The power of the Galactic Empire was never in question while Emperor Palpatine ruled. Every aspect of its public face inspired awe and fear: the bone-white armor of the ever-present Stormtroopers; the crimson-robed Imperial Guard; the massive Star Destroyers; the heavily armored AT-ATs; the severe gray dress, and faces, of the Moffs; the terrifying Death Star; the towering and ruthless Darth Vader; and the hideous cowled face of Emperor Palpatine. Yet despite all these symbols of power, the real might of the Empire came entirely from the quadrillions of oppressed beings who allowed the Emperor and his minions to take away their freedom.
The initial proposal for the Empire had captivated the galaxy. Instead of the frustrating debates and politics of the Republic, a single great man would quickly decide each issue. Changes could be carried out with military efficiency. Threats would be eliminated instantly. Progress would not be delayed by rules and procedures. The lax oversight that had allowed civil war would be replaced with constant vigilance. It would, Palpatine announced, create a safe and secure society. Only an Empire could end the constant chaos of war. Only an Empire could prevent the corrupt practices the Republic had fostered. Only an Empire could restore order after the Jedi’s failed coup. The thunderous applause at the establishment of the New Order echoed from planet to planet. Finally, they were promised, security and normalcy would return.
In mere months the Empire had blotted out the symbols of democracy. Every vestige of the Republic was replaced, or at least renamed. Finally safe from the dangers democracy had allowed, the people were only too willing to forget that there had ever been a time before the Empire. The Republic passed from their minds, and the Empire solidified its power.
True to its promise, the Empire moved with lightning speed to remove all persons, groups, and races that threatened stability. Enemies, both internal and external, were destroyed with crushing force. Yet when one foe fell, new threats were identified. The military and intelligence sector grew to enforce the Empire’s new direction. No longer could individual planets be depended upon to govern themselves. Imperial Moffs were set over each sector, allowing the Emperor to ensure that his will was swiftly executed, along with any opposition.
As the Empire expanded, more and more citizens, almost exclusively humans, were hired to meet the demands of the overwhelming bureaucracy. The hierarchy ballooned as more levels and procedures were added to galactic life. Grand Moffs were appointed to oversee the thousands of Moffs. Workers were employed to build the the Empire’s millions of starships. Trillions of men were recruited to augment the ever-growing military. Soon, even the exorbitant taxes of the Empire could not cover the cost, but threats continued to appear.
Therefore, a new policy, designed by Grand Moff Tarkin, was adopted in the Empire. Under the Tarkin Doctrine, the Empire would no longer respond to every threat. Instead, selected public threats would be met with devastating force, punishing the perpetrators and everyone around them. Not only would troublemakers be deterred from acting against the Empire, but others would be encouraged to betray their plots to avoid the fierce reprisals. Under the Tarkin Doctrine, it was no longer necessary for common citizens to believe in the Empire. Fear kept everyone in line.
Seated comfortably at the top was Emperor Palpatine. The benefactor of a thousand years of Sith manipulation, and a master strategist in his own right, he ruled with unchallenged authority. He used the apathy and corruption of the Republic to his own advantage, counting on the citizens to keep silent as long as he appeared to be protecting their comfort. The constant power struggles among the ranks of the Empire ensured that no threat could arise undetected. If, by some miracle, an attack did come, his faithful servant Darth Vader was ready to crush it without hesitation. From his black throne in the Imperial Palace, the Emperor’s vision of order was carried to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.
The first attacks on Palpatine were predictable. Imperial officers were not always content with the strategies of Palpatine, and believed they could do better. Multiple attempted insurrections ended in failure. Many fell due to bickering among the conspirators. Others were overwhelmed by Palpatine’s personal guard. They were of no concern to Palpatine. In fact, he encouraged them. Not only did they draw his enemies out into the open and keep his troops in top fighting condition, but they also strengthened his image and gave weight to his calls for more pervasive surveillance.
There were others, outside the hierarchy of the Empire, who also fought, but not to take Palpatine’s title. They believed that the current abuses were not isolated incidents of corruption within the government. By yielding tremendous power to one person, the people had crafted their own tormentor. The rebels sought to unseat Palpatine, and ensure that the galaxy could never again be controlled by an emperor. Their growth was slow, but rumors carried the news: there was a rebellion against the Empire.
The newly-formed Rebel Alliance went unnoticed by most. The vast majority of citizens were too frightened by the Tarkin Doctrine to openly support them, and those who did had little influence, wealth, or strategic brilliance. Instead, the rebellion attracted a motley band of idealistic dreamers, Imperial Academy dropouts, opportunistic smugglers, and disenfranchised politicians. Unfortunately, having all of the enemies of the Empire together made them an easier target. Agents of the Empire infiltrated the fledgling cells of rebellion, noted their leaders, and eliminated those who posed a threat. Constantly under attack, with limited and outdated equipment, the rebellion could only manage occasional sneak attacks on weakly defended bases and shipping routes.
Such minor annoyances did nothing to impede the Empire’s construction of the ultimate tool of the Tarkin Doctrine: the Death Star. When the rebellion learned of its inconceivable power, they decided to attempt a bolder, more public, mission. Led by Princess Leia, they captured the schematics of the moon-sized superweapon. The princess, however, was captured and forced to watch as her home-planet paid the price for her actions. Her efforts to reach the exiled Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, were successful. He, along with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, invaded the Death Star and rescued her. Despite their apparent victory, the Empire turned these events to its advantage. Knowing that the princess would try to reunite with the leaders of the rebellion, Darth Vader traced their escape and commanded the Death Star to finish the Rebel Alliance once and for all.
