Monday, November 14, 2005

Reading Too Much Into It Part Two

So the old Galactic Republic wasn't a perfect representative government. That's acceptable as long as it actually kept order, right?

The fact is, the old Galactic Republic wasn't all that much of a government at all. A decent comparison might be made with the first, rather impotent, confederate government instituted in the United States before we adopted our current constitution. The Galactic Republic had no real effective central government, allowed special interests to quite literally rule entire planets, and relied in a completely ineffectual religious order to "keep peace and justice."

The beginning of Episode 1 explains that taxation of trade on Naboo is in dispute. The Trade Federation, a privately-controlled conglomerate that holds a near-monopoly on legitimate interstellar trade in the Republic, has invaded the planet of Naboo with its own private army and taken the elected leader of that planet hostage. Rather than defending a member state with its own government force, the Republic itself does absolutely nothing - in fact, the Trade Federation (which holds a seat on the Senate - akin to Wal-Mart or Time-Warner being given seats in the House of Representatives) actively works in the government to mire the process in politics. Even if the government had been able to intervene, as happens after the no-confidence vote that preceeds Palpatine's rise to Chancelorship, the Republic has no standing army and therefore no way to enforce its edicts. Even if it were to call for economic sanctions against the Trade Federation, for example, the Federation could choke the lifeblood of a dozen planets merely be halting access, as they have done to Naboo.

The best the Republic has to offer are the Jedi Knights, "guardians of peace and order." A whopping two are dispatched to Naboo (Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to ascertain what is occuring, and to take action if necessary. The Jedi manage to escape with the Queen, but the planet itself and its millions of inhabitants are still held in the thrall of the Trade Federation - a situation remedied not by Republic (or even offical Jedi) intervention, but by an uprising among the native Gungans, who don't even have representation in the Senate.

The Republic is not only a military failure, its lumbering bureacracy and lack of a standing military creating a situation where the wealthy can easily exploit the weak without fear of retribution, but its intelligence network is a joke. The easiest example is the Jedi order unable to recognize a Sith lord so closeby - for years, Palpatine confers with the members of the Jedi council, including Mace "Badmotherfucker" Windu and the almighty Yoda, but neither of these Jedi recognize him for what he is (and, when a member of their own order learns the truth and reveals it to Windu, his first reaction is suspicion of his own religious brother, rather than the power-hungry bureaucrat who has shown every intention of keeping his supreme executive power).

To make matters worse, someone has ordered an entire army of clones fifteen years before they appear in Episode two - an intelligence failure so complete it makes one wonder whether Yoda and the rest of the council are not knowing accomplices to Palpatine's plans. Not to mention that Kamino, the planet upon which the clones have been incubating and training, has been purged from the Jedi records - a fact that doesn't worry Master Yoda as much as allow him to make a joke to the "younglings" at the expense of a concerned Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Even on the street level, the Jedi cannot deal with petty crime. In Episode 2, on the capital planet of the entire Galactic Republic, Obi-Wan is offered a drug called a "deathstick" while he is dressed as a Jedi. His response is not to go to the local authorities (if there are any), but to use his Jedi powers to force the drug dealer to go home and "rethink [his] life." Assume for a moment that Jedi power supercedes local authority, and assume that Obi-Wan's method of dealing with the situation is the correct means of judicial process in the Republic - the fact that a drug dealer was brazen enough to offer a person who had the authority to be judge, jury, and jailor an illegal (and, by the sound of it, dangerous) substance means that the drug dealer certainly didn't take the Jedi very seriously. It also leads one to wonder how many other Jedi were customers!

What the evidence from the first three movies shows is a Republic modeled on a very loose, non-interventionist style of capitalism. There is zero government input (and if the government wanted input, it is doubtful it could enforce it) into economic and social affairs - almost a Libertarian dream come true. Unfortunately, this has created a situation where the natural expensions of a weak central government have grown - the Trade Federation has grown out of control and wields its own private army, invading entire planets and oppressing the inhabitants, for example. While I'm passing no judgement on such a system of government, it's very clear that the thousands of years of peace and (for some) prosperity have created a situation where one person with enough drive and ambition could easily take control - the lack of government has almost created a power vacuum that Palpatine was only too happy to fill. The question really isn't how Palpatine could have risen to power, but rather why someone didn't do so earlier.

Next: The Empire - Better or Worse?


Roger Whitson said...


Everything you have to say is very well founded. However, I thought that was the whole point of the first trilogy--that the Empire rose because the Republic was large and impotent. Same with the Dark Side--don't the Sith come to power because the light side of the force is so weak? I thought Lucas underlined this several times in the movie: the fact that Yoda could not detect anything but a dark cloud was a failure. Perhaps this is why it was important to balance the force. hm?

Or perhaps Lucas is a closeted Platonist who believes that large-style republicanism is simply not possible. Thus, the Enlightenment project of national representation is doomed to failure because of capitalism, trade, and the like. And we are all doomed to infinite cycles of empire, rebellion, republic. The only problem to this is that, according to Star Wars lore, the Republic thrived for three thousand years before the first trilogy. How do you account for that?

Jason said...

Wait for it.. remember, the question I started with was whether or not the Empire was really worse than the Republic...

Kevin said...

Basically the Republic, as represented in the United Nations. A body that tries to regulate trade and provide relief to member nations in distress, but has no real internal power.

The Republic allows for the autonomy of it's member states, but assumes that the Jedi will be able to take command of local militia forces.
A standing Navy/Army for a galactic scale government is simply not economically feasible in the long run.

Now, we're told that the Republic we see in episodes 1 to 3 is corrupt and ancient. It has started to crumble in on itself. In it's youth there doubtless was some sort of expeditionary force to back up the Jedi. But budget cuts, etc. probably eliminated that. And with no outside threats and general prosperity who would protest?
I imagine the Jedi tried to supplement their ranks to make up the difference, but were slapped down by the Senate who saw them as a potential threat.

Back to my comparison with the UN. Sure the UN has the Blue Berets, but they're all on loan from member nations and in small enough numbers that they could be looked at like the Jedi, sent out to lead native forces.

With no effective military and no true lawmaking ability (if you can't enforce the law, can you really make it?), both groups are doomed to becoming debating societies.