1- Does it make sense to allocate any skill points to combat skills since they aren't active yet? Depends if you want to be prepared
3- I was hoping to be a Mandalorian and was surprised to see that they weren't available as a playable race. Is joining either the Mandalore or Mando'ade factions as close as I'm going to get? Mandolorians aren't a race but a group of people, so a Mando faction is the closet.
4- Is there a way to find out how many members are in each faction? No
1) You can chose to add into Combat Skills now if you want, the way I see it takes a while to accumulate skill points anyhow so having a few points here and there do help, though they may not really be "useful" at this time.
Many people find, Leadership (Building) and Trading (to Create higher income per facility) useful at this time. I for one have a bulk in piloting and a bit in Leadership/Ship Combat as my character was created years ago when I just put in skills I liked at the time I joined.
2) I've never really seen any type of template available for new players, though there are ideal skills per each "career" path you chose, but keep in mind just because you don't have "elite" skills in a particular area doesn't mean you can't do that career. It would just be more a convenience if you will to have skills to help improve time time in which things are accomplished. ie. Having more piloting skills helps speed up your travel time in "ships".
3) Mandalore is not a race. But you can join Mandalore, which is the BEST fit for you that's what you wish to become. Mando'ade is more of NEW paramilitary group that is using the name to aid in recruiting I would believe, Mandalore would most likely provide you a bit more structure and perhaps an easier transition to the game as they would have more players to associate with. They are also affiliated with the Galactic Empire, Trade Federation, etc. But you'll get a feel for that down the line.
4) There is not really a way to tell you how many members are in a faction, but many factions work together with Government factions, and government factions have over 30+ members per, and with them they have affilated factions ie. Anzatan Commonwealth works with Kathol Mining Corporation or New Republic with Incom Corporation.
+Best bet would be to hop on IRC and talk with the general rooms of said factions you would be interested in joining. It would get you a feel of what each faction will provide. But their websites will also give you a general idea of what they provide and the type of pay you would receive. By discussing it on IRC you can also get a better idea of what type of skills you may want to invest in and place you on your planet, making it easier for you to start working with your faction.
If you need IRC there are a lot of free providers, if you use windows you can use MIRC, just keep using the free trial or if you have firefox, you can get the extension "Chatzilla" which is an IRC program you can utilize, chatzilla also works with Mac, where MIRC does not.
Well best of luck, from the sounds of things, you should transition pretty well.
1) Actually some combat skills are actually useful right now, although not in the way you imagine. Arrest/Execute is the nearest we have and depending on what you set your response to, it could use your combat skills versus the arresting parties skills - see the relevant section of the rules pages for the exact equations and skills that are used. However, its often said to build your character as you want, not build it to how it could be used now - you will never have as many points as you have at the beginning, so changing your character at a later time to fit into combat will be extremely difficult to do. Unless you die and respawn.
2) Not per se. Each skill should have a tooltip that explains roughly what they are used for, and the same again in the rules pages about the skills. The templates are an interesting way to see what skills maybe useful for different types of 'job' but its often better to make your own.
3) As Zero said, the Mandalorians that would be around at this point in SW history are more of a group of people rather than a race.
4) Not really. Factions generally need 10 players to keep around, with government factions needing around 45 I think. Of course quite a few have more than this. Might be useful to look at the factions forums and see how much travel there is in their public boards - the mroe there is the more likely there is quite a few people there. Plus, as others have said, a lot of the governments have several other factions that are part of their group, and all of those factions mingle and talk with each other.
Best advice is to make your character as you want to play, and join a faction that looks interesting to you. There is nothing worse than playing a character you don't like and joining a faction you don't enjoy just for the money.
“However, its often said to build your character as you want, not build it to how it could be used now - you will never have as many points as you have at the beginning, so changing your character at a later time to fit into combat will be extremely difficult to do.”