Friday, March 23, 2018

From the Writer's Studio: Personal Freedom in the Star Wars Republic Versus the Empire

Okay, I guess it will come as no great surprise to anyone who has visited the Gauntlet of Balthazar before that in addition to being an award-winning writer and screenwriter who has penned my fair share of science fiction, that I'm also a major, major science-fiction fan.

Likewise, it should also come as no great shock to anyone who has perused my previous forays in the Writers Studio feature of this blog, that I am hopelessly devoted to the Star Wars franchise, and have been since I was a young lad. I have to admit that Star Wars has been a constant in my life from my pre-teen years, through adulthood, and even into fatherhood, where I've re-watched and shared my affection for the series with my kids.

But as a writer, and as a generally analytical sort, I often find it impossible not to look past the simple digestion and enjoyment of entertainment that I consume, and to move into sub-textually deconstructing what I've seen and read in many, many facets. These facets include not just literary considerations, but real world economics, euhermerism, politics and sociology, and I often attempt to parse intention from process, and art from polemic, and well, speculate in general.

As a general disclaimer I must point out that what follows is merely an hypothetical analysis of the economics and relative freedoms available to the average citizens of the Galactic Republic versus the Galactic Empire as extrapolated from the story and dialogue presented in the nine canonical Star Wars feature films (Episodes I-VIII and Rogue One) and the two animated series (The Clone Wars and the recently concluded Star Wars Rebels). While some of this subject matter that this article focuses on has been elaborated, or contradicted, in novel form, as well as in comic books and/or graphic novels, subsidiary cartoons, and producer-writer-creator behind the scenes interviews, I am choosing to ignore this additional information and will be sticking with preeminent canon hierarchy as established by the series creator, George Lucas.

Simply put, the movies are true canon, the rest is elaboration.

Still, there's a lot to work with here.

Nonetheless, and probably just in case, I should also quell all qualms that I've completely lost touch with reality and confess in advance that this is the most full tilt foray into unbridled geekdom that the Gauntlet has ever scaled.

But first let me explain the emergence of my thinking here.

The genesis of this article started shortly after I completed my last piece dissecting my qualms and speculation regarding the general direction of the future of the Star Wars franchise, and when I found myself also pondering the hotly contested media frenzy regarding gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland High School shooting incident, my mind just sort off took off on a comparative extrapolation of the legal parameters presented in the Star Wars universe. I have to confess that my first musing went something like, "I'd bet good money that the Galactic Republic had tighter gun control laws than the Galactic Republic." And thus, the deconstruction cavalcade began.

Sure, we could internalize the basic good versus evil dualism mythos of Star Wars, and insist that all things good (i.e. peace) come from the Republic, the Rebellion and the Jedi, and that all things evil (i.e. guns) come from the Empire and the Sith, but that would be just a little too simplistic for my purposes here, because if Lucas got anything right in the shaky three prequels (Episodes I-III) it was definitely the general political and economic setting. 

On the surface, the good versus evil / Jedi versus Sith paradigm would have us believe that the Republic was a wonderful era of democracy similar to America's golden age that was debased and corrupted by an avaricious evil Empire, but that dualism does not necessarily match the other socio-economic realities as depicted on screen in the canon.

And so, let's bypass the main navi-computer, get under way, and take a look a some of the presented realities of the Republic and the Empire and compare and contrast them to determine how the typical citizen fared under both systems.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....


The Galactic Republic may have been democratic in principle but it was structurally oligarchic, thoroughly.

For all of the equality rhetoric spouted by Padme Amidala, she was an elected term Queen representing a Constitutional Monarchy. Likewise, her daughter with former slave Anakin Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa; repeats the same motif as the sole heir to the throne of Alderan even as she supports the rebel cause of re-instating the Republic.

On some level this seems very much like the English Barons when they forced that great precursor of democracy, the Magna Carta, on King John, and I suspect that the motivations of these royals bore many interesting similarities. In fact, in the rebellion period we almost exclusively see former high ranking persons (excluding Han Solo of course) coincidentally occupying the highest military positions in the Rebel Alliance. Like nineteenth century Prussian blue bloods, these fallen royals demanded command and were accorded it, simply because of their hereditary titles.

At the same time it appears that many kingship based systems chose to break with the Republic and joined the Separatist Alliance in the onset of the Clone Wars. Whether taking part in Senatorial life or in the Separatist cause, we see high-ranking feudal type figures at the top of their societies. Mandalorian lords, Counts (like Dooku), Grand Moffs, and Barons abound and reflect the fact that only those with pre-existing power, or those who were favored by a sovereign (such as General Akbar or Jar Jar Binks) are even allowed near the Senate or command of armies.

Even Jedi "Knights" were routinely accorded the rank of General, or in Padwan's cases, Commander, throughout the Clone Wars, and were only outranked by Fleet Admirals. So, this class-based oligarchy seems to be the constant of the  Star Wars universe pretty much no matter what.

