Thunder echoes through the empty halls of the darkened compound. As Thrawn passes a shuttered window, a lightning flash illuminates his path toward a door at the end of the hall. Behind him, at a respectful distance, a Noghri bodyguard follows silently. He reaches the door and after a moment it slides open, a small cloud of dust rising from the unused surfaces. He enters. Inside is a stately, if spartan, office. Accolades in frames festoon one wall, while behind a modestly decorated desk leans a painting of a large, severe man in Imperial uniform. From beneath a black commander’s hat fall several strands of red hair. Thrawn inspects this painting for a moment, then turns his attention to the desk. He disturbs the dust of the drawers, opening each in methodical fashion. Finally he sees something that catches his interest. Thunder crashes and lightning flashes from the hall. A beep sounds, and Thrawn answers the communicator. The officer on the other line says that Hux is approaching the station, and Thrawn responds that he will be there shortly. Outside the compound, sheets of rain lash the platform. The Noghri rushes to start Thrawn’s shuttle, the Grand Admiral himself walking at his own pace. The shuttle takes off, quickly flying above the clouds and into a clear star-studded sky marred only by the traceries of an orbital shipyard far above the planet Arkanis.
From the panoptic window of a spacious, expensive-looking office, Hux surveys the remnants of Kylo’s fleet, suspended in the traceries of metal and swarming with repair craft. Thrawn enters the room, dismissing his Noghri bodyguard and coming to stand next to Hux. The Supreme Leader asks why Thrawn has requested his presence here, and that it is interrupting a mission of some urgency. Thrawn asks about this mission, and Hux responds that it’s none of Thrawn’s business. The Grand Admiral is amused by this air of mystery and responds by noting that Hux has brought quite a military force of his own to accompany him on this mission, a curious thing given that few places in the galaxy would require such protection. In fact, he says, only the pirate-infested territory of Hutt space remains outside the iron grip of the First Order. But, he says, there is no reason to go into that territory since none of these worlds have been considered worth invading, all except one: Gramelon. By Hux’s expression Thrawn knows that he has guessed right. Thrawn notes that Kylo’s fleet, arrayed below them, is being repaired but that their crews are no doubt contaminated by Resistance propaganda and will need to be reconditioned or terminated. He says that by going to Gramelon, Hux has indicated that he will opt to terminate the crews and replace them with new recruits. Again he has guessed right. But, Thrawn continues, this is not the primary reason for going to Gramelon. Commander Brendol Hux, he says, once attempted to cultivate an Order of dark Force users for the Emperor, an attempt which failed. Hux turns on Thrawn, bristling at the very mention of his father. He grinds out that though Thrawn says that the Force is a distraction from power, he knows that Thrawn was once defeated by a mere whelp of a Force user, and that such a force could end the Resistance once and for all. Hux believes that beneath Thrawn’s calm exterior is a black hatred for their kind, dark or light, as a piece that doesn’t fit into his delicate calculations of power. Thrawn reaches into the fold of his coat for something, and Hux goes for his blaster. A duo of Death Troopers leap out of the shadows and pin Thrawn’s arms to his side. Hux warns Thrawn that he is still the Supreme Leader and Thrawn merely his servant. Thrawn agrees, calmly saying that his only wish is to serve the First Order. The Death Trooper pulls the coat open to reveal a lightsaber at Thrawn’s side. Hux takes it, igniting the yellow blade. Thrawn states that Hux should consider it a gift from the late Brendol Hux to his son, to aid him in gaining the fealty of the Knights of Ren. He only asks that Hux refrain from terminating those on Kylo’s Destroyers until he has gained them as allies. Hux agrees, releasing his Grand Admiral and ordering him to use all his resources in discovering the location of the Resistance. He leaves. Thrawn remains at the window, joined again by his bodyguard. The Noghri says that he didn’t tell Hux of the probable survival of Kylo Ren, and Thrawn replies that there is no reason to worry the Supreme Leader unduly. Besides, he adds, now they can easily predict where the Resistance will inevitably go.
