Movie Musings: Palpatine’s three key manipulations to becoming Emperor (aka “It wasn’t all Jar Jar Binks’ fault”)
“All democracies turn into dictatorships–but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it’s Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea. What kinds of things push people and institutions in this direction? That’s the issue I’ve been exploring: how did the Republic turn into the Empire?…How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship?” – George Lucas , from the April 21, 2002 edition of Time Magazine
Of all the incidents within George Lucas’ prequel trilogy for his Star Wars saga, the one that has come to light in recent years, has been the constant talk that Jar Jar Binks was responsible for the rise of The Empire. Plus, thanks to a small bit in a Robot Chicken sketch on Cartoon Network, a rumor developed that the dopey Gungan was not only a secret Sith Lord, but the true “Phantom Menace.”
Regarding these fan-theories, I find the secret Sith Lord one to be ridiculous. As for bringing about the rise of the Empire, like most things that people think are so simple, there’s more to that story than people realize.
As we’ve seen from our own real-world political systems, it is often a number of people being manipulated, to get some of those in power what they want. With this post, I hope to shed a little more light on the political chess game of the prequels, and hopefully show ‘a certain point of view’ some may not have considered before.*
Let us consider Palpatine’s first major move to become Emperor. It would involve someone from Naboo…but not Jar Jar.
*Note: This post only takes into account the films and their script information. It does not take into account the Expanded Universe.
In The Phantom Menace, Naboo Senator Palpatine (under the guise of Sith Lord, Darth Sidious) manipulated the Trade Federation to blockade his peaceful homeworld. With a security force made up largely of volunteers, their armed forces would not have stood a chance against the thousands of battle droids the Federation unleashed across the planet.
In regards to her political stance, Queen Amidala put great faith in diplomacy and negotiations, and refused to go to war. Upon hearing that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had sent two Jedi (Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to negotiate a settlement, she was confident the matter would be resolved amicably.
Acting on orders from Palpatine, the Trade Federation attempted to kill the Jedi, but the two succeeded in getting to the capital city of Theed, and alerting the Queen to what had happened.
Though Amidala wished to remain with her people, Qui-gon recommended she escape with them, feeling her first-person account of what was happening, would convince the Senate to help her planet.
Arriving in the Republic capital of Coruscant, Padme was met by both Palpatine and Valorum. Though the Supreme Chancellor informed her that he had called an emergency meeting of the Senate to hear of her situation, Palpatine later told Padme in private, that he doubted anything would be done.
“The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates,” he said. “There is no interest at all in the common good.”
Palpatine also claimed that some felt Valorum himself was compromised, and that he was under the thumb of the bureaucrats. To save their planet, Palpatine floated two options.
The first option, would be to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum. This would (hopefully) allow for the election of “a stronger Supreme Chancellor,” who might be able to help them.
The second option, would be to submit a plea to the courts…which would probably take more time than the Senate to come to a decision regarding the blockade.
When Palpatine and Amidala appeared before the Senate, the Queen’s words were shouted down by the Trade Federation’s members. Objecting to the ‘accusations,’ they claimed Amidala had no proof, and that a committee be sent to Naboo to find out the truth.
Valorum attempted to intervene, before his vice chair Mas Amedda had a few words in private with him.
“Enter the bureaucrats,” Palpatine whispered to Padme. “The true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum’s strength…will disappear.”
It sounded like Palpatine’s words rang true when Valorum conceded, asking Padme if she would allow the Trade Federation’s request to be accepted.
The young ruler refused, claiming she had come for a proper resolution of help, not to see her people be ignored further. It wass then that she took Palpatine’s advice, and called for a vote of no confidence in Valorum.
Following these events, Palpatine ended up being one of the senators nominated to succeed Valorum. Telling the Queen the news, he explained that their planet’s current situation could create “a strong sympathy vote,” that might sway the election in their favor.
In the end, Padme and her companions returned to Naboo, and with the help of Jar Jar and the Gungans, took back control of the planet.
As the Trade Federation leaders were led away, the newly-elected Supreme Chancellor Palpatine greeted the Queen. With a smile, he promised that they would bring “peace and prosperity to the Republic.”
Of course, within that smiling optimism, was the mind of a devious tyrant, happy that his plans were still moving forward.
Yes, Jar Jar Binks did have a hand in Palpatine’s rise to power. No, it wasn’t all his fault.
When we first meet Jar Jar in Attack of the Clones, he is in residence at Amidala’s senatorial apartment on Coruscant. Following the Battle of Naboo, he was chosen as a representative for the Gungans in the Galactic Senate.
Though he was just there in a physical manner, when Padme was forced to go into hiding due to several assassination attempts, she appointed Jar Jar to act as a full representative to Naboo in her stead.
At the time, Padme and a number of other Senators were strongly opposed to “The Military Creation Act” in the Senate. With the rise of the Separatist movement (being led by former Jedi, Count Dooku), there were fears that the powerful group could overthrow the Republic. While some felt a military act would quell the Separatists, Padme and a number of other Senators still believed that diplomacy could win out.
Of course, she couldn’t have foreseen Palpatine’s next move. This would occur due to two pieces of information, uncovered by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The first was the discovery of a Clone Army, that was being created on the planet Kamino, for the Republic (though the order was placed through an unknown Jedi named, Sifo-dyas).
The second revelation occurred on the planet Geonosis, where Obi-Wan found the Trade Federation’s droid factories creating a droid Army, that was to be utilized by the Separatists to attack the Republic.
While some senators felt that a ready-in-waiting Clone Army could be advantageous to the Republic, senator Bail Organa expressed concern that there was not enough support in the Senate to approve such a thing in case the Separatists did swiftly decide to attack.
