Space politics

As the subheading of the blog says, this is a blog about Star Wars. At least that’s what it has become in order to comply with the recent legislation passed by the Duma “On the regulation of English Language Blog in the Russian Federation.” This article states that at least 30% of the content on all English-language blogs in Russia must be Star Wars related. I am not really in the mood to become a martyr at the moment, therefore I am working to maintain this blog’s status within the law.

With this in mind, I’d like to express a somewhat unpopular opinion about on aspect of the prequels which I think a lot of people hated unjustly. I am speaking about the so-called “space politics,” which were most prominent in Episode I, and to a lesser extent Episode II. People hated the long discussions in the Republican senate, the talk about no confidence votes, taxation of trade routes, etc. The common argument I’ve heard for years is something like this: “This is Star WARS! Why is there all this political talk? They didn’t have this in Empire!” 

This is my counter-argument: Space politics in Star Wars was not inherently bad; it was the content and delivery. For one thing, space politics were a part of the original trilogy, specifically in Episode IV. Every fan no doubt remembers the conference in the Death Star when Vader had to choke a guy for making fun of his religion. I always thought that the political make-up of the Star Wars universe could have been an interesting angle for the prequels, most importantly the transformation of the Republic into an Empire. Extrapolating from that, it would have been nice if the prequels had not only shown us that transformation, but also showed us the rise of the rebellion.

Getting back to the way politics were handled in the prequels, the problem is that all the political discussion is nothing but boring filler. I’m not sure there was a more exciting way to bring up a no-confidence vote in the senate against the chancellor, but there could have been real intrigue instead of C-SPAN discussion about resolutions and fact-finding missions to find out what was happening on Naboo. And speaking of Naboo…

The Trade Federation. What do they trade? So they’re blockading Naboo over an issue involving taxation of trade routes. I’ve heard many people say that was incredibly boring and not Star-Warsy, but did it have to be? Maybe if we knew what the Trade Federation actually did and who is pissed at whom over taxation of trade routes, this could have been more interesting. Was the Trade Federation unfairly raising taxes on poor Naboo? Naboo doesn’t look poor. It has massive palaces and an apparent population of twenty-five. Why would they be raising taxes on Naboo? Perhaps it would have been better if we were told that the Trade Federation had become so large and powerful that it was starting to turn into a quasi-empire operating outside of space law. Raising taxes on Naboo could have been part of their recent campaign to start throwing their weight around and challenging the Republic’s authority. If only there was some way to introduce these facts to the audience, like for example in a short text that would…crawl…if you will, up the screen in the beginning of the film.

And speaking of clunky, boring space politics, what’s with people’s titles in the prequels, specifically Count Dooku? Here’s a basic rundown of noble titles for you:

Baron > holds a barony

Count > holds a county

Duke > Duchy

Kingdom > Seriously, do I need to tell you this one?

Emperor > This one too?

Dmytro Yarosh > A Ukraine

Okay so if Dooku is a count, what is his county? Seriously, king I can sort of understand. King of a planet, for example. Or maybe you can be the king of a planet and you have a duke that rules one of the moons or something, but what exactly would a space county entail? That’s a pretty small holding. Yes, I know Dune has a Duke and even a Baron (a barony being even smaller than a county), but I feel that we can give Frank Herbert a pass because he dedicated so much work to constructing the political system of his universe. At least I think he did. I never finished the book. I just watched that David Lynch film a bunch of times for laughs and that low-budget Sci-Fi channel version. The point is I’m not nitpicking here; nobody put a gun to George’s head and made him give someone the title of count.

That being said, I have to say I disagreed with those who said it was lame that Sith had to have “Darth” in their name. I thought the idea that Sith have some kind of title was interesting, but sadly this seems as poorly explored as the origins and motivations of Darth Maul. Those of you who oppose the naming convention of “Darth” for Sith are way off base here.

As is often the case with Star Wars discussion, fans inevitably tend to start talking about how the prequels could have been better. For me, the politics weren’t the problem- boring politics were. I’d rather they cut out that all that pod-racing bullshit to give us some decent exposition on the motives of the Trade Federation, the problems of the Republic and its shaky system of democracy, and perhaps a little backstory on where the Sith came from and why they are out for revenge. In Episode II we are suddenly confronted by this separatist movement, yet it just appears out of nowhere. All we know is that ten years earlier, the Trade Federation lost a battle. Maybe we should have seen the rise of the Trade Federation, how it corrupted some other organizations and systems, and then led to the rise of the separatist confederacy or whatever. The separatists begin to win, Republic starts cracking down on dissent and democratic processes for the sake of winning the war, and then at some point- BAM! A putsch puts Palpatine in charge as emperor.

No good? Okay try this one on for size. The core system of the Republic is becoming more and more corrupt, and Chancellor Palpatine refuses to leave according to the constitution. A smaller system, seeing that their ruler is linked to Palpatine, rises up against their government, and the ruler flees back to Palpatine (we learn later that the ruler is also a Sith). Palpatine, furious that the system won’t submit to his new restructuring of the Republic into an empire, conspires to start a war on the system’s home planet using clones that look like local people. Soon he’s sending the first stormtroopers there, but he’s telling the imperial senate that there are no troops on the planet, claiming that the locals have ample resources with which to construct the white plastic armor which looks suspiciously identical to that of his new stormtroopers.

Then all these other systems and their representatives are like, “Hey Palpatine, you’re the reason there’s a war on that planet!” But Palpatine is like “No! No! It’s not my fault! There are no stormtroopers on that planet! Your minds are being clouded by the Sith! They organized a coup to take that vital system out of the empire! That planet’s new government is run by Sith lords, and they want to kill all residents who support the empire! They crucified younglings!

On second thought, scratch that last idea. That’s too ridiculous. Who would believe that the empire could have stormtroopers and vehicles on a tiny planet and actually try to deny it? Palpatine is evil but he isn’t a moron.


7 thoughts on “Space politics

  1. gbd_crwx

    Considering that Palpatine seemed to be a master of the long game, but maybe less good at the shorter format, the last three paragraphs seems unlikely to take place in the Star Wars universe

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The truth is that if you talk your way through the whole thing, Palpatine’s whole plan is ridiculous. It relies far too much on convenience and specific actions of many people over the course of something like 15 years, during which all kinds of unforeseen things could happen.

      1. gbd_crwx

        Of course, but he is a movie villain, with magical powers…Anyhow, in some ways, he seems resourceful enough to gain from any outcome. But what i didn’t understand was the transformation to empire. If I remember history right Augustus retained the illusion of the roman republic, and stepped down a few times, only to be brought back by the senate. Palpatine declaring himself emperor just doesn’t make any sense.

  2. Lucy Sohryu (@sohryu_l)

    >Dmytro Yarosh > A Ukraine

    Made my evening.

    Star Wars politics was how I came to the conclusion that parliamentary systems aren’t inherently better at preventing abuse of power. Granted, the Republic was a pretty stupid parliamentary system, but still.

    This is also relevant because I have a (Russian-language) LJ where I sometimes discuss stuff like that.


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