Long before he was blowing up planets as commander of the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin was known as the Imperial Governor of the Outer Rim. One of Tarkin’s legacies was the forced relocation of citizens on the planet Lothal, where displaced people took refuge in a slum they called “Tarkintown.” A nod to the historic “Hoovervilles” made famous during the Great Depression, this location in Star Wars Rebels draws inspiration from the economic difficulties of the 1930s: an event that led to World War II.
In Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion, our heroes make a stop in a slum removed from the capital city of Lothal. There, they find hungry citizens displaced by the Empire who wanted their land. Left with almost nothing, the citizens of Tarkintown find temporary relief from the crew of the Ghost who share food stolen from the Imperials.
After the stock market crash of 1929, the global economy took a downward turn that lasted over a decade. Massive unemployment, the failing banking system, and lost investments left many people homeless. The president at the time of the crash was Herbert Hoover, who was criticized for being out of touch with reality and not taking enough action in the wake of the crisis. The shantytowns and slums that popped up in cities across America were named to mock him.
Hoovervilles were an all too real location in the United States. Families from many walks of life moved into the clusters of shacks made of cardboard and other found materials that were forming across the nation. They filled New York’s Central Park and the riverside of Portland, Oregon. Seattle, Washington, had multiple Hoovervilles, full of out-of-work fishermen, loggers, and more. One of the largest was in St. Louis, Missouri, where 5,000 homeless gathered along the Mississippi River.
In the early days of the Great Depression, relief was sparse. American policymakers felt that private charity, not government intervention, was enough to support the unemployed masses. Like the residents of Tarkintown in Star Wars Rebels, charity from private individuals and organizations was what kept many people afloat in the early years of the depression in the United Sates.
The economic situation of the world in the decades leading to World War II was a major cause of the Second World War. Economic uncertainty around the world, and near economic collapse in some nations, was the catalyst for the political unrest, nationalism, and militarization that led to global conflict.
Ongoing economic hardship after World War I provided the perfect platform for Nazism to flourish in Germany. In Japan, the economic crash of 1929 led to a series of events that placed greater power in the hands of the military. By 1939, the Great Depression was a key reason why many Americans did not want to enter the war at all. In fact, one of the most vocal anti-war figures was the man who served as president during the economic crash: Herbert Hoover. An isolationist like many Americans, Hoover was famous for wanting to avoid what he called “foreign entanglements.” In the end, the attack on Pearl Harbor transformed America’s opinion of the war almost overnight, changing the course of history and the war.
In the end, the economic recovery fueled by the war ultimately led to the end of Hoovervilles in America. The last Hooverville was demolished in the early 1940s. Yet for millions of people around the world, slums and temporary residences remained a way of life. Bombed out cities, forced relocations, ethnic expulsions, and government internment forced millions from their homes, proving to be one of the ghastliest side effects of the war.
As an excited viewer of Star Wars Rebels, I’m curious to see what the future holds for Lothal and the residents of Tarkintown. Will they find relief? Will the Empire’s grasp only get worse? We’ll all just have to follow along to find out.
Cole Horton is an R2 builder and historian featured on StarWars.com and Marvel.com. You can find him on Twitter @ColeHorton.