Thunder echoes through the empty halls of the darkened compound. As Thrawn passes a shuttered window, a lightning flash illuminates his path toward a door at the end of the hall. Behind him, at a respectful distance, a Noghri bodyguard follows silently. He reaches the door and after a moment it slides open, a small cloud of dust rising from the unused surfaces. He enters. Inside is a stately, if spartan, office. Accolades in frames festoon one wall, while behind a modestly decorated desk leans a painting of a large, severe man in Imperial uniform. From beneath a black commander’s hat fall several strands of red hair. Thunder crashes and lightning flashes from the hall. A beep sounds, and Thrawn answers the communicator.
Outside the compound, sheets of rain lash the platform. The Noghri rushes to start Thrawn’s shuttle, the Grand Admiral himself walking at his own pace. The shuttle takes off, quickly flying above the clouds and into a clear star-studded sky marred only by the traceries of an orbital shipyard far above the planet Arkanis.
The First Order high command sits on one side of a long table which has been positioned next to a large observation window overlooking Kylo’s fleet. The ships sit in drydock around the planet Arkanis like a necklace of dark gems. Among the assembled officers sit also captains of galactic industry, most attired in severe dark suits save for one man in white with a red Plom bloom on his lapel. Thrawn’s captains sit as models of Imperial calm in stark contrast to the standard First Order officers who are lounging and bickering among themselves. Hux paces along the empty side of the table, expounding on the new division of power under his command. He awards the ships of Kylo’s fleet to Thrawn and several captains express dissention, not trusting this alien who seems to be already calling the shots in this Empire. One general expresses disdain and says he would never have been employed under the Emperor and another, general Pryde, retorts that Thrawn was employed under the Emperor. Angry barbs are exchanged, and into the chaos Thrawn arrives.
He announces that he has no need of these ships and furthermore they will take quite some time to be crewed by new officers so no immediate decision need be reached. Hux tells Thrawn that the crews are being reconditioned as they speak and so he will not need new bodies. However, the First Order will need many more ships to ensure order in the newly conquered galaxy, so quotas of harvesting must be increased. Many look uncomfortable at this, most of all the man in white. Hux says that if they are not able to accomplish this, the First Order will find men who will.
Hux also announces that he is taking temporary command of Thrawns fleet in order to go to Gramelon and accept the fealty of the Knights of Ren. Thrawn’s captains sit straighter in their chairs. Thrawn narrows his eyes at this, saying that he knights are of little consequence. Hux disagrees, saying that the backing of Force users is necessary for retaining power in the galaxy. The assembled officials and businesspeople are split on this, with the First Order officers mostly disagreeing and a majority of the businesspeople nodding in agreement. Notably, one older businesswoman claps her hands. The man in white, who sits next to her, adopts an inscrutable expression. Thrawn says that regardless of their importance, he himself should remain in command of his fleet and recruit the Knights. Hux is adamant that he alone be in command, ordering Thrawn to remain on Arkanis and oversee the operation of refitting Kylo’s fleet.
After the officers and financiers have left the office, Hux whirls on Thrawn. He accuses the Grand Admiral of undermining his authority, coming dangerously close to insubordination. Thrawn responds with a comment about Brendol Hux, Armitage’s father. Hux is taken aback, unsure where this is going. Thrawn continues that Brendol once tried to create an order of Darkside users to ensure the survival of the Empire, and Thrawn says that it’s only natural that his son would wish to do what his father could not. Thrawn maintains, however, that the Force is a distraction and he will show the galaxy how it has no true power.
Thrawn reaches for something on his belt, and two Death Troopers emerge from the shadows and drag him to his knees. Hux takes the object from Thrawn’s belt, and with a snap-hiss he activates Kylo’s lightsaber. Thrawn says that he is merely delivering to Hux his birthright, with a warning that it could be his undoing. Hux demands a test of Thrawn’s loyalty, and tells him to bring forth his hand. Thrawn does so, pulling his sleeve to the elbow. Hux raises the blade to strike off the hand and swings in a blur of motion, stopping the blade expertly a hairsbreadth from the alien skin. Thrawn doesn’t flinch. Hux says that he knows something of Thrawn’s hatred for the Jedi and the Force, having investigated Thrawn’s long disappearance, and knows that it is strong. But now he knows that his loyalty is just as strong. Thrawn asks if he will reconsider his decision about leading the fleet. Hux smiles quixotically.
