On the face of it, Star Wars seems like a pretty traditional story of good vs evil, where the heroes get the girl, the galaxy is saved, and the brave rebels get to ride off into the sunset when all is said and done.
But what if the Rebels aren’t actually fighting for truth and justice across the galaxy? What if, instead, they’re making everything worse? Today we’re examining the idea that the Empire were actually the good guys – and it holds up better than you might expect.
20. The Republic wasn’t working
Every Star Wars fan is expected to accept that the Empire just doesn’t work as a form of government, but when you look at the prequels trilogy, it’s pretty obvious that what came before wasn’t much better. The Republic might have been functional once upon a time, but if it was we never get to see it that way – Episodes I through III instead only show how it is full of competing factions and too big to fail. Maybe the most compelling evidence for this is that when the Trade Federation first becomes a threat, flagrantly breaking laws and creating an intimidatingly powerful alliance, all the Republic can do is call for an inquiry.
Democracy moves so slowly under the Republic that it essentially makes no difference, leaving the Republic wide open to basically destroy itself. The strength of the Empire, meanwhile, is that they are centralised, and can move swiftly to end smaller conflicts within the galaxy.
19. The Jedi were no longer doing their jobs
Instead of any kind of large-scale army, maybe made up of the forces of each member state, pre-Empire the Republic instead relied on the Jedi council to keep the peace. Even at the height of their power, these lightsaber-wielding space wizards numbered only in the thousands, meaning they couldn’t possibly be everywhere they needed to be in order to solve crime and keep chaos from breaking out across the galaxy. Not only that, but in the prequels, even the Jedi admit that their powers are diminished and failing and that they cannot promise to keep the galaxy entirely safe.
Their weakened connection to the force means that they fail to notice the dark side’s rise to prominence and when pursuing justice they are just as likely to prioritise murder over a fair trial as the Sith. It’s also arguably the Jedi order that led to the power of the Sith, due to the fact that the more Jedi trained, the more powerful the Sith became to balance it out.
18. The Empire is a meritocracy
Many of the protagonists of Star Wars are people who came from nothing – whether that’s a literal child slave like Anakin or a humble moisture farmer like Luke. Both of these characters long to get away from the drudgery of their life and pursue something greater, and it’s suggested that the Rebels will provide them with both opportunities and a family. In fact, it’s actually the Empire who are more likely to give them a purpose in life.
The galaxy is littered with training academies designed by the Empire to reward hard work and promote advancement, with even Han Solo getting his start at one after escaping his former life. Even when Solo becomes an enemy of the Empire, his contribution to it does not go unrecognised, with his enemies still referring to him as Captain to recognise his role in the Imperial Starfleet.
17. They ended the chaos of the Clone Wars
Maybe the biggest point in the Republic’s favour is that it was able to boast maintaining peace, frequently referring to a period of prosperity that lasted for a hundred years. The problem is, that calm climate promoted self-interest and complacency, leaving the planets to be run by bureaucrats more interested in maintaining their own position than actively making life better for their citizens. On the other side of things, the Empire manages to contain and bring to an end one of the most devastating conflicts the galaxy has ever seen, one that both the Jedi and the Republic failed to resolve.
Throughout the whole of the Clone Wars, the Republic was forced to fight defensively and deal with the Separatists on their own terms, whereas the might of the Empire ensured that such a large-scale coup was unlikely to ever happen again. Not only that, but the Empire makes a concentrated effort to placate the Separatists, thus getting rid of the root causes of the Clone Wars.
16. The Trade Federation was becoming too powerful
Speaking of the Clone Wars, even the discontent that fuelled it was made worse by the Republic, who failed to realise just how powerful the corporate interests of the galaxy were. Instead of making the connection that ruthless taxation could lead to discontent and actively involve them in a dialogue to reach a compromise, the Republic’s shunning of the Outer Rim only made the Separatists believe that war was the only option.
Meanwhile, the Empire made sure that the corporate sector of the galaxy was happy, by ensuring that the economy was serving them and that they were given good contracts and enough freedom. At the same time, the Empire stopped the corporate interests from ever eclipsing the government’s own power, both legally and militarily. Not only did this prevent anybody from getting too powerful and undermining the Empire, but it also encouraged competition by ensuring it would be rewarded.
