Sunday, July 15, 2012

Emperor Palpatine is F.D.R.

                So chances are if you are reading this your enough of a nerd to who Emperor Palpatine is. If you’re not, you probably still know about “Star Wars”, and Plapatine is the big bad guy in those movies. He is Darth Vader’s boss, the creepy dude in black robes who looked like he was a million years old and shot lightning out of his fingers. If you never saw Star Wars, and have no idea what I’m talking about, then go watch it instead of reading this article. Either that or watch “Indiana Jones”, because chances are you need to watch that too if you haven’t seen Star Wars. On to the point, and that is that Emperor Plapatine was based on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Am I saying that F.D.R. was a power hungry dictator? No. I think George Lucas was saying that.
                Where to start? Well since this is a blog entry about Star Wars I’ll start in the middle.  That being said, I’ll be primarily just discussing his actions in the prequel trilogy since he didn’t even show up until the end of “Return of the Jedi” in the originals. In those movies he was a looming threat in the background, and not a character with a lot of depth (not that a whole lot of characters in the prequels had depth.) Back when “Revenge of the Sith” came out a lot of people thought that Palpatine was a critique of George W. Bush because he was involved in a war and expanded executive powers. However this is pretty vague and could be applied to most of the presidents dating back to Lincoln. There was however, a President who was involved in a war that engulfed the entire world in a scale that no one had ever seen before, which employed new and terrifying technologies. In Star Wars Palpatine ruled during the first “full scale galactic war since the formation of republic”. 
                Of course this too is pretty vague, and just because both wars enveloped all of civilization, it doesn’t mean that the two are identical situations.  These similarities are just beginning however. In the original trilogy the Death Star was a plot device, but in the prequels it’s nothing more than a very secretive project to develop a weapon of mass destruction, the first of its kind. Much like something known as the Manhattan project. And just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, so was Princess Leia’s home planet Aalderna. “Hey!” You might say, “F.D.R. didn’t bomb Hiroshima or Nagasaki, that was Truman.” Right, and Palpatine didn’t blow up Aldernaan, that was Vader. 
                Palpatine’s plans stretch back far back to before he was ever the Chancellor. Do you remember the plot for Episode I? No? That’s alright a lot of people have tried to forget it. Well, the movie revolved around an economic crisis. The crisis itself didn’t really make any sense, but it served two important purposes. First of all it gave the chacters something to worry about, but more importantly it’s what got Palpatine elected as the Chancellor. Palpatine’s predecessor, Chancellor Valurum did too little to solve this economic crisis, so Palpatine was elected, he was seen as someone who would be able to handle these tough economic times. Ever hear of the Great Depression? Some guy, Herbert Hoover was president back then you see, and his plan to fix the economy was basically do nothing. Everyone thought he was weak so they decided to elect a “Strong candidate.”
                Once elected F.D.R.’s new deals and other projects began to vastly expand executive powers. Now expanding executive powers was nothing new, even in F.D.R.’s time. However there was one thing that no president had ever done, and that is stay in power for more than two terms. When George Washington stepped down after his second term a precedent was set, which was that no one should campaign for the presidency more than twice, and in all of those years the only other President to campaign for the presidency more than twice was Ulysses S. Grant, and his third campaign was both nonconsecutive and unsuccessful. F.D.R. campaigned and won four terms, he kept running even in severely declineing health, and served as president until he died. The reason that Washington stepped down after two terms was he did not want America to have a king or emperor figure, who would rule all their life. Washington was reluctant to serve even a second term and refused to serve a third. After Roosevelt died the unwritten law on not exceeding two terms was made into written law so that no one could ever do what he did again. So what does any of this have to do with Palpatine? Well in the Star Wars Padme (Natalie Portman) mentions that Palpatine has also stayed in power for more than the customary two terms, by way of amending the constitution.
                Plapatine’s increasing power did not stop there. During the course of the war, which began in his third term, Palpatine continually gained more and more “Emergency powers” which allowed him to become more and more in control of the government. The powers of the senate were being vastly depleted and he often went over their head with his new executive powers. Replace Palpatine with F.D.R. in every sentence in this paragraph and it still works. F.D.R.’s massively expanding powers completely overshadowed the other two branches of government during the Second World War.
                Just as F.D.R. is often celebrated as being one of our greatest presidents as he gave himself more and more power, Palpatine was in the prequels a well-liked leader. Padme even says “This is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause,” while the rest of the members of the senate cheer for him declaring himself emperor. In the same speech that Palpatine announced that he would become emperor, he also revealed a physical deformity that in his own words left him crippled. F.D.R’s polio was one of his most memorable aspects, and he would also have been considered crippled, using a wheelchair in his later years. In the original movies Palpatine had the same wrinkles and hunched, but that seemed at the time to be just a way to show he was old and evil. No mention was ever made of him being crippled. Why then would Lucas make him crippled instead of just having the wrinkles be the product of old age, as everyone already assumed? Palpatine would have been in his eighties in the original trilogy, those wrinkles would make sense on an eighty-something man. The reason for this seemingly insignificant change was most likely to draw yet another parallel between Palpatine and F.D.R.
                Not long after Palpatine was crippled he declared that the Jedi were enemies of the republic and they were to be hunted down. These Jedi which had been born in the Republic and had been citizens their entire lives were, as a group, declared a threat to the republic, just because they were from the same group as someone who attacked the republic. In the case of Star Wars, a group of Jedi attacked Palpatine. Likewise once Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese President Roosevelt signed an executive order which placed Americans with Japanese descent into concentration camps. This order was both highly unethical, and eventually ruled unconstitutional. Perhaps the most striking similarity between these two executive orders is what they were called. The order that destroyed the lives of so many Japanese by stripping them of their possessions and having the army place them into concentration camps was “Executive Order 9066”. In Star Wars when Palpatine tells his army to literally end the lives of the Jedi he says, “Execute Order 66.” This is too much to just be a coincidence.
                So it would seem that George Lucas intentionally based Palpatine, the ultimate evil in the Star Wars universe on one of the most revered presidents of all time. Writers and directors have been using their stories to make political statements about leaders as long as there was literature. Any middle school teacher will tell you that the pigs in animal farm were a critique of communist Russia. The same thing is present in the “Star Wars” prequels, Lucas presents a scathing criticism of a president that America has come to idolize.
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