Two Star Destroyers fall out of Hyperspace, their signatures clearly visible through the nebula. Finn barks out orders: ‘Raise shields! Red Squadron, Black Squadron, launch!’ A collection of TIE fighters and Resistance ships pours out of the main hangar bay, collecting into two distinct groups on the underside of the Destroyer. Rose stands to the side of the bridge with Threepio, asks him his projected time. Threepio responds that they will probably last at least 30 seconds longer this time against the simulation. Finn commands his squadrons, ordering them to flank the Destroyers just below their equatorial turbolasers and come about to attack them from the rear. In this way the squadrons will avoid most of the Destroyer’s field of fire. The holographic forms of the ships appear on out of the nebula, and Ben leads Red Squadron towards the leftmost Destroyer. Poe in his X-wing goes to the right, a motley collection of Resistance ships close behind. Rey flies formation with Poe in a battered A-wing. Poe hits the intercom, telling everyone to get in attack formation and orient themselves down in the direction of the projected enemy fighter launch. Both squadrons fly upside-down, headed toward the simulated Destroyers. Finn flashes a grin at Rose. Her expression is skeptical.
The two Destroyers gun their engines, quickly picking up speed as they rush to close distance, angling nearer to themselves as well. Rey asks why they haven’t launched fighters yet, and to scan for fighters around them in the cloud. Poe answers that scanners pick up nothing, and to keep going. Just as the squadrons converge with the prows of the enemy Destroyers the huge vessels begin spinning against their long axis. The sudden spin seems too fast to be possible, and Poe’s X-wing bobs drunkenly with his disorientation. Both formations waver as batteries of ventral cannons and turbolasers come into view directly in front of the squadrons and open fire.
On the bridge of the real Destroyer, Finn stares openmouthed as the two simulations roll opposite each other in space, every gun on their equators and upper decks now trained on him. With a single burst of holographic light the battle is over. Ben spins his fighter in a playful arc, the only pilot to avoid a simulated destruction. He asks why Thrawn didn’t have to even launch a single fighter, and Poe shouts that the simulation was unfair, that no Destroyer can rotate that fast. Finn’s voice comes on the line, saying that Poe is wrong. The simulations, he says, used their tractor beams on each other in addition to their maneuvering engines, and this gave them the speed to pull off this rout. Finn gives the order to return to the ship. Rey continues flying, saying that there’s still one ship left to destroy. She guns her engines and goes after Ben’s fighter. Ben smiles, warming to the contest, and he cuts across the surface of Finn’s vessel before looping under the bridge and disappearing into the nebula. Rey follows, matching his movements. Finn sighs. Rose tells him it’s no wonder he has trouble keeping order with them around.
Kylo’s TIE fighter and a battered A-wing settle onto the docking bay floor, Rey leaping from her cockpit and waiting as muffled curses emanate from the TIE interior. Rey spies BB-8, R2, and Threepio huddled in conversation near Poe’s X-wing. BB-8 looks up at the TIE and rolls over, followed by the two other droids. Threepio asks Master Solo if he needs a hand, and a metal appendage flies out of the upper hatch to strike him on the chestplate. Rey sweeps up the prosthetic hand and joins the droids by the TIE fighter, asking where the others are. Threepio responds that they are in the mess hall. Rey leaves the bay holding the hand, followed by BB-8.
There is a clatter from the TIE fighter and Threepio rushes over to Ben, who has collapsed in a heap in front of the ship. He asks Master Solo if he is all right, to which Ben responds with a withering stare, staggering up and following Rey to the mess hall. R2 beeps derisively at Threepio, who turns away with something approaching wounded pride. ‘What could I do? I’ll have you know that among my other talents I’m now the galaxy’s foremost authority on the Jedi religion.’ R2 beeps sassily. Threepio turns to him. ‘And what would you know about something like that?’