At the rebel base on Yavin IV, the brightest minds of the rebellion pored over the stolen plans. With hours, at most, before an Imperial attack, they had no time to sabotage the Death Star from within. With the Empire’s battle station nearing, and lacking the ships to evacuate everyone, they launched an attack on the only weakness they could find: a two-meter wide, ray-shielded exhaust port. A direct hit could, theoretically, cripple the battle station, but the protection around it was virtually impenetrable. Still, they fought bravely, and the Force was with them. The destruction of the Death Star finally brought the idea of overthrowing the Empire into the public’s consciousness.
Retaliation was swift and severe. Planets suspected of harboring rebels were invaded and oppressed. Their leaders were forced into hiding on the inhospitable planet of Hoth, but even there they could not escape the Empire’s reach. Attacks dogged them wherever they ran. While the Empire’s unrelenting offensives kept the rebellion exhausted and paranoid, Palpatine prepared his master stroke. Using his still-incomplete second Death Star as bait, he lured the rebels out of hiding and toward his inescapable trap.
He placed a garrison of Stormtroopers on Endor’s moon to protect the shield generator. He massed hundreds of Star Destroyers in hyperspace to ambush the rebel fleet. If that were not enough, he knew something no one else did: The second Death Star was fully-armed and operational. He could only cackle at how dramatically he had stacked the odds in his favor. Not only would his trap kill the rebel leaders, destroy their military capacity, and demoralize their supporters, but it would also be the perfect crisis to replace Darth Vader with his younger and more powerful son. The Force had already assured him of his victory and, even if it hadn’t, the perfection of his plot was obvious. Yet, despite his brilliant strategy, the Rebel Alliance triumphed, the Death Star was destroyed, the Emperor died, and the Empire crumbled.
In a galaxy a bit closer to home, you might also find yourself facing down an empire. They are everywhere: a monument to mankind’s desire to take control of the world. All empires impose certain rules:
- People are either “us” or “them”. That applies not only to the empire as a whole, but to every group within the empire.
- People are divided into levels. Those above control their inferiors using threats of taking power away or promises of giving more.
- When things go wrong, someone (usually low ranking) will be made a scapegoat. The empire itself is never to blame.
- Everyone in the empire must behave similarly. Creativity is discouraged, and a dull sameness settles over the members.
- No one can question the system itself. It is self-evident and always right.
This is not to say that every authority constitutes an empire to be opposed. When those in authority are not afraid to explain their choices and admit when they are wrong, an empire cannot grow. If they use their power to serve others and empower those under and around them, freedom prospers. Real authority does not fear competition, but welcomes everyone to share the work.
Most empires are not the result of intricate Palpatine-esque machinations (though some are). Most arose quite innocently in response to difficult times. Only once the crisis passed was its true nature exposed. Like Palpatine at the end of the Clone Wars, an empire will invent justifications for its continued existence.
If the empire blocks your way, you may be tempted to join it, at least temporarily, in order to achieve your aims. You might expect that, once inside, you could become the emperor yourself, or at least support the selection of one who shares your goals. Don’t give in. This is how an empire wins. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the empire of the usurper is even worse than the original. By accepting the empire, you surrender the position you need to change it.
A direct assault on an empire is foolishness. Empires frequently battle other empires, and are well prepared for a direct, full-scale assault. Had the rebellion attempted to send their capital ships against the first Death Star, and match strength with strength, the Empire would have won. However, using nimble short-range fighters against a moon-sized weapon was so unexpected that the fully armed Death Star was caught unprepared. Those opposing an empire often feel weak. Do not worry. It was weakness that gave the rebels victory. It was precisely because the Ewoks were laughably primitive and non-threatening that they were able to amass around the shield generator. It was Luke Skywalker’s lack of Jedi training that allowed him to turn Darth Vader back from the Dark Side.
The Empire could not control the Rebel Alliance, because the rebels did not want its currency. The soldiers, agents, and leaders of the Empire battled each other for wealth, power, prestige, and protection. The rebels fought for freedom, and the futures of those they loved. They could not be bribed, coerced, or threatened. Even in their deepest moments of despair the rebels refused to fall prey to discouragement. Rather than turning on each other, they pressed their attack together, no matter the odds. If you want to topple an empire, you must decide if what you’re fighting for is worth more than everything you have to lose. If you give an empire the chance to appease you with its wealth or frighten you with its power, you are playing by its rules – and in the empire’s rules the empire always wins.
Empires do not fall easily or quickly. Do not give up hope. If the attacks on you are increasing, you are making progress. In fact, an empire may appear strongest when it is fatally wounded. Keep resisting its power and questioning its authority, and eventually it will collapse. However, when you do finally overcome an empire, do not create the next one. Remember that if you have the ability to keep others from building an empire, you yourself are an emperor. Rather than trying to maintain control and order, encourage others to be freedom fighters even in the midst of freedom. After all, there will always be empires that need to be toppled.
No matter how big of an empire you face, remember that your ability to defeat it does not depend on matching its strength. The one thing that no empire can withstand is an honest question to its reign. If your rebel alliance is willing to stand firm against its fury, eventually it will collapse before you. It may offer to surrender to you, but don’t be fooled. That is only an attempt to lure you in. Remember that when you try to destroy the empire, the empire strikes back.