I am a sorry excuse for a Star Wars fan. Despite the fact that I have watched the movies, read many of the extended universe novels (which continue from where the last movie left off) and won my fair share of Star Wars edition Trivial Pursuit, many fans turn up their nose when they realize my dark secret; the first movie I watched of the series was “The Phantom Menace.”
That’s right, I started the movies in chronological order. Though the graphics threw me for a loop when I reached “A New Hope,” I could appreciate the first three movies as new and fascinating instead of complaining that Jar Jar Binks was a lesser character than Chewbacca. To fresh eyes, the political subplots of the prequels of the beloved trilogy are thought-provoking.
The Sith are clearly the enemies: Sidious, Maul, and Dooku wage battles with our heroes over visible, physical threats to the peace. However, beyond their lightsabers, the Jedi are less aware of the quieter work Sidious is doing weakening the infrastructure of galactic politics. It is the many interplanetary conflicts and confrontations within the Senate that pave the way for the republic to die with “thunderous applause.”
The fall of the Galactic Republic and the rise of the Empire logically follow a pattern often seen in human history – in times of crisis, men are willing to give up their freedoms for safety. Instead of waiting for the Republic’s system to take its course, when quick action is necessary, the Galactic Senate feels safer appointing one man to be in charge.
Here, Palpatine is for the Galaxy what Caesar was for Rome; a face for Galactic (or National) stability and power. Once gained, power like this is rarely relinquished. To both Anakin and Palpatine, power’s allure was intoxicating. As early as the first movie Palpatine was orchestrating the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo with the hopes of gaining sympathy and attention, showing the weaknesses of the current Chancellor and eventually paving the way for his installation as leader at the height of the Clone Wars.
For centuries, the Jedi were the keepers of justice in the galaxy. Though the government allotted the funds for building the temple, the Jedi maintained their own internal affairs, responding to requests by the government to mediate peace negotiations or neutralize dangerous adversaries to the republic, but also choosing to take on private affairs when assistance was necessary. As matters escalate, suddenly the public faith in the independent Jedi is not enough. The legislators further narrowed the services of the Jedi by coupling them with the compliant Clone Army as the galactic “military” expanded. The makers of the Clone Army, it turns out, are the Sith.
As the Republic continues to weaken, faith in the system wanes and order takes precedence over freedom. Even before this (though few fans will have perused enough histories in Wookiepedia to know it) much of the Galactic Government was run on non-binding constitutional conventions, which were more often ignored and undermined by corrupt and power-hungry politicians than heeded. Such a Republic was ripe for the fall. When the people cried out for leadership, Darth Sidious was there.
In the end, Darth Maul with the horns and painted face was no phantom, but the real force for evil was the destructive abuse of law and representation in the Galactic Senate. If only there had been a Galactic Think Tank that could not only sense the disturbance in the force, but could warn the people of the dangers of appointing an Emperor, even for an emergency! Though it is unlikely our planet will ever be troubled by conspiring Sith, it is always vital to keep an eye on how the decisions made today can affect not only the Republic’s current stability, but the lives of future generations.