In the months after the Battle of Endor, the New Republic—established to replace the Rebel Alliance with a new galactic government—gained more support as many worlds declared independence of the Empire. The death of Emperor Palpatine left a void in the Imperial hierarchy that no other leader could immediately fill, which resulted in many Imperial Moffs and other officials breaking off from the central government on Coruscant. The fragmentation of the Galactic Empire into warlordism was taken advantage of by the New Republic Defense Fleet, which went on the offensive against the loyalists and newly emerging warlord states. The paralysis of the rulers on Coruscant and indecisive leadership saved the fledgling Republic from being strangled in its craddle by the still superior power of the Imperial Military. The New Republic forces gradually made progress, particularly in liberating the Outer Rim, while an attempt by a group of Imperial leaders to form a new government on Akiva was foiled. However, while the New Republic then dealt with "Counsellor to the Empire" Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax and his schemes, another political realignment was underway in the Core.
On Coruscant, the situation deteriorated in the wake of the Emperor's death as riots turned into an insurgency by pro-rebel factions, until a stalemate occurred between the rebels and Imperial security forces. Grand Vizier Mas Amedda, the Empire's nominal head of government and "acting Emperor," was not much more than a bureaucrat and certainly did not possess the charisma, military strength, or dark side power to hold the state together. One decision he did make during that time was appointing Fleet Admiral Lucius Zantaraia, the young 26-year old commander of the Combined Fleet recognised as a prodigy in the art of war, as Supreme Commander of the Loyalist rump of the Imperial Navy. Due to his youth, this upset some of the senior Moffs and members of the Ruling Council who believed him to have gotten his position only due to "luck," but the head of Supreme Naval Command at the time, Fleet Admiral Hortensio D'Arcus, acknowledged his abilities and supported the decision. That put Zantaraia and his clique of other talented young admirals in command of the remaining Imperial military forces in the Core, Colonies, and Inner Rim, which were still enough to match the firepower of the New Republic Fleet.
Zantaraia and the admirals under his command anticipated that the New Republic would now launch a final campaign to retake the galaxy's core, and prepared a defensive strategy. They intended to lure the Republic fleet into the Core and allow them to overstretch their lines rapidly, extending their supply lines far beyond New Republic space and spreading their formations thinly, at which point they would launch an offensive on the overextended and isolated units. To this end, they begin withdrawing troops from the southern Core as they anticipated the main New Republic force would come through there from their redoubt in the recently-liberated Western Reaches, heading north along Rimma Trade Route and on the Core-ward stretch of the Corellian Run. Only the most heavily defended fortress worlds were left as they were, while the rest of the planets were mostly abandoned, except for a few token garrisons and special operations forces prepared to carry out guerrilla warfare.
As they expected, New Republic Command did begin a plan to liberate Coruscant and the Core, in a massive offensive code-named "Operation Free Stars." While Admiral of the Fleet Gial Ackbar personally led the 3rd Fleet into battle at Jakku, the Fleet Command marshaled the New Republic Navy's other main combat units—the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Fleets—to the Inner Rim. These four fleets together accounted for most of the young Republic's effective combat forces, leaving just the more ragtag formations of the former Alliance Fleet, local security squadrons, and newly commissioned warships not fully integrated yet as a reserve. Admiral Firmus Nantz, a senior officer leading the 1st Fleet, was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the invasion force, with Admiral Adar Tallon as chief of staff, while Admirals Hiram Drayson and Voon Massa commanded the 2nd and 3rd Fleets. Thus the bulk of the New Republic's naval forces and some of its most senior commanders were mobilised for Operation Free Stars.
Throughout late 4 ABY and early 5 ABY, this combined force under Admiral Nantz's direction liberated most of the Western Reaches in the southern galactic quadrant, while bottling up some of the remaining Imperial holdouts in the region to their main systems around Eriadu. With the region south of the Core Worlds largely secure, this cleared the way for them to advance into the southern Core.