The mess hall is a scene of barely contained chaos. Tables and chairs have been pulled from their brackets and now form clusters throughout the hall. Helmetless troopers chatter and shout, their armor decorated with bright paint and duct tape. Red squadron sits across from the bridge officers, their flight suits festooned with splashes of red paint. In the center of the room, alongside several tables of Resistance soldiers, sits Finn, Rose, Poe, and Chewie. Rose is going over all the mistakes made during the day’s exercises. She laments that they don’t have more ships since they have crews and pilots for almost two Destroyer compliments.
Rey walks up to the table, a tray of First Order rations in her hand, sitting in the open space between Poe and Finn and setting Ben’s hand beside her tray. Finn asks her if she had a nice flight. She gives him a black look, and he mutters to her that any other Captain would have thrown her in the brig for what she did. Poe overhears, speaks up in Rey’s defense, that it’s normal to need to blow off some steam after a defeat, and that everyone is on edge right now. Finn responds that ever since Kylo has returned as Ben, Rey has been acting strangely. Rose remarks that it’s nice to see Finn and Poe talking directly to each other. Chewie nods. Rey throws down her fork. She admits that Finn is right. Silence falls at the table. She seems ready to admit her secret weakness, and everyone looks at her expectantly.
Before she can say anything Ben arrives in the mess hall. A quiet descends on the hall, but a shout goes up from Red Squadron. Their spokesman shouts ‘Let’s hear it for the leader of Red Squadron, Master of the Knights of Ren, Heir to the Empire…Ben Solo!’ Three cheers go up from the pilots and the rest of the soldiers join in. Everyone at the table turns back to Rey in expectation, but she is now staring at Ben as if seizing on a lifeline.
He sits at the table across from Rey, his expression unreadable. He asks for his hand back. She has put two and two together and realized that these Knights are comprised of Luke’s students, and asks if any of them were knowledgeable of the mysteries of the Force. He says that one was, and slyly asks why she wants to know. She responds evasively that they need people strong in the Force if they are to rebuild the Jedi Order. Ben shakes his head, saying that he believes it to be a fool’s errand. Poe wonders why this is the first he’s hearing about these Knights, and Rose answers. She says that the Knights were once students of Luke’s Jedi school but they chose to join with Kylo and now each rules over a planet largely independent of the First Order. Ben clarifies that these students originally joined Luke’s school to protect their home planets as the Jedi of old had done before the Republic, and that when it became clear that they were to join or die Kylo Ren, they chose to join in return for control over their planets. Now their planets are off-limits to the First Order and their child-harvesting, and these knights care only about protecting these worlds. He says they will not join an unlikely cause, and in fact may already have pledged fealty to the Supreme Leader. Rey says that this is all the more reason to act quickly and try to gain their help or their fight will already be doomed.
Those at the table look in confusion. Finn asks why this should be since they have among them the two greatest Force-users in the galaxy. Before Ben can answer Rey comes to a decision. She announces that she will seek out these knights and gain them as allies in their fight, and Ben will come along to help. Ben seems reluctant. The planet they must travel to in order to convene the knights is in pirate space, he says, and will not be easy to approach. Chewie roars, Rey translating that he and Han once cultivated Rebel allies on Gramelon and Chewie will come as well. Rey reaches to give Ben his hand. He takes it but Rey doesn’t let go, instead saying that they will do this for the Jedi and the memory of Leia. Finn places his hand on the metal hand as well, saying ‘For Leia.’ Poe follows suit. ‘For the General.’ Rose says ‘For our Leader.’ Ben says something as well, but it’s inaudible to the assembled team. Chewie places his paw on top of the pile and roars. Rey translates ‘For the Princess’. Ben asks if he could please have his hand back. He pulls it away from the group and as they all get up from the table to make preparations, he reattaches it to his arm, clenching it into a fist and looking to the departing crew with new resolve.