Flashback Blog: Star Wars Politics and You

I started this reincarnation of ‘kessel korner’ with a revival of one of its original posts from its days at blogs.starwars.com/kesseljunkie. This is a feature that I’d like to keep going because it’s fun to see how the posts hold up and every so often I want to pull back on a post slated to auto-publish on a certain day so I can re-work it a little bit. That happened for the one scheduled today, so enjoy this. It’s nerdy on a scale that almost makes me blush. Almost.

Meh, it’s all in fun. I remember when I originally wrote it, it was more about the punchline at the end than anything else given George Lucas’ ironic political views.

Note: I did correct a spelling error or two I found when I copied and pasted. But also in re-reading, I thought of an additional point and so inserted it below. It’s highlighted.

Star Wars Politics and You

Empire. Republic. Democracy. Peace. War. Bureaucracy.

For all its grandiose themes of Good vs. Evil and Right vs. Wrong, the actual political structure of Star Wars has never been properly laid out. At least not plainly. So, I want to put the puzzle together here.

Going all the way back to 1977, the irony seemed to escape everyone that a princess was seeking to ‘restore freedom to galaxy’. Perhaps that’s because it was mentioned at the end of the title crawl, just before the rebel starship roars across the screen. Hard to be critical when you’ve just been startled into soiling your shorts.

Lucas leaves us to presume that on Alderaan, there’s a duly-elected, bicameral chamber with a robust system of checks and balances. I’ll presume that to avoid a logic breakdown.

However, Princess Leia’s role was obviously more than that. She mentions the Galactic Senate – and we know from extant sources that she was a representative in it. It’s safe to assume that she’s not duly elected to the role, since her adoptive family are the (benevolent) rulers of her world. So, it’s a political appointment, like an ambassador with voting privileges.

The only later mentions of the political structure of the Empire are that this Galactic/Imperial Senate is disbanded, and the Emperor has given control directly to the regional governors. Grand Moff Tarkin is such a ‘Governor’; so they must be political appointees loyal to the Imperial Throne. Instead of representatives of the planets carrying their will to the Emperor for judgment (Imperial Senate), he installs loyalists to carry his will to the people.

So, from about eight lines of dialogue (including Obi-Wan’s) we are told that the Republic is swept away and the Galaxy is under the thrall of a despotic ruler. So though Princess Leia is apparently some sort of benevolent local power base, the Emperor overrules her, and he’s not benevolent.

I mean, the guy built a weapon capable of destroying planets. That’s not nice at all.

Lucas later laid out that the Empire’s jurisdiction actually suffered limitations in The Empire Strikes Back (Cloud City is small enough to escape notice), but we got no real glimpse at further political structure. With Return of the Jedi, we just learned that centralizing the power of government into one central figure is a bad idea – because if they blow up, then you have to start from scratch.

Then came…The Phantom Menace. Glorious, politically specific jewel of the crown, The Phantom Menace served to confirm a few things and pull the curtain back on a few others. They were:

  1. Senators were not elected – they were appointees;
  2. Queens can be elected;
  3. The people were underrepresented, as the chancellor was a position
    filled by a vote of appointees, not elected officials;
  4. Bureaucracy ruled the day;
  5. Jedi are actually a part of the government;
  6. There is a court system; and
  7. Wait…queens can be elected?

Senators were obviously appointees because that was the only way to make sense of the situation. The Galactic Senate made law on a scale that applied to all planets; the planets themselves had sovereignty, and thus jurisdiction over local matters.

The duly elected rulers of the planets would then appoint someone who spoke on their behalf . They served to express the will of their planet.

This theory is supported by Palpatine’s (supposed) obeisance before Amidala. If you notice, he gives her no instruction – just advice. He is bound by her decisions. This is further cemented by the fact that it’s Amidala calling for the vote of No Confidence in Chancellor Valorum. If Palpatine is an appointee, it makes sense that the person who appointed him carries more weight in the Senate when there in person. It’s like when Jaques Chirac visits the UN – his ambassador just shuts up and lets him roll.

So in essence, the Galactic Senate is the UN.

