The Star Wars movie franchise is beloved by many, and continues to capture the hearts and minds of children and adults alike more than 20 years after its first movie came out. Many people love this series because of its extremely diverse universe established by creator George Lucas, but Star Wars is also filled with tons of historical nods to major events of our past, most notably, the fall of the Roman Republic.
The Roman Way
At the head of Rome’s government sat two Co-Consuls, who were elected from the Senate and served 1 year terms. The consuls ran the majority of the government, but each consul could veto the other’s decision which helped to limit their power. In an emergency, one consul could become a single dictator to make quick decisions.
Next, there was a Senate, which had around 300 members elected from the Roman elite (patricians) and served for life. They advised the consuls and had the power to pass laws. Then there was the Assembly, which was made up of more wealthy Roman citizens and elected the two Consuls every year. Even though women could become citizens in ancient Rome, they were not allowed to vote or hold any political office, so they could not become members of the Assembly.
All Things Fall Apart…
The Republic government seemed like a pretty great deal. People got more representation than in a monarchy, there were various checks and balances that prevented one person from holding too much power. But, in 59 BCE, a man by the name of Julius Caesar was elected Co-Consul, and convinced everyone to appoint him emergency dictator. This was normal, and many Co-Consuls had served as dictator before, but Julius Caesar changed the term dictator could serve, from a limited amount of time to life. This didn’t exactly jive very well with the senators of Rome, who felt that their power had been usurped by Caesar. This eventually lead to Julius Caesar’s assignation (Et tu, Brute?) and Rome falls into a period of civil war.
Well you can basically kiss that Republic goodbye!
Out of the ashes of the old Republic rose a new leader, known by many names (we’re going to call him Augustus here). Augustus took control of the Roman government, and consolidated various offices and powers left over from the old Republican Constitution into one position known as emperor, all under the guise of “restoring the old republic.” Many people would have opposed such a drastic reversal of power, and Augustus knew that. He purposefully continued to have the senate meet once he became dictator to pacify the people, even though the senators had no real decision-making power.
(This connects really well to two images from AP Art History: Head of a Roman Patrician and Augustus of Primaporta.)
The Galactic Way
At the head of the Galactic Republic’s government sat the Supreme Chancellor, whose main role was to guide the Senate proceedings. The Chancellor was elected from the Senate and could serve no more than two four-year terms.
Next, there was the Galactic Senate, which contained representatives from planets, star systems and even large business-based alliances like the Trade Federation. The Senate met on the capital world Coruscant, and had around 1,024 delegates. The Star Wars Universe also had the Jedi High Council, which worked to maintain peace throughout the galaxy and also served as military coordinators during war.
Things Fall Apart: The Sequel
In the Star Wars Saga, the first three movies detail the events leading up to the fall of the Republic. A man named Palpatine started out as a senator for a planet called Naboo. When a group called the Trade Federation invades the planet, Palpatine appears like a good choice at first, and he leads the Republic through a series of threats, but has the Senate allocate more and more power to his position as time goes on. Eventually, Palpatine takes control of the Senate and elects himself Galactic Emperor, dissolving the previous Republic.
- In Star Wars, Palpatine acts as a double for both Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar. Like Julius Caesar, Palpatine gets elected into a head position in a Republican Government and slowly siphons power and control from other branches to himself, both extending his term and gaining influence.
- Both Rome’s and Star War’s republics consist of a large senate representing the people’s will who answer to some sort of higher power, a Consul or Chancellor.
- Both Augustus and Palpatine maintain the Senate after they dissolve the republic, even though the Senators have no power. This is done to create the illusion of a government representing the will of the people.
- Both Augustus and Palpatine also murder those who could potentially oppose them when they make themselves Emperor. Augustus murders or banishes those who politically oppose him, and Palpatine issues order 51, which causes all clones to target and kill Jedi.
- Barr, Patricia, et al. Ultimate Star Wars. New York: DK Publishing, 2015.
- Discoveries Ancient Rome, edited by Paul Roberts. New York: Tine Life Education, 1997.
- 30-second Ancient Rome, edited by Matthew Nicholls. New York: Metro Books, 2014.
- The Roman Empire. Or Republic. Or…Which Was It? Crash Course World History #10. Directed by Stan Muller. Youtube, 12:25. Uploaded March 29, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPf27gAup9U.
- Windham, Ryder. Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide. New York: DK Publishing, 2005.