In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Empire is no more. It died sometime after the second Death Star was destroyed in Return of the Jedi. But there's a new evil army in town that bears some strong similarities to the Empire, including its use of Stormtroopers as foot soldiers.
It's called the First Order, and not only does it have Stormtroopers, it has TIE Fighters, too. In fact, its entire identity and iconography seems to be based on the Empire, but with some "30 years later" updates. It has Captain Phasma, an elite "Chrome Trooper" played by Gwendoline Christie. It has a mysterious "General," played by Domhnall Gleeson. And it has Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, a red saber-wielding, Force-using warrior that looks a lot like a Sith Lord.
So what is the First Order? Where did it come from, how long has it been around, and what does it want? Who's in charge of it? We can't answer all of those questions yet, but we know more about a few of them today thanks to some leaked toy images.
At next month's San Diego Comic-Con, attendees will be able to purchase the first official Force Awakens merchandise: a six-inch Stormtrooper figure modeled after the new design used in the film. Comic-Con may be several weeks away, but the packaging for the toy has leaked on Twitter by IGN's Eric Goldman.
Much of the text delves into the history of the Empire and the Republic, but here's the pertinent text.
"...The Stormtrooper legions were scattered in the aftermath of the Empire's fall. Now, the rise of the First Order ushers in the next chapter in the Stormtrooper's legacy as a new era of ruthless brutality begins."
A few things are implied by this. First, as Goldman points out, the First Order hasn't been around for very long at the time that The Force Awakens begins.
— Eric Goldman (@TheEricGoldman) June 27, 2015
Second, the New Order is not just a new name for the Empire — anymore than the Empire was a new name for the Republic. It's a whole new entity, built on some of the ashes of what came before.