15. They boosted the galactic economy
After the Clone Wars, the Empire immediately set about giving normal working people a focus again, whilst stopping the galaxy from falling into chaos due to the void the Trade Federation left. The Empire did this by seizing the assets of those no longer operating companies that had backed the Confederacy, and creating co-operatives that employed more people, distributed wealth more efficiently, and kickstarted the manufacturing industry. Almost all Empire ships and weapons were created by these new companies, which included Kuat Drive Yards, Sienar Fleet Systems, the TaggeCo megacorporation and Merr-Sonn Munitions.
This decision created countless jobs and brought wealth to new sectors and planets, whilst giving everyone an opportunity to take part and advance if they wished. This approach to boosting the economy might explain why many citizens seeme happy under Imperial rule, as they personally saw an uptick in their quality of life.
14. The Empire isn’t as brutal as it seems
The most memorable evil act that the Empire commits is obviously their destruction of Alderaan, a choice so completely ruthless that it’s impossible to justify. Almost. The reason it seems so completely indefensible is that Leia herself says the planet is peaceful – harbouring no weapons, no secret rebellion, and no intention to face off against the Empire. The only problem with that is we have no reason to believe that what Leia’s saying is true, and neither does the Empire.
Everything Leia says whilst in Imperial captivity is a lie, from saying she is on a diplomatic mission whilst actually actively spying, to falsifying information about where the Rebels are based. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Alderaan actually is armed and dangerous, and does have intent to act violently against the Empire. In fact, given Leia’s high status and personal stake in the Rebellion, it actually makes more sense that the planet would be somehow involved.
13. Life under the Empire could actually be pretty fun
Even if you can admit that many of the Empire’s decisions are totally logical, you might be stuck on the fact that the Empire seems like a pretty joyless place to live. That would definitely be a point against them if true, but there’s actually not much indication that it is. Though the military is pretty strictly regimented, that’s actually the case under most regimes, no matter the planet or even system of government.
Those who choose to join up and fight are probably attracted to order and discipline, but there are career paths for those who prefer a more laidback approach to life too. In fact, for most citizens of the galaxy, life was probably pretty similar under both the Republic and the Empire. Most people were left to do their jobs and then spend their free time however they wanted – going to clubs and bars, playing card games, attending concerts, even seeing bands like The Emperor’s New Clothes. The galaxy’s most beloved sport is Wegsphere, which was developed under the Empire and even became its official sport! (It’s low-gravity football, if you’re wondering.)
12. Even Palpatine wasn’t totally evil
It takes a while to come around to the idea that the Empire isn’t unambiguously evil, but even once you do, it’s hard to accept that Palpatine isn’t just a one-dimensional bad guy. The dude has unnatural eyes and skin so grey that it cannot be human, and he walks around under a black cloak, croaking like a crazy old wizard – surely there’s nothing good about him? It’s not quite that simple. Palpatine’s ambition from the beginning was to create a governmental system less prone to squabbling and infighting that could wreck progress and stunt ambition – something he definitely achieved.
However, he also had contingency plans to protect the people of the galaxy from future threats, ones the Jedi couldn’t see and which the Republic couldn’t possibly fight. The Yuuzhan Vong are a contingent of ruthless cultists committed to destruction, with technology so advanced that it’s immune to the force. Though Palpatine was deposed long before they arrived, he foresaw their arrival and made plans to protect his people.
11. The Empire makes the galaxy safer
Palpatine’s willingness to prepare for threats that would emerge long after he was no longer around should be evidence that the Empire was truly committed to making the galaxy safer. With that said, the regime was committed to eliminating crime on many levels, as seen by their persistent and successful attempts to curb the power of the Hutt family – a criminal group involved in smuggling, trafficking, and worse. Not only that, but the Empire is obviously dedicated to putting more boots on the ground, in order to reduce street-level crime.
The planets without a strong Stormtrooper presence are filled to the brim with theft, betrayal and an underground economy, which leaves people vulnerable to victimhood. There’s no denying that the intimidating presence of Imperial forces reduces the likelihood of criminals to try their luck, and that makes everybody safer as a result.