Sure, it's all for good versus evil, the success of the rebellion and building a New Republic, but how can we be certain that this battle was not just a way to place the oligarchs back in power and secure greater wealth for themselves and their home planets.

Well, I guess on some level we can't, and just have to assume the best intentions of the nobles. That is unless that is we look at the Republic for the Corporatist Bureaucratic Oligarchic failure that it was presented as.


The apparatus of the Republic Senate as presented in the prequel films shows that as a body they clearly attempt to legislate for thousands of planetary systems and cultures unilaterally. As a result we see the Sith take methodical advantage of the predictable collectivist conformity of the fragile imposed galactic peace and widespread disarmament.

As the planet Naboo is forced to take violent action in defense of itself against an embargo that is impeding essential goods from reaching their ports (clearly a shakedown for bucking the price fixing of the Federation), Separatist claims condemning their violence are taken seriously by the senate.

This is because it is clear that violence itself is a shocking and unimaginable happenstance in the Republic period, and it is obvious that a scant few are even willing to fight for their own "nativist" beliefs or planetary sovereignty. In the reality of the Republic warfare has become abstract and has been completely removed from the involvement and purview of sentient individuals, with the main brunt of all combat interactions has been shifted to "expendable" slave fighters in the form of Droids and Clones.

In the imperial period, this paradigm is flipped, and the onus for fighting for one's beliefs has once again become resolutely personal. Imperial forces are no longer clones, but humans who enlist in the service. This is likewise the same for the rebels, who also are peopled by sentient humans and non-humans, intent on restoring their once beloved multi-cultural Quasi-Democracy and Socialized Galactic Trade Block economy.

Ironically, the Empire, for all of its destructiveness, encourages a more organic interplay of violence between rebel fighters and graduates of the imperial war college. Weapons seem very available in the films where the Empire is dominant, while they are only seen in the hands of selective members of the oligarchy and their armed guards, and of course, the Jedi, which is why it is so easy for Chancellor Palpatine to orchestrate the violence on both sides of the conflict as an able puppet-master.

As an example of this we see former Senator (and former paramour of Princess Amidala) turned Separatist Rush Clovis on the planet Scipio ask Padme: "How did you get a blaster into the neutral zone?" From this statement it is clear that the banking clan, who controlled the finances of both the republic and separatist alliance, in addition to being perceived as a neutral appearing entity, viewed that neutrality was inseparable from unilateral disarmament. Again, Clovis, Padme, the Jedi, bodyguards, bounty hunters, the Republic military and Scipian troops attached to government officials are clearly presented as "exceptions" to this uniform disarmament.


Whether manipulated into the Separatist Alliance or not by Chancellor Palpatine, the economics of the Republic are apparently nonetheless controlled by several entities external to the Republic. These include; the Trade Federation, the Commerce Guild, the Banking Clan, and the Techno Union, (not to mention criminal organizations like the Black Sun) who together seem to exert a huge amount of fiscal control over member systems and planets. In addition, the Republic required permission from the Hutts to use their shipping lanes in order to receive often life sustaining goods in many cases, if planets like Jakku are any indication.

For thousands of planets to hand over the control of their economies to external organizations for the betterment of the collective good and the "galactic" economy, smacks overtly of an anti-sovereignty sentiment that displays a remarkable similarity to a much more familiar form of social and economic conformity, that of Globalist Socialism.

In my opinion this depiction posits that the Republic generally functioned economically and legislatively very similarly to one real world bureaucratic trade block that we are intimately familiar with, the European Union - another failing experiment in circular economics.

The Senate itself undoubtedly reckoned an insane cost to Republic taxpayers, with multiple thousand Senators, their staff, bodyguards, and their entourages having to be paid, sheltered, fed, and transported from some very far off places. This probably amounted to billion of credits for each session and uncountable trillions for a Galactic Year, further bankrupting the coffers of Republic credits held by the Banking Clan, and de-valuing the currency, as they printed more to make up for the great expense.

As per the normative class and race appeasement of anti-sovereignty movements, we see the representation and rights of non-humans as presented as equal to humans. This is seen in the diversity of the membership of the Jedi Order, as well as with the Naboo forging an alliance with the Gungans, though they apparently never bothered to so earlier though they apparently have shared their planet 50-50 for many millennia.


Unlike in the Star Trek universe; whose ships function on a combination of anti-matter and dilithium, the ships of Star Wars instead clearly utilize a form of liquid metal "rocket" fuel cells. This is visually clear throughout all of the films and series whenever a fighter "tanks up", and in this both the Republic and the Empire, function, like us, on an economy driven by fuel sales paid for with a fiat-based currency.

I think that it is highly likely that the Republic bought its fuel through the Trade Federation via Republic member planets at a high tariff and highly taxed rate, leading to a greatly inflated cost and the further debasement of Republic currency. Conversely, I assume that once under the control of the Empire, the state quickly "nationalized" many of the largest producers of fuel, militarily, and brought down the cost dramatically, allowing trade, movement, and coincidentally smuggling, to progress unencumbered and at far less cost.

