Just like in the old trilogy, the military officers actually make the First Order what it is. It is very much clear from the film that whereas Kylo Ren is an important persona because of his Force connection and his legacy, he is not really in the center of things even the way Vader was. The highest-ranking officer of the First Order we see, General Hux, brings to the mind of many fans the memories of Moff Tarkin from Episode IV. There is an undeniable inspiration in there, mostly his strong belief in the power of the superweapon he oversees, but it would be a grave mistake to judge Hux by comparing him to Tarkin.
The characters are completely different. Tarkin is the experienced, old officer who is at the top of an established system, Hux is a fairly young leader in a nascent movement. Whereas Tarkin is “holding Vader’s leash”, Hux acts as Kylo Ren’s rival. It seems that officially, they both report directly to Snoke and that Kylo is outside Hux’s chain of command and vice versa. However, Ren sometimes acts as if he had the authority during the search for the droid, but that is probably because he was the one tasked by Snoke with finding the map to Luke Skywalker. Also, given Ren’s Force powers and his common bursts of anger, others are probably somewhat afraid of contradicting him.
Hux is therefore clearly happy when he is given his own authority by Snoke, to use the Starkiller Base’s superweapon. That is the reason why he pushes for using it so much, to get the metaphorical piece of ground he and only he is in charge of; that is also the reason for his smug smile directed towards Kylo when Snoke agrees. One would never find such rivalry between Vader and Tarkin, but we can see it between Vader and various Imperial officers, mostly Vader and admiral Motti. The Hux-Kylo conflict is obviously inspired by this; it is, in a way, the same plot taken and explored further. There are also important differences, however. The similarities lie in the fact that Hux is outside Ren’s command, just like Motti was outside Vader’s, and in Motti’s/Hux’s reliance on the superweapon.
However, big part of Motti’s scorn for Vader comes from disbelief in the Force, something Hux isn’t really doing, at least not outright. Hux is suspicious of and downplays Kylo’s search for Luke Skywalker, but I daresay the rivalry plays bigger role in it than Hux’s belief in the Force or lack thereof. From what we can understand, Hux would be okay with just destroying any link to the last Jedi whatsoever and letting him rot in his self-imposed exile where he poses no threat to the galactic order envisioned by him. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, has probably personal reasons to confront Luke as well as, we could say, spiritual reasons – the mere existence of a Jedi plays a role in the balance of the Force, a factor Hux would not acknowledge simply because it is something beyond his grasp and understanding. But for Hux, it seems to be a question of practicality and not having to satisfy Ren’s demands rather than some inherent problem with “that ancient religion”. (Partly maybe because the Galaxy as a whole – including the First Order sympathisers – might have moved closer to perceiving that “it’s true… the Jedi, the Force, all of it”. Of course, what impact it has on their own daily reality is a different question.)
Let us stop at another point, and that is General Hux’s relationship to soldiers under his command. There are two moments in the film I understand as dealing directly with this issue. Both are closely related. One is when Kylo questions the loyalty of Hux’s stormtroopers and suggests that using clones would have been more beneficial. Another is when the general asks Phasma about Finn. There, he is obviously concerned – he studies Finn’s files, why? The obvious answer is that he is trying to understand where something had gone wrong. But is this out of concern for his men? Similarly, is his reluctance to lend them to Ren’s search for Skywalker in any way motivated by something like “good officer’s responsibility”, something we saw in Moff Jerjerrod in the old trilogy? The answer is obviously no. From what we have seen so far, I would say Hux’s most prominent character trait is egoism, maybe even a bit of narcissism. Hux may prefer his brainwashed-from-birth stormtroopers to clones, but it is because they are his stormtroopers. They are his toys, he is the one who “made” them, he is the one who commands them and is proud of their “flawless” training. Likewise, in the pivotal moment, he is happy that it will be his superweapon under his command that will destroy the Senate and that will help reshaping the Galaxy according to his image. Really, the whole of Hux so far seems to be a self-centered, enthusiastic young officer, who probably owes his rank rather to his zeal for the ideology and possibly a rich daddy who used to be an Imperial governor or some such, rather than actual leadership skill.
Hux does not really appear to be a very good leader while we are at it. It becomes clear when the planet becomes unstable and fellow officers find him gone. (That is, incidentally, one more thing that makes him different from Tarkin, who refused to abandon the Death Star until the last moment.) To be honest, he did not run away, but he ran to Snoke to ask what is to be done – but that is perhaps even worse. Running away would have shown cowardice, running to Snoke shows lack of actual leadership qualities and of responsibility. Hux lets Snoke decide, and he leaves no instructions to the officers. That, at least in my eyes, demasks him as a paper general who may even be good in planning strategic strikes against the Resistance, but who is helpless to act when the moment of real conflict comes to him. Of course, unlike the old Imperial officers, he didn’t really have much chance to get the experience from an actual war.
Since Hux has survived the destruction of Starkiller Base, we can expect to see more of him in the future episodes. That is actually something unprecedented in the old trilogy and it begs for not being wasted. If done right, he could become quite interesting, because there is now some room for his character development. Hux has now had close contact with death and destruction, and experienced first-hand the devastation of his own magnificent plans. If the future screenwriting is boring, then Hux might just continue being the evil and now also vengeful antagonist. But if it is good, then who knows, he may have to actually stand up for himself and defend his failure not only against Snoke, but also against the First Order. He might have to prove that he deserves to be in charge even after abandoning his fellow officers so. How that would end, nobody can foresee. But what we can be almost sure about is his continuing dynamic with Kylo Ren. The recent events might bring them closer together – or they will make them hate each other even more.
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