10. There’s no progression as a Jedi
The Jedi are essentially the mythic heroes of the Star Wars universe. At least during the times where knowledge of them was common and accepted, there was no profession more idolised or revered than that of the Jedi Knights. However, not just anyone can be a Jedi. In fact, even a sky-high midi-chlorian count isn’t enough to guarantee a position as a Jedi master. The Jedi are such sticklers for the rules that many talented and force-sensitive people never got the opportunity to become Jedi, or were kept from becoming masters if they were allowed to train.
Either they are too old or too emotional, or too willing to question tradition and authority when they grow up. This stops so many Jedi from ever reaching their potential, and the galaxy is no doubt less safe because of it. The best example of this is Anakin, who spends many years clearly showing that he is one of the most talented force users the Jedi have ever encountered, during a time when their ability to use the force was on the decline. That, plus his unorthodox viewpoint and approach, could have revitalised the Jedi – but instead, he was never offered the opportunity to become a master, thus solidifying his destiny to become a Sith.
9. The Empire introduced universal currency
It’s taken as an objectively bad thing that once the Empire is in control, they immediately set up a centralised government that controls even the furthest and most distant planets. However, this overlooks some of the clear benefits that a centralised government can bring, with the biggest high point no doubt being a centralised currency. The use of Imperial credits across planets and even star systems means that certain civilisations don’t see their economy crash thanks to a weak exchange rate, and cannot be taken advantage of by stronger planets in terms of trade.
It also means that the growth of the economy benefits everybody, and less profitable areas are buoyed up by the strength of the Empire as a whole. Not to mention, the fact that the same currency can be spent on any planets means there’s much more freedom to travel across the galaxy. Anyone can make their fortune anywhere and can save up to create a new life for themselves on a brand new planet if they really want to. That mobility only makes the whole Empire stronger.
8. The Jedi are accountable to no one
Despite being a religion, the Jedi hardly function as a bunch of sequestered monks, keeping their distance from the rest of the galaxy to focus on wisdom and contemplation. In reality, the Jedi actually function more like a special branch of the military, following the will of the government to bring about justice using skills that nobody else has. That alone is already pretty frightening – there’s no guarantee that every call the Republic makes in order to preserve peace by deploying the Jedi was actually the right one, and the power to command them could be hugely dangerous in the wrong hands.
However, the bigger problem is that the power the Jedi wield is so large that they could have easily pressured the Republic, and they would have no clear way to respond. The Jedi are not democratically elected – nobody has any say over who is allowed to wield the force, and the process of choosing who is on the Jedi council is even more obscure. If they wanted to have influenced policy, or even pressure the Republic to go to war, they would have the numbers, the power and the Jedi mind tricks to do so.
7. The Empire is full of people passionate about peace
It might sometimes seem like the Empire is full of mustache-twirling bad guys, but that is mostly because the stories we are shown are told from the perspective of the Rebellion and the Republic. However, despite the Rebellion’s insistence that every person working in proximity to a Stormtrooper is determined to ruin the galaxy, most are just ordinary people living ordinary lives. More than that, some of the people working in high-ranking positions in The Empire are determined to bring about peace and justice for the planets under their care, and are committed to protecting people far more than their Republic or Rebellion counterparts.
One Star Destroyer captain, known as Ciena Ree, joined the Imperial Forces because they thought it was the best way to see the world and look out for people, and was soon promoted after the Battle of Endor. As Captain, Ree went out of her way to prioritise saving the civilians of the planets where clashes with the Rebellion were taking place, even when not explicitly told to by her superiors. She also made sure to protect her fellow pilots and minimise destruction and disruption to the planet below, sticking with them even when all hope seemed lost.
6. The Emperor does away with clones
One of the biggest ethical sticking points in Star Wars is the morality behind certain kinds of troops and employees, whether it’s droids or clones. At first glance, it seems like both the Empire and the Republic are equally reliant on clones for their forces, which throws up a whole host of ethical questions about how much they actually value the people willing to die for the cause. With that said, though the first generation of stormtroopers were entirely clones, they weren’t engineered to live longer than the average human and soon began to die off.
Rather than clone more troops and have an infinite army, the position of every second generation stormtrooper was filled by a human, who volunteered to enlist and fight. This might seem like a weird choice, but it was the Emperor’s personal preference. Even though the human stormtroopers were slower and more disobedient, he made a point of phasing out the clones as soon as possible. The reason for this is that the Emperor believed it was better to have a human workforce who could consent to work as part of the Imperial forces.
