Is Star Wars Libertarian?

star wars, libertarian, emperor palpatine, death star, libertopia, illustrationIf you’ve followed the blog for very long, you’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a pretty big science fiction fan. Having written about libertarianism and Star Trek, as well as having interviews from various sci-fi authors (like Ascension Epoch and Rob Kroese), the worlds depicted in sci-fi always seems to have plenty to talk about. Which is why I’ve been wanting to talk about Star Wars for a little while now. Yes, I’ve watched and enjoyed all the movies (including the prequels – which aren’t my favorite, but DO add interesting elements to the overall story), and am looking forward (albeit a bit apprehensively) to the yet to be released Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  I’m also currently on my second viewing of the Clone Wars Animated Series (having watched the entire series once before), and  in the midst of Season 2 of Star Wars: Rebels. Additionally, I’ve played a lot of the Star Wars games, from Dark Forces and TIE Fighter on the PC, to Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, Shadows of the Empire on N64, The Force Unleashed, and the current MMO Star Wars The Old Republic.

While Star Wars doesn’t set out to be libertarian, I’d say the overarching story in this extremely popular franchise certainly has a lot to chew on for the discerning viewer – specifically in the Prequel movies, and the Clone Wars animated series. Because it’s here that we see how the oppressive and tyrannical Galactic Empire of the Original Trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) rises to power. So let’s take a look at what might be some of the more compelling issues that libertarians/voluntaryists might find of interest…

  • In the Prequel Trilogy, we learn that the Republic and the Confederacy are pretty much two sides of the same coin (both are being manipulated by Palpatine, who later becomes Emperor of the galaxy). While the Republic once may have been a place of freedom in the galaxy, it has slowly rotted from within with a galactic senate that largely seems to care only about profit and the warfare state. Those leaders who suspect that something is wrong with the Republic are few and far between, and are largely ignored by their war-mongering counterparts.
  • In the Clone Wars Animated Series, Chancellor Palpatine’s outward appearance is one of a benevolent political leader hesitantly leading the Republic through difficult times – at least at first! However, he’s secretly using a centralized government full of economic and political corruption to his advantage, and is orchestrating the attacks of the Confederacy to further strip away the rights of Republic citizens.
  • Star Wars Rebels depicts the Empire coming to a mostly agricultural planet and subjugating the citizens. The Stormtroopers maintain Imperial law and order, with bureaucrats who are more interested in advancing their careers than in helping the people. Meanwhile, the hero of the story discovers his parents were imprisoned for having a radio show that criticized the Empire. Later in the story, we see an “Empire Day” parade celebrating the day the Empire was founded with a grand display of soldiers and military equipment.
  • Throughout the prequels and animated series, we observe a Jedi order that once was it’s own vibrant community with very specific views regarding spiritual enlightenment. However, as they become drawn into a galactic war where they end up serving as military generals, their beliefs become more watered down and relativistic. Where they were once keepers of peace, now they are used as unwitting tools of destruction. In the end, they can’t effectively see how the “dark side” is influencing the galaxy, and almost become exterminated when the military they once commanded is ordered by the Emperor to turn on them.
  • In Episode 4, A New Hope, Tatooine is a backwater planet with little or no government. However, Luke’s Aunt and Uncle are middle-class farmers and part of a larger self-governing community offering trade and protection from outside threats. This all changes when the Imperials arrive, beat down their door and kill them without a trial.
  • In Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back, Cloud City is a self-governing city that has enjoyed significant financial (free market?) success without having to adhere to Imperial taxation or regulations. However, this too changes when the Empire arrives. Using force and coercion, the Empire pretends to make a deal with Lando (the administrator of Cloud City) that will continue to respect Cloud City sovereignty – but then alters the terms of the deal and proceeds to occupy the city.

These are just a few of the story elements that stood out to me. With the popularity that Star Wars has enjoyed over the last several decades in popular culture, it’s interesting to consider how the story of this fictional universe has impacted people’s thinking over the years – and will likely continue to do so in the future. Much like the Hunger Games franchise, which also has a compelling commentary on real-life events, Star Wars challenges people to think, and potentially view their world a little differently than they once did. So what do you think about Star Wars politics? Do you have additional libertarian themes within the Star Wars universe that you find of particular interest?

Also, check out this great libertarian Star Wars parody by ReasonTV!

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