Neither Alderaan nor Coruscant: The Politics of the Star Wars galaxy
From Self Certified
Like half the planet, I can’t wait for the opening night of The Force Awakens, the seventh instalment of the Star Wars saga on the big screen (not counting The Clone Wars animated film). The original trilogy dominated my childhood; I read the comics, I played with the toys and I watched those films over and over. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that they are to this day, one of the few pieces of entertainment that can get an emotional response out of me. I well up every time I see that awards ceremony at the end of A New Hope, but it has always bothered me that Chewbacca didn’t get a medal. I mean, he was just as big a part of the Battle of Yavin as Han was. Was there some prejudice towards non humans lurking under the hood of the rebel machine?
Looking around the auditorium in that temple on Yavin 4, Chewie is actually the only non-human you see, and for the first two films in fact, there are only humans fighting on the side of the rebel alliance (and the Empire of course, but we know them to be human supremacist from the outset). It’s only when the Mon Calimari of Admiral “It’s a Trap” Ackbar come on board in Return of the Jedi that we see a multi-species alliance fighting against the racist Galactic Empire. If you go right back to the time of the Clone Wars, to the origins of the Alliance to Restore the Republic AKA the Rebel Alliance (RA), you’ll notice that the key figures were human – Padme Amidala, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma – and at least in the deleted scenes of Revenge of the Sith, there seems to be only one non-human amongst the leadership, and she is what would be described in the Star Wars galaxy as near human.
There are two ways you could look at the politics of the Star Wars films of course. The first, and more traditional way for students of film, would be to analyse the intentions of the filmmakers and to examine the societal influences at the time. Undoubtedly, Vietnam and Watergate were present in the mind of George Lucas when he conceived the original trilogy, and the invasion of Iraq and the Neo-Con erosion of democracy in the US when he wrote the prequels; And maybe we’ll see some parallels between ISIS and The First Order in J.J. Abrams upcoming sequels The Force Awakens (Though Abrams has said the concept for the First Order “came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again”).
A Certain Point of View
The second way to look at it, is through the lens of an inhabitant of that galaxy. Imagine you’re part of a small leftist organisation on, say the planet Onderon. You’re looking at this galactic conflict between the totalitarian Galactic Empire and the RA, who want to restore the republic that the Empire emerged from in the first place and you’re trying to decide if you should support the alliance or organise independently; This is the approach I’m going to take. At this point, you’re either intrigued or you’re thinking that this is really stupid, that surely Star Wars is just a classic fairy tale of good versus evil, with heroes on one side and villains on the other. Well that is true, to quote Obi Wan, “from a certain point of view.’
Star Wars, however is a tale of multiple points of view. Firstly, you have the diametrically opposed positions of the Jedi and Sith, the mystics of the light side of the force and those of the dark. Secondly you have the Republican versus Empire angle, which is not strictly the same as Jedi V Sith as the former are political ideologies while the latter are religious or spiritual in nature. And lastly, you have the multiple points of view of the smugglers, slaves, bounty hunters and the few ordinary people we encounter along the way (which increases in number if you include canon sources from outside of the movies).
There’s a reason I picked Onderon as the planet our hypothetical leftist is trying to organise on. In The Clone Wars animated series, there’s a story arc where Anakin, Obi Wan and Ahsoka go there to assist and train a guerrilla army whose aim is to overthrow the Confederacy of Independent Systems’ puppet government and end the droid army occupation. Though the rebels eventually give in and join the Republic after their victory, initially they are just looking for independence. However, more interestingly, when they start winning victories and their propaganda gets through to the population, rioting breaks out in the capital city. It is possibly the first time in the Star Wars galaxy that we have seen a popular revolt, and it raises the question, what do the people want?
I Ain’t in This for Your Revolution
With the Imperial military enforcing Palpatine’s iron rule over the galaxy, you’d expect anyone who stood on the wrong side of the New Order to be at least an enthusiastic supporter of the RA. When we first meet the smuggler and petty criminal Han Solo however, he isn’t convinced. Solo becomes associated with Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa after taking a job to transport Skywaker and Obi Wan Kenobi to Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, for which he will be paid handsomely. After Alderaan is destroyed and Solo ends up taking Leia, Luke, the droids and the Death Star plans to the rebel base, he tells the princess, “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid.”
Obviously some of Solo’s misgivings are due to the sheer military might of the Empire, he encourages Luke to go and work with him as a smuggler, citing what he believes is the impossibility of victory of the RA over the Death Star, but he also must realise that, while the alliance is more than happy to work with smugglers and criminals when the odds are against them, his activities will be just as illegal under the law of any new republic, just as they are under the Empire and were under the Republic that preceded it. Though Solo is eventually won over to the cause of rebellion, there are probably millions, if not billions of other petty criminals throughout the galaxy that think like him.
If there is little in it for the criminals in siding with the rebellion, then what is there for the ordinary folk? The moisture farmers of Tatooine struggled to make a living under the Republic, just as they did later under the Empire. The galactic capital Coruscant was a globe spanning city that had thousands of levels and where you lived was determined by class, regardless of the form of government practiced. As Asajj Ventress said to Ahsoka Tano, “Not everyone on Coruscant lives in a luxurious temple on the surface.” What benefit would the down and out of the lower levels gain from fighting for the rebels?
