The First Order never rules the galaxy, they don’t own a galaxy weapon with which they blow up Republic space, they don’t own star destroyers. They are the underdogs who try to stay under the radar of the New Republic. Their tactics are subterfuge and terrorizing civilians. Essentially make them the Taliban of the galaxy.
I like this a lot. I’ve been thinking about ways to make it happen.
We cannot show the audience the First Order’s weakness. But we can tell them about it. As long as we remove any references to the “might” of the First Order, we could make that everyone involved in the FO (including overconfident Ren and Hux) know they’re trash, and have to be constantly a step ahead of the Republic.
For example. Let’s alter the wording of the crawl.
Luke Skywalker has vanished.
In his absence, a ragtag
terrorist group, the
FIRST ORDER, has risen
and will not rest until
Skywalker, the last Jedi,
has been destroyed.
We have now established the lie. We can strengthen it by adding bits and pieces of dialogue. For instance, the scene where Captain Phasma asks Kylo about what to do with the villagers. I suggest dubbing a nearby Stormtrooper to provide his opinion:
If we let them live, they’ll tell the Republic. We can’t afford a straight fight.
This, in turn, leads Kylo to order killing them all, making the First Order less cartoonish and more calculated.
Another possible example. At some point on the First Order Star Destroyer, add in a ship loudspeaker, announcing:
Jakku scavengers have picked up on our presence, and a First Responders group is on its way. This is a battle we cannot afford. Troopers, prepare to leave in t minus 30 minutes.
For Starkiller, you could cut out the planet-destroying entirely, though it will require some intense VFXs to cover the big hole. Instead the planet could just be a FO base that is attacked at the end of the movie to get the remaining map to Skywalker.
Finally, in TLJ the reason the FO is so intent on hunting the Resistance is that the Resistance is the only people with proof of their threat.Again, we could add a fake Stormtrooper conversation to establish this:
What’s with all the effort on one ship?
The Resistance knows about us.
The footage isn’t a problem, we just need someone that could do a reasonable impression that can later be audio edited to fit the movie.