Dork Out!


I just noticed something odd in the dialogue in the first Star Wars movie. That is, I probably noticed it earlier, but the oddness of it was only made clear just now.

In the first Star Wars (that is, Episode IV: A New Hope) there's a scene where a bunch of Imperial middle-managers are hanging around a conference table discussing how neat their Death Star is. That leads to the following dialogue:

Middle-Manager: The Rebellion will continue to gain support in the Imperial Senate as long as....

Grand Moff Tarkin: (Entering) The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

Middle-Manager: That's impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Tarkin: The regional governors now have direct control over territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

First, there's the oddness of Middle-Manager's leap from Senate dissolution to Bureaucracy dissolution. Generally, administrative agencies fall under the purview of the executive, not the legislature. Moreover, even if under legislative control (a monstrously inefficient arrangement, but one that is perhaps plausible given the rot of the Old Republic) it does not necessarily follow from "Senate dissolved" that all of its subordinate administrative agencies would therefore be dissolved with it, or that the bureaucracy would disappear. The Emperor could transfer control of the administration to himself. Or, if he worries that the old bureaucrats are loyal to the Old Republic's ways, he could build his own bureaucracy that's loyal to him. Presumably he'd have already done this, much as Hitler used the outside structure of the Nazi party to take over and supplement many of the tasks of government that he couldn't trust the old structures to handle to his satisfaction.

But moreover, the explanation Tarkin gives is totally unsatisfactory. He makes the odd leap from an upset in the balance of power (destruction of the legislature and transfer of its authority to the executive) to some sort of ... federalism? Is that the Empire's tyranny? Devolution of enforcement powers to local authorities? I have to say, while not necessarily being a huge fan of federalism myself, that decentralizing power tends to be a move in the direction of less tyranny rather than more.

It could be Lucas was just confused. In fact, it's likely. But if we take things at face value, the plan seems to be to eliminate the centralized mechanisms of control and enforcement, except the military, and trust to local authorities to handle all the day-to-day tasks of governance. There's no local autonomy (they don't get to make the rules) but there will be local enforcement of centrally made rules. Of course, giving people elaborate sets of rules, into which they have no input, and telling them it's their responsibility to enforce those rules is essentially granting them de facto autonomy, particularly if you've destroyed all of your centralized mechanisms for ensuring compliance.

Which leads to Tarkin's final point. "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station." So the idea is that local governments will be given rules and told to enforce them in line with the Emperor's will. If they fail to meet the Emperor's expectation, the Death Star will obliterate them. This, it must be said, is a terribly ineffective means of governance, even from the perspective of the tyrant.

You're faced with the sort of problem Eisenhower faced with the Massive Retaliation scheme he implemented in the 50s. Essentially, we built a lot of B-52s, loaded them with atomic bombs, and set them patrolling in international/friendly skies just outside Russia. The idea was that we were prepared, if the Russians started anything, to bomb the crap out of them (the general outline of this scheme can be seen in Dr. Strangelove and Failsafe). The problem with Massive Retaliation is that it's only really appropriate in the case of an all-out war. If Russian soldiers had started pouring across the Iron Curtain, we would have been ready. But what happens if Russia instead just pushes a little? What happens if they support communist rebels in Greece and Turkey? What happens if they blockade Berlin? Are these actions worth launching a nuclear holocaust over? When your only option is all-out war, you're in trouble when the enemy tries something that doesn't really justify it. You either go too far or you stand by and let them get away with it. When this became clear, we adopted a more flexible range of military responses to Soviet aggression.

So, Fear of This Battle Station. What happens when Kuat Shipyards starts producing Imperial Star Destroyers that aren't quite up to calibre? Blast them out of the skies? If Bothawui's governor decides that he doesn't have the resources to maintain vice enforcement, and focuses instead on smugglers, is that a genocide-worthy offense? It's simply not plausible to maintain complete local compliance when your only control mechanism is the death penalty for a region.

Alright. Assume Tarkin is being hyperbolic. The Death Star's for extreme circumstances, like rebellion. Generally, though, the Empire will deploy a flexible military response to failures by local authorities. This, too, seems ineffective. Fine for military matters; they can use their various spies and military intelligence to determine when local systems are aiding the rebellion. But how will they determine if, for instance, health care policies are properly implemented? Transportation? Taxation? Will Storm Troopers be reviewing citizens' Space 1040s? And is military force an effective means of ensuring compliance with education laws? Doubtful.

My point is that this whole decentralizing + tyranny idea makes no sense. A far better explanation would be that the Senate had been disbanded, but that the Emperor would maintain control through his own centralized bureaucracy. Destroying your central enforcement mechanisms, trusting to local government to pick up the slack, and figuring that military force will ensure compliance is madness. Madness!


Now I've only seen it once, in spanish, but didn't the Emperor dissolve the senate in the last movie (episode III)?

Silly goose!

The Emperor didn't dissolve the Senate, he just tore up the Senate Chambers in that fight with Yoda. The Senate wasn't officially dissolved until over 20 years later, after the completion of the Death Star and after Luke reached maturity.

Also, in my discussion above, I probably should have used Nal Hutta rather than Bothawui. 'Cause Nal Hutta's all about the vice, while Bothawui is all about the cunning but highly disposable spies.

Oh. Oops. Well, like I said, spanish. I can pretty clearly remember one of his lines though, close to the end, in his little floaty-disc thing in the middle of the senate: "La Republica ha muerto!" (The republic has died).

Well, yeah, he destroyed La Republica and made it... El... Empire...O. But he maintained the Senate as a puppet legislature, a figure head with no real power or authority.

February 2012
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

Contact Zach


Webcomics of Which I am a Fan

Sites I Read Daily: Politics

Sites I Read Daily: Video Gaming

Sites I Read Daily: General Miscellany

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Zach published on March 1, 2006 10:19 AM.

Kabuki Redux was the previous entry in this blog.

You Be the Judge: Marital Property is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 5.04