6 Reasons the Emperor Isn't the Villain of Star Wars (But Someone Else Was)
If the Rebels in Star Wars are to be believed, the Emperor is a bad, bad dude. He's like a space Hitler, just without the mustache (but still pretty hip to the ludicrously large bases, soldiers in olive-drab outfits, and the genocide). Obviously he's the bad guy of the series, right?
Well, sure, if all you ever watch are the original three movies (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). In those movies, it's established by characters (such as Obi Wan and Leia) that the Empire is a horrible place to live in, and that Darth Vader (and by extension the Emperor) is the big bad villain running this evil space joint. Clearly this whole Empire thing is bad. What more is there to say on the matter?
Well, George Lucas had more to say, and in the process, he inadvertently made the Empire the reactionaries -- not the aggressors -- and turned the Emperor into the unlikeliest of heroes. All because of such things as...
1) He Never Really Committed Any Crimes
It's a bold claim to make, I know. He blew up Alderaan! Alderaan was a peaceful planet before the Emperor got his Death Star Kill Ray all over it. Now it's just an asteroid field and a million quiet souls that all screamed out at once.
But let's go back earlier, shall we. The movies don't begin with Star Wars. Alderaan is still a happy peaceful planet in The Phantom Menace. It's not even a blip in the script for that first movie. No, our concern in the first movie is the Trade Federation and their blockade of the planet Naboo.
It's established that the Galactic Republic is in decline. To help raise money, higher taxes are imposed along the trade routes. The Trade Federation, who seemingly have a monopoly on interstellar trade, setup a blockade around Naboo -- something Princess Amidala is displeased by. Jedi get involved, there's some fighting, and an attempt on Amidala's life, and then the Jedi and the Princess flee to Tatooine.
So far so good... except that the Trade Federation was in the right. When the Roman Empire (a good stand-in with historical significance for the Galactic Republic) was in decline, one of the things they did was levee higher and higher taxes. All this did was incite revolt among the outlying populations, eventually causing the Roman borders to contract as more and more territories fell out of Roman control. If the taxes are too high, the people are within their rights to rebel.
Plus, think about this not as an armed coup but as a protest -- a union strike even. Unionized workers are within their rights to strike -- it's a proven negotiating tactic. And while the strike may involve a blockade of battleships, you have to admit that it's hard to have a sit-in in space. That's more an "implode and not really prove your point"-in.
Then you have to consider that if the Trade Federation was really so bad -- it had a monopoly, right? -- then why didn't the Republic break up the monopoly. That's what a government does with monopolies. One would have to assume the Trade Federation was necessary in its current form, a functional part of the economy.
Okay, so what about dissolving the Senate in Revenge of the Sith? He shouldn't have done that, right? Well, remember that the Republic was in decline. It's not like they were really managing that galaxy all that well anyway. From everything we saw in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the Senate was more often than not at a permanent stalemate over what to do.
Then you compound that with a movement to split up the Republic in Attack of the Clones (the separatists) and now we're looking at a civil war. You need a strong leader to lead a country during a time of crisis such as this. When the Emperor took over (bearing in mind that he was already granted more and more power during these two movies to deal with the separatist movement even before he became Emperor), he just did what he figured was best to actually keep this damned Republic/Empire running: he got rid of the one part of the government that was plainly not working: the Senate.
2) The Emperor Just Had the Galaxy's Best Intentions At Heart
When watching the new trilogy, one is influenced by knowing about the Emperor from the original trilogy. You can't see Darth Sidious in The Phantom Menace and not remember him has the ultimate evil from Star Wars. It colors all his actions.
Plus, sure, he was behind Trade Federation actions in The Phantom Menace. He was behind the separatist movement in Attack of the Clones. Hell, he had the titular clones built! Plus, he had the clones kill all those Jedi in Revenge of the Sith. That's plainly the work of a bad guy.
Except, again, the Republic was dying. They couldn't manage the Trade Federation or even handle that vital part of their economy without resorting to war. In a way, the Senate caused the civil war that eventually forced the Emperor to ascend to power. The Trade Federation, after a drubbing in the Naboo conflict, joined up with the separatist movement. From the perspective of loyal subjects of the Republic who were tired of being over taxed and attacked whenever they voiced their complaints, this seemed like a logical move.
And then the Jedi got their hands on the clone army. This is a clone army that was apparently commissioned by Jedis, but no Jedi had any recollection of it -- and the planet where the clones were built, Camino, was removed from the Jedi archives. That just speaks to the fact that the Jedi council itself -- staunch allies of the Republic -- was poorly managed and potentially corrupt. Because, seriously, how do you lose a planet?
