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The Politics of ‘Star Wars’

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The Star Wars saga ends. The first three parts of the Star Wars saga had a more complicated tale to tell: namely how a Republic becomes a totalitarian state. Telling the tale of the collapse of the Republic is a more challenging tale to convey than the more simple story of good vs. evil that permeated chapter four through six.

In the Phantom Menace, the Republic was paralyzed with political intrigue and showing signs of fraying. In the beginning of the movie, the trade alliance attempted to take over the peaceful planet of Naboo. Naboo mixed a monarchy and democracy, a peaceful version of England, and the Republic itself was a loose alliance of various worlds, with the Jedi acting as the main enforcer of the peace. Jedi attempted to mediate the conflict between the trade alliance and Naboo, but their efforts failed to keep the peace. Behind the scenes, a powerful new force was working to overturn the Republic and destroy the Jedi order.

In history, Republics often are weakened from within before collapsing. After years of Civil war, Rome shifted from being a Republic to an Empire. Augustus accepted the crown of Emperor while maintaining the fiction of Republic. But the fiction would eventually fall by the wayside. The Roman Republic collapsed due to responsibility of Empire and increase corruption within the government. Money became the tool to bribe the electorate and various interest groups as domestic spending increased.

Empire does not automatically mean shifting to totalitarianism. The British Empire encompassed nearly a quarter of the world population for almost 300 years before breaking up. England decline after World War II was due to the socialistic policy enacted as well financial obligation due to winning World War II. Yet, England never fell prey to dictatorship despite being an Empire.

Adolf Hitler, one of history real life evil men, arose from the ashes of Germany parliamentary government established after the First World War. He got himself elected by taking advantage of the chaos caused by the Great Depression and the feeling of betrayal that many Germans felt after losing the First World War. He used democratic rules to overthrow the democracy that existed. And no one seems to complain, as many Germans were ready to allow democracy die just to end the chaos.

Many Romans felt similar thoughts when Augustus ended the Republic. When Augustus took power, he ended years of civil war and strife while restoring order. Order took precedence over freedom. The Star Wars Saga indicated that similar thoughts were going through many of the Senate when they conferred special power upon Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to form a special Army to deal with the separatist movement and later surrender their authority to the Chancellor. (Of course, Palpatine is also the evil one behind all of this.) Palpatine used the Senate laws to undermine the Republic as the Republic fought against a separatist movement. The Civil war ended the Republic.

What became obvious from the first two episodes is that the bureaucracy controlled the Republic and what economic freedom that existed was crippled. The trade alliance itself was a sign that the trade between worlds was not free but determined by might. While Lucas failed to follow through on this theme, it was a theme that was and is important. The average British actually saw more economic freedom and more political freedom during the time of the British Empire. In Lucas’ Republic end days, it would appear that corruption took precedence over legal economic activities.

Before an Empire or a world power goes to the dark side, domestic and economic freedom is stifled. No one can seriously argue that the present United States government is stifling political freedom or religious freedom. The major aspect of the Bush’s administration is to allow more economic freedom, not less. The argument can be made increased domestic spending and programs such as Medicare and Social Security will eventually lead to bankruptcy but it does not translate into a coming dictatorship. An Empire can’t long remain an Empire if economic policies become more socialistic. Empire collapses upon the weight of its domestic policy. United States may retreat from the world before become an Evil Empire. And can anyone truly believe that a world dominated by a radical Islamic fascism or a resurgent China will be a better world than a world dominated by the United States?

Economic debates rarely make for good movies but civil war and insurrection does. In the first three parts, the insurgents were the bad guys trying to overturn the Republic. Lucas also showed that there were those within the Republic, who sided with the insurgents. These events are similar to events in present day Iraq in which the insurgents are nothing more than former Baathists and foreign extremists trying to undermine an embryonic democratic government.

The parts four through six represented a more simple view of good vs. evil. The Rebels are true freedom fighters and they are fighting a true evil. The most direct comparison were those freedom fighters who opposed Hitler and the Soviet Empire. We see a Republic weakened by domestic concern not readily identified and corruption seeping through the Senate.

Another aspect of the Star Wars saga is how empires rise and fall. African scholar George Ayittey noted that the most successful African empires were loose confederations of vassal states. The Ghanaian Empire lasted for some 900 years. By contrast, the Zulu Empire of Shaka, centralized and authoritarian, lasted a mere ten years. The tighter the control from the center of an Empire, the more resistance it garnered. As Princess Leia observed in the fourth episode, the tight control of the Empire will result in more worlds slipping through its hand. The Sith rule collapsed within four decades of gathering power.

Showing this slow collapse of the Republic as forces outside and within the government undermined its structure was not easy to film or to write. In the first two episodes, Lucas did a decent job in showing this regression of the Republic. In the third episode, he shows how the Republic ended through legal methods as Senate gave the Emperor his power. The Republic merely ended with a whimper and to applause. While many critics complained that the first two Star Wars did not compare to the original, the story was still engrossing. The third episode made the transition to the final three chapters as we witnessed the final transformation of the Republic into the evil Empire. This transformation was paralleled by the transformation of Anakin Skywalker from the Jedi protégé to Darth Vader. The Darth Vader story was enthralling simply because he wanted to do good, but once he entered the dark side of the force, he was trapped. His anger took hold and he became a servant for evil. Order took precedence over freedom.

Skywalker fell for the idea that he could bring order to the universe by an alliance with the Emperor as well as save the life of his wife. In the end, Anakin hears of his wife’s death and order is not restored as the rebellion against Empire replaced the Civil war that spawned it.

In the end, his love for his son redeemed him at the end of Part Six. By then, it was too late, for a Republic had collapsed and millions of people as well as countless worlds had been destroyed because of his allegiance to his evil master.

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About Tom Donelson

  • RJ

    Amazon link needed…

  • Aaman

    Fixed the title, assume that was what was intended.

    Good comparisons. You avoid any reference to current times, though.

  • Thomas M. Sipos

    >>The British Empire encompassed nearly a quarter of the world population for almost 300 years before breaking up. << I think you meant: The British Empire encompassed nearly a quarter of the world population AT ITS PEAK before breaking up.

  • DrPat

    Free ASINs: 0312263821 (Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India), 031216985X (The Rise and Fall of British Empire); B00006JDQO (Shaka Zulu DVD); 0807842273 (Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture).