The war that had begun two years earlier had spread throughout the galaxy, with brutal battles taking place on Belsavis, Voss, Corellia, and Ilum. While the Republic and the Empire battled one another, they also had cause to join against mutual enemies, such as when Darth Malgus declared his "New Empire" and unleashed a stealth armada using Ilum's Adegan crystals, and the siege of the palace of Karagga the Unyielding, the Hutt Cartel's Supreme Mogul, on Nal Hutta.
After the death of Karagga, Toborro rose to power as the new Supreme Mogul of the Hutt Cartel, and sought to take advantage of the war between the Empire and the Republic in order to establish the Hutt Cartel as a dominant force in the galaxy. To achieve this, the Cartel seized control of the independent resource-rich world of Makeb, on the border between the Republic and Hutt Space. The seizure was aided by the Hutts purchasing the loyalty of the InterStellar Regulators, a mercenary army that had served as Makeb's defense force. While a handful opposed the Hutt takeover, the vast majority of the Regulators joined the Cartel's forces in claiming the planet.
The Republic: New leaders, new heroes
The Galactic Republic had suffered its own losses in the early stages of the war, including the destruction of the Olaris base, center of the resettlement initiative on Taris, and the rise of a Sith puppet government on Corellia. During the siege of Corellia, Supreme Chancellor Dorian Janarus was assassinated by a prominent bounty hunter, and a new election was held to determine his successor - former Taris Governor Leontyne Saresh.
Under Saresh, the Republic ended the Imperial occupation of Corellia by arresting or eliminating members of the collaborationist Corellian Council. The Corellian Security Force, which opposed the Imperial puppet state, also joined with Jedi and Republic forces to eliminate three members of the Dark Council leading the fight - Darths Acharon, Decimus and Hadra. Thanks to the efforts of the Barsen'thor, several worlds who had planned secession as part of the Rift Alliance were also restored to the Republic, including the key industrial world of Balmorra, which had been under Sith occupation since the last war.
Calling on the heroes of the Republic - the Barsen'thor, the Hero of Tython, the commander of the elite Havoc Squad, and the Republic privateer known as the Voidhound - Chancellor Saresh informed them of the situation on Makeb. The people of Makeb had declared their intention to join the Republic if Toborro and his forces were defeated. The Chancellor stated clearly that while the top priority was the liberation of Makeb, the ambitions of the Hutt Cartel would have to be stopped permanently in order to end the conflict.
The Empire: Desperate times, desperate measures
- "The Empire is losing this war. Barring the unexpected or the miraculous, our total defeat will occur within the year."
- ―Darth Marr
Unlike the Republic, which found its strength in unity, the Sith Empire was fractured from within by constant infighting and power plays within the Imperial hierarchy. Due to the machinations of the hidden Star Cabal, Imperial Intelligence had been dissolved, with a new intelligence service under the direct purview of the Sith in the works. The Dark Council had lost several members both to Republic forces and to power grabs by ambitious Sith Lords; in addition to the three Councillors slain on Corellia, Darth Baras - who had declared himself the "Voice of the Emperor" - was destroyed by his former apprentice, the Emperor's Wrath, while Darth Thanaton had met his end at the hands of the Sith Lord Kallig, who was given Thanaton's seat on the Council and anointed as Darth Nox. In addition, Malgus' rebellion and the rise of the Dread Masters on Belsavis had further displayed the Empire's chief weakness: the ambitions of the Sith themselves.
Darth Marr, one of the Dark Council's few surviving members, summoned the Empire's own heroes, including Darth Nox, the Emperor's Wrath, the Grand Champion of the Great Hunt (the bounty hunter who had assassinated Janarus on Corellia), and the former Intelligence agent codenamed "Cipher Nine". Meeting on a station near Makeb, Marr explained the situation: Thanks largely to the uprisings by Malgus and the Dread Masters, the Empire would collapse within the year, barring some kind of miracle. Marr believed that the imminent demise of the Empire was a major reason behind the Hutts' increasing beligerency. Makeb was chosen not for its mineral wealth, but for a rare substance known as "isotope-5", which had tremendous gravity-distorting properties. With this new substance as an inexhaustible power source, the Hutt Cartel would rise to become a galactic force to rival the Republic. In order to prevent its collapse, the Empire would have to claim the isotope-5 for itself - but if either the Hutts or the Republic realized the Empire's intentions, they would respond with overwhelming force, and the Empire did not have the military forces to spare for an invasion. To that end, Marr's plan was to send the heroes, with a limited support team, to stealthily infiltrate the planet.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: Rise of the Hutt Cartel (First appearance)