Hello everyone and welcome to The Sarlacc Pit! The most recent Star Wars novel, Rogue One: Catalyst, which is a tie-in novel for the upcoming anthology movie, “Rogue One,” focused heavily on the science involved in creating the Death Star. However, as the novel took place starting towards the end of the Clone Wars and into the early years of the Empire, it also did a good job of highlighting some of the differences between the Republic and the Empire. As a biologist, one of the differences that interested me was the environmental policies of the two different governing bodies. This week I am going to discuss a little bit about how the environmental stance of the Galactic Empire differed from the Republic, and how this affected citizens of the galaxy. Since this is an overview of a fairly broad topic, there won’t be many spoilers, but as always, read at your own risk.
Background: A Tale of Two Planets
To start of the discussion, let’s talk a little about the galaxy as a whole. In the real world, we have a limited amount of space, and as human populations increase, we as a species are continually having to find new ways to balance our need for space and resources with the needs of the natural ecosystems. However, in the galaxy that Star Wars is set in, there were a very large number of planets, with numerous different species and different forms of civilization. Some planets had diverse ecosystems (similar to Earth), and other planets were completely uniform, such as ice planets or planets covered in rainforest. For a couple of extreme examples, let’s talk about the two polar opposites of Coruscant and Kashyyk.
Coruscant was the capital planet of the Republic, with a population of over one trillion sentients of various species during the Clone Wars. Humans were the most populous species, and as such the planet looked very much as one would expect from a planet inhabited by over one trillion people: highly industrialized and almost completely devoid of any natural space. While there were small nature reserves during the time of the Republic (at least one set aside for the B’ankor species), the planet was covered in looming towers that created multiple levels of residences and businesses. The skies swarmed with airspeeders and starships and people who walked took frequent use of the people movers found almost everywhere.
In stark contrast to the city planet of Coruscant is the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyk, found in the Middle Rim. Instead of towering skyscrapers, the Wookies lived in wooden buildings built around the large wroshyr trees, which were about the size of an average Earth-sized skyscraper. While Wookies were as intelligent as any other sentient species, the primitive appearance of their society created a large amount of prejudices against them, with many people thinking Wookies were little more than beasts who stood on two legs. So already you can imply how the average galactic citizen felt about living alongside nature.
Conservation in the Republic
On Earth humans have to balance the needs of an exponentially-growing population with the needs of the planet’s ecosystems. Some areas are mined and exploited for materials necessary for our way of life, while other areas are protected and kept safe from human influence. However, in the galaxy of Star Wars, there were almost limitless numbers of planets and even more species to exploit or protect. How did the galaxy balance the need for resources with environmental concerns?
During the time of the Republic, the Senate and the Jedi Order were the two major groups that decided on conservation issues. Often, the Senate would set up “Legacy” planets. These planets usually either had extremely rare environments, animals, plants, or sentients, or had an abundance of valuable natural resources, which would make them a target for greedy corporations. These planets would be set aside as essentially planetary nature reserves, with limits on travel to these planets and the extraction of natural resources. The status of Legacy planet was especially important to planets with valuable resources that were close to the Core, which would be easy pickings for many corporations.
The Senate would also set up protected areas to move sentients and other species into in the event of cataclysmic planetary disasters (such was the case of the B’ankor reserve on Coruscant). These were especially important to sentients who preferred to live away from the influence of technology, to whom simply moving to Coruscant was not a viable option.
The Jedi Order was typically involved in some capacity of setting aside reserves and Legacy planets, as these were protecting life forms, something that the adherents of the light side of the Force were essentially mandated to do. However, the Jedi Order also had specific restricted planets. These planets, protected by the Jedi Order and restricted to their use only, were generally planets with resources, such as kyber crystals (which were highly valuable and used in Jedi lightsabers), that could not be trusted (in their opinion) to the rest of the galaxy. These planets, such as Ilum, were often unknown to non-Jedi, or treated as myths or legends. The locations of these planets were kept secret in the Jedi archives, until the destruction of the Order at the end of the Clone Wars.
Environmentalism in the Empire
Enter Sheev Palpatine. Even during his time as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, Palpatine had little regard to conservation. This can be seen with the Zillo Beast, a large semi-sentient creature from the planet Malastare. Being the last of its kind, the Jedi Order attempted to move it to a safe location, away from the Dug civilization it almost destroyed. Palpatine, however, ordered that it be incapacitated and brought to Coruscant, where he authorized cruel experiments to attempt to replicate the beast’s scales, which could deflect lightsabers. Eventually the beast got free, and attempted to hunt down Palpatine before it was finally killed. Even during the time of the Republic, the future Emperor had no qualms destroying life, as long as it got him closer to more power.
In the beginning years of the Empire, Palpatine needed to keep a semblance of democracy until he had enough military power to keep planets in line through fear. However, Star Destroyers and Death Stars require a large amount of rare materials, which were often found on planets protected by Legacy status. In order to get to these planets, legitimate mining companies with permits to extract materials were often framed as Separatist sympathizers, allowing the Empire to take over the company “legitimately.” Once these companies were taken over, the Empire would move in in full force, extracting as much material as possible with no regard for the health of the ecosystems. Furthermore, planets such as Ilum that were kept secret by the Jedi were exploited once the Empire obtained the Jedi records. Ilum was mined so heavily for large kyber crystals, that the core of the planet was actually exposed in some parts just a few years after the Clone Wars ended.
Protected planets were not the only ones over-exploited by the Empire. As the Emperor’s military might increased, planets could do little to defend themselves from the Emperor they had welcomed with open arms years earlier. Planets with any sort of resource were exploited, often by using the native populations as cheap expendable workers, or actual slave labor. One planet that was hit extremely hard was Kashyyk, where the powerful Wookie natives were almost entirely enslaved, forced to cut down the worshyr trees they lived in. However, even planets with little usable resources were used for their farmlands or as bases for manufacturing. Planets that the Empire used often found their drinking water, air quality, and soil completely ruined, leaving these planets near uninhabitable.
A lot of this happened before the completion of the Death Star, when the threat of planetary destruction was not being held over them. The Senate was still intact (though mostly served as an advisory board), why did the Senators not work harder to protect their planets? Most of the exploited planets were located in the areas further away from the core, where citizens had more say in the political process. The Emperor worked hard (at least at first) to keep these inner planets happy, lest rebellion break out close to home.
After the fall of the Empire, the New Republic illegalized slavery in the galaxy, and freed those enslaved by the Empire. Many of these slaves were left to help heal their planets that were exploited by Imperial greed, however, as many biologists will tell you, once an ecosystem is destroyed it is not easily repaired.
Since little canon content has come from the time period of the New Republic, it is not known whether or not they reinstated the Legacy title system or set up nature preserves, but since the ideals of the Republic were held high, it is very likely that that was the case.
As I mentioned earlier, I am a biologist. I currently study coral reef ecosystems as part of my research for my Master’s degree, so I have seen a lot of what happens when a planet’s ecosystems are not taken care of. While the above examples are all fictional, exploitation of resources and the destruction of ecosystems due to corporate greed are all too real. Many people believe that it is more important for large corporations to make a buck than to make sure the planet’s ecosystems are healthy. However, unlike those in the Star Wars galaxy, we do not have countless planets were we can live, and there is not a Galactic Senate that will set aside a reserve for us to live on if our planet dies. The health of our planet is extremely important and should not be taken lightly.
Sorry for going off on a tangent there, but that is all for this week. Next week I will be doing an update post for my earlier post on lightsabers. However, this post will be a short one focusing completely on lightsabers used by the Sith. Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!