New Republic Intelligence noted Zantaraia's appointment as Imperial commander-in-chief in the Core, but despite his renown in the Empire as an up and coming young admiral, he was largely an unknown figure to the Rebels at the time. Nantz and Drayson took his youth and seeming inexperience as proof that the Empire was running out of officers and men. Along with the recent victories in the Outer Rim, this contributed to a feeling of confidence and high morale among the New Republic troops at the start of the campaign. Zantaraia and his admirals were counting on this over-confidence as part of their strategy.
New Republic order of battle
Although the Battle of Jakku was taking place, New Republic Fleet Command allocated three of the navy's new four combined fleets to the retaking the Core.
The general mobilisation amounted to 15,000 ships and 10 million men.
- 1st Fleet, under Admiral Firmus Nantz, flagship Republic
- 2nd Fleet, under Admiral Hiram Drayson, flagship Navigator
- 4th Fleet, under Admiral Voon Massa, flagship Home Two
Imperial order of battle
The Imperial Navy, although weakened by defections and warlordism, still possessed a powerful force in the central regions of the galaxy.
The total Imperial force amounted to 10,000 ships and 8 million men, the core of which was the Combined Fleet of Admiral Lucius Zantaraia. The formation was further divided into several divisions:
- HQ Fleet, under Fleet Admiral Lucius Zantaraia, flagship Audacity
- Sebastev Fleet, under Admiral Abel Sebastev, flagship Regal
- Makarius Fleet, under Vice Admiral Viktor Makarius, flagship Colossus
- Attali Fleet, under Vice Admiral Jacquais Attali, flagship Iron Duke
After amassing at the staging grounds of Thyferra and Yag'Dhul in the Inner Rim, the New Republic invasion force advanced towards the Core along the Rimma Trade Route and the Corellian Trade Spine. The 1st and 4th Fleets met the first major resistance in the Colonies at Fondor, but the Imperial defense force there was defeated after a short battle. The fleets then continued their advance, not facing much resistance after that until reaching Corellia and Rendili. The local garrisons there surrendered almost immediately, and these victories secured the path into the Core.
On some worlds, the public greeted the New Republic as liberators, but this was not the case on every planet as there were also many which had a history of loyalty to the New Order. This put the occupiers at odds with the population on worlds such as Fondor. The presence of Imperial Intelligence and special forces units among the population ready to perform guerrilla warfare against the New Republic was not noticed initially. The speed of their advance also meant the supply lines of the New Republic navy were not fully developed or secured, and as they advanced further into the Core past supplying them became more difficult.
Admiral Nantz and his intelligence staff also noted that Imperial resistance was much lighter than they expected, but this was not given much consideration. The 1st Fleet proceeded along the Corellian Run, the 2nd Fleet moved in parallel to it along the Hydian Way, and the 4th Fleet branched off in a plan to take a number of worlds east of the Hydian, including Cato Neimoidia, Kuat, and Balmorra. Within a few weeks of the start of Operation Free Stars, hundreds of Core, Colonies, and Inner Rim systems had been liberated by the New Republic. At the time they decided to halt to consolidate their gains, 1st Fleet was at Ixtlar on the approaches to the galactic capital, 2nd Fleet was at Kuat, and 4th Fleet was Caamas. At this point they began to suffer from some supply shortages, and reports arrived that New Republic bases established on some recently liberated planets had been attacked and raided by unidentified forces, presumably Imperial. Due to this commander-in-chief Nantz decided to halt their advance temporarily.
But by the time the decision was made, the New Republic fleets were isolated from each other and in vulnerable positions. This was when the Empire unleashed its blow.
The Imperial counteroffensive came suddenly and unexpectedly to the New Republic commanders. Smaller Imperial detachments under vice admirals Emil Kadyron and Velayne Maldor retook the lightly-defended Corellia and Duros, blocking the Corellian Run-Trade Spine junction, as well as Cato Neimoidia. This cut the Republic supply and communications lines, making the expeditionary fleet unable to contact New Republic Command. At the same time, the main Imperial force struck each New Republic fleet individually: Abel Sebastev's force attacked the 1st Fleet at Ixtlar, Viktor Makarius's force attacked the 2nd Fleet at Kuat, and Jacquias Attali struck the 4th Fleet at Caamas. Being caught off guard by the sudden Imperial attacks, the New Republic units fought as best they could but were at a disadvantage.
