From World War to Star Wars: Rise of an Empire

From World War to Star Wars: Rise of Empires

From relative anonymity rose an unlikely chancellor who was granted emergency powers, disbanded a senate, and built a secret military unlike any other. He ended the republic in favor of his own new order: One where he had unlimited power. Sound familiar? That’s because this is not only the story of Star Wars, but also of the Second World War.

In the Star Wars saga, creator George Lucas showed us how the democratic Republic was slowly manipulated into giving unlimited power to the Sith Lord, Chancellor Palpatine. In Revenge of the Sith, Lucas explored the question, “How do you turn over democracy to a tyrant with applause? Not with a coup, but with applause?” Lucas recalls, “That is the story of Caesar, Napoleon, and Hitler.”

The events of Revenge of the Sith are eerily similar to the real story of Adolf Hitler. In Berlin during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, American reporter Dorothy Thompson witnessed Hitler’s new strategy. Rather than violently overthrow the unstable Weimar Republic governing Germany after World War I, Hitler took control of Germany through legal means. Reporting from Berlin in the 1930s she began to realize that, “No longer was there to be a march on Berlin,” or a coup as Hitler had staged once before. This time, Thompson noted, “Hitler’s movement was going to vote dictatorship in! In itself a fascinating idea. Imagine a would-be dictator setting out to persuade a sovereign people to vote away their rights.”

In the case of both Palpatine and Hitler, both served as chancellor before becoming dictator. Adolf Hitler played upon the instability of the Weimar Republic to rally enough support to be named chancellor of Germany in 1933. Palpatine, capitalizing on the instability of the Republic, seized the opportunity to become chancellor during Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. Lucas elaborates, “Although step one is that Palpatine becomes chancellor, you’ll see in Episode II that he makes another step, and in Episode III he makes another step.”

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That next step was to consolidate power by means of a declaration of emergency powers. For Palpatine, that chance came at the beginning of the Clone War, seen in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. In that story, Jar Jar Binks proposed that Palpatine be granted emergency powers until the Separatist crisis had passed. Also in reaction to a crisis, Hitler seized the opportunity to take emergency powers after the Reichstag fire of 1933. Following a decree from Hitler, the Reichstag and Reichsrat both passed what is known as the Enabling Act, effectively giving the chancellor the power to enact laws without those legislative bodies.

Those legislative bodies wouldn’t last under the new rule. For the Republic Senate, later renamed the Imperial Senate, the end came during the story of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope when Grand Moff Tarkin announced, “The Emperor has dissolved the council permanently.” In Germany, Hitler disbanded the Reichsrat, the legislative body that represented the German states. Historian Ian Kershaw concluded that eventually, “No politburo, war council, cabinet (since 1938), military junta, senate, or gathering of ministers existed to mediate or check his rule.” With legislative bodies disbanded, both Hitler and Palpatine were free to act as they chose.

In both cases, these newly empowered chancellors were able to lead their people to war thanks to a secret army each had been building. For Palpatine, that army was a clone army, created in secret many years before the beginning of the Clone Wars. In Germany, the secret rearmament began years before Hitler became chancellor. As a result of the treaty of Versailles in 1919, Germany was banned from building most implements of war. To get around these restrictions, Germany built U-Boats in Spain and Finland, worked in Russia to build planes and train pilots, and produced tanks under the guise of “agricultural tractors” at home.

With power consolidated and a powerful military at hand, both Hitler and Palpatine were able to rule their peoples by fear. Historian John Keegan best summarized the situation in Germany: “Throughout Hitler’s empire, coercion, repression, punishment, reprisal, terror, extermination — the chain of measure by which Nazi Germany exercised its power over occupied Europe.” In the fictional Star Wars universe, Tarkin summarized the situation in Episode IV: “Fear will keep the local systems in line.”

In the end, both Hitler and Palpatine used their power to end their respective republics and declare their own New Order. For Palpatine, it was his Galactic Empire declared during the events of Revenge of the Sith. For Hitler, the official proclamation of his new order came in 1941 long after the former chancellor gained complete power and thrust the world into a Second World War.

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