Friday, August 23, 2013

From Senator to Emperor (Part 2)

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

When we last left our villain, he had just managed to take the top seat in the Republic government, though not quite in the way he expected. He would have to be far more careful as he went on to the grandest scheme of the era...

Phase 2 – Emergency Powers

Pop quiz, hotshots. You’ve just managed to weasel your way into the highest seat in an ostensibly democratic government, and you want to turn it into a tyrannical dictatorship. What do you do? What DO you do?

If you answered “immediately reveal yourself and start barking orders,” you’d be a fool. You’d be arrested and thrown out of office faster than you can say “checks and balances.”

Palpatine was evil and unscrupulous, but he was no fool. His short-term plan worked, if barely, and now it was time for the long con. In order to gain more power with nobody being the wiser, the Senate would have to give it to him willingly. That would mean creating a situation where the want of security outweighed the want of freedom.

He needed a war. The problem is that there hadn’t been a full scale war in centuries, and nobody to war against. But that wasn’t such a problem, was it?

Several systems had grown increasingly disenfranchised by the Republic. Palpatine knew he had to co-opt this. With that in mind, he sent his newly appointed apprentice, Darth Tyrannus, to make contact. Count Dooku had been easily snared by his own disillusionment after the death of his former padawan Qui-Gon Jinn. Dooku was a respected elder, former Jedi, and very persuasive. Not to mention one of the wealthiest beings in the galaxy due to his heritage. He would have no problem convincing systems to threaten separation peacefully – at least at first.

Next he needed two armies, one to threaten the Republic and one to seemingly save it. Palpatine had been gauging the effectiveness of the B1 Battle Droids employed by the Trade Federation, but realized quickly that their only strength was in numbers, as they were fragile and dim-witted for droids. However, they could seem a decent threat as the Republic still didn’t have an army yet. So the Trade Federation was recruited once more, along with other various commerce guilds for additional funds.

These Guilds, Federations, and Unions are of course all run by aliens. It’s easy to forget that Palpatine’s vision for the future has no room for non-humanoids, whom he considers lesser (“Don’t think the Empire had Wookiees in mind when they designed her”). Although being on both sides of the conflict allows him to succeed no matter which side “wins,” the Separatists and their greedy alien leaders are clearly set up as the bad guys in this little farce.

As for creating an army of the Republic, well that was a little tougher a chestnut. Fortunately, Palpatine had knowledge of the secretive cloners of Kamino. Where Palpatine heard of Kamino is hard to say; he may have heard of it in his back-alley dealings, while the novel “Darth Plagueis” suggests that his master visited there during his research into the midi-chlorians and everlasting life. In either case, he had an army.

But he had to be cautious. He couldn’t have it traced back to him. But the sly old fox knew just who to use: The Jedi. Dooku would place the order under the alias of the recently deceased Jedi master Syfo-Dias. That way, when the Clones were eventually discovered (most likely by the Jedi themselves thanks to a few choice clues set up by Dooku) and used, it would be the Jedi’s fault if public opinion suddenly went negative.

It would take no less than a decade to move the pieces in place, but that was fine with Palpatine. He needed time to incorporate the little thorns that nearly decimated his last scheme.

The first was obviously Anakin Skywalker. Now here was an emotional being thrust into a society that shunned emotion. He never had a father or real father figure, so who better than the kindly old Chancellor? All the better to sow the seeds and establish trust so that when the chips eventually came down, Anakin would go where Palpatine wanted him.

The second was Amidala. Taking Palpatine’s place as Senator, Padmé had earned a reputation for actually trying to get things done. I doubt he was surprised when, years later, she was one of the staunch opponents of creating a Republic military as the topic was eventually brought up (naturally with none of the Senators knowing that they were getting one anyway). Luckily, he knew two people who had become obsessed with the young lady of late for different reasons. Nute Gunray, unable to take out his frustrations on the Sith who were still backing them, decided to focus his petulance on the former Queen and demanded that she be assassinated. Having her in this level of danger would not only be an excuse to get her out of the way (and begin leading the Jedi towards the Clones), but assign as her protector young Skywalker. Skywalker obviously harbored feelings for Amidala, even if he didn’t outright admit it. Aside from jamming and additional wedge between Anakin and the Jedi, it would distract both parties from the larger implications of world events (unfortunately for Palpatine, this also would lead to his eventual downfall, as while he’s adept at using people’s love against them, he fails to recognize its true power ).

