Friday, August 2, 2013

These Federation Types

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

There are villains that scare you. They show their power, and you know you’d never survive an encounter from them. There are villains whose intelligence and scheming make life hell for the heroes, and you can be genuinely impressed by them. In both cases, love them or hate them, you know they pose a very considerable threat.

Then there are what TV Tropes describes as “Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains", villains that may be just as evil or at least amoral as other bad guys, but for whatever reason the heroes just can’t bring themselves to take them completely seriously.

As a lover of character archetypes, George Lucas has included this form of villain in the Saga more than once, most notably personified in the Nemoidians of the Trade Federation. While Nute Gunray and his cronies are hardly nice people, they are just as much victims of the forces behind the Republic’s fall as any of our heroes.

Despite what certain hack critics will tell you, all you really need to know about the Trade Federation is spelled out in the opening crawl of The Phantom Menace. The Nemoidians are greedy as a culture. The Republic has just imposed taxations on trade routes and the Trade Federation doesn’t like that because…well…they’re the TRADE Federation. Taxes will just eat into profits. So they protest by blockading Naboo in order to make some sort of statement.

So we’ve set these folks up as a bureaucratic nuisance. Yes, the “blockade of deadly battleships” seems like more action then they’d usually take, and to the Naboo this is very severe since as a Republic world they rely on imports for their way of life. However, the attitude of the Republic is very much “Really? This is what you’re doing?” Chancellor Valorum secretly dispatches the Jedi as negotiators not because they think the Nemoidians are a great threat, but because as Qui-Gon points out they’re cowards who will wet their pants at the sight of the legendary monks. This was meant to be a quick and easy resolution. Qui-Gon isn’t wholly wrong either; flagship captain Daultay Dofine is ready to surrender the second the Jedi are identified. Unfortunately, Dofine is not in charge of the Trade Federation. In fact, in this campaign, not even Viceroy Gunray is in control.

Once Gunray mentions “Lord Sidious,” we finally realize that all is not as it seems. This is no longer a simple trade dispute now that the future Emperor is involved, even if the Federation thinks it is. It is Darth Sidious who orders them to kill the Jedi and fully invade Naboo. The Jedi evade them easily, but the invasion goes off with little trouble. Suddenly the Nemoidians are no longer ineffectual. They’re building internment camps, denying the locals much more than simply trade goods.

But would they be doing all this if Sidious wasn’t ordering them to?

They certainly don’t seem to have any qualms about committing these atrocities, and yet we get the very clear impression that Gunray and company would not have gone along with this had Sidious not repeatedly told them that this would all pay off in greater profits and no repercussions. Often in conversations between Gunray and Rune Haako there is a palpable fear for doing what they’re doing.

Of course, Sidious was lying through his teeth about protecting them. In reality, they were set up as scapegoats for “Senator Palpatine” to gain a sympathy vote in his bid for Chancellorship. I’ll go into more detail on the Sith Lord’s plot in an upcoming article, but suffice to say the Nemoidians were the perfect patsies. They were a large corporation, charged through the nose for things everyone needed, inexplicably had their own military force AND separate representation in the Galactic Senate. And, has been repeated ad nausium, they were well-known to be disgustingly greedy.

Knowing this as an audience, it’s not all that difficult to feel sorry for the Federation.

Once they are defeated by a certain nine-year-old slave and Naboo’s young queen, The Federation becomes more of a joke to anyone not directly involved in the blockade fiasco. Nute Gunray has become bitter, and since he can’t take it out on the Sith since they’re still “helping” him, he decides to get revenge on Amidala for outsmarting him. How does he do this? He hires Jango Fett to think of an interesting way to end her life. So not only is he petty, he’s not about to get his own hands dirty. This is further driven home by about every line of dialogue from his mouth during Attack of the Clones.

Now, all of the Expanded Universe is dubious canon at best, even the Clone Wars which is supposedly meant to be even more canon than the regular EU but still…not completely canon? It’s confusing, but the point is that I’m going strictly by the films here. In the films, from this moment in the story on, Gunray and the Nemoidians are not considered much of a threat by the audience, nor by the main heroes except as part of the Separatist Leaders. Dooku, and later Grievous, are the real targets of interest. Gunray talks a big game, but he’s still seen as a joke, even amongst his allies.

Then comes the moment on Mustafar when the Separatist Leaders meet Darth Vader and their fates. Young Skywalker probably has a major beef with the Viceroy because of the threat he indirectly posed to his love, which makes it even sadder that he’s now in the employ of the one truly responsible for everything that has been happening. Nute Gunray’s last words are very interesting:

“The war is over! Lord Sidious promised us peace! We only wanted –“

Thus the end of a villain. And don’t be fooled, he is a villain. He possessed very negative character traits and did some pretty nasty things to a lot of people. But were his last words sincere? Did he truly just want peace? Or was he just begging for mercy, a coward to the last? I do think a part of him, however small, truly meant what he was saying, but it doesn’t matter either way. He was used, exploited, and ultimately discarded by the Sith. Merely a pawn in the truest sense of the world.

And if that doesn’t inspire at least a shred of sympathy, I don’t know what does.


  1. I think there's a lot of contextual stuff missing from the prequels in regards to the Federation itself, which I think is what the 'certain hack critic' is complaining about.