Within days, they had been defeated and driven from their positions. The 1st Fleet remained the most intact but lost 30% of its force due to a battle of attrition against the Sebastev Fleet. The 2nd Fleet had lost 70% of its forces at Kuat against the Makarius Fleet, as the Imperial attack was also greeted with an uprising on the surface of the planet that turned the planet's orbital defenses against the Rebels. The 3rd Fleet at Caamas was also nearly obliterated at 60% losses against the Attali Fleet, which attacked them suddenly from close range after arriving into the system.
The damaged New Republic forces retreated south to a point where they could communicate again, and under Nantz's orders, decided to regroup at the Alvaris system on the border of the Core and Colonies near the Corellian Run. The damaged New Republic fleets were not in a state to continue to fight, but Admiral Nantz did not want to retreat and give up all of their gains in the operation. Rear Admiral Andreas Larrentine, the Chief Operations Staff Officer for Firmus Nantz's 1st Fleet, advised retreating to preserve their existing force as they represented most of the New Republic Starfleet's fighting strength. He argued that if they lost, which he was certain they had no chance of winning now, the loss would end the Republic's advantage and potentially cripple the war effort. However, he was overruled by the fleet commanders, who believed they could defeat the Imperials.
The combined Imperial fleets, now joined by Zantaraia's personal fleet, confronted Nantz's battered force at Alvaris in a final battle. Voon Massa, 4th Fleet commander, was killed as his fleet was cut off from the rest and annihilated. Nantz, acting on the advice of his Operations Staff Officer, Rear Admiral Larrentine, was able to hold off the Imperials long enough to buy time for Admiral Drayson to lead the bulk of the survivors in a retreat from the system. Nantz and Larrentine lured Imperial Vice Admiral Maldor's fleet into a point where they were able to deal them significant damage and caused a collapse in the Imperial line. As Zantaraia ordered a temporary withdrawal to reorganize their formation, the remnants of the 1st Fleet then retreated from the system.
Operation Free Stars began with high morale and expectations on the New Republic side as the final blow against Imperial tyranny, but ended in a disaster with the worst possible result: the destruction of much of the Republic Starfleet's fighting strength. Admiral Ackbar's victory at Jakku around the same time gave the New Republic something to celebrate, and was promoted by the Republic media in order to cover up the defeat, but in terms of scale the failed invasion of the Core outweighed the victory. Strategically, the Empire managed to prevent itself from being decapitated by a loss of Imperial Center and the richest, most prestigious worlds in the galaxy. However, it did not posses the strength or resources to launch a prolonged campaign against the other parts of the galaxy under New Republic or warlord control at that time. The internal political struggle for control of the Imperial government also hindered any potential of such an attack. Thus the New Republic did not have to worry about an Imperial offensive.
New Republic shipyards went into overdrive to hastily commission new warships to replace the losses sustained during Operation Free Stars. But by then, since the Empire did not have the ability to "strike back" for the aforementioned reasons, Imperial Grand Vizier Mas Amedda came to the negotiations table. The Republic leveraged its overall position and the Coruscant government's relative weakness to dictate terms to the Empire. The terms led to the reform of the Imperial state and its confinement to demarcated borders in the Core and Inner Rim, as determined by the signing of the Galactic Concordance a short while later.
Behind the scenes
The author wrote his scenario with a number of inspirations, including the original Legends material that had some similar content, as well as some other media. Overall, the author thought the new canon version of the Empire losing at the Battle of Jakku was underwhelming, and furthermore, made no sense how an interstellar empire spanning the galaxy could lose everything in a single battle. A larger campaign made more sense. In any event, the author wrote this as the first part of his take on a post-Endor timeline more successful for the Empire than the new canon, but still incorporating some canon material.
The images used to depict fleets are screenshots from Empire at War.