Finally, Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar’s good-natured bumbling had a way of getting the heroes what they wanted, so it was time for Palpatine to get in on that. As a representative for Naboo, Binks would be Amidala’s first choice to take over in the Senate while she was in hiding. Once the Jedi found the Clones and the Separatists were revealed as a true threat, the army would need to be approved quickly, and that would take emergency powers from the Chancellor. Powers that Palpatine would never relinquish once he had them. It would take a Senator like Amidala, who had opposed the bill to this point, suggesting it to make it seem legitimate and not a power grab. Not only was Representative Binks  supposed to follow Amidala’s voting plan, but he was also far more gullible than she. All it took was loudly discussing how brave and noble anyone proposing such a radical amendment would be while Jar Jar was in earshot. In Binks’ defense, he thought he was doing the right thing. All our heroes thought they were doing the right thing.

That’s exactly what Palpatine wanted.

Phase 3 – Profit (Through the Destruction of your Enemies)

The main purpose of the Clone Wars was to create a credible enough threat so that Palpatine would be given more and more power and eventually destroy the Republic from within. But it has a second purpose.

For in a galaxy ruled by the Sith, there is no place for their sworn enemies in the Jedi Order.

With their focus on the unifying Force, Palpatine was able to cloak himself and his schemes when he started. But the Jedi quickly realized that the Dark Side was clouding everything, though they couldn’t pinpoint it. They very well might have, if the Republic hadn’t suddenly gone to war requiring the Jedi to become military leaders.

The battles were picking the Jedi off slowly, one by one, their reputation dwindling, until the Order was a shadow of itself, ready to be broken in one fell swoop. And who better than the Chosen One himself, whom Palpatine had been subtly molding for years? For the Jedi had not taken time to understand Anakin, as Palpatine had. Anakin was more loyal to people than ideas, and the further the Order pushed him away, the more he was in Palpatine’s grasp. Anakin’s timely premonition of Padmé’s death was all he needed to work with.

If you’ve seen Revenge of the Sith, then you know the endgame from here. Anakin falls, Palpatine declares himself Emperor and accuses the Jedi of attempting a coup. The Order is decimated, whoever wasn’t killed by Anakin were destroyed by their own Clone Troopers. The Dark Times have begun.

Yet even as Palpatine won the day, his flaws are evident, and we see how he is set up for disaster.

For it was a scrappy band of Rebels made up of all races who would undermine his Empire at every turn.

It was primitive natives who would turn the tide in the Battle of Endor.

And it was the love that he himself manipulated that brought Anakin Skywalker back to destroy the last of the Sith.


  1. I really appreciate the fact that Lucas built on TPM's events when creating AOTC's part of Palpatine's plan. A lot of fans (especially haters) claim that TPM was "unnecessary" (which is onviously wrong).

    Apart from the vital roots of Anakin's fall, that are essential and had been planted in Episode I, that film provided helpful background in term of the Separatist's movement. The Trade Federation already wanted to get their greedy wished realized in TPM when they tried to force the Senate through occupation. After that had failed to work out, they decided to basically create their own state with the Separatist movement.
    The Separatist's intention and motivation can be a bit hidden in AOTC (because, unfortunately, Lucas cut the Dooku/Padmé scenes), so I think it was very important to have that knowledge from TPM (that what they want is a state with less restriction, no taxation on trade routes etc.).

    AOTC is a brilliant film and even relevant to today. It's a common tactic for a soon-to-be-dictators to generate an artificial "threat" that terrifies the public. In the case of Palpatine, he used greedy beings as a military threat that led the public and the Senate to give him "emergency powers".
    Doesn't sound familiar?

    1. Lucas swears up and down that current events didn't influence his script. I believe him, it was just a stroke of good fortune that history chose to repeat itself at that point and thus helped the film resonate for some (though sadly not enough).

    2. Definitely true about TPM's necessity. Its contributions have been taken for granted by the people who dismiss its necessity.

