“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
When Obi-Wan gave Luke his father’s lightsaber, he told him of the supplantation of the Old Republic by the Empire and of Darth Vader’s betrayal and destruction of the Jedi Knights, the broad strokes of a detailed backstory developed for A New Hope but absent from the final film. Famously, its 1976 novelization included a prologue that filled in many of the details, which now reads like a rough outline of the events that would decades later be depicted in the prequel trilogy. The 1983 novelization of Return of the Jedi would provide an updated version of this account, excising outdated elements like Palpatine being controlled by his subordinates and the existence of later emperors, while also recounting the fall of Anakin Skywalker in remarkably extensive detail.
While only a single story in the early Expanded Universe, Silent Drifting, actually took place during the time of the Old Republic (discounting Tilotny Throws a Shape, which featured time-travel), various sources provided further detail on the era, giving fans early glimpses at the story that eventually come to be told in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Inspired by the Time Capsule articles featured on StarWars.com in the mid 2000s, the purpose of this essay is to tell the comprehensive history of the decline of the Old Republic, rise of the Empire, and birth of the Rebel Alliance using only information that would have been available to fans in 1987, before the launch of West End Game’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game in October of that year, which would mark the beginning of a more organized EU. Ironically, these early publications would end up hewing closer to Lucas’s version of the fall of the Old Republic than sources released closer to the prequels.
For over a thousand generations, the Old Republic, under the governance of the Senate and protection of the Jedi Knights, thrived and grew. However, at its height, the galactic government had become too large, requiring a bloated bureaucracy to maintain control and allowing corruption to set in over a period of many years. The Republic rotted from within, though the danger was not immediately obvious.
As the Republic crumbled, Senator Mon Mothma organized dissent, trying to stabilize the increasingly ineffectual government. Despite this, special interest groups and power-hungry, corrupt individuals were able to create an atmosphere of apathy, social injustice, ineffectiveness, and chaos that was rampant throughout the galaxy, eventually culminating in a legendary conflict that would be remembered as the Clone Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi Master and one of the Old Republic’s greatest warriors, served as a general. During the wars, Kenobi met Anakin Skywalker, renowned throughout his sector as a skilled pilot and cunning warrior. Sensing the younger man’s strength in the Force, the Jedi took Skywalker as his apprentice. Anakin would hone his innate ability to tap into the Force to near perfection under Kenobi’s tutelage. They became good friends, saving worlds like Skye and fighting alongside heroes such as Prince Bail Organa of Alderaan.
Through fraud, clever promises, and astute political maneuvering, the ambitious and opportunistic Senator Palpatine was elected President of the Republic. Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government and the massive organs of commerce, he promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic. However, once secure in office and having repaid his political debts, Palpatine instead declared himself Emperor, transforming the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire using subterfuge, bribery, and terror. Ruling from his palace in the Imperial capital, Palpatine reneged on his promises to the people and, rather than correct the mistakes of the Old Republic, began a reign of terror and greater social injustice. The Empire, ostensibly created to eradicate the corruption and social injustice of its predecessor, instead subjugated worlds for the personal benefit and glory of the Emperor, its cloned stormtrooper army neutralizing any who would resist his will.
The Jedi had put too much trust in the stability of the Republic, failing to realize that, while the Republic may have seemed healthy, the corruption within the government left it vulnerable to manipulation by individuals such as the Emperor. Seeking to eradicate all potential opposition to his rule, one of Palpatine’s first acts was ordering the extermination of the Jedi Knights. The government of the planet Mandalore aligned itself with the Emperor, sending its 212 Mandalorian Protectors into the Clone Wars on the side of the Empire as the Imperial Shocktroopers, fighting side by side with Imperial stormtroopers. However, the supercommandos were defeated by the Jedi Knights, with only three of the supercommandos surviving. However, the Emperor sensed Skywalker’s power and seduced him to the dark side, and Anakin became Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, helping Palpatine’s New Order hunt down and destroy the Jedi. Vader personally saw to the extermination of many Jedi Knights, becoming servant and emissary of the Emperor and executor of His Majesty’s plans for galactic conquest.
When Obi-Wan saw what Anakin had become, he attempted to dissuade him and draw him back to the light. They fought and the Sith Lord fell into a pit of molten lava, henceforth kept alive only by cybernetics and his own black will. Vader was unaware his wife was pregnant, but she and Obi-Wan knew he would find out eventually. Thus, when she bore twins, whom she named Luke and Leia, they were separated at birth to keep them safe. Kenobi took Luke to Tatooine to live with his brother, Owen Lars, while their mother, who would die while the twins were very young, took Leia to Alderaan to be raised as the daughter of Bail Organa, now first chairman and viceroy of the Alderaan system. Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine to watch over Luke, though Leia knew she could depend on the Jedi Knight in her most desperate hour of need.
Though the Empire won the Clone Wars, towards the end of the Republic’s existence, Mothma had organized cells, pockets of resistance, each of which was unaware of the identity of the other. Each was responsible for inciting revolt against the Empire when it finally made itself manifest. With the passage of time, the movement she found gained momentum and spread like wildfire as the Empire’s tyranny became more apparent. Alderaan subscribed to a philosophy of peace after its participation in the Clone Wars, with all weapons being banned from the planet. Princess Leia Organa succeeded her surrogate father as Alderaan’s senator in the Imperial Senate. However, as a result of the Empire’s unbridled and unchallenged injustice and tyranny, Alderaan temporarily set aside its pacifism to help organize an Alliance to Restore the Republic. Mon Mothma was elected to lead this Rebel Alliance. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order, they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.
Resistance would also arise independently of Mothma’s Alliance. When Mandalorian Protectors Fenn Shysa and Tobbi Dala returned to their homeworld to start over after the war, they discovered Mandalore to be overrun by slavers sanctioned by the Empire. They had turned the planet into a conscription center for slaves needed to work the factories, farms, and mines that kept the Imperial war machine running. The pair went underground and formed a band of outlaws to free Mandalore from the Empire. Meanwhile, their former commander, Boba Fett, would go on to become one of the most feared bounty hunters in the galaxy, coming to be regarded by some as the right-hand man of Darth Vader himself. Appalled by the atrocities perpetrated by the Empire, an underground movement also arose on Circarpous IV, though the Circarpousians were too afraid to openly join the Rebel Alliance.
Meanwhile, the Empire’s Death Star was nearing completion. Commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin, the Emperor planned to use the planet-busting battle station to abolish the Senate, wiping out the last remnants of the Old Republic and enabling him to rule the galaxy through fear. Learning of the superweapon, the Rebellion won its first major victory against the Empire when Leia intercepted the stolen Death Star plans over Toprawa, racing to Tatooine aboard the Tantive IV to retrieve Kenobi and bring him to her father on Alderaan. However, Vader’s flagship, the Devastator, captured the consular ship, forcing the princess to entrust the plans to the care of two droids, who escaped from the doomed blockade runner to the planet below, where a new hope would emerge.
Twenty years ago, The Phantom Menace forever changed Star Wars, opening up a new era of storytelling that had mostly only been explored in reference material and characters reminiscing of a time long past. While this simpler and, perhaps, more innocent era of Star Wars storytelling is forever behind us, we can still appreciate its contributions in shaping the franchise as we know it today. In some ways, this earliest period of the Expanded Universe stayed closer to George Lucas’ vision of Star Wars than any other era of the EU before it was rebranded as Legends in 2014.
- Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker
- Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
- “Soldiers of the Empire!” – Stare Wars Official Poster Monthly 4
- Splinter of the Mind’s Eye
- “The Story of the Faithful Wookiee” – The Star Wars Holiday Special
- Star Wars 24: Silent Drifting
- Bantha Tracks #5
- Star Wars Annual 1: The Long Hunt
- Star Wars radio drama
- Star Wars 68: The Search Begins
- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi novelization
- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi 2: The Emperor Commands
- A Guide to the Star Wars Universe