Home > Media, Movies, Sci-Fi, Star Wars > Was the Empire Really So Bad? Part 2

Was the Empire Really So Bad? Part 2

Welcome back readers.  I apologize for the long time before this post, and I hope you’ll read the post above about the coming changes to my schedule/format.  But, now back to defending the Galactic Empire, or as I call it, Star Wars’ whipping boy.

The Galaxy Is in a Bad Neighborhood

Let’s get this out of the way now: the Empire did build a massive and mobile battle station capable of destroying planets—aptly named the Death Star—and they did use it.  I’ll talk about that at the end of this post.  I want to make clear now I don’t hope to completely defend it, but rather put it in context.

Han Solo - Lovable Crack Dealer

Han Solo – Lovable Crack Dealer

Anyway, problem is that we, as humans stuck on this planet, could not possibly understand the scale on which political struggles in Star Wars take place.  Galaxies are huge, and with the Empire basically in control of fully half of that galaxy—with some presence on the Outer Rim planets, though not full control—you face problems that are far removed from ones with which we are familiar.

But to the sub-titular issue at hand: the galaxy is a bad neighborhood.  It’s clear that gangsters, cartels and criminals are thriving.  Han makes reference to the Kessel Run and shamelessly admits he’s a smuggler.  Consider that again, if you will.  Han Solo—one of the main protagonists of the original trilogy, as well eventually a General in the Rebel Alliance was previously a smuggler.  What did he smuggle?  Why, he smuggled spice, a psychotropic drug.

Imagine if you would an organization in our world who promoted to the rank of General a man who used to make his living on smuggling cocaine into the United States.  Because that is, essentially, what happened with Han Solo.  Now, one of the main character arcs is that Solo never really wanted that life, and that he was in debt to Jabba the Hutt, etc.  I get it, he’s a guy with a heart of gold.  Except that said heart of gold never had a problem with smuggling illegal drugs, and then joins up with a terrorist band.

But the real question is, in a galaxy where a General of the Rebel Alliance is getting your kids hooked on space drugs, who is trying to keep said space drugs out of their hands?  The Empire.  Yah, the bad guys we want destroyed were responsible for Solo’s debt to Jabba.  Solo repeatedly points out in A New Hope that he was boarded by Imperials, and as a result he spaced the shipment.

Space Scamps

The misfit crew of murderers, drug dealers and kids who got caught up in the wrong crowd.

In fact, when Solo, Luke and Kenobi are in the cantina in Mos Eisley they draw attention from Imperial troops after Kenobi maims a man and Solo murders someone.  Those troopers weren’t there to persecute solo, they were there because there were reports of a Jedi (who everyone thought were gone) maiming people and then a smuggler murdering a bounty hunter.  Nobody was wrongfully accused here.  Even if Kenobi was just defending Luke, who knows if the Stormtroopers coming into the Cantina wouldn’t have said to him “Hey, that’s understandable, you just helped us apprehend a wanted man.  Good job, guys!”

Which by the way, given the events of Revenge of the Sith, I’m guessing the Jedi weren’t particularly well-liked among the general populace.  Palpatine played them off as traitorous and potentially dangerous to everyone’s safety.  Way to go, Ben Kenobi, you’ve just managed to only do more to convince people that Jedi are dangerous.  But I digress.

To recap: the main reason the Empire is portrayed as evil, beyond the obvious, is because they’re chasing after Luke (who has stolen data in the form of two droids), Kenobi (who is a renegade Jedi), and Solo (who is a smuggler).  We’re supposed to think this unlikely band of allies, with all of their foibles, has the best interest of the galaxy at heart.  I don’t know that I’d agree with that.

The Galaxy Might Need a Harsh Government; It Definitely Needs Some Government

Conference in SPACE

“Hey guys, I was just telling Vader how a giant planet-killing space station is way more fearsome than choking our enemies one-by-aggggggggh.”

I mentioned earlier in this post that we cannot comprehend the scale of the Galaxy.  I understand that some people might view this argument as a cop-out, but I think that what you have to realize is when you’re talking about innumerable citizens, things change a little bit.

America has a representative democracy, which we feel does a good job of governing us.  It (generally) takes into account what the general population wants and works off of that.  If something is wildly unpopular publicly, it probably won’t gain traction at the national level as any kind of law.  We like that we have a voice, and I’d generally agree that I’d rather not live under a dictatorship.

However, in America we have a problem with the fragmentation of our populace.  Half the country disagrees with the other half.  On the level of millions that’s not too difficult to deal with.  We have lots of news programs and other media outlets that hope to sway people to their way of thinking.  But look back to the inefficacy of the Old Republic and tell me what was wrong with that system of government at this level.

