Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Sarlacc Pit! Over the last few weeks we have discussed the life of Obi-Wan Kenobi, from Jedi padawan to ghost mentor. This week, we will be discussing everyone’s favorite dinner conversation topic: politics. I will be discussing the evolution of the Galactic Senate from the Old Republic, through its purpose in the Empire, and finally to the New Republic. I was going to try to use this to discuss real world-politics, but bump that noise, this is a Star Wars blog and we’ll keep it that way. This covers information from most of the Star Wars canon, and should be mildly spoiler-free, but as always, read at your own risk!
The Old Republic and the Galactic Senate: The Dangers of Corruption
“There is no civility, only politics.” -Sheev Palpatine, “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”
After the discovery of hyperspace and the establishment of relationships and trade between different planets in the galaxy, the Republic was formed. The Republic was a governing body that included a large number of planets. The Galactic Senate, based on the capital planet Coruscant, consisted of hundreds of senators from member worlds of the Republic and was led by the Supreme Chancellor. The duties of the senate were mainly the mediation of disputes among member planets and passing laws and regulations necessary for maintaining the Republic. The Senate was a fully democratic organization and nothing passed without a vote. Planets were responsible for governing themselves and there was no real centralized military, though the Jedi Order answered directly to the Senate (though they were largely used as simple peacekeepers and negotiators).
We are led to believe that the Republic worked well for thousands of years, until, toward the beginning of the Clone Wars, corruption began to take hold. There began to be much not-so-subtle preferences toward planets closer to the core of the galaxy, with little being done to help planets in the Outer Rim, leading to a lot of unrest and lawlessness in that part of the galaxy. Many politicians were also in the pockets of large crime organizations, being paid to decrease the Senate’s abilities to regulate criminal activities. Often, senators would assist in passing laws and regulations that hurt their own constituents because they were getting some sort of kickback and their life on Coruscant was far removed from their home planets. Racism (or specism?) also became prevalent, with those species who were less human-looking than others often being excluded from political influence. It can be assumed that this was largely attributed to the influence of the Sith Darth Sidious (Senator Sheev Palpatine) and his master, Darth Plagueis, but no matter the cause, this corruption spread through the Senate during its waning years. This corruption led to Senatorial deadlock and inaction during the Invasion of Naboo, which caused Queen Padmé Amidala to call for the election of a new Supreme Chancellor, the then-current Naboo senator Sheev Palpatine.
The Clone Wars: The Fall of the Republic and the Rise of the Empire
“So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.” -Senator Padmé Amidala
With the spread of corruption in the Senate, a group of planets, calling themselves the Confederacy of Independent Systems and led by former Jedi Master-turned-Serreno-nobility, Count Dooku, seceded from the Republic. In an effort to stop the secessionists, who were building up an army of their own, the Republic (in a vote led by Jar-Jar Binks) gave emergency powers to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who used these powers to build the Grand Army of the Republic, made up entirely of clones. Thus, the Clone Wars had begun.
The continuation of the Clone Wars helped spread the corruption of the Senate even quicker as planets and politicians alike vied against each other for security, resources, and political cachet (that’s a great SAT word by the way). As I have discussed previously, the entirety of the Clone Wars were engineered by the Sith to both gain power and destroy the Jedi Order. It was at the end of the war, when the Jedi learned who Palpatine really was (too little too late), that Sheev made his ultimate power grab. After years of decreasing public support for the Jedi Order and increasing favor of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Sheev declared the Jedi to be enemies of democracy, and declared himself to be the Emperor, the ultimate dictator “advised” by the Imperial Senate. As he had spent a long time blackmailing, bribing, and gaining favor in the Senate, most of the Senate and the Republic welcomed this idea. The corruption and inactivity of the Republic made the rise of a leader who would force action and unity appear to be in the galaxy’s best interest.
The scary part about Sheev’s rise to power is that he began as a benevolent senator of Naboo. As Chancellor, he appeared to desire the preservation of peace and democracy and vowed to release the emergency powers granted to him at the end of the Clone Wars. It was not until he had already gained too much power that he showed the galaxy his true face: that not of a benevolent democratic leader, but instead that of a malicious dictator (also his actual face was physically gross, so this works in two ways). Fun fact: George Lucas modeled Palpatine’s tactics to gain power after those used by Adolf Hitler.
“The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away forever.” -Grand Moff Tarkin, “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”
While the Republic allowed planets to govern themselves, Emperor Palpatine governed the entire galaxy, or at least as many planets as possible, using regional governors (Moffs) who answered to Grand Moffs, who answered directly to Palpatine. These Moffs and Grand Moffs often used harsh punishments to keep planets in line, leaving little room for rebellion or treason. For years after the formation of the Empire, Palpatine kept the Senate intact. Although the Senate was mostly powerless, it served in an advisory capacity, and kept the semblance that the people of the galaxy still had a voice. However, the corruption of the Old Republic was not halted, and Palpatine encouraged corruption and bickering in the Senate to ensure that he retained his power.It was here that senators such as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma continued to fight for liberty in the political arena, though they were continuously pushed further and further away from the center of political power and influence.