    Because yes, in terms of the Federation's role in this whole matter the only thing we need to know about them is that they're greedy and cowardly (which pretty much defines them as characters through the trilogy- I find it difficult to take his last line at face value when we've been fed contradictory information throughout the rest of the films).

    But if we are supposed to treat them as somewhat sympathetic characters, then I think characterization other than "broad comic archetypes" is needed. Maybe if we knew more of the motivations- something beyond just "oh, they're greedy". Maybe there's some sort of economic turmoil that hits the Federation pretty hard, forcing them to act in such desperate measures. Or, maybe it's a matter of race. Maybe the laws discriminate against the soon-to-be Separatist nations pretty hard which propels them to secede from the Republic.

    All of these are potentially interesting and nuanced motivations...but aside from "money and power" we're not given a lot of reasons for the Neimodians or the rest of the Separatists to do what they do. Which, actually, is perfectly fine. We don't need to know that stuff for a movie like Star Wars to work effectively. But if we're meant to view a character like Gunray sympathetically, I feel a dose more of context is required.

    Just my two cents.

    1. All I'm getting at is whatever you think of Gunray, he gets played for a sucker and that's never fun. Anything beyond that is up to personal experience, and I don't think there's a right or wrong way to feel.

  2. Gunray is representative of most if not ALL of the seven deadly sins, but especially greed and sloth (having Jango do his dirty work). So you knew at some point, he was screwed LOL

  3. As far as the Clone Wars goes Gunray never did much of anything in the show. He attempted to arrest Padme in Bombad Jedi (which I believe you saw) and then he was liberated shortly after by Ventress. He then assists Cad Bane in a plot which Sidious is behind.

    The curious thing is that Gunray is one of the few people to know of Sidious's existence, so it's a serious problem for the Sith when the Jedi captured him and seeked to interrogate him.

    1. I also want to know what outright lies the Sith told them to get them back on their side after being fed to the Republic in Phantom. Especially since it's established that they tried to snitch but nobody believed them.

      Then again, Gunray still heads the Federation and the organization does retain some clout despite worsening an already bad reputation, so that may very well answer my question.

    2. From my understanding, he decided to join the Separatists due to the fact that Dooku was involved in it, and he thought he wasn't a Sith Lord. Too bad that ended up costing his life.

    3. Again, though, he obviously knew well enough before Revenge of the Sith.

    4. Yeah, he found out shortly after he joined with Dooku-I presume.

  4. I think there's a lot of contextual stuff missing from the prequels in regards to the Federation itself, which I think is what the 'certain hack critic' is complaining about.

    Exactly what was missing?

    I also want to know what outright lies the Sith told them to get them back on their side after being fed to the Republic in Phantom.

    The Federation allied themselves to Count Dooku, unaware of the fact that he was working for Darth Sidious. Dooku had made a point in telling Obi-Wan in AOTC that the Federation had been betrayed by a certain Sith Lord. Dooku used a truth to hide a bigger lie - that he was working on behalf of the same Sith Lord that had betrayed the Federation in TPM.

    In fact, I don't think Nute Gunray was aware that he was still working for the Sith, until sometime during the Clone Wars.

    1. Whatever the timeframe, he's still pretty chummy with Sidious during Sith...

    2. "Exactly what was missing?"

      Well, for starters I should make sure it's clear I'm not exactly saying the lack of context is a flaw for a movie such as Star Wars- just that I feel it cuts against potential complexity for characters like Gunray and the Federation (which, again, is not *necessarily* a bad thing. Simplicity can work wonders in archetypal movies like Star Wars, it just depends on what exactly you're going for).

      That being said, I think I explained what I felt to be missing fairly clearly in the above comment.

  5. "inexplicably had their own military force AND separate representation in the Galactic Senate."

    I thought it was pretty clear that the TF is the East Indian Trading Company in space. For those of you who don't know their history (GL is a history buff), the East Indian Company was such a large and powerful corperation they were a qusigovernment. They controlled and ruled territory and had their own military force. These days their are laws to prevent corperations from becoming that powerful in modern times. This may be why so many people seem to miss this with the TF?

    The TF is a perfect example of a megacorperation a staple of sci-fi.

    1. Ohhhhh yeah! That makes so much sense! Especially since I'm a fan of PotC and since I worry about the fate of those very laws, I cannot believe that never crossed my mind! Well done!

    2. If you think about it, really just the existence of megacorporations like the TF and others is really a failing of of the Republic. That the Republic failed to keep these corperations reined in.

      Also with the trade taxes, most people think taxes are are only for giving money to the government. But they have a second purpose of controlling and restricting trade and the economy by controlling how much money people can spend. Besides trade route taxes cutting into their profits, the TF may also have been upset about the fact the Republic was starting to put their foot down and trying to put limits on the misused freedoms of the megacorperations. Besides having to pay the tax themselves, a trade tax would have the side effect of lowering demand while increasing supply causing a surplus of goods that would drive prices down, further cutting into the TF's profits. No wonder they wanted to do something to stop the taxes.

      There is a deleted scene from A New Hope where Biggs informs Luke how the Empire is nationalizing (taking over) all space trade. The scene would fit really well with the PT's plot and showed the TF really did have something to worry about since in the future not just free trade, but all trade would be swept away. This is why the TF and the other megacorperations wanted to form themselves into their over government, the CIS, a corperation government that would allow free trade. But Palps made sure it wasn't to be.

    3. Mind=Blown. That these movies can do that to me even after all this time and talk is nothing short of miraculous.