The appearance in the new trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker of an armada of Star Destroyers in what's most certainly the Unknown Regions would seem to give credence to a popular fan theory about a secret Sith Fleet. Sure, it very well may be a First Order fleet, or the remnants of a forgotten Imperial shipyard, except that, if you adjust the brightness of a screencap, you'll notice the Star Destroyers have a sinister red trim. That's not standard for Star Destroyers, either Imperial or First Order. However, red Star Destroyers were already part of The Art of the Force Awakens concept art. Red has been consistently used to represent the Sith. Could this be the fabled Sith Fleet, biding its time until called into action?
The Unknown Regions are an unstable area on the far reaches of the galaxy, with enough strange phenomena to deserve their own H.P. Lovecraft award. The only constant there is danger, and the inconvenience of being disconnected from the hyperspace lanes that link the rest of the galaxy. That means every jump has to be carefully calculated by enormous computers, and even then, the ship might still disappear without a trace because of one of those “stranger things” described by Palpatine.
So it’s obviously the place to which Palpatine intended to retire, regroup and rebuild when the Empire fell. Sheev Palpatine’s funeral plans included a massive cull of weak officials and harsh punishment for everyone who had failed to protect him.
Palpatine trusted Gallius Rax to destroy what was left of the Empire with Operation: Cinder, which involved razing entire planets by using satellites to create catastrophic electrical storms. The final step of the Contingency was to draw the Rebellion/New Republic troops to Jakku, an Imperial outpost that housed a child-soldier facility, an Observatory of the Unknown Regions and a significant collection of Sith artifacts. Once the fleets were in place, Galliux Rax would throw the Sith artifacts into Jakku’s core, an act that would detonate the planet and destroy both fleets. Then, the surviving servants of the Empire would retreet to the Unknown Regions.
The idea was to maim the Rebellion and the New Republic, and to plunge the galaxy into the chaos that would follow the collapse of the rule of law.
Of course, Jakku was still around by the time of The Force Awakens, so Palpatine’s plan didn’t go exactly as planned. However, the remaining Imperial fleet, which included Brendal Hux, his son, Armitage Hux, and some child soldiers, left for the Unknown Regions. The ships only arrived to their meeting point in one piece because Snoke and his navigators guided them through ancient hyperspace trails, with some help from Thrawn, a member of the Chiss Ascendancy, a group of planets placed in the middle of the Unknown Regions.
So if the Imperial Fleet, in the end, had at most 20 destructors, where did this massive First Order/Sith Fleet come from? Where did they get the resources to rebuild so many Star Destroyers in just 30 years or so?
The First Order exploited the vulnerable planets of the Outer Rim, enslaving the population to take away their resources (usually minerals). Rose Tico told Finn that in The Last Jedi – she and her sister Paige grew up in a poor mining system – and it shows up again in the Poe Dameron comic, in which the Resistance Black Squadron came in contact with some of the victims of this First Order’s accelerated construction project.
However, the First Order’s fleet and military projects, such a Starkiller Base, were already massive feats of space engineering. Even taking into account the existence of advanced technology, the potential enslavement of the entire Outer Rim and the sheer pigheadedness of the First Order Command, building the fleet that we saw in The Force Awakens, Starkiller Base and floating capitals and Star Destroyers of The Last Jedi, plus the massive space armada that appears in the new trailer would take considerably more time, starting resources and intelligent loyalists than what they had.
Unless, of course, they had some help.
Other than the Chiss Ascendancy, who have their own problems to deal with, there are two very suspicious planets from the old Expanded Universe that have popped up in the current, canonical galaxy. One is Moraband (or Korriban), home of the ancient and mostly extinguished Sith, a violent species, genetically predisposed to use the Dark Side; they had bright-red skin, a color that remained strongly associated with their name.
The second suspect is Rakata Prime, located in the Unknown Regions, a stone’s throw from Jakku. In the Expanded Universe (now Legends), Rakata was the original world of the hyper-aggressive, cannibalistic Rakata Empire. There, they built the Star Forge, featured in the video game Knights of the Old Republic, which Wookipedia describes as “a giant automated shipyard, designed to create the most powerful army of all time” that “managed to survive several tens of thousands of years idling by relying on its built-in automated repair systems.”
So, to recap, we have Palpatine’s lifelong obsession with the exploration of the Unknown Regions, and his extremely specific contingency plan. Then there’s Disney-era Lucasfilm's remixing of EU elements into the new Star Wars canon. And finally, we have two ancient species from Legends that were obsessed with conquest -- one of them associated with the color red and the Dark Side, and the other that left behind a massive, automated military shipyard. Put them together, and we may have a good idea of where that massive fleet came from.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalkerstars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Matt Smith, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher, with Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant. The film arrives on Dec. 20.