Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reading Too Much Into It Part Three

So what's specifically bad about the Galactic Empire? Aside from the editorializing in the opening crawl, which refers to it only as "evil," what we know about the machinations of the Galactic Empire is very little.

Towards the beginning of Episode 4, Grand Moff Tarkin informs his underlings that the Imperial Senate has been abolished, and the last traces of the old Republic have been swept away. So what little representation member-planets had under the Republic is gone. But as Ep. 1-3 demonstrate, that representation was little more than appeasement in the first place, as the Senate had no real authority to do anything. We can assume that little has changed in the Empire, except for the fact that Emperor Palpatine has his own army - but it is difficult to envision Palpatine using the Stormtroopers in a way that would contradict his own designs. Therefore, if something the Empire did exploited one of its member-planets, and the issue was raised in the Senate, it's highly unlikely Palpatine would have acted against his own interests.

But the Empire operated for ninteen years with the Senate, suggesting the shift of power to Palpatine and Palpatine alone was a very gradual process, in much the same way that dictators throughout history have assumed power gradually rather than all at once.

The Empire's true crime, however, comes from the nearly arbitrary destruction of Alderaan with the newly-launched Death Star. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue the moral imperative of killing billions of people instantaneously simply to demonstrate the power of the Death Star, and therefore force other planets to live in perpetual fear that the same thing could happen to them - a powerful motivator!

So clearly the Empire is bad. But is it worse than the Repubulic? That's open to debate. Frankly, the answer is no. Although the Republic lacked the ability to destroy entire planets, it could be arguably worse by prolonging the suffering of their inhabitants through negelect and outright exploitation. From Gungans without representation to allowing corporate interests to directly enslave entire planets, the Republic is just as culpable as the Empire in the suffering of its people.

Next: The New Republic and Power of the People


Roger Whitson said...

I think we might be able to make an analogy here...

The Republic is to neo-liberalism as the Galactic Empire is to neo-conservativism. So, the very existence of the Trade Federation is somewhat akin to NAFTA. Free trade looks good, but it leads to excesses that the UN can do little to correct. The Empire, on the other hand, gains power out of the fear of the Clone Wars--Palpatine can justify anything (even the eventual dissolution of the Senate) over the right to defend the Empire. The Republic may not be any better than the Empire, but this is only in the sense that neo-liberalism is no better than neo-conservativism. The problems of neo-liberalism come out of a belief in free market capitalism that cannot sustain itself, just as the problems of the Republic came out of its own prosperity--Jedi's became arrogant, the Republic cannot defend Naboo without going to committee. But the problems of neo-conservativism come out of a constant need to assert sovereignty and power--the destruction of the Jedi, the annihilation of Alderaan. So, yeah, I'd agree that in praxis the Empire is no better than the Republic. But, then again, I would always vote for neoliberalism before neoconservativism.

Jason said...

See, I see the Republic more as being related to a very Libertarian society. In fact, its completely unregulated market is the product of a Libertarian dream - and the exploitation and monopolization that implies. And I really wouldn't call the neo-Liberal agenda the same thing - because the Trade Federation, unlike NAFTA, isn't a product of the government, it exists as a seperate entity (that exerts control over the government!) NAFTA was created as a way to influence a capitalist system, and the Republic, if anything, would approach it in a much more hands-off method (a Libertarian method).

It would be interesting to compare the Rebellion in Ep 4-6 to the "rebellion" in Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," as the later is often portrayed as a pro-Libertarian revolution.

Mkae said...

What always bothered me about Episodes I-III is that they didn't show the Jedi as an substantial power. If there were truly once "thousands" of Jedi, there was no sign of it here. By Episode I, they appeared to be in decline or so badly spread out that the Republic's police force was incapable of maintaining any sort of order other than that of the most macro levels. (Hence, the deathstick offer to Obi-Wan.)

However, before you read too much into it, the story is horribly contrived and although we'd like to believe the political savy of Palpatine was a well-thought out process, it was really just Lucas throwing out situations that fit his eventual theme.

I would point out that you should check out the extra scenes on the DVD, as there is a pretty decent scene between Amidala, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma (yes, she WAS a young hottie) and a couple of others as they began to sow the seeds of Rebellion.

Roger Whitson said...

okay, so maybe the WTO is more apt here? The difference is that the Republic eventually did intercede (if inadequately) whereas our government does everything it can to support the meetings of the WTO.

And I don't think that one can "read too much into it." Whether or not one wants to argue that Lucas put political statements in the first trilogy, they are still obviously a product of the anxeities of the late 90s early 2000s, just as the second trilogy is more in line with the end of the Vietnam War. Surely, both moments of history were going through Lucas's mind.