In the Star Wars universe, three models of governing the galaxy are presented. The first is Empire, first in the Galactic Empire and then reformulated into the First Order for the sequel trilogy, just stripped of the Empire’s one redeeming future – its cold professionalism. Some Internet contrarians have taken it upon themselves to argue that the Empire is actually what was good for the galaxy, that their actions actions can be justified and that their autocracy is distant enough that it can be overlooked. I find this position unconvincing. They blow up a planet full of billions of people just to prove a point.
The second model is a republic, which is presented as the ideal. The Galactic Republic ruled the galaxy for thousands of years, the heroic Rebel Alliance was formally titled as the Alliance to Restore the Republic, and when the Empire is defeated we celebrated as our heroes formed the New Republic.
However, stripping away Princess Leia’s, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s, and Padme Amidala’s admiration for the Republic, one sees that the third option – Confederacy, is actually the best way to order the galaxy.
The Republic functions in many ways like the European Union, a demilitarized Parliamentary body that supports the economic relationships between sovereign star systems, regulates intergalactic industry, and maintains a common currency. Its members are democratically elected, and as far as we know, power is gained through entirely democratic means.
However, the Republic simply doesn’t work, a fact repeated even by the galaxy’s most fervent republicans. It’s mired in bureaucracy, corruption, the taxes are too high, the Senators are described as “greedy and squabbling”, and popular sentiment is that the system is controlled by corporations. It has no military, just a religious order of several thousand members tasked with “keeping the peace”, but whose arrogance leads to their atrophy and ultimately their defeat. When the peaceful planet of Naboo is invaded by the Trade Federation in The Phantom Menace, all the Republic can do is investigate.
In opposition to the Republic is the Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS), or the Separatist Alliance, most recognizable by their legions of battle droids. Formed by a collection of intergalactic corporations such as the Techno Union and the Trade Federation as well as dozens of secessionist star systems brought together under the leadership of Count Dooku, they too have a republican form of government, centered on Raxus.
Formed in protest over high taxes, protectionism affecting intergalatic trade, and Core World elitism, the CIS, unlike the Republic, seems committed to the ideas of system-sovereignity, equality, and free trade. They want to make galactic government smaller, yet more energetic and capable of solving crises. And despite their corporatist roots, Separatist Senator Mina Bonteri says that it is the Republic, not the Confederacy, that is controlled by corporations.
It’s not just political factors that make the Confederacy superior to the Republic. In the conflict between the Republican and the CIS, the Clone Wars, the Republic hardly has the moral high ground. While the CIS commit atrocities – terrorism, assassinations, working with scum like the Zygerrian slave empire, so does the Republic. They too reach out to gangsters like Hutts for strategic support, in the Republic Commando video game you are sent to assassinate a Geonosian leader- Sun Fac, and the Republican repeatedly tries to drag neutral worlds like Mandalore into the conflict. On a diplomatic level, when the two sides tried to make peace in Season 3 of the Clone Wars, the Separatist Congress votes in favor of negotiation. The Republic does not.
When the CIS needs soldiers, they mass produce cheap battle droids. When the Republic needs soldiers, they grow living people in a laboratory for the purpose of dying on a battlefield. Breeding people to die is immoral, especially in a universe were robot soldiers exist. To fund the war, the CIS draws on the vast resources of allied corporations and falls back on good loans from friendly banks like the Separatist-aligned InterGalactic Banking Clan. To fund the war, the Republic takes out expensive loans which will need to be repaid by raising taxes on working families around the galaxy, many of whom will likely never see a battle droid or a clone trooper.
It is true that the CIS are controlled by the Sith. But technically speaking, so is the Republic. Darth Sidious was Chancellor, a position he obtained through totally legitimate means. He was given emergency powers by the Senate in a democratic vote, and when he declared the creation of the first Galactic Empire, the Senate answered with thunderous applause. It is the Republic, not the Confederacy, that becomes the Empire. Not exactly an example of functional democracy.
While the Jedi are presented as the heroes, the Jedi are also inflexible, dogmatic, and cold, driving Anakin Skywalker into the hands of Darth Sidious, blindly trusting the clone armies even when they know they were created by Count Dooku, and sealing their own fate. When Count Dooku tells Obi-Wan Kenobi the Republic is controlled by a Sith Lord, he dismisses it as impossible. When Anakin Skywalker learns the truth that Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord, the Jedi’s first reaction is not to inform the Senate, but to try and assassinate the democratically elected leader of the Republic.
The Star Wars prequels offer a lesson in internationalism. In a galaxy far far away, and our world today, nations or star systems must cooperate. Isolation is not an option. However, political union drawing on a legal framework to maintain its legitimacy, something like the UN or the Galactic Republic, is not the solution. There are too many cross-purposes and competing ends, and the system becomes unworkable. A system like the CIS, where states are bound together by a common economic framework and then can approach disputes as independent and sovereign nations is a system far more conducive to the maintance of internation (or intergalactic) prosperity, security, and justice.
So next time you watch any of the Star Wars prequels, The Clone Wars, or any other material from that era, don’t root for Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the Clone Army. Recognize Count Dooku, Nute Gunray, and the B1 Battle Droid as the real heroes of the Star Wars prequels, resisting Republic incompetence and later tyranny while fighting for a just and prosperous galaxy.