The story of the war waged by the Empire the final (first released) chapters of the Star Wars trilogy is an insurgency speculated on a galactic scale. The enemies come from within, rather than from without, and in fact are the unknown children of a major player within the regime.
The first figure we are introduced to in the large terrorist cell in Star Wars is the Princess Leia Organa. Raised by Bale Organa, a major player in the old regime, rendered mute over the years by the new power structure, Organa apparently raised a fierce and single minded young woman whose only goal is restore the old regime at potentially great cost to herself.
She did so boldly, using nearly anyone loyal to her to strike a blow against the Empire. She employs spies and eventually, with the help of a member of the Imperial Navy, secured the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon. The Death Star was a costly endeavor, no doubt, judging from it’s size the amount of personnel required to run it. Damaging or even destroying it would strike a huge blow against her enemies economically as well as politically.
When she sought to enlist the help of Obi Wan Kenobi, living under an alias in isolation far away from politics and the war that he clearly lost, she reached out to another potential terrorist who, upon realizing what’s at stake, may believe that success against the new regime is possible.
When Kenobi found out that Leia has been captured, he decided to go to Alderan to inform Bale Organa of the situation, possibly before staging a rescue. Were she any other guerrilla, he could have easily justified no rescue and instead warning the rebels directly, but Leia is not only a major player but also the acceptable political face of a messy war that has certainly had it’s share of collateral damage wrought by both sides.
Enter Luke Skywalker. Like most front line fighters in a terrorist organization, Skywalker had no prospects: no chance for job advancement, little education and boredom. Skywalker is reluctant at first, until the Empire makes the mistake, as it probably had countless times before, of killing Skywalker’s family, leaving him with nothing to loose and cause for revenge.
Another addition to the group that will finally deal fatal damage to the Galactic Empires is Han Solo, a disenfranchised former member of the military and his traveling companion, Chewbacca a member of one of the many crushingly oppressed alien minorities.
Solo is a mercenary initially, and as long as he is left alone and able to settle his underworld debts, it appears as though he doesn’t care who wins. However, as a criminal, it would be in his interest to see the supporting structure of federal galactic law enforcement crumble for no other reason that it would wipe whatever record he might have.
The destruction of the first Death Star, with a personnel capacity of over a million by some estimates, was devastating on many levels to the Imperial forces. Imagine an aircraft carrier the size of
Dealing such a damaging blow against any government would have consequences for any opposing force. A terrorist cell would be hunted to the ends of the earth were they wreak such destruction upon an Earth-bound super-power.
The attack on the rebel base of Hoth was probably one of many acts of retribution the Empire brought to bear against the Rebellion in the coming year after the attack at Yavin. It is entirely possible that if the empire used the same degree of force or greater on other outposts, the rebels were successfully routed all over the galaxy.
It is important to note that episodes IV-VI focus on merely one terrorist cell and it’s characters. It’s possible that there were other, more successful attacks against rebel bases through out the galaxy, and since tactics vary in style, the may have been far more devastating to the Rebellions numbers.
However, that each one of those attacks could very well have destroyed families, killing fathers, sons, daughters or wives that would have incited even more of those governed by the Empire to join the rebellion. Essentially, even as the Empire routed Leia’s cell, anyone killed in the attack could very well have been replaced by family or friends who realized the true brutality of the regime.
Solo’s knowledge of Imperial procedure, having been discharged as lieutenant, allows him facilitate Leia’s escape from what could have been her second capture. As it is clear judging from the fire power and troop strength used by the Empire, that their goal was first devastation of the rebel ranks before considering capturing anyone. When the smoke cleared, if Leia was still alive, perhaps she would have been taken prisoner or perhaps killed.
At that point the history of the rebellion, either would could have been considered an important victory.
The Empires treatment of alien minorities also gives the Rebellion a massive edge, in that all a potential recruiter need to is show more care as to how that species is treated and a whole new pool of defectors is created.
One of those defectors is of course Skywalker, whose war-fighting abilities make him an ideal candidate to go to the Dagobah system, which is analogous to any sort of religious-based military training.
When he arrives, Yoda pretends as though he is unworthy to motivate him. Such a tactic, especially when used against a young man who has already made drastic changes in himself in order to achieve devastating results against enemy forces, would surely yield an even more aggressive and capable soldier, not only in terms of combat but also in terms of leadership because it first convinces a potential candidate that it’s what they want. In fact, such tactics can be seen in Marine Corps. recruitment advertising (“No contracts. Only commitments.”)