      I recall there being a deleted scene involving a line from Padme about business and government becoming one and the same. The alternate history buff in me can't help but wonder if the inclusion of that scene and the clarification of just what motivated the Separatists would have had any political resonance later on in the decade in the wake of the financial crash. I know the themes of militarisation and the rise of dictatorships were resonant at the time of AOTC's and ROTS's releases. Here in England, I recall hearing a lively political argument about Tony Blair's similarity to Palpatine as I walked out of the cinema in 2005.


      As a proud fan of the battle droids, I take exception to the notion that their only strength is in numbers. As military history shows, vast numbers under bad command can easily be thwarted. OOM-9, the yellow-crested commander of the invasion force who we see in the film, is stated by the SW Wiki to have a 100% success rate, with his ultimate defeat not being the fault of anyone but the Droid Control Ship's (organic-led) defenders. They crush the Naboo security force when they invade the planet. They drive the Gungans from their underwater cities and then crush them in the plains battle. They're pretty darn effective. Excepting the Rebel Alliance and the various small planet-bound defence forces, all the vast Galactic militaries in Star Wars make use of their vast numbers. The Trade Federation probably use theirs more effectively than the vaunted Imperial military does at the Battle of Endor.

      So, don't diss the battle droids, Nilbog. :P They may not be clone troopers, but they're still pretty decent for sci-fantasy minions.

    3. I assure you, I'm a huge fan of the B1 battle droids as well. I like them better than any other military faction in the films hands down. I don't even like Troopers of any kind. The fact remains, however, that they were concieved with a certain amount of ineffectuality in mind. I do dislike how that was played up in Sith and CW, though, because they're still a force to be reckoned with.

    4. Also consider how we first see them used in the films (which is, of course, always more important how we're told they're used)- look at the very first scene in each armie's respective 'first film'- the troopers in Star Wars, the Battle Droids in TPM.

      What's the very first thing we see the troopers do? Commandeer the starship and kill/capture the rebel spies. What's the very first thing we see the Battle Droids do? Get chopped down by Jedi. Consciously or not, those first scenes do influence how we look at and perceive the armies throughout the rest of their involvement.

      (on a somewhat unrelated note I always thought the troopers get a bad rap from fandom- they're shown to be massively effective entirely until Endor, in which sticks and stones are apparently enough to topple a fleet of the Emperor's "best men". Other than that, though, they're actually shown to be really top-notch soldiers.)

    5. I wouldn't say the Stormtroopers are that effective in Hope. Last time I watched it they came off as awkward and comical to me.

      They're a little more effective in Empire, but not enough.

    6. They succeed in most everything they set out to do- they capture the Tantive IV, track the droids to Tatooine (through the Jawas and then to the Lars homestead), destroy the base on Hoth, etc. The times where they really mess up (Death Star and Cloud City) are both times where we're explicitly told Vader is letting the good guys get away, either to track them back to the base or get them to an incapacitated ship.

    7. Well, the battle droids are quite effective against anything that's not a lightsaber or Jar Jar. Doesn't change their image. Same with the Troopers.

    8. But the way in which they're shown *does* impact our view of them. Again, look at our first encounters with them- the first thing we see the troopers do is succeed, the first thing we see the droids do is fail. That does set the precedent for how we view and interpret those characters for the rest of the film.

      And I should be clear, I'm not meaning this as a knock against the prequels- by all appearances portraying the battle droids that way seems to be the intent. Whether or not you think it's a good way of doing things is up for debate, but it certainly does seem to be the way they intended to portray them.

    9. @Hartwell

      First impressions do indeed count. You're right about that. Consider how non-existent the Rebel Alliance footsoldiers are in the popular perception of Star Wars. When it comes to the Rebels, the starfighters are the most iconic designs. The footsoldiers are simply unremarkable, known mostly for failing to keep the stormtroopers at bay. It doesn't really matter that they get by on explicitly limited resources and even have some role in the success of the Endor mission. They're still known primarily for failing catastrophically without even the excuse that their opponents are superpowered and capable of deflecting their own plasma back at them. Compare that with the stormtroopers (still perceived as somewhat ineffectual) and, more starkly, the hypercompetent clone troopers.

