Thursday, March 8, 2012

Introduction: The Politics of Star Wars

When Star Wars fans dream of that Galaxy Far, Far Away, our minds often envision epic space battles or climactic lightsaber duels. However, from its very inception Star Wars has been a saga about politics, both in the system of galactic governance and in the individual pursuit of power. Along with The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is probably the most sophisticated analysis of power and ambition in the science fiction or fantasy genres. It has also bravely - if sometimes controversially - addressed real-world political disputes.

As a fan of both Star Wars and politics, I've been somewhat disheartened at the lack of follow-through on the political themes in the movies. Unlike scholarship on The Lord of the Rings books, scholars have barely explored politics in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Some of the Star Wars novels and Expanded Universe materials expand upon political stories, but even these answer surprisingly few questions about the basics of galactic politics. For example:

  • Does the Republic Senate have political parties?
  • What are the basic cleavages in galactic politics (e.g., sector of space, race/species, etc.)?
  • How does Palpatine control the bureaucracy? Or does he?
  • How does the justice system (or Judicials) work? Can courts exercise constitutional review?
  • What is the distribution of power between planetary governments and the Galactic Senate?
  • How much influence do citizens or voters have in political life?

I started this blog partly as a chance to explore these questions. Of course, the definitive answers must come from George Lucas, but I believe that the political science literature that exists on Earth in the 21st century can provide some hints. Strip away the Sith Lords and hyperdrives and you get a political system that eerily resembles some that we have seen in our own history. Indeed, George Lucas openly cited the Watergate saga and the Vietnam War as a major influence on the Original Trilogy.

To be clear, I have little interest in using political science as a means of testing whether Star Wars politics is realistic. Rather, this blog is intended primarily to employ political science and history as a means of enriching our enjoyment of the saga. However, I also hope to find ways in which Star Wars can enrich academia's understanding of politics. Indeed, I think there are lessons on how morality intersects with politics that might prove very fruitful.

Because the Star Wars universe has grown extremely large in the past two decades, by necessity I have to limit this blog to discussion of the Original Trilogy, Prequel Trilogy, and The Clone Wars series - i.e., those sources developed and approved by George Lucas himself ("G-level canon"). However, I'll certainly throw in some Expanded Universe material that is relevant or particularly on point, such as James Luceno's Darth Plagueis novel. Feel free to add comments discussing other relevant EU material.

Overall, I hope this blog fills a gap in Star Wars fandom and enriches the discussion of the politics in Star Wars. May the Force be with you!

Next post: Where are the political parties in Star Wars?


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