The Empire's sole concern, it seems, aside from re-inflating Republic currency by bringing the Guilds, Unions, and Federation to heel, appears to be the timely collection of taxes, which we can imagine it would desperately require in order to keep their massive military budget afloat, and to quell the rampant smuggling that seeks to circumnavigate those assuredly high taxes.

Aside from tax evasion, smuggling (also tax evasion), and rebellion, which, hey, would also interfere with tax collection, the Empire is a much more a "live and let live" institution than the Republic. People go about their way with rare imperial interaction, unless they overtly break a law, such as being a member of the Rebel Alliance or committing murder. Example: In the cantina scene of the very first film, after Ben Kenobi light sabers a ruffian or two, and Han (he shot first) Solo kills Greedo, we only hear Han mutter that "someone is starting to take interest in your handiwork", and the situation is cured by a quick exit and a coin tossed.


Slavery, slavery, slavery. Slavery is a great indicator of a societies inclination to actual social justice versus its focus on the needs of its elite oligarchy. The American Founding Fathers are possibly the best example of a group of oligarchs who saw a bigger picture and framed a government in which the ends were designed to work against their own financial interest in the form of the demise of chattel slavery. The Republic, on the other hand, for all of the democracy premise, generally turns a blind eye to slavery.

We see non-human and human slaves on non-Republic worlds such as in the Outer Rim territories, and people argue that slavery is not present in the Republic, but, hey, in essence aren't Droids and Clones effectively property as well? Aside from some scant "slavery is unfair" muttering by Amidala, there is no consistent concerted interest in halting slavery, especially if it's not convenient for the Republic.

The largest slave trading planet, Zygerria, continues to operate through the Republic and then joins the Separatist Alliance in the Clone Wars. Eventually Zygerria is beaten down by the Jedi, but only because they are part of the Separatist Alliance, not because they practice slavery.

The Empire, like the Republic, generally also turned a blind eye to slavery, though human slavery is practiced much less, probably out of fear of Imperial reprisals, with the market for Wookie meat and the like (Hints from Episode IV - Princess Leia: "Will someone get this walking carpet out of my way?", and Imperial Lieutenant Shann Childsen: "Where are you taking this, thing?"), seems to comprise more of the market for illicit sentient transport.  


So, the Empire was just really, really, horrible, right?

Well, I guess especially if you were a disenfranchised big wig of the former Republic fighting for the Rebel Alliance, or you were a smuggler who'd rather evade taxes and the controlled Trade Federation's legitimate distribution system. But, what about the average Togruta, Mandalorian, or Coruscantian?

Taxes were clearly still high, but probably not as high as under the bloated Republic's hand, and goods, including fuel and food, would have been much cheaper.

Clearly firearms were widely available in the Imperial period compared to in the Republic, and are seen not only in the hands of oligarchs, but with anyone who seems to want one. Private trading of all sorts (even illegal) goes on in the Imperial period and seems completely free of the Empire's interest, control, or capability of dealing with.

Aside from the abatement of legislative representation in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Senate and direct rule by the Grand Moffs, it would appear that the Empire chose to leave most entities to themselves, as long as they paid their taxes and didn't harbor the rebellion. As Darth Vader says to Lando Calrissian, "It would be unfortunate if I have to leave a garrison here", which implies that there would be no need of an Imperial presence for another municipality that did not harbor Rebel fugitives, even if they worked around the normal channels of the Mining Guilds. I must say, this seems to me exceedingly "liberal" for an Empire, and I find it very unlikely that in the Mega-Corp dominated Republic, a scab operation would not have been forced to work under Guild regulations and taxes.

The Empire's military scope is also wider than the Republic's. While we see a handful of Jedi landing on a Hutt controlled world like Tatooine, in the Imperial period we see instead Storm-troopers patrol Mos Eisley and administer justice, super-ceding Hutt control, and the local constabulary. We can safely assume that, as the Roman Empire did, they might go out of their way to safe-guard the rights of Imperial citizens who live on worlds outside of the Empire.

As an aside I should also note that both Chancellor Palpatine and Grand Admiral Thrawn are ardent art enthusiasts - an attribute not displayed in any Republic or Rebel fighter excluding former Imperial Cadet and ostensible Mandalorian Clan Wren heir (another oligarch), Sabine Wren. So we may assume that the arts were funded well in the Imperial period.

As far as personal freedoms in the Empire go, we never hear of any legislation that limits the rights of individuals in speech, business, right to arms, or religion (even following the remnant of Jedi belief), and if it is seemingly enforced, its is again, only against members of the Rebel Alliance or tax evaders. Even freedom of political speech does not seem to be curtailed by the Empire, as Princess Leia Organa is described as being an "outspoken voice of opposition in the Senate".

All in all, it could be argued that life was generally better, at least economically, for a typical citizen of the Empire, and was comparable to the Republic as far as personal liberty goes.

But hey, what do I know, it's not my universe.

Till next time.

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