To that point, the Supreme Chancellor is a position filled by one of those representatives; note that the people of the Galaxy have no direct say as to who wields executive power there.

So, let’s address the idea of an elected Queen. Easy. She’s a President. They just call her Queen. The US government is a prime example of how this works. ‘President’ = ‘Chief Executive’. Apparently, in the case of Naboo, ‘Queen’ = ‘Chief Executive’. (I just hope that they also elect Kings too, because otherwise the Naboo should attend sensitivity training and stop being sexists.)

We’ll get to the bit about Jedi in the government later.

Palpatine and Amidala discuss a court system at one point, which takes us to Attack of the Clones.

In Attack of the Clones, things get fleshed out a bit more. This time, Amidala is the Senator – and she confirms that she was an appointee (score!). So there you go. It’s brief, but the dialogue is there when she and Anakin arrive at Naboo.

Further, this role is filled because Palpatine, as Supreme Chancellor, has to abdicate his role as representative of Naboo. This would make sense. Naboo still has a specific voice in the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor has an opportunity to operate without obligation to one planet’s agenda. It’s never clear as to what happens when Palpatine is no longer SC – does he go back to Naboo? Resume his role in the Senate? Since we never see Valorum again, I think it’s safe to assume that Supreme Chancellors retire and become lobbyists.

The supreme irony is that people in the Senate refer to liberty and democracy – when they are obviously not even elected.

The courts are a joke, not because the Trade Federation isn’t behind bars. But they have been tried in the Supreme Court three times. Apparently there is no concept of double jeopardy in the Star Wars Universe. You must just keep trying someone in court until you get the result you want. Ugh. [2010 Note: In re-reading, I realized that the dialogue could have been short-hand that they tried them on different charges three times, resulting in three trials in the Supreme Court. Though it still doesn’t answer whether the court system on a galactic scale would have required appeals up the ladder through some sort of judicial system on a planetary basis (which seems unwieldy), perhaps the term ‘Supreme Court’ is simply shorthand for a ‘Galactic Court’ that operates like our own International Criminal Court.]

Still with me? Good. I’m almost done.

In Revenge of the Sith, we really delve into the Jedi and their role in the government. In the first two prequels, they are revealed as special operatives – they are actually used to strike fear into the Trade Federation. So, though we know the Jedi to be noble, they have set themselves up for what they become by the time of Sith.

They are the Thugs of the Old Republic.

Think about it. Their loyalty is ostensibly to the Senate, but they continually do the will of its leader. This was true with Valorum – he used them as his ‘negotiators’ at the beginning of Menace in an attempt to subdue the Federation. To wit, the line: “I knew it…they’re here to force a settlement.” [Emphasis Added]

This makes them political pawns. When someone gets out of line, the Senate/Chancellor sends some Jedi to go smack them back into line. Why is that so bad? Because the whole point of the Senate was to allow peaceful resolutions to situations; but apparently, when that was undesirable, go rough up the troublemakers and make them behave. This is made worse by the fact that a system like that only works if you can guarantee that the Senate and/or Chancellor are benevolent in their wishes.

Presumably, this is one of the reasons why Dooku left. I cant say I blame him.

So what’s the point? I know I’ve rambled on for a bit.

The point is that George Lucas, for all his thinly veiled references to modern day American politics, has actually set up a potent warning about…the UN. Namely, the dangers of having an appointed body accountable to none but themselves, who elects their own chief representative and sees fit to make law without chance of a referendum. Power should be kept out of its hands at all costs.

But without power, it cannot even adequately arbitrate disputes. To wit, look at the UN’s handling of…well, anything. Their solution is to pass toothless resolutions of disapproval and make weak sanctions.

So that creates situations in this world relatable to that galaxy far, far away. When an entity (Trade Federation) infringes on another, the joint body can do…nothing of consequence. Eventually, something has to give, and either the joint body’s available enforcers (Jedi) are sent in, or more power must handed to the joint body (UN/Galactic Senate) until it becomes dominant and truly starts to rule.

And then, all you need is a new Chancellor. A strong Chancellor. And we can have…peace.

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