5. The Empire brought about a technological revolution
Given that the Republic consisted of an outdated democratic system led by an old-school monarchy, it’s not super surprising that the galaxy under its care was somewhat lacking technologically. In fact, half of the power of the Trade Federation came from the fact that they were constantly pushing for innovation and advancement, and their anger came from feeling stifled by the somewhat old-school Republic. By contrast, the Empire constantly pushes to advance on a technological basis, both out of necessity and as a point of pride.
The need for defence meant creating superweapons, like the Death Star, that had never been conceived of before, as well as other smaller weapons that could call on a supernova to wipe out a planet. Also, the Empire’s centralised approach to government means that they could invest in huge telecommunication networks so that each planet could keep in touch with its neighbours. Not only did that provide thousands of jobs, but it also facilitated more trade, as well as a safer galaxy. Bringing the planets together probably also fostered a much bigger feeling of community, throughout the Empire.
4. The Rebellion didn’t have galaxy-wide support
When you first watch the original Star Wars trilogy, it’s impossible not to root for the ragtag group of rebels trying to defend peace and justice against the big bad of the Empire, but have you ever wondered why they are so ragtag? There are countless planets in the galaxy, and an even more countless amount of citizens on each planet, all of whom are apparently being crushed under the bootheel of the Empire. The question is: if the Empire is so terrible, why wouldn’t more people have come out in support of the Rebels?
It’s understandable that many would be scared by the Imperial forces’ immense power, but you’d think that there’d still be more than a few dozen willing to risk it all for a better life. Not only that, but there are plenty of other ways to stand up to the Empire. Those planets who were too scared to actively fight could have funnelled in resources – aiding the Rebels with weapons, money or just general support. The fact that barely any planets were willing to help even indirectly, implies that many were happy with the status quo, and actively preferred it to the insurgent rebel forces.
3. The Empire coexists peacefully with aliens
There’s no doubting the fact that the Empire is pretty human-centric, from the lines of marching stormtroopers to the almost all-human leadership. Contrast that with the Rebellion and also the Republic, who seem to have more aliens on staff despite a pretty high percentage of humans. That might seem like a point against the Empire, but when you take into account which group actually coexists with alien populations, then things come out mostly in the Empire’s favour.
Unlike with the Republic and the Jedi, we never see the Empire attempt to mind trick an entire alien civilisation simply in order to bring them on-side (see: the Gungans). Not only that, but when the Empire built their shield generator on a planet where there was an established colony of Ewoks, they were content to leave them to continue life as usual. It was only when the Rebels showed up that the Ewoks had to deal with upheaval, chaos and violence that they didn’t agree to.
2. The morality of the Jedi creates villains
There’s so much evidence of the fact that the Jedi code inevitably leads to suffering that it’s almost an article all of its own. With that said, one key argument is that by creating a religion wherein feeling emotion is something to be feared and suppressed, villains like Darth Vader will always reoccur. Though there are several religions on Earth that emphasise detachment in order to allow for peace and clarity, none actively punish the idea of love and commitment.
Not only that, but the Jedi create such a climate of fear and obedience that even when Anakin is uncertain of the path he should take, he doesn’t feel like he can talk to his master about it. Without the unnecessary discipline of the Jedi Order, Anakin never would have felt abandoned by the only place he wanted to belong, and so never would have looked for answers elsewhere. He also wouldn’t have been susceptible to manipulation by the Sith, as their offer to let him prioritise those he loved wouldn’t have had any power over him.
1. The Rebellion sees alien species as expendable
We’ve already discussed the ways in which the Empire is better for the aliens of the galaxy than the Republic ever was, but it’s actually worse than you might imagine. More than fighting wars on their planets and mind-tricking them to agree to aid and abet the Rebellion, the Republic and the rebel groups they endorse actively made life dangerous and even deadly for the alien races of the galaxy. When the rebels invaded the Ewok’s planet to further their agenda, the destruction of their home and upheaval of their routine was actually the least of their worries.
In fact, even the fact that many of them became civilian casualties wasn’t the worst thing to come out of their interaction with the rebels, as they were also conscripted to fight. The Rebels expended a huge amount of energy trying to convince the Ewoks to participate in the conflict, not out of any sense of moral duty, but simply because they didn’t have enough manpower to win otherwise.