The Jedis started the war against the separatists. In the end, to clear out the potentially corrupt Jedi council (a council of the most powerful beings in the galaxy, and who report only to themselves), the newly ascended Emperor had to kill off the Jedis to end the war and return the galaxy to a state of peace.
3) You Can't Trust the Jedi
The Emperor killing all the Jedi has to be viewed as a "bad guy move" right? Nope. As stated, the Jedi were at the very least poorly managed. They were always fearful of the "dark side of the force" and how anyone could fall to this dark side. Yoda even makes a big deal about not accepting Anakin Skywalker into the Jedi Order because Anakin could easily swing to the dark side.
And then they take him anyway. Oh yes, Jedi Council, way to stick to your guns there. Plainly the Jedi Council is capricious and will just do anything they feel is right, even if five seconds before they said it was wrong. If Anakin could get in despite being flawed, who else in the Order (or even on the Council) could also be flawed? It's not as if the Jedi are mind readers, so they can't be sure who is on the light side and who's gone dark.
But this also points to a larger issue with the Jedi: despite being so powerful, they don't really like anyone else having power over the great and powerful Force aside from other Jedi. What would have happened to Anakin without training? He obviously already had a certain amount of control over the Force? Were they really just going to let someone who could potentially swing over to the dark side and bring about a potential end to the galaxy (or close to) just leave and possibly get training elsewhere? Doubtful.
So either the Jedi were going to kill Anakin -- because they can't just let him go -- or the Jedi were dumb enough to think that without Jedi Academy training there can't be Force users. Obviously it's possible to get training outside of the Academy, since Palpatine was a Force user and he never went to the academy, so that leaves the Jedi with the unenviable task of patrolling the galaxy for Force-capable students and either accepting them or killing them.
Is it any wonder Palpatine killed off the Jedi? He had to hide his powers from the tyrannical Jedi Council and their Council-endorsed Execution Squad. Getting rid of the Jedi Council potentially saved countless lives across the galaxy -- lives that otherwise would have been snuffed out by the Jedi Council.
4) The Rebels were Terrorists
So now, in A New Hope, we have the rightful leader who's done what he can to unify the galaxy, and we have a band of Rebels (lead by the daughter of Princess Amidala, no less) constantly getting in the way of the Emperor running the galaxy. Any Empire is going to do what it can strengthen and defend its borders -- the Roman Empire was quite powerful at its prime, with the guarantee that its citizens could walk across the face of the Empire free of attackers -- but Rebels will do everything they can to make sure the Empire remains weak and easily overthrown.
Take the Death Star. Admittedly, the seriously badass name also makes it sound like more than it is, but then, when you have a space station designed to keep the peace across the galaxy, you have to give it an appropriate name. "Peacekeeper" would also work, but that's more the name for a gun than a space station.
The Rebels find plans for the Death Star (how? terrorist spies that infiltrated the government, of course), and know that they have to destroy this "weapon". Darth Vader, right hand man of the Emperor, captures Leia and demands that she return the plans (which she can't do because she sent them with some droids to Tatooine). But you can't negotiate with terrorists. You have to make an example, show them you mean business. And so we get the Alderaan incident.
Sure, Alderaan is a "peaceful planet", and yet this supposed utopia harbors terrorists. It is Leia's home planet, after all. What do you think she does all day planetside? She plans terrorist acts in her terrorist cell with other terrorists. Leia swears the rebels are located elsewhere, that Alderaan has nothing to do with it, but can you really believe her? Really? Terrorists lie, especially when they're under duress.
If the Empire doesn't destroy Alderaan, they leave a possible terrorist base up and running. It wasn't the greatest Empirical moment, but it was a necessary act.
And then the Rebels go and blow up the Death Star anyway. And most of the Rebels die during the attack -- plainly a suicide mission. The death toll on Alderaan may have been high, but the Death Star was fully manned, fully operational. All of the soldiers on that base died, and many of them may not have been political people -- just guys doing their tour-of-duty to support their families, maybe go to college. Good job, Rebels.
5) The "Evil" of the Empire was Just Propaganda
Discounting Alderaan -- a seditious planet which plainly had to be destroyed -- the Empire never does anything out-and-out evil in the original trilogy. Sure, Luke's family dies, but then they did harbor terrorist droids. Sure, they sell out Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt, but Han Solo was in league with the Rebels, and the Hutts would appear to be legitimate businessmen (as least from the fact that they can operate openly on Tatooine, as per The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi). They don't even ruin the eco-system of the forest moon Endor during the construction of the Death Star Mk II -- aside from one small base, the moon, and its indigenous people, are left intact.