I Didn’t Come Here to Free Slaves
The Galactic Republic, that stood for a thousand years before it was reconstituted as the Galactic Empire, was in itself the recreation of a previous Republic that had stood for thousands of years before that. It was the old order, the defender of the elites of the galaxy and its democracy was selective. On a galactic level, there was indeed democracy, where each world sent a delegate to the senate on coruscant to have a say in the running of the Republic, but on a planetary level, the elites could decide to rule in any way they wished. There were constitutional monarchies, hereditary and elected, dynastic monarchies, corporate states and parliamentary democracies. Even within the galactic senate, there are corporate interests, bureaucratic interests, horse trading for position and what proves to be the perfect environment for the dark side force users, the Sith to operate.
This is the state of affairs that the Jedi Order are sworn to protect. If a member world government of the Republic faces any sort of threat, the Jedi step in to ‘keep the peace’, where keeping the peace really means maintaining the status quo. Even on Onderon, which during the early days of the Clone Wars was not a member of the Republic, the Jedi Council is reluctant to help the rebels because the government of the planet, a monarchy, has made the decision to side with the confederacy, regardless of the wishes of the people. They are only persuaded to provide training by Anakin Skywalker because of military necessity and the strategic importance of the planet in the war.
The Jedi way of non-intervention comes across as liberal piousness at times. While slavery is outlawed in the Republic, in the outer-rim where law and order is more haphazard and the Hutt crime-lords rule, it is ubiquitous. The Republic and the Jedi will not interfere in that because ‘the peace’ is more important than the plight of those who are bought and sold and put to work by ruthless bosses. When Anakin as a boy slave tells Qui Gon Jinn of his dream of a Jedi coming to liberate his people, the Jedi Master responds, “I didn’t actually come here to free slaves.” Though Jinn, as somewhat of a rogue Jedi, finds a way around freeing Anakin through a rigged gamble, the rest of Tatooine’s slaves remain in bondage.
By the Will of the Governed
When the second Death Star is destroyed at the Battle of Endor and the Emperor and Darth Vader die with it, the Imperial fleet, decimated by the alliance victory is in disarray. Seeing the opportunity, many worlds secede from the Empire and a New Republic is formed. The account of these events given in the new cannon novel, Aftermath, gives an insight into the trials and tribulations involved in forming a government out of the opposition to the New Order. The more idealist leaders of the RA, like Leia Organa, have a republican max vision of the Republic, where in her own words, “the foundation of a new Republic (will) be shaped by the will of the governed.” But others just want their positions of power back. Senators who served the Empire until the senate was dissolved shortly before the Battle of Yavin come flocking to the new capital on Mon Mothma’s home-world of Chandrila to resume their seats, while Imperial defectors are welcomed in the military. The rats desert their sinking ship but are welcomed into a new one.
That the New Republic is going to pick up from where the old one left off, is illustrated in Aftermath by what happens on the planet Akiva. The dynastic leader, known as the Satrap, hosts a conference of the Imperial command, but after a popular revolt the Imperials flee and he defects to the New Republic. “The Satraps saw the Empire’s betrayal and the rage of the people of Myrra – and decided that the only way to save their skins, and their rule, was to give it over, in part, to the Republic.” It looks, to all intents and purposes, as if Leia’s ideals will be shunted aside for the option that requires the least upheaval, meet the new boss, the same as the old boss. The fact that in the The Force Awakens, Leia is the leader of the Resistance and not a politician in the New Republic, shows us that she isn’t exactly happy with how things worked out.
We know that sometime after the foundation of the New Republic that the remnants of the Empire regrouped in the outer rim of the galaxy as the First Order, and we know that they will be the main villains in The Force Awakens. But it is rumoured (possible soft spoilers) that they got that foothold because certain senators of the New Republic, fondly remembering their excessive power and wealth under the Empire, argued for them to be allowed to consolidate their rule out there. Through horse trading for favours and the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke over some senators, the Empire gets to rebuild its strength to prepare to reconquer the galaxy. Leia, obviously unhappy with this state of affairs, goes rogue and sets up the Resistance outside of the New Republic’s jurisdiction.(End of Spoiler)
It’s True, All of it
Our hypothetical rebel leftist on Onderon then, might have a hard time throwing their support behind the Alliance to Restore the Republic, but the alternative is even worse. The Empire was a racist, human supremacist organisation that crushed all opposition. It is doubtful that the right to strike would be tolerated on the spice mines of Kessel. Therefore, it would be important to put up resistance to its rule. An organisation that spanned the galaxy that organised the exploited and oppressed, human and non-human alike would be necessary. But where the Rebel Alliance was engaged in battle with the Empire, military co-operation at least could be an option, all the while organising for a more complete liberty than even Leia Organa could support.
This organisation would do well to heed the words of a socialist, aeons in the future in another galaxy, James Connolly, who told the Irish Citizen Army prior to the 1916 rising, “In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting (the Irish Volunteers) may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.”
We serve neither Alderaan (nor Chandrila), nor Coruscant, but interstellar socialism.
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