In case you’re not sure, the answer I’m looking for is: “after untold generations, that form of representative government failed miserably.”

The thing is, when you have so many different viewpoints—keep in mind this isn’t just humans numbering in trillions, but countless alien species as well—and trillions of people to keep happy, it‘s not a stretch of the imagination that representative forms of government would be weaker.

Sometimes I like to think of this scene as Palpatine just being mad because the Rebels were stepping all over his lawn.

I understand this argument might seem weak, but consider that a galaxy this big, with this many sentient species and all the dangers I highlighted might need a stronger military presence than that we’re normally used to.  In fact, the biggest support for this argument is how horribly the Republic failed.  In its last years, the Republic’s weakness is precisely what allowed someone to take control and lead toward the path of dictatorship.

Imagine, if you would, a contentious issue where instead of two political parties (as we’re used to in America) we have countless political and moral views that differ quite a bit.  Trying to talk it out in the senate is going to be useless.  Eventually, perhaps, someone has to step in and say “this is what we need to do”.  Not everybody may love it, but otherwise you end up in the situation you had with the Republic–stalemates in the Galactic Senate.

That said, the Empire is portrayed as slightly amoral, but that is only ever shown at the top levels.  For example, in the very first scenes of A New Hope we learn that the Galactic Senate had just been disbanded.  Wait…what?  The same Galactic Senate that had existed in the era of the Republic was still around?

Now, you might argue that he did so in order to more firmly control the galaxy.  But at the same time, the Rebellion was in full swing at this time and from the comments Vader made (and the fact that Leia was using her diplomatic status as a cover for her seditious acts) it would appear that Palpatine only did so to help quell the Rebellion.

Defending the Destruction of Alderaan

Galactic Population

Galactic Population. Kinda scary how many people there are.

One question I haven’t dealt with is the Death Star.  You could use the whole “Clerks Argument” that Luke is a mass murderer himself for destroying the first Death Star and that Lando is equally bad for the second one.  I don‘t take that stance.  Instead, I’d like to suggest, for example, that the Death Star’s destruction—given the scale of the galaxy—is minute and irrelevant.

This is the only part where I’ll probably refer to the EU at all, but there’s no way around it.  EU sources estimate the galaxy at having about 20 million sentient species in about 180 billion star systems.  A rough estimate suggests about 100 quadrillion beings based upon those numbers.  For some scope, that’s 100 with 15 zeroes afterwards.  That is 14,618,800 times the population of earth.

The population of Alderaan at the time of its destruction was about 1.97 billion people.  Given the overall galactic population, the population of Alderaan was at the time a paltry .00000197% of the galactic populace. Let’s think of that destruction in terms of equivalent death of population here on earth.  Out of about 6.8 billion people on Earth, killing a proportional amount would equal, get this, 135 human lives.

Compared to another weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, the Death Star pales in comparison.  The death toll at Nagasaki (which is considered to be conservative due to deaths from radiation, issues counting, etc) was estimated at 150,000. That means that America dropping that bomb—which keep in mind did kill civilians—was 1111 times more destructive (in scale) than the use of the Death Star.

Considering that the use of the Death Star was that “fear will keep them in line”, it makes sense that the Empire would have to demonstrate this power.  Even then, I doubt that the fear of the Death Star really motivated a ton of people.  It is, as far as weapons of mass destruction, pretty bad.  It takes forever to deploy (the time it took to orbit Yavin and get Yavin 4 in sight was enough for it to be destroyed), it is huge and slow-moving which makes it visible from very far away.  Most of all, it (probably) cost an absurd amount of money and even destroying a planet, is not the best way to go.  Orbital bombardment of a planet would be cheaper, easier and just as destructive.

Death Star

The Death Star, ultimate symbol of power and waste.

The Death Star is, more than anything, a symbol.  It is a symbol in the same way that the atomic bomb was.  It was the ace up the Empire’s sleeve, in that anybody who might want to perform terrorist acts would face the wrath of the Death Star.

Now, it’s easy to talk about this in a detached manner because Alderaan is a fictional planet.  Don’t get me wrong, extinguishing almost two billion lives with one shot is pretty terrible.   But when you consider that the demonstration was meant to keep rebellious planets in line—and there was no doubt that Alderaan was one of the rebellious planets—it was a small-scale demonstration of the power of the Death Star.  It can snub entire populations, but losing 2 billion people versus the scale of the galaxy is a footnote, not a tragedy.

Again, it’s easy to think this way because we are detached from it—as it is fiction—but consider again thatAmerica’s use of nuclear weapons exterminated way more of the known population than the Death Star.

Anyway, friends, that is it for this installment.  Look for the third installment where I look to skewer the Rebel Alliance in almost every way possible!

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