      Though speaking towards the evaluation of the stormtroopers' track record against that of the battle droids, nothing the storms do can measure up to the killing of around 180 Jedi in a matter of minutes. Nor do the droids suffer a defeat that is as humiliating as Endor. No, not even the Droid Control Ship's destruction reaches that level. It's also doubtful that Vader would placidly allow Leia to escape Cloud City when she could be a valuable prisoner, with the sabotage of the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive probably a contingency for the non-ideal eventuality of her escaping her cell. I'd count the stormtroopers' failure at the end of TESB as a genuine screwup.

      I know you're not prequel-bashing here, T, and I'm not trying to mount a valiant defence. I just find it interesting that the battle droids, who were always intended to be portrayed as very ineffectual, are still shown to be objectively far more effective than the stormtroopers, who were not. That reinforces your point about the potency of their respective first impressions on how audiences perceive the two soldier types. Lucas possibly intended this disparity in perceptions to be the effect of our first encounters with them.


  2. @Anonymous, Nilbog

    On the subject of Star Wars soldiers and militaries and more closely linked to the OP, I find it striking how anti-militarist the whole series is. Sure, it's far from pacifist, but large organised military forces are almost all portrayed negatively. The Imperial military is the iconic oppressive enemy, against which only a small ragtag Rebel force fights the good fight. The Trade Federation private army is dystopian corporate power unleashed. The Separatist military is a belligerent participant in a self-destructive civil war. So too is the Grand Army of the Republic, the portrayal of which is the prime example of SW's anti-militarism. The moral greyness of this portrayal is what gives it potency.

    Clone troopers are portrayed quite sympathetically and the whole GAR is a genuinely awe-inspiring, efficient military machine from the moment it bursts into the Geonosian Arena. It's the only one of the major pan-Galactic military forces that is on the side of the good guys. It fights the good fight against the Sith-controlled Separatists. However, the dark side of all the heroics is that the mighty GAR is ultimately a destructive, corrupting influence. The inherent authoritarianism of the military hierarchy allows Palpatine to cripple and outlaw the Jedi Order with just three words. The GAR empowers Palpatine to destroy democracy. The upbeat stridency of the gunship rescue ultimately leads to Order 66 and the Death Star.

    One can even draw comparisons between Star Wars' GAR and real-world military-industrial complexes. 1990s liberal interventionism and the "Shock and Awe" of the Iraq invasion come to mind when thinking of parallels. Like the Galactic Republic during the Clone Wars, many countries have become increasingly militarised and authoritarian. The largest private sector employer in the UK was only a couple of decades ago the diversified conglomerate GEC Marconi; nowadays it's the defence contractor BAE Systems. Defence budgets have ballooned and civil liberties are being encroached upon. The rise of American militarism is a documented phenomenon since at least the Cold War. Our military-industrial complexes haven't been the instruments of democracy's destruction like the GAR is to the Galactic Republic, but the trends are disturbing all the same. This is one more specific way that Lucas was quite astute to what was going on in the world when he wrote the PT.

  3. I have to say that Count Dooku didn't pose as Sifo Dyas in any moment whatsoever. According to the Darth Plagueis novel, and something that apparently will be confirmed in the upcoming Bonus content of the Clone Wars, Dyas created the army under Hego Damask's funds of the Banking Clan due to the fact that their was fear that the Republic would go to war and they wouldn't have an army ready. It goes to show that their was a labyrinth established by the Sith that went further than just Palpatine

    1. As I've already mentioned, I take the EU stuff, even the great Plagueis, with a grain of salt. While Plagueis co-opting Dyas' vision is certainly one of many possible explanations, I usually go with Dooku because it's far less complicated.

  4. IMHO I view the empire as a twisted version of the republic. Twisted by Palps to just be another of his tools. Just like how the clones were supposed to be the protecters of the republic would become the brute enforcers of the empire. While some may view the battle droids being weak when first shown you can also argue it shows how powerful the Jedi were in their heyday. How they could defeat a squad of troops easily.

    Also any good planner knows that he will most likely adjust his plans to suit the ever changing environment. That a planner expects to change his plans because stuff happens and it seems palps is good at course correcting.