This was when Palpatine’s advisor Mas Amedda made a shocking proposal: give the Supreme Chancellor emergency powers. This would allow him to override the Senate’s indecisiveness, and immediately approve the use of the clone army.
“But what senator would have the courage to pose such a radical amendment?” questioned Palpatine.
“If only…Senator Amidala were here,” muttered Amedda.
These words seemed to be leveled at Jar Jar, and wanting to do right by Padme and his homeworld, he volunteered to raise the issue in the Senate. Much like how Padme had been sucked in by Palpatine’s manipulations 10 years before…now too, would Jar Jar!
Explaining the dire situation facing the Republic, Representative Binks’ request was approved by a majority of the Senators, and Palpatine addressed the delegates.
“It is with great reluctance, that I have agreed to this calling,” he said. “I love democracy, I love the Republic. The power you give me, I will lay down, once this crisis has abated.”
And thus, the clone army was ordered to Geonosis to try and stop the Separatists. However, the Separatist Leaders and Count Dooku succeeded in getting away, and thus, the Clone War began.
Palpatine had now gained special powers beyond the Senate, and a massive army at his command…but, he was not all-powerful…yet.
As the Clone War entered it’s third year at the start of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine began to finalize his grand scheme. All he needed…was a powerful-yet-confused young Jedi.
Palpatine had befriended Anakin after the Battle of Naboo, and while Anakin seemed to believe in the Chancellor, he saw nothing wrong with the Senate giving him even more power. Unlike Padme, Anakin favored more direct action, and less diplomacy.
During a battle over Coruscant, Palpatine had tested Anakin’s resolve to kill Count Dooku, and Anakin had reluctantly beheaded the former Jedi at the Chancellor’s request. Palpatine could sense his power over Anakin…but, he needed to push him to further doubt his allegiance to the Jedi, to win him over to his side.
This would occur in several ways.
The first was Palpatine appointing Anakin to be his ‘personal representative’ on the Jedi Council. The council found this decision ‘disturbing,’ but made a concession: Anakin could serve on the council per the Chancellor’s order…but he would not be granted the rank of “Master.”
This decision infuriated Anakin, but so did a secret request by the Jedi to spy on the Chancellor for them…a request that was made in secret by his mentor, Obi-Wan.
However, what weighed most heavily on Anakin’s mind, was a vision in which Padme had died during childbirth. In Attack of the Clones, he was unable to save his mother from death on Tatooine, and vowed he would not lose Padme as well. Anakin spoke to Master Yoda of his fears, but all Yoda would tell him was that he must accept the deaths of others he cared for…something which Anakin was unable to do.
Palpatine sensed these roiling emotions in Anakin, and told him of a Sith Lord called Darth Plagueis, who it was said could save others from dying. However, it would require knowledge of the Dark Side of the Force, to gain this ability.
“Is it possible to learn this power?” asked Anakin.
“…not from a Jedi,” Palpatine had responded, sensing that he had piqued Anakin’s interests.
When next they met, Palpatine revealed himself as a Sith Lord…but as he expected, Anakin did not kill him. Instead, Anakin reported Palpatine’s identity to Mace Windu, hoping that the Jedi would jail the Chancellor, and allow Anakin the chance to find out more about what Palpatine knew. Instead, Mace felt the Sith Lord was too dangerous to live, and attempted to kill him upon their confrontation!
Fearing the loss of the power to save his wife, Anakin attacked Mace, giving Palpatine the chance to electrocute the Jedi Master with Force lighting, and throw him through a window to his death.
Palpatine knew he now had Anakin in his clutches. Promising the two of them would discover Plagueis’ secret to ‘cheat death’ together, Anakin then pledged his allegiance to the Sith Lord…and was bestowed the mantle, of Darth Vader.
Anakin even gave into Palpatine’s words that all the Jedi had to be destroyed, or they would surely try to take over the Republic. With the promise that their deaths would lead to strengthening his new powers, Anakin led a battalion into the Jedi Temple, and was even willing to slaughter children if it meant keeping his wife alive.
He then traveled to Mustafar, where he dispatched the Separatist leaders. This would mean an end to the Clone War, but the real nightmare was about to begin for the Republic.
During the slaughter on Mustafar, Palpatine called an emergency meeting of the Senate.
Appearing before them with his ‘scarred and deformed’ visage, he told how the Jedi had attempted to overthrow the Republic and kill him, and were now in the process of being ‘hunted down and defeated.’
This should have come as a shock to many in the Senate. The Jedi had been a part of the Republic for many generations, and yet the announcement that the “Jedi rebellion had been foiled,” led to cheers from many (though not from Bail Organa or Padme Amidala, who quietly watched the horror that was unfolding before them).
It was then that Palpatine declared that to ensure a ‘safe and secure society,’ the Republic would be reorganized, into the first Galactic Empire.
This declaration that signaled the fall of the Republic, was met by a look of shock from Padme, as the Senate chamber erupted into a cacophony of approval.
“So this is how liberty dies,” sighed Padme. “With thunderous applause.”
And as Revenge of the Sith drew to a close, it seemed that the Power of the Dark Side had triumphed. The Jedi Order had been destroyed, there was a massive military force at the beck-and-call of the new Emperor, and Palpatine was now the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy.
Though the Sith had taken over the Republic, it would take some time before the Empire would be defeated.
Much like how Palpatine had manipulated Anakin into becoming his apprentice, he soon hoped that Luke Skywalker would be able to replace Vader. However, Luke was not so easily swayed. Though caught off-guard at times, he proved to be stronger than his father had been, resisting the Emperor’s temptations, and even helped redeem his father when Vader threw his master down a shaft in the second Death Star.
And as we’ve seen via The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine survived to terrorize the galaxy another day…but that is another story that we can delve into at another time.
For now, I hope I have opened your minds a little further, and we can give Jar Jar Binks a little more of a break.