Forcing potential leaders to endure different manners of hardship has long been an accepted form of building good officers in most military forces, formal or other wise. It was apparently the case with Skywalker’s father as well; however his inability to cope led him down a path of another rebellion against the previous regime in alliance with the current despot, against whose regime his son fought.
It’s possible that the entire reason that Skywalker has coping ability is due to his not knowing his father. Instead he was raised in an, as far as we know, stable household far away from chaos. Farming of any kind is certainly a daily routine, and the son of Skywalker is disciplined enough to accept all of the training his father had, and still be able to make moral, rational decisions to an extent.
As Luke trains on the remote planet, Vader pursues other members of the terrorist cell relentlessly. At his disposal is a vast network of information funded by government, about former the former lieutenant Solo. Surely he would have found the connection to rouge-turned-businessman Lando Calrissian.
If the imperial forces arrived in cloud city before the rebels or just after is unclear. What is clear is that Vader is, probably through the threat of federal government sanction, able to persuade Calrissian to assist him in his plan to capture Skywalker.
Calrissian becomes the businessman ruined by government intervention. By the end of the film, he has lost everything, in part due to his own decisions, but it’s inarguable that had the military left him alone his fortunes would be drastically different. Yet another misstep in which the Empire has made it harder to put down the widespread insurrection of the rebellion.
What ever resources Calrissian still has at his disposal—surely a former smugly wouldn’t tie up of all his money in legitimate institutions that could be seized by the government—they will now go toward the rebellion, as victory for the rebellion could conceivably be the fastest way for him to regain his merchant status.
With each action the Empire brings its enemies closer and closer together, adding hard legitimacy to Leia’s words to Grand Moff Tarkin: “The tighter you close your fist, the more galaxies will slip through your fingers.”
Vader is clearly working well outside the standard confines of Imperial law, as he gives Han Solo to the bounty hunter Bob Fett, who works for the Jabba the Hutt. The Hutt families are a criminal class, and the Empire has tried several times to break their power, since apparently the galaxy isn’t big enough for two criminally corrupt institutions.
The first battle between Skywalkers Sr. and Jr. is the perfect metaphor for military might against a well-trained guerrilla force. While Vader “wins” the battle, Luke certainly gives him a run for his money, since they were trained by the same people and the victory comes down to learned practice where Vader has the advantage. However it is clear that Luke’s innate ability, with more training, will certainly be formidable enough that their next confrontation may have a different outcome.
The other half of that battle is the fact that Luke has learned Vader’s true nature, and is now given the same advantage his father had when tracking him.
When we see the cell again, Luke, Leia, Lando and Chewbaca must rescue one of the higher-ups in their organization: Han Solo. Solo, now like Leia and Skywalker, is not a disposable foot soldier but a crucial component to not only to rebel strategy but also to rebel moral. After all, if capture by the enemy is merely an inconvenience from which you will be rescued, it wouldn't concern anyone.
By the time we see the rebel alliance again the ranks have expanded to include other humanoids, no doubt oppressed under Imperial doctrine, and quite tired of it. By this time, word has certainly spread about the destruction of the first Death Star. If such a blow was dealt by a very small force of “stunt-fighters” then certainly a larger force would certainly succeed against another weapon of the same make and model, shield generators be damned.
The final confrontation takes up much of the narrative of the last film, and is pretty much the illustration of the advantages of not only force diversity and flying columns, but also of expanding your ranks through promises of peace as opposed to your enemies who just show up and take over. That method might have been why the Ewoks were so hip to help the rebels, as the Imperials had shown up and either ignored the Ewoks in the best case, and perhaps killed them in the worst.
This is to be final battle, everyone’s chips in the game, and certainly they are playing for keeps. As many of the various cells of the rebellion have come together for this battle massing what could be the first fleet large enough to oppose the Empire since Palpatine officially came to power.
While that battle rages, Vader and Luke are now locked into their own final confrontation. Luke has devoted a great deal of thought to his father’s fate, and even if his skill has not improved much since their last battle, it’s possible his understanding of why they are fighting gives him an even greater advantage than knowing how.
Vader and Luke are essentially the same person at this stage, toe to toe battling for a cause that they have faith in. Victory for Luke is almost written in stone, since his faith is based on reform, rebuilding and friendship. Vader had no cause to believe that the universe could be any other way, since he actually believes that he was first betrayed by Kenobi and his wife. His son has proven several things that Vader might have wished to believe but turned his back on. You can trust people, and people can trust you, and you can fight against a massive military force and win.