George Lucas has said that the Star Wars Saga is Anakin Skywalker’s story. And it’s not that difficult to see when all is said and done, even though I’ve always felt it was more about the Skywalkers in general than any one member of the family, especially since IV-VI were half done before even the filmmakers knew Anakin was around.
This, of course, was the main reason for the existence of Episodes I-III. It was meant to tell the story of Anakin’s rise and fall, and then set up his eventual redemption in Return of the Jedi. And it’s a good story, all told. But just as interesting as Anakin’s tale, if not more, is the concurrent subplot of the one who would drive the final bolt into the iconic black suit.
Viewers who want complexity and depth beyond young Skywalker’s psychological roller coaster (which has plenty already, but that’s for another article), one need not look further than the man who would be Emperor. His grand plan for the eventual Revenge of the Sith drives every second of I-III. It is chillingly brilliant, and even more terrifyingly similar to tactics of real-life dictators. Most amazingly is how it kept not only the main characters, but the audience guessing.
Those of us who read EU books and/or collected the action figures knew right away to side-eye “Senator Palpatine” the second his name was mentioned in The Phantom Menace, and those of us with an eye for performers spotted fairly early that Ian McDiarmid, who was in Jedi, was not only playing said senator but was also most likely under the familiar-looking cloak of Darth Sidious. However, the ruse and the eventual reveal worked spectacularly well amongst the Saga’s young target audience, and even as an adult it’s crafted well enough that most would probably buy it if they went in with little-to-no foreknowledge. Remember, to the world at large, we had only ever met him as “The Emperor,” and only in the second half of the last film. I’m also convinced that many of us who “knew” secretly wondered whether or not Lucas would pull a fast one at the last second and reveal that Palps was a patsy.
But, of course, he wasn’t. He was the true mastermind behind nearly everything that transpired. You would think that this would be a saving grace for people who were less than enamored of the majority of I-III, but to my eternal disbelief Palpatine’s scheme seems to have been too complex for many of these viewers. Some people don’t seem to understand what had been happening or how Palpatine had manipulated everything to such a grand scale. Thus, in this week’s supersized article, I will attempt to detail the Fall of the Republic for those who might have missed it. Most of this is evident enough in the films, though one of Lucas’ flaws is relying on supplemental material to get the whole story, so some of this is based on such materials, as well as good-old-fashioned common sense.
The Sith, ever desiring power, wish for nothing more than to rule over those whom they deem to be lesser. While hiding throughout the years has allowed the Sith to survive its supposed demise, more and more the practitioners of the Dark Side needed a way to get back on top.
Enter a Muun named Hego Damask.
James Luceno’s novel “Darth Plagueis” is one of the best Star Wars novels I have ever read, and was written with input from Lucas himself. However, it’s still an EU book. Even if it was meant to be more canonical than most, it still needs to be taken with a grain of salt and one can enjoy and interpret the films fine without it. There are a few things that I disagree with, such as how long Plagueis actually survives (though, George, if it’s what you want, I won’t complain).
Still, whatever your opinion of the events in the book, one thing is clear: Darth Plagueis recruited Palpatine with the aim of eventually beating the Republic at its own political game, and the young aristocrat would be a very useful player. Unfortunately, Plagueis’ thoughts would eventually focus too much on extending his own life through midi-chlorian manipulation to see the monster he had created. Darth Sidious was truly a Sith, for he had no loyalty but to himself. The manipulator would be out-manipulated and eventually killed in his sleep so that Palpatine would be the one and only true master. While Plagueis helped get Palpatine into the Senatorial seat financially after Palpatine’s family met with a – ahem – “tragic accident,” it was clear early on that Sidious was the true mastermind and so would remain.
In any case, by the time the films begin, the Republic was floundering on its own. Palpatine knew the time was right to put it out of its misery.
Phase 1 – Get Elected Chancellor
The Republic was not what it once was. The Senate was full of greedy, squabbling delegates. And Chancellor Valorum was mired in (baseless) accusations of corruption. However, his term wasn’t up yet and Palpatine was sick of waiting. So he created a conflict.
First, he needed take some nice, little, out-of-the-way planet; A world that was the Republic’s responsibility, but fringe enough that the Core Worlds would take precedent; and blockade it. Making it his own homeworld of Naboo was an especially nice touch, as it would garner a sympathy vote later on.
Next, he needed a villain, a scapegoat to do the actual blockading. The Trade Federation seemed a good pick. Nobody really liked them, and they were easy to manipulate due to their frustration with the recent tax increase on trade routes, but they held just enough power that few people would dare take immediate aggressive action against them. As Darth Sidious, he promised them all sorts of ends to their troubles knowing full well he’d eventually throw them under the bus.
Trade to Naboo would stop, the Senate would worry but do nothing, and then the Federation would outright invade and force the young Queen to sign a treaty legitimizing their occupation. Palpatine would then fly the treaty, obviously signed under duress, in the Senate’s faces as proof that the ruling body is not doing its job properly and count on the idealistic half of the Senate to vote Valorum out and somebody who could get things done in. Perhaps, again, the sympathetic Senator from the system in peril?
It seemed ingeniously simple, and yet this plan was almost entirely derailed. Palpatine showed his one true weakness: his underestimation what he feels are lesser beings. This mistake would eventually lead to his downfall decades later over the sanctuary moon of Endor in more ways than one.
The first person he underestimated was Chancellor Valorum. Rather than buckle right away, Valorum had the gumption to try a desperate tactic in secret – he got the Jedi involved. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi almost stopped the plan in its tracks by their mere presence, but Sidious knew how to keep the Nemoidians in line, and ordered them to kill the Jedi. (I should point out that it was the Nemoidians and not Palpatine who would then subsequently underestimate the Jedi by thinking that simple Dioxis gas would do the trick).
The second person he underestimated was Padmé Amidala, Queen of Naboo at the time. He expected she’d be scared into signing the treaty, but she was made of harder stuff than that. What a jolt it must have been when she showed up in Coruscant. Palpatine at least had her trust, however, and was able to manipulate her into calling for a Vote of No Confidence in Valorum, thus moving up the special election and allowing him to ultimately succeed in his plan. Still, she surprised him again by wishing to return to Naboo to fight. He no longer needed the treaty, and having her there could only mean trouble. Turns out, she was inspired by the third person that Palpatine underestimated:
Jar Jar Binks. Though, to be fair, everybody underestimates Jar Jar Binks. That’s kind of his thing. Palpatine probably had a disdain for the Gungans and didn’t think them worth much, and yet Jar Jar’s being involved allowed the other heroes to confound Palpatine at every turn.
Finally, Palpatine would never have guessed that on a pit stop to Tatooine the do-gooders would recruit a young slave child with whom the Force was unusually strong, thus allowing the Battle of Naboo to be won with the destruction of the Droid Control ship.
Not that it mattered much. By the time the battle was through, Palpatine had already succeeded. He was elected Chancellor, and the plan worked. But it had cost more than Palpatine had been expecting to pay. Not only were his ready-made fall guys defeated before they were supposed to be, but he also lost his apprentice Darth Maul. Granted, Maul would have eventually had to be disposed of before he got any bright ideas about self-promotion, but it was a little too soon. He knew he wouldn’t underestimate these particular fools again.
Especially Young Skywalker, whom he recognized as most likely caused either directly or indirectly by his old master’s experiments. No, he would be watching Skywalker’s career with GREAT interest…