Thursday, November 10, 2005

Reading Too Much Into It Part One

Having all six Star Wars films on home video allows me to watch them (or pieces of them) whenever I wish. And as some of my friends can attest, I've been giving them a lot of though lately, not just as the greatest postmodern art film(s) of all time, but examining the world Lucas created as a whole.

My line of questioning began with "what makes the Galactic Empire so bad?"

Which I tossed around (and I'll get into later), but I arrived at a better question:

"What made the Republic so good?" In other words, why the rebellion against the Empire in an attempt to restore the Republic? What did the old system have going for it that was so great?

The simple answer is "well, democracy stupid!" But of course it's far more complex than that. First, let's look at what we know of the Republic itself.

Ruled from the capital city of Coruscant - which covers an entire planet - the Republic spreads across most of the entire galaxy. Each planet sends a Senator to Coruscant to participate in the Galactic Senate - one representative for each planet, regardless of each planet's racial composition or population (see Ep. 1, Ep. 2). It is not clear whether the Senators are elected or appointed, although there certainly appears to be no galaxy-wide standards for either election or selection. Using Naboo from Episode 1 as an example, Senator Palpatine's position as Senator is never clearly explained.

Further, Senators act only as representatives to the Galactic Senate, and wield little power on their own planets. Again using Naboo from Ep. 1 as an example, Queen Padme Amidala is the head of her planet's state - but all is not well on Naboo. The Gungans, another sentient race who share the planet with their human counterparts, have little contact with the world above their oceans. Their relationship with the Queen is icy at best (Ep. 1), and only outcasts like Jar Jar go above the water, even though it's clear that Gungans do not need to be immersed in water to survive. This fraction of sentient species implies two things: that if there are elections for either Senator or Queen, then the Gungans very likely do not participate in them; and there seems to be no great rush on the part of either the Senate or the Queen of Naboo to include the "other half" of the sentient creatures of their world in policymaking decisions.

The Gungans do have a leader of their own, Boss Nass, and appear to be allowed to rule themselves with some degree of autonomy. But as the end of Episode 1 illustrates, the involvement of the humans on the planet in Galactic affairs does affect the Gungan population when the droid army begins slaughtering them as well. It is this knowledge that finally incites Boss Nass to act against the invading Trade Federation in a battle where many of his species die - but at the end of the film, although Amidala proclaims thanks and friendship, there seems to be no move to grant the Gungans the same rights and status as the other humans. Jar Jars inclusion into the Senator's party as a "Gungan representative" in Ep. 2 seems to take some steps to correct this, but it is still unclear what rights the Gungans have, if any, in their Galactic represenation, even at the end of Ep. 3.

Extrapolating from Naboo, it is reasonable to assume that many other planets across the galaxy have similar racial compositions, and similar situations where some sentient beings do not share the same rights as others. Thus, the first problem with the Republic: it is not a true representative government. By allowing its member planets to disallow certain races or species from policymaking decisions, even when those policymaking decisions would affect those races or species, the Republic is, at best, a form of oligarchy, if not outright racist.

Next Time: It's an Impotent Governing Body Anyway

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