The Force Awakens rejected socioeconomic world-building. As has been much hashed, it adhered obnoxiously closely to the formula of A New Hope. Where political economy surfaced it was nonsensical: The First Order is a fringe movement that manages to build a superweapon ten times larger than the former Empire's flagship Death Star without being detected by the galactic government? The pro-Republic military force calls itself "The Resistance"?
In short, the prequels were hard to watch but a lot of fun to think about. Episode VII was fun to watch and awful if you thought about it.
The Last Jedi at least offers up some ingredients to solve for The Force Awakens' unlikely equilibrium. (Of course none of the below was Disney's conscious intent, but let's have some fun.) Some observations on the new galactic order:
1. The Resistance and the First Order are both more gang than military
First, the numbers. When Obi-Wan travels to Kamino in Episode II, he is told the first 200,000 clones are ready for deployment, with a million more soon to follow. By the beginning of Episode VIII, the entirety of the Resistance can fit on three star cruisers. By the end, they can fit on a single smugglers' freighter, the equivalent of fitting your Earth army in the back of a long-haul truck.
Second, the scope. Nobody, nobody in the galaxy cares much what is going on between the Resistance and The First Order. Sure, some people are aware, the way Americans are aware of, say, the constant fighting between different gangs in Mexico. But even a Resistance sympathizer like Maz can't be bothered to make some room in her schedule to save the entire Resistance. Instead, we get, "Sorry, I'm all booked up, but I know a guy. Give him a ring and he might be able to help. Good luck, kids."
2. The galaxy is getting smarter
Particularly, the First Order's understanding of hyperspace appears to have advanced more in a generation than the galaxy's did in the previous thousand years. (Both Starkiller and the tracking technology on display in TLJ are in part hyperspace technologies.)
3. The galaxy is getting dumber
In Rogue One we see force shields that can cover entire planets. In TLJ, we get...big bunker doors.
4. How to reconcile #2 and #3?
Ask Kevin Drum:
The problem is that the internet does help people who are “sufficiently motivated and clueful,” but that’s never been a big part of the population. And sadly, the internet is probably as bad or worse than Dr. Oz for all the people who don’t know how to do even basic searches and don’t have either the background or the savvy to distinguish between good advice and hogwash. Regular readers will recognize this as a version of my theory that “the internet is now a major driver of the growth of cognitive inequality.” Or in simpler terms, “the internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter.”Some fundamental in the galaxy has changed that benefits the smart and careful (like Snoke) and confounds the reckless (lookin' at you, fly-boy). Woe to worlds where the former intend ill and the good are the latter.
What is the internet-like change in the Star Wars universe? Maybe...it's the internet. We know from Episodes I-VII that there are tremendous stores of knowledge in various archives around the galaxy, but not a lot of off-site access to these databanks. We also know that the Empire was sinking a lot of cash into R&D to build superstructures. The need to collaborate and communicate may have led the Empire's scientists to scrap something together that looked a lot like ARPANET.
5. Business is up!
We get two looks at business in TLJ: a long side venture to Canto Bight and a quick Skype chat with Maz.
Canto Bight shows us the new wealth in the galaxy in its most concentrated form, and boy-howdy are capitalists raking it in. Rose dismisses it as a sorry bunch of beings who made it rich selling arms to the First Order, but of course that's what she was going to say. DJ (Benicio Del Toro's character) quickly abuses Rose's political purism. While DJ seemed fairly comfortable guessing that the ship he stole belonged to an arm's (and one of flexible loyalties), I can't help but wonder what other industries, if any, were represented at Canto Bight.
The most telling thing about the trip to Canto Bight is the absolute lack of concern that it may be the Resistance's collective last day alive. If Canto Bight's denizens were really all lackeys of the First Order, you might expect them to have taken a break from the tables to watch the imminent destruction of rebel scum. If they all made their money exclusively from war-profiteering, you might expect a little nervousness that a one-sided victory by either force would lead to an end of the gold rush. Neither of these is true; no one cares one way or the either. This inclines me to believe that the nouveau riches' fortunes are more diversified than Rose and DJ suggest. (And, as mentioned above, Maz also puts business first, politics second, so it's not just the 1% who are indifferent.)
6. Down with business!
As far as I can tell, the raison d'etre for the old Republic and its Jedi mercenaries was to maintain peace. The Senate did not pass sweeping health care reform, debate universal basic incomes, or even do much to reduce the risk of death during childbirth. What it did do, and (apparently) did well for a thousand years, was keep worlds from going to war with one another. If you squint, you can see the politics of the Republic resemble the balancing of powers that has characterized much of European diplomacy's history.
The Resistance, or at least a faction of the Resistance that Rose belongs to, has grander aims. It wants to help the poor (especially children), and it wants to punish the rich. It really wants to punish the rich. Was "not by fighting what we hate" ever less true than Rose and Finn's destructive fathierback romp through Canto Bight? You don't have to squint to see the Resistance's real-world parallels: everything but the hashtag is right there in the name.
7. What to make of it all?
Should the remnants of the First Order emerge victorious against the Resistance in Episode IX, I'm pretty they would not be able to re-institute an empire. Similarly, should the Resistance win, the galactic fundamentals don't seem ready to support a New New Republic. A world (or galaxy) where any small group of vagabonds can band together and create new, unimaginable superweapons does not make for an environment conducive to central government. (There is, I think, some interesting overlap here with The Dark Forest, but that is for another day.) Maz's dodge and DJ's cynicism seem most apt: You don't know who will create tomorrow's Starkiller, so the best thing to do is don't take sides, don't create grudges, and mind your business.