The Senate remained until about 19 years after the rise of the Empire, when the Death Star was completed. A battle station able to travel through hyperspace and destroy planets with the push of a button, the Death Star would have been used to keep planets in line through fear. The senate was dissolved, placing all governing responsibilities on the Moffs and Grand Moffs. This was assumed to have been sufficient, as planets who stepped out of line would simply be destroyed.
When the Death Star was destroyed by the Rebel Alliance, the Empire faced some problems. While the Senate was powerless, the facade worked to keep planets from rebelling, believing that they still had some self-governance. However, now all governance was the responsibility of governors directly reporting to the Emperor. Planets began to rebel, but the Empire still had a mighty navy of star destroyers and starfighters, and continued to rule through fear this way until the Emperor’s death.
The Death of the Emperor and the Rebirth of the Republic
“We are the ones who built something called a Death Star under the leadership of a decrepit old goblin who believed in the ‘dark side’ of some ancient, insane religion.” –Jylia Shale, Star Wars: Aftermath
“This is Leia Organa, last princess of Alderaan, former member of the Galactic Senate, and a leader in the Alliance to Restore the Republic. I have a message for the galaxy. Emperor Palpatine-the greatest tyrant civilization has ever known, responsible for death and suffering beyond measure-is dead. He and a second Death Star battle station were destroyed by Alliance forces earlier today. This does not mark the end of the Empire. The fight will continue. But you must take this opportunity. Join us in the foundation of a New Republic to be shaped by the will of the governed. Claim your freedom and your future. Help is on the way.” -Princess Leia Organa, Star Wars: Uprising (video game)
After Palpatine’s death at the hands of his apprentice, Darth Vader, the Empire struggled. All the power had been put in the hands of one terrible despot, and the rest of the leadership had spent so much time fighting for power that they did not know how to work together. The Rebel Alliance, however, were led by numerous experienced democratic politicians, some of whom had even been senators of the Old Republic. While the Alliance worked to rid the galaxy of the last bit of Imperial threat, political leaders such as Mon Mothma, Olia Choko, and Leia Organa worked together to form the New Republic. Under the New Republic, planets once again governed themselves with the assistance of a Galactic Senate, led by a chancellor, based on Hosnian Prime. One of the first orders of business after the Galactic Civil War finally ended with the Galactic Concordance, was the passing of the Military Disarmament Act, which severely limited the extent of the New Republic’s security force. Most of the New Republic’s early years were spent rebuilding planets and undoing the damage of the Empire.
A Senate in Deadlock
“Is this the ‘peaceful life’ I have to live…? This…quiet mediocrity in the service of corruption?” -Greer Sonnel, Star Wars: Bloodline
Years after the formation of the New Republic (six years before the events of “The Force Awakens”), the Galactic Senate had found a new form of political deadlock. While Mon Mothma, the first Chancellor of the New Republic’s Senate, was able to lead the New Republic through charisma, the powers and authority of the Chancellorship were severely limited in the desire to prevent one person from rising to power again. After Mon Mothma retired from politics for health reasons, two political parties rose: the Populists and the Centrists. Populists believed that planets should largely govern themselves, while Centrists believed that the Galactic Senate should have more power and authority in order to maintain unity. The partisanship of both parties spread so much in the Senate, that eventually the Senate was completely deadlocked in all aspects. This led to a rebirth of senatorial corruption, as both parties were willing to do just about anything to gain the majority and cast shadows over the other party. This in turn led to many moderates who were willing to compromise being shunned by there party, or in some extreme cases being framed and discredited completely. This deadlock and inactivity allowed many Imperial sympathizers (mostly Centrists) to begin the formation of a new threat, the First Order, which eventually became strong enough to completely destroy Hosnian Prime and its surrounding star system using its Starkiller Base (essentially a planet-sized Death Star).
After the destruction of the capital system of the New Republic, we do not have any information. So far, we know that the Resistance, a paramilitary force founded by Leia Organa in order to work outside the law to destroy the First Order, was able to destroy the Starkiller Base, but as far as governing entities go, the galaxy is, in current canon, in a state of anarchy. We will have to wait a while before we get any more information on how the governing of the galaxy changed, but until then this is all the information we have.
So that is my discussion on Star Wars politics. Some of these stories may seem a little familiar given current political landscapes, but that’s for you to decide. Next week, I plan on doing something a little more fun: I will be giving a top 10 list of my favorite Star Wars vehicles, from landspeeders to starfighters. Once again, thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!