Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is jam-packed with references to the past and expansions of the franchise's storied history. It's filled with delicious Easter eggs that, at first, might seem to be innocuous callbacks to fun elements of the franchise, but on closer examination answer significant plot questions left unanswered in the movies. One of the biggest ones is the reveal that Ilum, the planet that Cal Kestis visits to fetch a kyber crystal to repair his lightsaber, was actually Starkiller Base, from The Force Awakens. In addition, early into the Emperor's reign, the Empire had already started to transform Ilum itself into a sun-drinking weapon capable of destroying entire systems. But how? And why?
For that, we have to take a look at what makes Ilum special: It naturally grows kyber crystals, the semi-organic gems that power the lightsabers of Force users.
Much like wands in Harry Potter, Jedi don't choose their kyber crystal, but the kyber crystal chooses the Jedi. Before Order 66, younglings went to Ilum to find their first kyber crystal to build their lightsaber, and The Clone Wars episode The Gathering, which takes place only one year before Revenge of the Sith showed this in detail. This ritual not only allowed Padawans to bond with their gem, which became a conduit of the Force for them, but also permitted Ilum to regenerate its mines organically. That said, for the Jedi order (and for most of the Sith), the only function of kyber crystals' was as an element of their lightsaber.
However, the video games Jedi: Fallen Order and Vader Immortal introduce a different kind of Force wielder that uses kyber crystals differently. The Nightsisters soak kybers in the green "Waters of Life" of Dathomir and hold it in their hands to cast spells. The Jedi seem to think that they only deal in "illusion magick," but in Jedi: Fallen Order, we see Merrin, the last Nightsister, using her crystal to raise the dead, to make the earth swallow her enemies and to make a ship invisible to their enemies. In The Clone Wars, Mother Telzin uses healing powers to restore Darth Maul's health and sanity and to resurrect herself.
In Vader Immortal, Lady Corvax tried to use the Brightstar (another powerful kyber) to resurrect her dead husband, but something went wrong, and she ended up devastating Mustafar instead. Again, the series puts focus on a theme of holding absolute power over death and life—things a villain like Palpatine would covet, particularly if the Imperial military did the hard work of mining and extracting these raw materials for him.
Some have speculated before that Palpatine used the excuse of developing super-weapons for the Empire's military to find a way to harness the Force itself, using the determination and warmongering of his officers to gain forbidden knowledge. Now, Jedi: Fallen Order helps put an actual timeline to his Galactic-scale experiments.
Chronologically, the first glimpse that we have of one of these Death Stars is in the final scene of Revenge of the Sith, in 19 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), where Tarkin, Palpatine, and Darth Vader can be seen admiring the scaffolding of Death Star One. We know that at this point, neither the Emperor nor the Empire had found a way to make the kyber-powered death machine work, although one of their brightest engineers, Galen Erso, was working on it. As seen in Rogue One, Galen was horrified when he found out what his research would be used for, and fled with his family.
Jedi: Fallen Order takes place in 14 BBY, while Erso was still in hiding. This coincides with Cal Kestis quest in Ilum, where he discovers that the Empire had been mining the planet for its kyber crystals. The scene shows the ring of carved mines disfiguring the planet, but the mining operation itself is relatively empty of personnel, Stormtroopers, and droids. It makes sense that the Empire would halt operations while they tried to retrieve Erso, their lead researcher — which they did in 13 BBY.
From the moment he ascended as Emperor, Palpatine started sending probes into the Unknown Regions that rarely returned. An increasingly likely possibility is that he was looking for other planets like Ilum and Mustafar, which naturally grew kyber crystals, to conduct his experiments. He found one such place in the Dassal system, which Kaz and Poe visited in the Resistance episode The Core Problem, which takes place in 34 ABY. The Dassal system had once had a sun and at least three planetoids that were no more. Someone (and both Poe and Kaz assume that it was the First Order) had been trying to build smaller Starkiller Bases and failing spectacularly.
This could have been the First Order -- after all, there was a First Order probe on the planet, and a red Sithtrooper tries to shoot down Poe and Kaz, but it doesn't tally with General Hux's internal monologue in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. First of all, he's too young to have had the time to oversee four Starkiller Base projects. Second, he's the kind of villain that would at least think about the past failures to rejoice in the present success. It's much more likely that he found Palpatine's original plans, combined them with the Death Star engineering and took advantage of Ilum's half-achieved construction to finalize Starkiller Base, which was "his baby."
Why is Space Mining Important?
Across the Star Wars canon, political leaders, especially female ones, take a hands-on approach to governing their people on their respective worlds while their male counterparts tend to deal with off-world issues of government. For instance, Padmé Amidala preferred to stay on Naboo while Senators Palpating and Binks served in the Galactic Senate.
In that sense, the fact that the Emperor and the First Order have been drilling planets, wiping their life, coring them and extracting their life-giving minerals is only the solar-system sized version of their small-scale repression of the feminine. It began with Leia's capture in A New Hope and continued with Kylo Ren's pursuit of Rey in The Force Awakens—two events that result in the destruction of a planet.
But mining is also prominently featured as the wizards-in-space version of environmental destruction. The Last Jedi's Rose Tico and Rebels' Ezra Bridger come from systems that were mined by the Empire or the First Order, and that destroyed their lives as they knew them. Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back as an ambiguous mining operation that catered to every client, not to mention how linked mining and slavery are in the Star Wars Universe: Kessel, the Otomok System, even Starkiller Base, because the Stormtroopers were basically slaves.
So the bad guys in Star Wars are not mining and destroying to create riches to their people, but to create weapons that turn life-giving planets into instruments of death. In the case of the Emperor, the villain seeks to harness the power of life and death itself regardless of the price, throwing the entire universe out of balance in the process.
So that's why Jedi: Fallen Order is such a pivotal game within the Star Wars mythology: the game offers fans a rare chance to see Ilum as the planet it was. The planet was once a mother of younglings, bestowing gifts on them when they came of age, before its purpose is utterly perverted. In one of the game's most beautiful levels, a touching scene takes place within its crystal caves. Another takes the story to Dathomir, which looks like an open wound, and shows the fiercest of Nightwitches exact vengeance on the man that attempted to abuse her power by turning the Force of the planet itself. It's almost as if the game was telling the cosmic version of the Star Wars saga, from beginning to end.
Published by Respawn Entertainment, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.