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The Prince in a Galaxy Far Far Away

April 11, 2011

Just by seeing the above image I am pretty sure I have managed to excite the inner geek in everyone. “Star Wars” is perhaps one of the most popular cult film series ever created by the Hollywood big shot George Lucas, and entertained generations with the initial trilogy  in the 1970’s and then the new trilogy in the 2000’s. So let me not go onto the details of the story, but onto the one character that really struck me over the weekend when I decided to watch all of these films in a marathon.

No, its not Darth Vader and its definitely not Master Yoda. I am talking about Senator Palpatine. For those who haven’t invoked the inner geek yet, Senator Palpatine is the unnamed ruler of the Galactic Empire in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. He is also the middle aged politician in Episodes I, II and III. His alter ego Darth Sidious, is the head of the Sith, the enemies of the good guys. He sets into motion various events in the series such as the Clone Wars (Episode II) which leads to the fall of the Jedi (the good guys) and so finally sets up the authoritarian regime in place of the Republic, and usher in the Galactic Empire.

So what does Macchiaveli have to do with any of this?

File:Palpatine ROTJ.jpg

Ian McDiarmid as Darth Sidious from the feature films

Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine from the feature films

The galaxy prior to all of this was much like Machiavelli’s Italy – a lot of small fragmented planetary-states. According to Macchiaveli, a prince may come into power through fortune, skill, popularity or evil. Palpatine/Sidious, in their illustrious campaign  through the films employ each at some point of time of the other. While being the most watched politician in the galaxy, Palpatine is also able to exert evil through his alter ego Sidious. Fortune favors Palpatine when he uses Anikin Skywalker (the guy who becomes Darth Vader) and his love for Padme Amidala, and then her death, as a means to convert the most giften Jedi (good guy) to the most vicious villain of the series. In addition, he was also a popular politician, and was given a very high office in the republic, and through his popularity was allowed to be in office for far longer than legally allowed. His skill as a politician was his ability to twist situations to suit his own ends, and this was probably the single biggest factor that allowed his meteoric rise. Finally, when the Empire was set up, he turned on his biggest threats and started eliminating them.

In conclusion, I want to ask a question:

Was Palpatine the prince of a galaxy far far away?

3 Comments
  1. jdadamo permalink
    April 11, 2011 2:37 PM

    YES! I’m so happy a Star Wars post happened, and on the exact subject that I’ve thought about many times. George Lucas, in writing the prequels, heavily considered Machiavelli’s the Prince when coming up with the story of the Emperor’s rise to greatness. Machiavelli strongly believed that a ruler could do what he needed to (Order 66, the creation of Moffs and the abolishing of the Galactic Senate after awhile) to achieve his noble ends (peace, security, and prosperity for the Galactic Empire). Palpatine had started an 18-year plan to rise to greatness so the Sith would rule the galaxy, and followed through with incredible might in Revenge of the Sith. While his fall was much less brilliant (he made a lot of errors and overestimated the rebels a ton), I think the story of how he politically maneuvered the Senate and the entire Galaxy to support him is one of the few shining moments of the prequels.

  2. ellerm permalink
    April 11, 2011 4:24 PM

    This is a very entertaining/nostalgic article. I think that pulling out ideas like Machiavelli is crucial for reviewing movies. I find that political theory can be just as prevalent as any literary device that a director or writer might implement into a film. By pure Machiavellian principles, Palpatine gets an A+. He rose to power and eliminated his competition and held onto control for a long period of time. In addition, he fools people into being loyal to him and is not seen as a criminal to the majority (the empire). Thinking of Palpatine is a cool thought and would likely be good for exemplifying Machiavellian principles.

  3. mstranseth permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:22 PM

    First off I’m glad somebody else spent their Saturday night watching the Star Wars marathon. One of the few things that I really LOVED about the prequels (original > prequels btw) was Palaptine’s rise to power. It was beautifully crafted for how complex it was and took advantage of everyone’s weaknesses as well as strengths to take over the galaxy. Palpatine definitely had the skill required to take over the galaxy, from manipulation (his most useful skill) to murder, and Machiavelli would have proud at his accomplishments. I don’t believe Palpatine relied on fortune to achieve his goals as everything he did was meticulously planned out. The only aspect of his plan that relied on fortune was finding new apprentices after Darth Maul was sliced in half in Episode 1. I remember reading somewhere that because his political life took up too much of his time he was unable to train someone from scratch and had to rely on finding people already strong in the Force to corrupt, first with Count Dooku and then with ultimate prize, James Earl Jo…Darth Vader. Even then it took quite a bit of skill to corrupt them, but since he was a master of manipulation (and because Episode III had horrible pacing) it wasn’t that hard for him to accomplish.

    Very nice post and a VERY good connection.

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