So what's so bad about the Empire? For one, they are accused of being a martial state, ruling with an iron fist. But on most of the planets that we do actually see, such as Tatooine or Endor, there doesn't seem to be a strong Empirical presence. Tatooine's local leaders (and even the criminals and more colorful elements) can operate openly without much worry that the Empire is going to step in and blow them away Alderaan-style.
And its not just the criminals that benefit -- even the legitimate business people seem happy with the arrangement (or, at least, aren't out-and-out complaining). Take Luke's family (before they were incinerated for harboring terrorists, of course): a family of happy moisture farmers who go about their days in a farming community. Luke is blithely unaware of any serious issues with the Empire -- the ruling body of the galaxy, remember.
At the start of A New Hope Luke even talks about going to the academy to be a pilot. What academy? The Empire's, of course. There's never any mention of the Rebellion or Luke wanting to fight off the evil Empire. Until he sees Leia and is swayed by her pleas for help and her tits, Luke never seems like he's harboring any anger towards the Empire. He just wants to be a pilot.
For all intents and purposes, it would seem like as long as your planet pays its taxes and doesn't harbor terrorists, the Empire is pretty damn hands-off.
A second major objection to the Empire is that it's racist. All of the pilots and commanders, officers and aides, all of them are human. If you're an alien you're either a dirty criminal (like Jabba or Watto) or a slave.
But let's take a look at the Rebels, shall we? Aside from Admiral Ackbar and that one dude who flew with Lando in Return of the Jedi, how many aliens do you see in the Rebellion? And no, Chewbacca doesn't count -- he came in with Han Solo, and from everything we can see, those two are a package deal.
We also need to discount Ackbar, really, since he's the military commander of the Mon Calamari, and without the Mon Calamari ships, the Rebels would be totally screwed. The Rebel alliance with the Mon Calimari is similar to an empirical alliance with the Trade Federation -- one we have to assume exists, since the movies never tell us the Trade Federation dissolved (and if they had, there should be evidence of the power vacuum left by the destruction of that monopoly). In both cases, you do what you have to do to ensure your goals.
And who's to say that the Empire wasn't more diverse than we saw? Stormtroopers come in all shapes and sizes, and you can't really tells who (or what's) hiding under those helmets.
But above everything else, the clearest example of the Rebel propaganda machine was what happens when the Emperor dies: all across the galaxy there are celebrations (as per the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi) and the entire Empirical armada simply lays down its arms. No extra fighting, no signs that some other Emperor is going to take the throne.
It's as if, once the Emperor died, the Rebels sent out a press release saying "Emperor Dead. Republic re-established. Party at 6:00 PM Galactic Standard Time," and everyone just believed them -- including the Emperor's own men. So sure, that points to the fact that the Emperor should have hired better men, but that's an HR problem, not evidence that he was evil.
6) The Real Villain Was Amidala
And here's where we show how it really went down. See, everything, in the end, traces back to Amidala. When she was Princess, she didn't like a peaceful protest by the Trade Federation in her planet's space. So she leads a force (both planetside and in the solar system) to take out the Federation blockade. Without that action, the Trade Federation may not have ever teamed up with the separatist movement.
When Anakin Skywalker shows that he has feelings for Amidala (bearing in mind that there's got to be a good 8 to 10 years age difference and that she knew the young jedi since he was a wee child, so that's extra creepy), she goes along with it -- this despite warnings that Jedi shouldn't get into relationships because it divides the Jedi Master's loyalty and could lead them to the dark side. And the Anakin totally is lead to the dark side by his love for Amidala and his divided loyalties.
When Amidala doesn't like the way the Republican government is going, she puts up political roadblocks and pulls political bullshit just to try to get her way. In the process of all of this she inadvertently gives a potential enemy (our hero, Palpatine, who, to be fair, she thought was an ally) the power to do the exact opposite of what Amidala was actually hoping for.
And, of course, her own daughter, Leia, then leads a second rebellion that eventually overthrows the Empire and leads to an even bigger power vacuum than before.
If Amidala had just died at the start of the series instead of having her body-double take the attack (of course, body-doubles are yet another thing evil dictators are normally known for -- something, it should be noted, the Emperor never uses), the movies would have worked out much better for everyone.