palpatine?
The Empire famously struck back after the Rebels blew up the original Death Star, so we already know the loss of an armored space station doesn’t have to spell the end of a totalitarian regime in a galaxy far, far away. And as for Palpatine’s demise, cutting off the head doesn’t always have to mean the death of the body…
The Rise of Skywalker revealed that the Emperor managed to survive his tumble into the Death Star’s power reactor, relocating his consciousness to a new body on the Sith homeworld of Exegol. Palpatine went public on his survival three-and-a-half decades after his apparent demise, when he unveiled his grand plans for an all-conquering Final Order – an unholy hybrid of the Empire and its successor, the First Order.
But the Emperor chose not to tell his lieutenants about his resurrection plans, so the Empire was left in chaos after his ‘death’. Although various generals and admirals vied for control, Palpatine never intended for anybody else to take the reins. Instead, his legacy was a ‘scorched earth’ policy known as the Contingency – he felt that if he wasn’t around to run the Empire, nobody else should either.
After the destruction of Death Star 2, Operation: Cinder was initiated to decimate certain planets, including Palpatine’s homeworld, Naboo. Meanwhile, Imperial officer Gallius Rax – who had long been a favorite of the Emperor – moved to fulfil his master’s wishes. Having pulled together disparate factions of the Empire, Rax dispatched his forces to Jakku for a final showdown with the New Republic – the Battle of Jakku took place about a year after the Death Star blew up in Return of the Jedi (in Star Wars parlance, 5 years after the Battle of Yavin, or 5ABY).
Rax hid the fact that his grand plan was to destroy the planet, wiping out forces on both sides, but his scheme failed, and he died at the Battle of Jakku. The Empire was defeated by the New Republic – explaining the wrecked Star Destroyers, AT-ATs and X-wings strewn across the surface of the desert planet – and surrendered.
However, Rax was successful in sending many of the Emperor’s most trusted lieutenants to the Unknown Regions to rebuild the Empire anew. Their number included a young Armitage Hux (who’d later become a general and a thorn in Kylo Ren’s side) and his father, Brendol, who was training abducted children to become soldiers. These exiled Imperials went on to form the First Order.
Why are Imperials still around in The Mandalorian?
Even though the Empire was technically dissolved when it signed a peace treaty with the New Republic after the Battle of Jakku, not all of the Imperials went quietly.
Back in the known regions of the galaxy, Imperial remnants stuck around to fill the power vacuum that existed beyond New Republic control. By the time of The Mandalorian, set 4 years after the Jakku skirmish (in 9ABY), many former officers had become warlords, using the military hardware the Empire left behind to take unlawful control of many star systems.
One of these leaders was Moff Gideon, the Imperial Security Bureau officer who made sure the Mandalorian was public enemy number one on Nevarro. Gideon was a key player in the Great Purge, where the Empire committed mass genocide against the Mandalorian people and plundered their beskar. He was supposedly executed for war crimes, but somehow escaped custody.
Former Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano also revealed in ‘The Jedi’ (The Mandalorian season 2 episode 5) that Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Chiss officer who was the scourge of the Ghost crew in Star Wars Rebels, is still at large in this period. It remains to be seen whether he’s in league with Gideon, or a rival Imperial faction – high-up members of the Empire don’t always play well with others, so there’s no reason to assume they’re bosom buddies.
The New Republic seems remarkably complacent about the threat of a resurgent Empire, though X-wing pilot Carson Teva, who patrols the Outer Rim like a beat cop, isn’t oblivious to the danger. “There’s something going on out here,” he told Cara Dune after she’d helped Mando and Greef Karga destroy an old Imperial base on Nevarro (‘The Siege’, The Mandalorian season 2 episode 4). “They don’t believe it on the Core Worlds, but it’s true. These aren’t isolated incidents. They need to be stopped before it’s too late.”
Don’t expect the New Republic to catch on any time soon, however. Even two decades later, by the time of Leia-focused novel Bloodline, the New Republic failed to acknowledge the growing danger of the First Order raising support in the Unknown Regions. That lack of awareness subsequently prompted Leia to form the Resistance.
What’s the Empire’s plan in The Mandalorian?
It’s not entirely clear what Gideon’s endgame is, but one thing we do know is that it involves Grogu, aka the Child, aka Baby Yoda. Tracking down the kid was such a high priority that ‘the Client’ dispatched a succession of bounty hunters in an attempt to bring him back – when Mando subsequently rescued Grogu back from the Imps, he found himself with a target on his back.
We also know that Imperial scientist Dr Pershing has been harvesting the Child’s blood for experiments that involved injecting the blood into test subjects. None of the unfortunate ‘volunteers’ survived, but seeing as Pershing says the Child’s high M-count (presumably the level of Midi-chlorians in his blood) makes him the only viable donor, we can assume the Empire is trying to create Force-sensitive individuals.
This could be to help Gideon to create a legion of super-soldiers, which could explain the new-look Stormtroopers he’s admiring at the end of ‘The Siege’. Alternatively, he could be thinking much further ahead – and be working for a master everybody had assumed was long dead…
Could The Mandalorian be tying into The Force Awakens and the other Skywalker Saga sequels?
It’s a very strong possibility. It’s hinted, for example, that the deformed bodies in the tubes in the Imperial laboratory on Nevarro are the unfortunate victims of Pershing’s experiments. It’s conceivable that these are prototypes of Supreme Leader Snoke, a ‘Strand-Cast’ genetically engineered by Palpatine’s followers, the Sith Eternal, to ‘lead’ the First Order. The fact that Snoke is very Force-sensitive would also tie into Baby Yoda’s Midi-chlorian-packed blood being necessary for Pershing’s research.
This also hints that Palpatine still has ties among his former Imperial officers, but that doesn’t contradict anything in Star Wars canon. After all, we know that he arranged for his consciousness to be transferred to a cloned body, and it’s hardly a stretch to assume that he remained in contact with Kamino, the planet responsible for manufacturing the Clone Troopers that fought for the Old Republic. Indeed, Pershing even wears Kaminoan insignia on his sleeve, so this could be a clue hiding in plain sight.
While The Mandalorian is set 25 years before the events of The Force Awakens, Gideon – and even Grand Admiral Thrawn – could already be working towards establishing Palpatine’s Final Order.
New episodes of The Mandalorian are available to stream on Disney Plus every Friday.